To what degree are Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities and Hugo's Les Misérables comparable in their use of the French Revolutionary period as backdrop to the action?
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The comparison of these two novels can be stretched pretty far. For example, each has an old man severely damaged by long, unjust sentences served in a french prison, though only one is liberated by the storming of the Bastille. Both old men have young marriagable daughters: one is a biological daughter reunited with an estranged father and in love with a young french aristocrat; the other was adopted at a tender age but is also in love with a young french aristocrat. Both young men in principle support the ideals of republicanism, Charles Darnay losing his wealth and going into exile before the French Revolution; Marius nearly losing his life upon the barricades during the July Revolution of 1830.
It is not surprising that the french author Victor Hugo would use the French Revolutionary period as a setting for much of his novel, which explores class conflict, poverty, self-sacrifice, and reconciliation. English author Charles Dickens, however, also mined the driving forces of the Revolution to propel the action of his novel, exploring many of the same themes as Hugo but also offering the Reign of Terror in Paris as a cautionary example to the complaisant shapers of society in London.
Hugo does refer to the 1830 three revolutionary days (27, 28, 29 July) several times ("Tiens ! Répliqua Gavroche, pourquoi pas? J'en ai bien eu un [un fusil] en 1830 quand on s'est disputé avec Charles X") but the riots described in the fourth and last part of the book occurred on the 5th and 6th of June 1832.
The two novels, of course, bear a strong resemblance and yet, the tone is different.
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