The Humanistic Features In A Tale Of Two Cities
The Humanistic Features in A Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens, the author of A Tale of Two Cities, was the greatest English critical realist in Victorian age. He was the most widely read author of great powers, and he is almost acceptable to readers of all ages and of widely differing mental capacities. (Churchill,119) Pickwick Papers (1836), Oliver Twist (1837), Hard Times (1854), A Tale of Two Cities (1859) and Great Expectations(1860) were his greatest works among his fourteen major novels. A Tale of Two Cities was his historical novel in which Dickens lays out a brilliant plot of a story happened between France and England during the French Revolution.
In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote two main thread of the plot, one is the career of Dr. Manette who suffered eighteen year in the Bastille, and another is the love of Lucie Manette who help her father Dr. Manette recalled his mind.
In the novel, Dr. Manette was imprisoned by EvrÃ©monde for writing a letter to Minister exposing the crime of EvrÃ©monde who had killed the sister and brother of Defarge. Eighteen years later, his daughter Lucie fell in love with nephew of EvrÃ©monde Darnay. After one year, Darnay was caught by the revolutionaries. For the crimes of Darnay’s ancestors, the revolutionaries sentenced him to die within twenty-four hours. Sydney Carton visits Darnay in prison, tricks him into changing clothes with him. Carton dies with the knowledge that he has finally imbued his life with meaning.
II. Literature Review
Andrew Sanders, in his Charles Dickens resurrections in 1982, praised the humanism of the novel A Tale of Two Cities :
To Dickens A Tale of Two Cities was not merely a historical novel, or a fictional tract on the evils of revolution, or even symbolic romance on the theme of humanism, though all of these were contained within it.
George Bernard Shaw compared the humanism of Dickens with his political ideology: “His attacks on society were based on traditional moral beliefs and humanism rather than on social or political theories and programs. He urged a secular ideal of human brotherhood.”
George Orwell published his famous The Critical Essays in 1938, viewed Dickens’s “rebelliousness” from a different perspective:
Dickens is very sure that revolution is a monster. That is why everyone remembers the revolutionary scenes in A Tale of Two Cities; they have the quality of nightmare, and it is Dickens’s own nightmare. Again and again he insists upon the meaningless horrors of revolution—the mass-butcheries, the injustice, the ever-present terror of spies, the frightful blood lust of the mob.
Lijun, the Chinese scholar who studied the English literature for many years, has shown his opinion about the Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities:
It is very brilliant and successful to describe the mass scenes. Although Dickens has class limitation, he has been siding with the laboring people. And he is opposed to the noble’s oppression. So it is right and lively for him to depict the great scenes of the mass revolutionary movement. For example, the splendid scene in which the French people make an assault on the Bastille is well written.
III. General Background of Humanism
In 19th century, the humanism was developed in many aspects of the society. Humanism was focused much more in the poor situation of people than other times. The people pay more and more attention to the poor with the humanistic point of view.
The author Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities with the great influence of the trend of humanism of 19th century. In 19th century, the society was familiar with the situation before the French Revolution that the poor were living the hardest lives in history. Dickens foresaw the people that were oppressed would revolt the aristocrats in England like the French people before the French Revolution.
A. Definition of Humanism
There are several definitions of humanism in different times in history. One is particularly apropos to humanism as an organized philosophy: a philosophy that asserts the dignity and worth of man and his capacity for self-realization through reason, and that often rejects supernaturalism.
But in literature, if we want to discuss the humanism, we should begin at the Renaissance period. The Renaissance was an important period of intellectual and artistic development, when thinkers began to return to the ancients for ideas and also to look to the East – it was an era of exploration and discovery.
The significance for humanists is in the new willingness to question the authority of the Pope and to examine the newly translated Bible and re-interpret it. This questioning attitude and personal interpretation paved the way for free thinkers in later centuries. It also paved the way for secular and political reasons, which began the process of separation between religious and state matters which continues to this day.
