Finished reading A Tale of Two Cities (1859) by Charles Dickens.

This is a highly symbolic, theatrical take on the French Revolution, where Dickens’ language makes for uniquely poetic passages, but has the side effect of dehumanizing crucial moments of the story. Readers can feel distanced from the more visceral events by his telling them through personified concepts rather than his characters. That being said, this augmented lens by which he presents the Revolution is an effective translation of its horrific, confused fervor. The people themselves, like Dickens’ writing, lose their humanity for the sake of muddled ideals, and even the principal characters are symbolic of larger components within the revolutionary landscape (Darnay as the blameless victims of an uncompromising holocaust, Lorry as the self-preserving establishments floundering around national allegiances, Madame Defarge as the ruthless conviction blinding a revolutionary tide, etc.)

The novel’s emphasis on characters as symbols also demystifies the want of dimension in several key players. Lucie, for example, feels underdeveloped in her plight as an English woman dragged by familial bonds into the French tempest - but is perfectly whole and defined as a grounding force to which those in dire straits (like her father and Carton) cling for sanity. Likewise, the plethora of Jacques(s) lend to the namelessness of the new-order frenzy where individuals dissolve in subservience to the ideological tenets of their cause.

It’s this highly representative element that redeems the story from its own superficiality. And while I still take umbrage at its more contrived plot twists, viewing the work as more of an allegory helps smooth out these narrative failings. I see the novel as Dickens’ representation of the ever-revolving, Aristotelian vehicle of governance - discontentedly switching gears from system to system, with broken brakes and a bloody windshield, only to end back at first, having learned nothing and arrived nowhere. But as Dickens appeals ultimately to the altruistic intentions of individuals within this horrific scheme, he shows that there’s still good to be found in the midst of tragedy.