Recalled to Life
A Tale of Two Cities
The theme of “recalled to life” has some obvious and less obvious implications in A Tale of Two Cities. The first discussion of being recalled to life happens in our messenger’s own mind. Jerry Cruncher works as a “resurrection man” on the side and points out that business for him would take a decidedly southward turn if recalling people to life became fashionable.
Jarvis Lorry provides us a couple of examples of being “recalled to life.” His dream about resurrecting a body that has been dead for almost eighteen years is a very vivid and literal example of being “recalled to life,” grisly and disturbing though it is. Lorry’s presence in the midst of this intrigue is also an example of being “recalled to life.” He has apparently been a man whose entire focus was “business.” This secret mission is recalling an elderly man back to active life from the comfortable rut he has established for himself.
Only when we learn the details about Alexandre Manette does the most literal usage of the theme become apparent. He has been “recalled to life” from his fifteen year stay in the Bastille. However, it remains to be seen whether he will be able to return to life. At the end of Book I, he is still in the throes of madness and his recovery seems doubtful.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
The theme of being “recalled to life” can also be found in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Mr. Crisparkle is recalled to life by the compassion he feels for Neville Landless. After living such a quiet existence with his porcelain shepherdess mother, he winds up punching a man out!
One could also argue that the Landless children are recalled to life when they are given the opportunity to come to Cloisterham. Without that, they would have been lost to who knows what type of “life.”
Rosa Bud is certainly recalled to life in Drood. She escapes the little cocoon that the town of Cloisterham has provided by her when she runs from Jasper and sets up a new life for herself in London.
Our Mutual Friend
The more I read the more convinced I am that Rokesmith is indeed, Harmon “recalled to life.” His “death” was certainly concocted; the reasons, however, remain to be seen.
The death and Gaffer Hexam may also allow Lizzie Hexam to be recalled to life. Without her father, she can take some of the opportunities offered to her, like Abbey Potterson’s attempt to help her.
Without her father, she may have some sort of life beyond that of a river rat. The Boffins are also making an effort at recalling someone to life with their attempted adoption. They want to take an orphan and make sure he is given all the opportunities that John Harmon was refused, in essence bringing recalling John Harmon back to life.
The Historical Novel
The value of historical novels can be found in the old saying about those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it. Unfortunately, not many of us have the academic fortitude to wade through straight historical accounts. This is where the historical novel has such value for the average reader.
According to Paul Davis, the historical novel was developed by Sir Walter Scott and combines historical persons and events with fictional characters and a fictional story. Dickens gives us the story of the French Revolution with the addition of fictional characters to give it a level of dramatic intensity that is sometimes unavailable from straight historical accounts. Novels like A Tale of Two Cities offer us history wrapped up in a package that we can not only tolerate but can become passionate about. It offers us the lessons of history without feeling as though we are being berated or preached at. It is social commentary without the tone of superiority or condescension sometimes found in the speeches and pamphlets of social activism. It allows us to learn the lessons of the past on our own (a much better way of ensuring we don’t forget what we learn) and gives us an opportunity to embrace social change without resentment.
Davis, Paul Benjamin. Charles Dickens A To Z, The Essential Reference To His Life And Work. New York: Facts on File, 1998.