Renaissance scholars who studied the classics and mankind were called “humanists” and this was the word’s first use. It originally had little to do with a person’s belief system, though the Renaissance humanists were more interested in the human than the divine, and were remarkable for extending their studies well beyond the narrow confines of the theology that had dominated Medieval scholarship. By extension it became associated with studies of the arts, languages, philosophy – subjects still often called the humanities.
Renaissance humanism is the spirit of learning that developed at the end of the middle ages with the revival of classical letters and a renewed confidence in the ability of human beings to determine for themselves truth and falsehood. And literary humanism is a devotion to the humanities or literary culture.
Humanists believes in a naturalistic metaphysics or attitude toward the universe that considers all forms of the supernatural as myth, and that regards Nature as the totality of being and as a constantly changing system of matter and energy which exists independently of any mind or consciousness.
B. Development of Humanism in 19th Century
Humanist thinking developed rapidly in the nineteenth century because it was closely associated with new scientific thinking and discoveries. Darwin’s ideas, and new biblical research and scholarship coming from Germany, provoked a crisis of faith in many Victorian intellectuals.
Most of Europe went through a period of rapid industrialization and urbanization, and the condition of the poor in the cities was the cause of much concern. The works of the novelist Charles Dickens often exposed the wrongs of nineteenth century society, as did William Makepeace Thackeray.
In the aspect of religion, the Positivist movement of August Comte put forward a personal and humanism, and was fashionable for several decades. The German theologian and philosopher Feuerbach attacked conventional Christianity in a book translated by Mary Ann Evans / George Eliot as The Essence of Christianity (1854), and suggested that religion was “the dream of the human mind”, projecting onto an illusory god our own ideals and nature. German scholarship also demonstrated that the books of the Bible were fallible human constructions, not divine revelation.
In 1896, led by another American, Stanton Coit, the humanists united to form the Union of Ethical Societies, which became the Ethical Union, and was eventually renamed the British Humanist Association in 1963.
In 19th century, the humanists believe, in opposition to all theories of universal predestination, determinism, or fatalism, that human beings, while conditioned by the past, possess genuine freedom of creative choice and action, and are, within certain objective limits, the masters of their own destiny.
The humanists of that period believed in an ethics or morality that grounds all human values in this-earthly experiences and relationships. The individual attains the good life by harmoniously combining personal satisfactions and continuous self-development with significant work and other activities that contribute to the welfare of the community. the widest possible development of art and the awareness of beauty including the appreciation of Nature’s loveliness and splendor will made the aesthetic experience become a pervasive reality in people’s lives.
IV. Humanistic Features in A Tale of Two Cities
In A Tale of Two Cities, the humanity in different situations were focused. The first part of the novel is “recalled to life”, while the second part is golden thread of love. Both life and love are the main themes of humanism. Charles Dickens also expressed his great humanism by focusing the poor in the 19th century. He found out that the situation in England of 19th century was familiar with the society of France before the French Revolution.
It seems to be his sympathy with the French peasants in that period, but in fact, it was the sympathy to the poor of England in 19th century. In A Tale of Two Cities, practically all of the French peasants lived in poverty. Dickens sets the atmosphere of a grim world of the very poor and the conditions of Frances’s streets as they were at the time. This is exemplified in the wine shop scene, in which the casket falls and smashes on the ground and everyone suspends his business and rushed to drink the wine.
All the people within reach had suspended their business, or their idleness, to run to the spot and drink the wine. The rough, irregular stones of the street, pointing everyway, and designed, one might have thought, expressively to lame all living creatures that approached them had damned it into little pools; these were surrounded, each by its own jostling group or crowd, according to its size…(Dickens 59 & 60).
By writing about this situation, Dickens illustrates the type of life that the French peasants lived. In France before the revolution the social structure had two extremes.
In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens showed his disagreement by the career of Dr. Manette who had been in Bastille for eighteen year. In the novel, Dr. Manette also found the crime of the aristocrats, and he also had the sympathy with the poor peasants. So characteristic of Dr. Manette was the representation of the humanistic ideology of Charles Dickens. In the novel, Dickens also described some admirable characters of various nature to express the theme of humanism such as Darnay and Lucie.
