Squawk Radio

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Lisa on “A Tale Of Two Cities” or “My deathless love for the spectacularly sexy hunk of manhood that is Sydney Carton.”

Dirk Bogarde was the best Sydney Carton Ever

Warning: If you ever intend to read A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and don’t want spoilers, do not proceed! Alas, there is no way to discuss the magnificence of Sydney without revealing the Big Surprise at the end of the book. However, it is my opinion that even knowing the spoilers, your enjoyment of the story will not be lessened one iota.(What is an iota, anyway? And while I digress, what the heck are tenterhooks?)

I was in ninth grade when I met the literary love of my life. A Tale Of Two Cities was one of those required reading assignments, and frankly, it looked so boring I would rather have stuck a sharp pencil in my ear. By this time, you see, I had begun reading historical romance novels, and I was so enthralled with them, nothing else seemed worth the effort. (Still enthralled, actually.) But then I started the book, quickly devoured it, and from that moment on, my heart has belonged to Sydney Carton.

So before I tell you about my darling Sydney, here are the basics of ATOTC for the uninitiated:

Famous first line : “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .”

--The elderly Doctor Manette has been wrongfully imprisoned in the Bastille for eighteen years. He is finally rescued and given into the care of his beautiful golden-haired daughter Lucie.
--Lucie is loved by two men, the virtuous and handsome Charles Darnay (an exiled French aristocrat) who has all the depth of a paper plate . . . and Sydney Carton, a brilliant brooding alcoholic English lawyer who helps defend Darnay when he is put on trial for treason. For reasons you’ll find out in a minute, Darnay and Carton are near-lookalikes.
--Lucie marries Darnay, and Carton, who is suffering with secret and unrequited love for her, vows that he would make any sacrifice for her sake.
--As France succumbs to the Reign of Terror and the heads of aristocrats are literally rolling, Charles Darnay goes to France to help an old friend, and is himself arrested. He is put on trial for being a descendant of French aristocrats, the Evremondes, even though Charles personally hasn’t done anything wrong. The chief agents of Darnay’s downfall are the evil Madame Defarge and her husband, who are enemies of the Evremondes.
--Lucie, her family, and Sydney Carton all go to France to try to help Charles, who is sentenced to be beheaded.
--Carton learns of the Defarges’ intentions to have Lucy and the entire family killed, as well as Darnay. He engineers a stunning rescue by going to the Bastille, drugging Darnay and switching clothes with him, and having Darnay carried outside to the carriage. Having assumed Darnay’s place, Sydney sacrifices his own life at the guillotine so that Lucie can be happy with her husband.

Now let’s talk about Sydney :

He is the ultimate reformed wastrel, who shows himself capable of the tragic, desperate and all-consuming love. At the beginning of the story, Sydney is dark, bitter and brooding (all my favorites!). He loves no one and is loved by no one. But we see signs of a delicious hero underneath--he is keenly intelligent, and although he first sneeringly refers to Lucie as “the golden-haired doll”, he quickly falls under the spell of her goodness and innocence, and he knows he will never be good enough for her. At night in the privacy of his own bedroom, this proud and cynical man’s pillow is “wet with wasted tears.” (Thud. Lisa is prone on the floor.)

Knowing Charles Darnay is the better man for her, Sydney doesn’t confess his love to Lucie until after she is married, telling her he wants nothing from her, but “I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.” And, “For you, and anyone dear to you, I would do anything.” ("I'll take you, Sydney! She doesn't deserve you!)

When it is clear that Darnay is doomed to go to the guillotine, which has become more productive than a salad-shooter, Sydney shows his truly clever, masterful, dashing and heroic self. He drugs Darnay, makes the exchange, and gives Lucie’s husband his freedom, choosing to die in his place. And then we are allowed a glimpse into his prophetic thoughts at the guillotine : “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.” (Lisa screaming “Sydnnnnneeeeey!!!”)

Sydney Carton is the ultimate redeemed rake, with the obvious makings of a supreme romantic hero, and what kills moi, as a devoted romance reader, is imagining what would have happened if Lucie had married Sydney instead of Darnay. I tell you, she would have turned him right around! He would have quit drinking, there would have been the most amazing love scenes in all of romanceland . . .

Yes, I know, I know. Then "A Tale Of Two Cities" would have been turned into “To Kiss A Rake”, and Sydney would have been featured bare-chested in a field, on a pink stepback cover.

Sounds good to me.

So . . . who is your favorite “lost soul” in books, movies, etc?
Lisa Kleypas, 8:21 AM