Saturday, December 04, 2004

Save Sidney Carlton

In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens gives us a whole handful of paper doll characters who behave in heroic ways. They are moved to behave by motivations which seem to be regulated by something unseen and noble. Faithful and honorable would seem to describe Mr. Lorry, Miss Pross, Lucie, Monsieur Defarge, Dr. Manette, and Charles Darnay, at least in a general and superficial way. Another couple of characters we meet are the lawyers at the trial of Charles Darnay in England. Sidney Carlton, the perceptive, dissipated, hard drinking one of them emerges, by the end of the book, to become a central figure, at least in the sense of plot, to the happy/sad and romantic resolution of the story.

It would not have been within the scope of Dickens or any of his Victorian contemporaries to have focused on the Carlton character in the modern way of a psychological novel. He, at any rate, needed Carlton to stay locked in his dissipation so that the sacrifice he makes at the end wouldn’t overwhelm the rescue of the rest of the characters and turn the story into an out and out tragedy. Wouldn’t it have been interesting, however, to find out what kinds of activities would have been necessary for that character to grow out of and beyond his self inflicted emotional wounds!

What kind of depth of character might we have been able to discover if that insightful and clever creation of Dickens’ fruitful imagination had worked on a process to cure the self-imposed laziness with which he was painted? Also, it must be readily confessed, we must get Carlton past the sugar sweet and the stylized painted on tarnish before we can take him much further beyond the pages of that venerable novel. I do acknowledge that I find him an unusually large and realistic character for that novel, which makes me suspect something of the author beyond his ingenious creativity, is present here.

So shall we have a go at Sidney?

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