A. Nature of Goodness in the Novel
In A Tale of Two Cities the nature of goodness was displayed on the characteristic of Dr. Manette, Darnay, Lucie and Carton. They represented the light, optimistic aspects of human nature.
1. Dr. Manette
As Lucie’s father and a brilliant physician in the novel, Doctor Manette displayed the humanism during all of his life. Because of his letter in which he uncovered the evil of Marquis EvrÃ©monde, Doctor Manette spent eighteen years as a prisoner in the Bastille and lost his mind finally. At the start of the novel, Manette does nothing but make shoes, a hobby that he adopted to distract himself from the tortures of prison. As he overcomes his past as a prisoner, however, he proves to be a kind, loving father who prizes his daughter’s happiness above all things.
Dickens uses Doctor Manette to illustrate one of the dominant motifs of the novel: a man with good nature should have humanistic features. As Jarvis Lorry makes his way toward France to recover Manette, the narrator reflects that “every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.” For much of the novel, the cause of Manette’s incarceration remains a mystery both to the other characters and to the reader. Even when the story concerning the evil Marquis EvrÃ©monde comes to light, the conditions of Manette’s imprisonment remain hidden. Though the reader never learns exactly how Manette suffered, his relapses into trembling sessions of shoemaking evidence the depth of his misery. (Lijun, On the Artistic Features of A Tale of Two Citie)
Like Carton, Manette undergoes a drastic change over the course of the novel. ‘He is transformed from an insensate prisoner who mindlessly cobbles shoes into a man of distinction. The contemporary reader tends to understand human individuals not as fixed entities but rather as impressionable and reactive beings, affected and influenced by their surroundings and by the people with whom they interact.’ (Anddrew Sanders, Charles Dickens resurrections)
His yellow rags of shirt lay open at the throat, and showed his body to be withered and worn. He, and his old canvas frock, and his loose stockings, and all his poor tatters of clothes, had, in a long seclusion from direct light and air, faded down to such a dull uniformity of parchment-yellow, that it would have been hard to say which was which. (Dickens, 71)
The description of this part was the situation of Dr. Manette at the time of gaining his freedom from Bastille. He lost his mind and became a shoemaker. In fact, Dr. Manette has lost his life meaning and faced the worst destiny himself that his life was lost.
The Doctor was in his best condition, and looked specially young. The resemblance between him and Lucie was very strong at such times, and as they sat side by side, she leaning on his shoulder, and he resting his arm on the back of her chair, it was very agreeable to trace the likeness. (Dickens 130)
This part was the description that Dr. Manette regain his mind and his power of love. He lived a happy life with his daughter. Not only regaining the mind, the doctor regained his life.
2. Mr. Darnay and Lucie Manette
Although Darnay and Lucie seem to lack the depth and complexity that make literary characters realistic and believable, they were the representations of young and kindness nature.
A man of honor, respect, and courage, Darnay conforms to the archetype of the hero but never exhibits the kind of inner struggle that Carton and Doctor Manette undergo. His opposition to the Marquis’s snobbish and cruel aristocratic values is admirable.
Darnay was a young man who did not agree with the evil activity of the marquis, and he gave up his title, property, and the name. He went to England and earned his life by teaching France and French literature. He represented humanism of Bourgeoisie in 19th century who always had good education and manner, be faithful to his lover and had the mercy to the people around him.
Lucie’s love is the ‘golden thread’ of the novel. Her love had the power to make Dr. Manette regain his mind.‘Along similar lines, Lucie likely seems to modern readers as uninteresting and two-dimensional as Darnay. In every detail of her being, she embodies compassion, love, and virtue; the indelible image of her cradling her father’s head delicately on her breast encapsulates her role as the “golden thread” that holds her family together.’ (Westburg 116) She manifests her purity of devotion to Darnay in her unquestioning willingness to wait at a street corner for two hours each day, on the off chance that he will catch sight of her from his prison window. In a letter to Dickens, a contemporary criticized such simplistic characterizations.
