By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Martin Jarvis
Though – A Tale of Two Cities – is considered Charles Dickens’ most famous work, it is not his best. Dickens offers historical and personal perspective in “A Tale of Two Cities” but empathy for his characters is often missing; i.e. empathy that makes one gasp for air or suppress a tear.
Dickens is not a writer for a reader seeking immediate absorption. It takes several chapters to become engrossed in a Dickens’ story. His meticulous character development and scene creation eventually draw one into his imagined world but readers and listeners need patience. “A Tale of Two Cities” is an exemplar of Dickens’ amazing descriptive ability but the book’s fame is primarily based on Dickens’ intimate portrayal of the human causes and consequences of the French Revolution.
Martin Jarvis is an excellent narrator of “A Tale of Two Cities”; his voice modulation gives Dickens’ characters life. Dickens’ pictures of a revolution and its consequence are beautifully reinforced by Jarvis’s narration.
Few works of literature successfully reveal the disgust, anger, frustration, and anguish of human beings rising to the level of revolution. Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” punches readers in the face and kicks them in the stomach by showing how extreme poverty and obscene wealth in a country’s population creates a cauldron of boiling despair that spills over to kill and destroy everything in its path.
The French Revolution shown by Dickens is caused by an Aristocracy that lives in a separate world from the mass of the general public. This separation is caused and perpetuated by a privileged minority that dehumanized all who were not part of its chain of existence. Dickens capsulized an Aristocracy’s dehumanization of the general public by telling the story of an aristocrat who recklessly and carelessly kills a child of a poor family with a speeding carriage. The same aristocratic family kills a brother and sister and covers their crimes by destroying evidence and imprisoning a conscientious doctor that is witness to their abhorrent behavior. These incidents are stories of human degradation; their consequence in Dickens’ telling plants seeds of hatred in leaders of a future revolution.
The irony of this public hatred is that it engenders further dehumanization and unjust violence. Like a pendulum’s swing, dehumanization by an Aristocracy becomes dehumanization by a mobocracy. Eventually the pendulum swing moderates, the extremes of the swing disappear; a different society establishes itself.
Dickens provides a primer on revolution in “A Tale of Two Cities”. What is seen in today’s Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, and other “Arab Spring” countries are boiling cauldrons. Their societies are roiling at the extremes of the pendulum; the killing continues. New and hopefully better societies will come from their revolutions.