This is the first Dickens that I've read and I didn't like it that much. The plot relies on way too many improbable coincidences, and some of the majoThis is the first Dickens that I've read and I didn't like it that much. The plot relies on way too many improbable coincidences, and some of the major characters are crude cardboard cutouts, or are sentimental caricatures (Lucie Manette, a sweet blonde saint -- gag! ). I concede that Dickens successfully captured the larger than life quality of the French Revolution, but I feel that much is sacrificed in terms of character development and story nuances.
Improbable coincidences :
SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF BOOK III
Book I : Darnay happens to be in the same mail coach going to Dover with Mr. Lorry.
Book II : Darnay and Carton happens to look alike, so alike that they could be mistaken for each other by people who actually know them.
Book III :
- Darnay happens to be the son of Marquis Evremonde, who put Dr. Manette into jail.
- Mrs. Defarge happens to be the sister of the woman and her brother who were wronged by the Evremonde brothers.
- Cruncher happens to open Roger Cly's false grave and thus knows that Barsad is lying --- from all the graves that he opens, he happens to open that one and remember it well enough years later !?
- Barsad happens to be Miss Pross' brother (not revealed until almost the end of Book III).
- Miss Pross and Cruncher happen to meet Barsad in a Parisian shop while going grocery shopping.
Anyone notice more of these?
What are the odds of all of those coincidences happening in real life? I can see how they help to tie up the plot together at the end of the book, but I think Dickens uses too much of these coincidences, so much that it considerably lessens the story's overall impact.
"`You judge very properly,'' said Mr. Bennet, ``and it is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether the"`You judge very properly,'' said Mr. Bennet, ``and it is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?''
``They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.''
Mr. Bennet's expectations were fully answered. His cousin was as absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the most resolute composure of countenance, and, except in an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure."
Absurd cousins, hysterical mothers, giggly airhead sisters, aristocratic snobs --- Austen mercilessly skewers them all with her rapier-sharp wit and unerrant eye for the ridiculous. No one escapes her scrutiny, and everyone makes a fool of themselves at least once in the merry-go-round of the Regency mating game. Even her shrewd, feisty heroine almost fell for a charming cad, before she is finally rewarded with the ultimate prize in the matrimonial game.
If the plot seems banal or overtly familiar to 21st century readers -- boy meets girl, misunderstanding ensues, boy and girl overcome their issues and live happily ever after -- this is because Austen's novel is the original template for countless romantic comedies written over the last 200 years. Being the original prototype, however, does not diminish Austen's masterpiece. Beneath all the romance and comedy that make it such a delightful read we are constantly reminded of the darker undercurrents that animate the surface narration. Mrs. Bennet's hysteria stems from the necessity of securing husbands for her five daughters, who all would be condemned to penury should they fail to marry well before their father dies. The slightest deviation from society's prescribed mores results in the destruction of reputation and even ostracism. Any contact with one's social superior, at a time when birth and wealth trumped any other qualities, always comes with the possibility of insult or mortification. In Austen's world, dinner parties and balls are battlefields and romance is a deadly serious business.