I’m a little late to the literary party, but I finished reading Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities today. It is, of course, a classic. Sad how I don’t remember reading any such classics in school. And I don’t mean I don’t remember because I don’t remember. I mean I don’t remember because they weren’t assigned. The only one I remember is Les Miserables. I wonder if today’s students are being assigned classics. I hope so.
One of the things I found interesting about Dickens’s writing is that his style put me in mind of my literary idol, Patrick O’Brian. Surely O’Brian must have admired Dickens and read his works. Even one character, Mr. Cruncher, put me in mind of O’Brian’s crusty Preserved Killick.
Christopher and Jonathan Nolan used aspects of A Tale of Two Cities in their screenplay for the movie “The Dark Knight Rises.” I love when contemporary media relies on literary classics; it’s a great blend of past and present, and it no doubt brings fresh attention to the classics. Not only did the Nolans borrow certain character names, like Barsad and Stryver, but more importantly they used the theme of oppression, of how over time oppression by the “have’s” over the “have not’s” leads to the downfall of the oppressors, yet by overthrowing them the formerly oppressed soon become the oppressors themselves.
One scene in particular was a direct mirror of a scene in A Tale of Two Cities. In the book during the French Revolution, the courts, of course, were nothing more than mere kangaroo courts where the lust for blood led to the death of as many innocent people as guilty. Often at such proceedings one of the antagonists, Madame Defarge, is in attendance, knitting diligently away, her knitting holding the names of so many eventually arrested and executed. In “The Dark Knight Rises,” after the city of Gotham falls to Bane and his revolutionaries, a similar kangaroo court is convened, and in one shot Bane is at the foreground edge of the frame and can be seen working away with something akin to dark yarn, almost like he’s crocheting. A small–and humorous, considering Bane’s brutal image–detail that, of course, many viewers might miss or surely not understand unless they realize the purposeful parallels in the movie with A Tale of Two Cities.
Today’s modern reader might find Dickens’s style “old school,” but I loved it, just as I love O’Brian’s more “classical” way of writing. Good prose is hard to find nowadays. Hopefully the English teachers of today don’t forget the classics of yesterday so the writers (and readers) of tomorrow can reap the benefits.