Compare and contrast the revolutionaries in Tale of Two Cities and Les Miserables?A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the few works of literature Les Miserbles discusses the June Rebellion of 1832, includes it, aside from the fact that he is very concerned about such events--he digresses nearly a hundred pages on the Battle of Waterloo in Volume I--is the fact that Hugo himself was a Repulican activist in the nineteenth century.  Prior to this revolution, the Second Restoration of the monarchy saw Charles X follow Louis XVIII as king.  However, unlike Louis XVIII, a Bourbon king, who ruled alongside a parliament, Charles X abolished the parliament and removed freedom of the press. He was ousted from power and replaced by Louis-Phillipe, known as "the citizen king" since he had fought in the 1789 Revolution.  While this was a victory for the middle class, the working class and poor were still not represented.

Then, in 1832, after the deaths in Paris of nearly 19,000 people from cholera, including the death of the benevolent General Lamarque, whom Hugo mentions in his novel, unrest began in the streets of Paris.  Two parties formed, the Legitimists and the Carlists, and they made an attempt to carry off the royal family in February of 1832, but this effort failed. So, the Legitimists gave up aggression and chose to voice their dissent in newspapers.  However, the younger group, the Republicans, who were idealists and students began riots.  In the June 1832 uprising inspired by the death of General Lamarque, the Society for the Rights of Man directed this uprising.  For the most part, this was a group of idealistic students.  Working men and small boys joined this group, but it was not supported by the public in general and the rebellion was squelched soon thereafter by government forces.  This revolution is included in Hugo's novel because he was a champion of the poor, for whom Marius and the others fight in the 1832 rebellion.  Hugo's novel, of course, is sympathetic to Marius as it denounces the degradation of the urban workers and the mistreatment of the poor, especially women and children.

Unlike the short-lived and poorly-planned 1832 Revolution, the French Revolution of 1789 was a blood bath that continued for years.  This uprising of the peasants and poor along with some bourgeois continued for years into the Reign of Terror. 

Peasants were required to pay 10% of their income to the Church, a land tax to the state, and 5% property tax.  Furthermore, they had to work for the seigneur, pay rent in cash and pay for the use of the nobles wine presses, bakeries, and mills.  During good harvests, these takes were high, but in harsh times of little harvesting, they were devastating.  The two years before the revolution saw meager harvests as the French did not eat potatoes.  With people starving, the "bread riots," the basis of a revolutionary sentiment was begun. 

Finally, in 1780s these problems were compounded by meager harvests. The failure of the ancien regime to enact reforms along with this starvation brought about the revolution and the peasants' vengeful retaliation upon the French aristocrats. 

While Dickens felt sympathy for the peasants, as a member of the rising middle class, he did not wish for revolution to come to his country as many others felt.  In many aspects Dickens focuses on the vindictiveness of revolutions.  His descriptions of the French revolutionaries serves as more of a warning against revolution--the Vengeance is deadly--than any encouragement such as Hugo gives his audience.

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A Tale of Two Cities

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