While Darnay and Lucie may not act as windows into the gritty essence of humanity, in combination with other characters they contribute to a more detailed picture of human nature. First, they provide the light that counters the vengeful Madame Defarge’s darkness, revealing the moral aspects of the human soul so noticeably absent from Madame Defarge. Second, throughout the novel they manifest a virtuousness that Carton strives to attain and that inspires his very real and believable struggles to become a better person.
3. Sydney Carton
Sydney Carton proves the most dynamic character in A Tale of Two Cities. He is the kind of strange man who appears as a lazy, alcoholic attorney and cannot muster even the smallest amount of interest in his own life.
He describes his existence as a supreme waste of life and takes every opportunity to declare that he cares for nothing and no one. But the reader senses, even in the initial chapters of the novel, that Carton in fact feels something that he perhaps cannot articulate. In his conversation with the recently acquitted Charles Darnay, Carton’s comments about Lucie Manette, while bitter and sardonic, betray his interest in, and budding feelings for, the gentle girl. Eventually, Carton reaches a point where he can admit his feelings to Lucie herself. Before Lucie weds Darnay, Carton professes his love to her, though he still persists in seeing himself as essentially worthless. This scene marks a vital transition for Carton and lays the foundation for the supreme sacrifice that he makes at the novel’s end.
Carton’s death has provided much material for scholars and critics of Dickens’s novel. Some readers consider it the inevitable conclusion to a work obsessed with the themes of redemption and resurrection. According to this interpretation, Carton becomes a Christ-like figure, a selfless martyr whose death enables the happiness of his beloved and ensures his own immortality. Other readers, however, question the ultimate significance of Carton’s final act. They argue that since Carton initially places little value on his existence, the sacrifice of his life proves relatively easy. However, Dickens’s frequent use in his text of other resurrection imagery—his motifs of wine and blood, for example—suggests that he did intend for Carton’s death to be redemptive, whether or not it ultimately appears so to the reader. As Carton goes to the guillotine, the narrator tells us that he envisions a beautiful, idyllic Paris “rising from the abyss” and sees “the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.” Just as the apocalyptic violence of the revolution precedes a new society’s birth, perhaps it is only in the sacrifice of his life that Carton can establish his life’s great worth.
B. Nature of Evils in the Novel
In A Tale of Two Cities the marquis was the most evil character who was extremely cruel with the other people. But just because of his activity, the humanistic features of other characters were shown.
Marquis EvrÃ©monde is the opposite side of humanism in the novel. But just because of him, the humanistic features could be represented by the characteristic of Dr. Manette and Charles Darnay. Marquis EvrÃ©monde was a extremely cruel person who killed the female serf and her whole family except the youngest sister (Madame Defarge).
In the novel, he runs down a plebian child with his carriage. Manifesting an attitude typical of the aristocracy in regard to the poor at that time, the Marquis shows no regret, but instead curses the peasantry and hurries home.
The brothers EvrÃ©monde (Darnay’s father and uncle) enlisted Manette’s medical assistance. They asked him to tend to a woman, whom one of the brothers had raped, and her brother, whom the same brother had stabbed fatally. Fearing that Manette might report their misdeeds, the EvrÃ©mondes had him arrested for eighteen years.
At the end of the novel, the evil activity of them was shown by a letter which was written by Maneete. It made the revolutionaries want to kill Darnay, but Manette want to save him. Then the evil of EvrÃ©mondes be contract with the humanism of Manette in further sense. Then the evils in this novel played a important role in showing the humanism.
C. Nature of Violence of Revolution.
The nature of violence of revolution was seen in characteristic of Madame Defarge who was full of anger and power. In describing the actions of Madame Defarge, Dickens contrasted the violence of revolutionaries to the humanism of Dr. Manette. Then the sympathy of Dr. Manette would be displayed more vividly.
Possessing a remorseless bloodlust, Madame Defarge embodies the chaos of the French Revolution. The initial chapters of the novel find her sitting quietly and knitting in the wine-shop. However, her apparent passivity belies her relentless thirst for vengeance. With her stitches, she secretly knits a register of the names of the revolution’s intended victims. As the revolution breaks into full force, Madame Defarge reveals her true viciousness. She turns on Lucie in particular, and, as violence sweeps Paris, she invades Lucie’s physical and psychological space. She effects this invasion first by committing the faces of Lucie and her family to memory, in order to add them to her mental “register” of those slated to die in the revolution. Later, she bursts into the young woman’s apartment in an attempt to catch Lucie mourning Darnay’s imminent execution.
