Daniel Williams

Posts Tagged ‘Charles Dickens’

A Few Words About Sydney Carton

In English, Essay, Literature, Writing on 07/02/2012 at 16:30

I’m not a fan of Charles Dickens. It’s mostly because I don’t like Victorian prose. I’m sure many people will disagree with me, but I find Victorian prose too knowing and self-conscious, and the characters flat and unconvincing. But, as it is Mr. Dickens’ 200th birthday, I’ll be nice and write about the one character of his that I really love.

Most of Dickens characters, to me, fall into types- the virtuous ones, the crooked ones, etc. But in A Tale of Two Cities (1859) is the character of Sydney Carton.

Sydney Carton is a brilliant lawyer. But he lacks self-confidence and cannot resist a drink. He falls in love with Lucie Manette, knowing that she is in love with his doppelganger, the impossibly good aristocrat Charles Darnay. Sydney loves Lucie quietly, knowing that she would not requite his love. Carton is very self-aware. He knows that he would not be good enough for her or bring her any happiness.

This is where we get into spoiler-territory. If you don’t know the ending of A Tale of Two Cities you should go and read the book. If you do know the ending, I shall continue.

For me, Sydney is one of the few heroes in literature I believe in. Charles Darnay is meant to be the ‘good’ one, but I find his goodness to be blind, naïve and he’s not smart enough to see the trap laid for him in France. But Sydney Carton comes through, despite it been contrary his public character and not really what he wants to be. Charles Darnay is to be executed, so surely, he could let him die and then catch Lucie on the rebound? But he knows, even with Charles dead, she would not return his love.

This is how Sydney Carton becomes a hero. Hemingway said heroics is ‘grace under pressure’ and I think Sydney Carton shows that. He calmly sees the only thing left to do to save Charles- to take his doppelganger’s place in waiting for the guillotine. I’m not doing him or the novel much justice, but the end is so beautiful and sad. The famous last lines of the novel made me cry. He calms goes to his death knowing the happiness of his loved one is secured.

Maybe I’m just a romantic old fool, but I really love the character of Sydney Carton. He does the right thing not because he’s a pure ‘good’ character like Darnay or Oliver Twist, but because he wants peace for his failings and to find meaning in his life. He struggles with himself more than external forces. He’s a well rounded character. He is a hero not because he is good but because he is good in spite of himself.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: