A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

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What kind of realism and romanticism is there in A Tale of Two Cities? How do both Realism and Romanticism appear in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens?

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Christopher Jerde eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Dickens blends realism and romanticism throughout A Tale of Two Cities, which I think is one of the keys to its enduring power.

The realism comes in through Dickens's careful research of the French Revolution, how it came about, the key events, the attitude of that time period. As in his earlier contemporary novels like Oliver Twist, Dickens does not shy from the ugliness of poverty and starvation. He does not shy from the cruelties inflicted upon the poor by the wealthy either, such as murder and rape. The revolution itself is presented in its gory vengeance too.

However, Dickens's romanticism shines through the story of Lucie, Charles, and Sydney. Lucie and Charles come across like characters from a fairy tale: fragile, attractive, and pure of heart. They are almost made the victims of the historical circumstances in which they find themselves.

Sydney is a drunkard who becomes a man of high ideals, willing to die for the sake of his great unrequited love, Lucie. His sacrifice is presented as almost sacramental, transforming him from someone lowly to a great hero who will live forever in the hearts of those he died for (Lucie and her family).

So, Dickens is putting Romantic characters and themes into a realistic setting.

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Certainly Dickens captured the gritty reality of the French Revolution. The descriptions Dickens uses paints a vivid picture of the dire predicaments of the poor. People were desperate for food and clean water. The same fountains where they drew their drinking and cooking water were the same fountains used for washing.  Desperation led to mobs that stormed the Bastille and wreaked havoc on Paris. The guillotine was a fact of life toward the end of the Revolution, ending the lives of both guilty and innocent.

The Romanticism in the book comes in the plot and characters. The probabilities that one man would give his life for another for the love of a woman are pretty low. The noble ideals of Darnay and Dr Manett are truly Romantic ideals.

Dickens uses the Romantic language and plot elements to drive his report on the horrors of revolution so that England could avoid a similar tragedy.

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