A Tale of Two Cities is an historical novel by Charles Dickens about the French Revolution. Dickens is famous for the way in which he brings his minor characters to life, and makes them so memorable. They way in which he does this is to attach a telling detail to them, such as Mr. Micawber’s dictum that sixpence in the pocket means happiness, while sixpence in arrears means misery. But Dickens can also talk about the universe in a raindrop:
With a wild rattle and clatter, and an inhuman abandonment of consideration not easy to be understood in these days, the carriage dashed through the streets and swept round corners, with women screaming before it, and men clutching each other and clutching children out of its way. At last, swooping at a street corner by a fountain, one of its wheels came to a sickening little jolt, and there was a loud cry from a number of voices and the horses reared and plunged. (50)
The Marquis St Evrémonde is leaving Paris for his country home. Not unlike the way in which the French drive their cars today, Evrémonde allows his coachman to drive through the streets of Paris in a way that is hazardous to the well-being of everyone around him. The result is that he kills a child. This story explains brilliantly, in a few words, what the French Revolution is all about. It encapsulates the haughty disregard of the aristocrat set against the helplessness and rage of the people.