Monday, June 24, 2013

In praise of Sydney Carton

For as much as I complain about middle school, I must say, my teachers did a wonderful job picking classic titles for us. Maybe I really was just that geeky kid who couldn't contain her enthusiasm, but I loved thinking about the history and issues presented in their selections.

As I recall, the first book they started us on was A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. It was because of that book that I held Dickens in such high regard for so long... and then was so bitterly disappointed by works such as The Old Curiosity Shop and Great Expectations.

As much as the historical backdrop provided the intensity, the characters were, to my twelve year old mind, thrilling: the vengeful Madame Defarge; the spirited Lucie Manette; the haunted Charles Darnay; and the villainous Marquis St. Evremonde. But the character that, for me, the book turns on is Sydney Carton, brilliant but purposeless until he falls in (unrequited) love with Lucie. While the book is about the French Revolution and the larger questions of when justice becomes revenge and whether people can ever give up their consciences, it's also about a man striving to be more than he was because of the love of someone else.

I was tickled to see that C. J. Brightley agreed with me. (Also, I was introduced to the story through the television movie as well. Believe it or not kids, there was a time when network television did try to produce quality content.) But really, if you have to choose a favorite from a cast of characters like this, how can you not choose the one who's the most conflicted and is willing to make the greatest of sacrifices for the person he loves?