Dickens notes that Madame Defarge’s hatefulness does not reflect any inherent flaw, but rather results from the oppression and personal tragedy that she has suffered at the hands of the aristocracy, specifically the EvrÃ©mondes, to whom Darnay is related by blood, and Lucie by marriage. However, the author refrains from justifying Madame Defarge’s policy of retributive justice. For just as the aristocracy’s oppression has made an oppressor of Madame Defarge herself, so will her oppression, in turn, make oppressors of her victims. Madame Defarge’s death by a bullet from her own gun—she dies in a scuffle with Miss Pross—symbolizes Dickens’s belief that the sort of vengeful attitude embodied by Madame Defarge ultimately proves a self-damning one.
Even on a literal level, Madame Defarge’s knitting constitutes a whole network of symbols. Into her needlework she stitches a registry, or list of names, of all those condemned to die in the name of a new republic. But on a metaphoric level, the knitting constitutes a symbol in itself, representing the stealthy, cold-blooded vengefulness of the revolutionaries. As Madame Defarge sits quietly knitting, she appears harmless and quaint. In fact, however, she sentences her victims to death. Similarly, the French peasants may appear simple and humble figures, but they eventually rise up to massacre their oppressors.
The Fates, three sisters who control human life, busy themselves with the tasks of weavers or seamstresses: one sister spins the web of life, another measures it, and the last cuts it. Madame Defarge’s knitting thus becomes a symbol of her victims’ fate—death at the hands of a wrathful peasantry.
V. Limitation of Charles Dickens’s Humanism
Although Charles Dickens has the brilliant description with the humanism in A Tale of Two Cities, there is still limitation of bourgeoisie thought that he didn’t agree with the violent revolution. Charles Dickens had no program for an ideal society, and brought forward very constructive suggestions to the society of England in 19th century. He attacked the wrong moral attitudes, but he had the fear of revolution that he hoped to defeat the threat of revolution in A Tale of Two Cities. Then that kind of sense made A Tale of Two Cities has the obvious limitation.
In fact, if Dickens had a lessen to teach his time in A Tale of Two Cities, it was to be spoken only in humanistic terms. ‘A Tale of Two Cities has obvious limitations. It attempts no really panoramic view of wither the English or the French political world of those critical years.’ (F. S. Schwarzbach, Dickens and the City) For the revolution in France, only two actual episodes are taken out of history and re-enacted in the novel, the fall of Bastille and the lynching of ‘old Foulon’. None of the great personalities of the revolution comes on the scene, and only a few angry and crazy people are mentioned among them. Charles Dickens found that the revolution was the natural consequence of social oppression. But he did not agree with violence as the necessary end of violence, prison as the consequence of prision. So in the novel he described the evil of Madame Defarge like female killer who always to count the crimes of enemy.
‘See you, ’ said Madame, ‘I care nothing for this Doctor, he may wear his head or lose it, for any interests I have in him; it is all me to me. But, the EvrÃ©monde people are to be exterminated, and the wife and child must follow the husband and father.’
‘she has a fine head for it,’ croaked Jacques Three, ’I have seen blue eyes and golden hair there, and they looked charming when Samson held them up.’ (Dickens 71)
In this paragraph, Madame Defarge and some revolutionaries criticized Defarge that he had the mercy with the doctor and Lucie. Madame treat Darnay, Lucie and their daughter as marquis. In fact, the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 stirred the imagination of Europeans. Never before had people shown such confidence in the power of human intelligence to shape the condition of existence. Never before had the future seemed so full of hope.
