“You are really reading Dickens for fun?” Someone in my Bible study group asked me this question as if I were bonkers. “Yes, of course I am, it’s my therapy,” I responded, although I doubt if she understood just how important reading books is for me. In her mind, books equate studying, but to me the opposite is true. I read because I want to hit the “Escape” button and enter a different, parallel universe.
Dickens takes you on quite a ride with this tour de force. The backdrop is London and Paris in the build-up to the French Revolution. I couldn’t quite get away from the feeling that the situation in pre-Revolution France is not unlike the current situation we have in South Africa today, where the chasm between rich and poor is so vast. This is epitomised in the sentiments expressed by the Marquis St Evremonde:
“Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear and slavery, my friend,” observed the Marquis, “will keep the dogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof,” looking up to it, “shuts out the sky.”
Perhaps there’s a warning for us in that, that the divide between the two should never be allowed to become so great as to tear a nation apart.
Carton was my favourite character because he is so dark and brooding and ultimately redeems himself. Jerry Cruncher is one of those superb comical characters that Dickens excelled at and the tussle between Madame Defarge, certainly the most foreboding and formidable persona in the novel, and the inimitably British Miss Pross at the end of the novel is a real showstopper. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable novel – a living monument, in fact.