Page:Dickens - A tale of two cities, 1898.djvu/20

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

private people is so knitted and interwoven with the outbreak of a terrible public event, that the one seems but part of the other." Dickens does not give us long chapters of actual history. He could have introduced the real people—the King, Danton, Robespierre, St. Just; and Dumas or Scott would probably have done so, with good effect. But the more modest plan is the safer, and, as the example proves, not the less interesting. The Revolution exists, so to say, for the story. Even that gallant feat, the storming of a scarcely defended castle, is described because of its necessity to the plot; the Doctor's manuscript, concealed in No. 105, North Tower, has to be discovered by Defarge. The novel does rather suggest that the Bastille was assaulted mainly for that purpose, and that the Revolution was chiefly caused by the vintner's wife, "to serve her private ends." The conditions, or some of them, which nourished the bacillus of revolt, are described, however, in earlier chapters, consistently with what Dickens calls "the philosophy of Mr. Carlyle's wonderful book." With similar skill the September massacres are not dragged in, for the mere sake of description, but are of moment to the conduct of the story. It were hypercritical to object to the coincidence whereby the spies, whom we first met in England, meet and are mastered by Carton at the nick of time. Such allowances are the common right of novelists. Indeed, when Dickens, writing to Monsieur Regnier of the Comédie Française, called this book "the best story I have written," his self-criticism was just. It is the best charpenté of his tales up to that date; the most compact, and the most lucid in its development. Excellence in construction had not hitherto been his forte, partly because his tales had too many interests, in which that of plot was apt to be obscured and overlaid by a mass of