But in A Tale of Two Cities Dickens described the revolutionaries had the crazy interest of killing innocent woman and child. In fact the revolutionaries fought with the evil of aristocrats are in great pain, meanwhile they just have the simple aim that they want to regain their right of living. But Dickens described the revolutionaries had the crazy interest of killing innocent woman and child. And that is the limitation of humanism A Tale of Two Cities
As a bourgeoisie writer, although Dickens had the brilliant humanistic thought, he had the fear of violent revolution. That is the real reason that he described Madame Defarge as a female killer and beautified many bourgeoisie characters like Dr. Manette, Darnay and Carton. He thought they have the nature that to make the world better.
In A Tale of Two Cities , Darnay represents the light, sunny, optimistic aspect of Dickens’s literary persona. He is the most unconvincing character in the novel, as shallow as a mirror. Carton is Darnay’s darkness, and for that matter, Dickens’s darkness. (Raymond 268) He is a kind of fallen brightness, dedicated to debauchery, prostituting his gleaming intelligence to the service of the unspeakable Stryver. He loves Lucie, but at first denies her, and then fails to claim her. When he chooses death, it is not as heroes do in the prime of vibrant life, but when he has already abandoned all hope of a meaningful existence. Before he dies physically, he has already died in spirit. He sacrifices himself, not for Darnay’s sake, but for Lucie’s and because he has no hope of her.
I see the good old man, so long their friend, in ten years’ time enriching them with all he has, and passing tranquilly to his reward.
It is a far, far better thing that I do. Than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known. (Dickens 130)
Dickens thought only people like Darnay, Carton could save the violent world and only the power of love could change the nature of evil. That is the great hope of Dickens.
This article can be divided into three parts including “general introduction of humanism”, “humanistic features in A Tale of Two Cities” and “limitation of Dickens’s humanism”.
The first part of this article is the introduction of humanism. In literature, if we want to discuss the humanism, we should begin at the Renaissance period. The Renaissance was an important period of intellectual and humanistic development. In 19th century, the humanism was developed in many aspects of the society. Humanism was always focused much more in the poor situation of people than other times. The people pay more and more attention to the poor with the humanistic point of view.
The second part is the discussion of humanistic features in A Tale of Two Cities. By analysis the characteristic of three main kinds of characters in the novel, the humanistic features of Dickens are discussed.
In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens showed his disagreement by the career of Dr. Manette who were in Bastille for eighteen year. In the novel, Dr. Manette also found the crime of the aristocrats, and he also had the sympathy with the poor peasants. As Lucie’s father and a brilliant physician in the novel, Doctor Manette displayed the humanism during all of his life. Darnay represented humanism of Bourgeoisie in 19th century who always had good education and manner, be faithful to his lover and had the mercy to the people around him. And Lucie’s love is the ‘golden thread’ of the novel. Her love had the power to make Dr. Manette regain his mind.
The crime of the Marquis in the novel could strengthen the sympathy of readers. In A Tale of Two Cities the marquis was the most evil character who was extremely cruel with the other people.
The nature of violence of revolution was seen in characteristic of Madame Defarge who was full of anger and power. In discussing the actions of Madame Defarge, the readers could contrasted the violence of revolutionaries to the humanism of Dr. Manette. Then the sympathy of Dr. Manette would be displayed more vividly.
The third part of this article is the discussion of Dickens’s limitation of humanism. Although Charles Dickens has the brilliant description with the humanism in A Tale of Two Cities, there is still limitation of bourgeoisie thought that he didn’t agree with the violent revolution. He attacked the wrong moral attitudes, but he had the fear of revolution that he hoped to defeat the threat of revolution in A Tale of Two Cities. Then that kind of sense made A Tale of Two Cities has the obvious limitation.
Although the humanism in A Tale of Two Cities has obvious limitation in sense of society, at the time of Dickens, the ideology of brilliant humanism showed that the author recognized the inevitability of revolution, and he had great hope that love and kindness would bring people to a better world.
Anddrew Sanders, Charles Dickens resurrections, New York, St. Martin’s Press 1982
Barry Westburg, The Confessional Fictions of Charles Dickens, 1977, London
David Waldron Smitters, Dickens’s Doctors, Great Britain Bridles Ltd, London,1979
F. S. Schwarzbach, Dickens and the City, the Athlong press, London,1978
Lijun, On the Artistic Features of A Tale of Two Cities,www.cnki.net,1998