Book 1 – Recalled to Life
Chapter 1: The Setting
This book by Charles Dickens contains two of the most famous literary quotes
of all time. One appears at the start of the book and the other at the end of the novel.
Dickens begins with the statement that ‘It was the best of times, it was the
worst of times. It was the age of wisdom; it was the age of foolishness’.
The cities referred to are London, England and Paris, France and the novel
is set in the 1770’s when
the relationship between Britain and France was strained. The rulers of both these countries were set apart from the common people and they believed that their dynasties would last forever. However, at this time America declared its independence, which was a hint that there were winds of change in the world.
In France there was widespread hunger and poverty, particularly in the
cities where inflation was running out of control. The authorities inflicted heavy punishments on their citizens who believed that they were experiencing the very worst of life.
Dickens comments that the people of Paris were near breaking point, and that
the floodgates of revolution would be opened if they were pushed too far.
Similar conditions were also experienced in London where there was
widespread crime and violence due to the ineffective judicial system. However, the ruling classes were oblivious to the sufferings of their people, failing to realize the potential that angry mobs could have
and their ability to produce anarchy.
This first chapter gives the reader the backdrop to the plot and provides a
detailed description of the environment that the characters of the book live in. They move between the two cities throughout the novel, each has its own mystery and dangers.
There are two main themes in the novel, resurrection and revolution, the
first being dealt with in the early chapters of the book. In fact, Book 1 is called ‘Recalled to Life’.
Already Dickens is dealing with duality contained in the first sentence
‘best and worst of times’. The reader will also come across ‘light and darkness’, ‘hope and despair’ and, of course, ‘good and evil’.
The monarchs at this time were George III and Louis XVI who were totally
indifferent to the sufferings of their peoples. Out of the two, the French aristocrats were perhaps the more wasteful and decadent, which of course, would lead to the French Revolution.
They seemed to take delight in flaunting their opulence in front of the common people.
In England, the monarch’s excesses were perhaps more tempered, and the fact
that there had been a revolution in America may have forewarned the ruling classes about over-indulgent behavior.
Also the people in England were more superstitious and less likely to be angered, simply accepting their lot in life.