a tale of two cities: goodbye, old friend.

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For weeks, A Tale Of Two Cities has been a constant in my backpack, my English class, and my subconscious. The novel had become a huge part of my academic life – most notoriously, the night before my English test where I stayed up until midnight to go over and do notes until my hands were cramping. Dickens’ complicated 1800’s language and obscure Greek metaphors plagued my mind. Now, our journey is over.
And, predictably, I have a few thoughts.
Call me nostalgic, but the more i look back on the book, the more i could admit to enjoying it as well as the characters. Especially the ending – actually, the entire third book was great. Terrifying, but great.
Anyhow, what really stuck to me was Sydney’s sacrifice. Glaring Christian motifs aside, there was something incredibly poignant about it. I hate to be that person who romanticizes martyrdom – because, really, death is death, and bloodshed is still bloodshed no matter how much flowery prose you slap on top of it – but I think that made a lot of sense; to me, it was the perfect way for Sydney to die, the perfect final rounding out of his character arc.
The fact of the matter is, most of Sydney’s life as we know it was spent with him depending on himself – Stryver was there, perhaps, but we all know how reliable he is. As he stated, no man cares for him – and he cares for no man. And then comes the big sacrifice – ultimately, boiling down to his regard for Lucie. I use the word regard and not something like “affection” or “passion” because for one, the Lucie / Charles / Sydney thing cannot be called a love triangle so much as a love line or angle (Lucie and Charles connected with Sydney off to the side somewhere). And more importantly, it’s not about how swoon-worthy his love confession is – its about the fact that he saw something in her that made him want to be better, and that is a beautiful thing, and shouldn’t be ruined by any inane, obnoxious labels like ‘love triangle.’
(A very relevant quote here, also from a book centering around the French Revolution – “To love another person is to see the face of God”; from victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.)
His sacrifice was the best way for him to die, really. Lets think here – not only was it completely his idea, but he was very much choosing exactly to do so, and he was doing it for a cause (a person) he wholly believed in. His life was for his to do as he chose, and if he chose this, all the better for him.
(Let’s think about the alternatives – had Dickens not killed Sydney off, with Lucie in his life, happy as he would be to be around her, still he would have pined away for her, always wanting something he could never hope to attain. Without her, he would probably lapse back into alcoholism and depression and either live a long, bitterly drawn out life full of misery or inevitably meet some messy downfall. Small victories, guys.)
And, frankly, I think that Sydney was happy to do this, to give up his life if it would make Lucie happy. The man would have cut off his left foot and eaten it if it would make her smile, to be quite frank. (I’m not even going to touch on the tones of codependency in the Sydney / Lucie dynamic though, because I don’t think anyone wants to go there quite yet. Otherwise this blog post would be another 10,000 words long.)
Sydney died exactly the way he wanted to die, and the way he should have – his sacrifice is tragic, yes. But at the same time his selflessness is something that can be admired, and for someone who’d been a drunk and a scoundrel, looked down on, cared for by no one, I think that’s the best thing he could have ever hoped for.
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3 Comments

  1. Yes it most definitely was not a love triangle. A love triangle would require an annoyingly indecisive female lead. Let’s not forget about how it started as a love “square” with Stryver being his own dimension of NO. I also agree that it was how he wanted to die and should have died, believing that he accomplished something in the world. I feel that his ultimate goal was to preserve Lucie’s image and radiance of the girl that changed his heart.The death of Darnay would have most definitely changed her and she’s not gonna be that same girl with sweet compassion. He’s gonna become a lost hope unable to reach her in her depression. So in the end, what better option could there have been? (Unless they all escape and he finds some rich woman, but that wouldn’t make us all love him)

    • I’m going to have to slightly disagree with your first point there – there are a few well-written love triangles I’ve seen where the female lead in question is portrayed realistically and not annoyingly; but as it were, those are extremely rare. Anyhow, I definitely agree with you there, about Sydney’s general motivation being Lucie. Not necessarily in some uber-romantic way, but simply in that she changed him radically for the better and he has always remembered that.
      And oh god, I didn’t even consider that point – but yes, absolutely! It sometimes feels like it’s easy to forget that Darnay is a huge part of Lucie’s life as well and Dickens most certainly didn’t write her into the ‘strong woman’ trope – she’d most definitely change for the worse if she lost someone so integral in her life; she is, after all, Dr. Manette’s daughter. Tl;dr I’m glad that we share the same views on the resolution of the story!!

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