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Friday, October 19, 2012

Fearsome tales in our Readers 7

A Tale of Two Cities

I wasn't exactly horrified by the extract from this novel, but was morbidly fascinated. In this Dickens classic, Charles Darney is in jail in Revolutionary France, awaiting execution for exactly what I can't recall, but he's a nobleman and that's bound to be crime enough. Sydney Carton, impelled by what I thought was a pretty crazy but extraordinarily grand impulse, visits Darnay in the jail at the last night before the execution, takes his place by swapping clothes with him, and gets the Citizens' chop.
   All this is from a memory of the extract from fifty-five years ago, so I'm hazy about the full context. It's from the scene in the jail where the clothes-swapping occurs, and I was gripped by the highly charged atmosphere it invoked.
   I couldn't quite imagine at age nine or so being that noble myself, though I did think people would be impressed afterwards when they found out how incredibly generous of spirit I was. The only real drawback to that is that I'd be dead, and not really be able to bask in the sacrificial glory. So it would be a waste, really, and I don't think my family would be all that thrilled by it either. It seems I have very little trace of true martyrdom in me.
   I always thought "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friend[s]" came from this novel, but it turns out the Bible [John 15:13] got there first by a country mile. It was a beautiful thing for Sydney Carton to do, but I couldn't imagine how Darnay could live with the swap for the rest of his life.
   I think they were both in love with the same woman, which may explain why Darnay accepted the offer, but it makes Carton's gesture a bit silly. Even at the age of nine I would have gone for the girl, and hoped that she didn't mind which of the two of us she ended up with.
   But that was soppy stuff, and when I was in Grade Five I'd much rather have seen a picture of him at the precise moment the guillotine did its thing, Madame Defarge knitting away busily in a front row seat.
   And, finally finally, the one I detested above all.

Gelert [343 words]
Fearsome tales in our Readers 1: Introduction [1000 words] 
Fearsome tales in our Readers 2: The Daisy and the Lark [256 words] 
Fearsome tales in our Readers 3: The Little Match Girl [206 words] 
Fearsome tales in our Readers 4: The Crocodile and the Bull [280 words] 
Fearsome tales in our Readers 5: Escape from the wolves [444 words] 
Fearsome tales in our Readers 6: Mazeppa's Ride [438 words] 
Fearsome tales in our Readers 7: A Tale of Two Cities [336 words] 
Fearsome tales in our Readers 8: Gelert [343 words]

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