2013/11/07

Modern European History - Disecting a 'Tale of Two Cities' from 1958

So one of the things that I have been learning this semester is how to do a historical matrix. I have a few under my belt at this point and what they tend to entail is watching a film that has both a plot and the historical situation involved in it. Teasing out both pieces and then discussing them is the assignment and while I am finding it a little difficult, here is an altered version of my first one. I have altered it a little because I have no idea how to create columns and rows on a blog page and I also have removed a few personal comments. This post is based on the film “Tale of Two Cities” released in 1958 If you have a chance, watch the one produced in 1935... it is better. :)


Can I start this matrix/assignment by saying that I find this time frame challenging to study as its such a difficult time period. What a struggle to live during that time... the French Revolution is one of the most challenging times to focus on. It just seems so vicious for all who lived then whether you were in France of not....but France was definitely the worst I think. The older version seemed more true to the book as well... I didn't feel quite the atmosphere in this movie that I felt in the book and the older version.

Summary of the Movie

Broadly, this film is about the struggles of many people during the beginning of the French Revolution. There are several characters of various walks of life whose lives interweave in both painful and distressing ways. We learn about Dr Mannette and visit he makes to the home of a nobleman (we later learn his name is Darnay) where he watches the deaths of two young people and learns of the death of their father. Unwilling to ignore the horrors he has seen, he reports the aristocrat and Dr Manette is not seen again outside the Bastille for eighteen years. When he gets out he is housed by an old servant (Mr Defarge) who keeps him their until the doctor's daughter Lucy and his banker arrive to pick him up and take him to peace and safety in England. On the way down, Lucy Mannette meets both a nobleman named Charles Darnay and a barrister named Sydney Carton. Due to a set up, Mr Darney is tried for treason and manages to be acquitted with the help of Mr Carton. Both men return to England as both men are in love with Lucy; however, Mr Darnay wins Lucy's hand in marriage. Within six months of their marriage Lucy is pregnant and Mr Darnay discovers that some of his servants in France have been locked up and need his help. Knowing it is dangerous, he returned to France and is immediately arrested and thrown into jail.

The Bastille is successfully stormed and its prisoners released as well as its large stockpile of weapons and gunpowder. At the head of the mob is Mr. Defarge along with his wife- she is the only living relative of the three deaths at the beginning of the book whose telling caused Doctor Manette to be sent to the Bastille. Within six months of their marriage Lucy is pregnant and Mr Darnay discovers that some of his servants in France have been locked up and need his help. Knowing it is dangerous, he returned to France and is immediately arrested and thrown into jail. Lucy returned to Paris with her companion Posy and Sydney due to her concern for Charles and soon it is apparent that Mr Darney will be put to death as an aristocrat and for the bad deeds of members of his family. Sydney, in his attempt to save Lucy, the life of her unborn child, and her sorrow over the mental health and life of her husband, blackmails a prison guard that he recognizes from England to help him and with the help of this man and Mr. Lorey, he (Sydney) managed to get Lucy and Charles with their belonging back to England. Sydney Carton takes the place of Charles Darney and pretends to be the defeated aristocrat until this death.

Historical Matrix - The order runs as follows: each number has two sections. The first section shows the part of the film picked for analysis and a brief description of the scene. The second contains the analysis. :)

1. Minute 13; quote by aristocrat EvrĂ©mondes ...Dr Mannette is told by an unknown noble (after watching a young girl die)... “Doctor, you are not summoned here to listen to the babbling of this kind... You may forget these serfs. I only wish to impress upon you doctor that the things you have seen and heard in this house are not to be spoken of. You would do well to mark that.” (I do not remember this scene in either the book or the older movie)

I think this scene was included to give us (the modern reader / watcher) members, but understanding of how the majority of people – or serfs- were treated in this society. They were cherished by family members and maybe even by community, but as serfs they owned nothing except their feelings and thoughts. Their lives, energy, possessions, etc... were all owned by the noble who owned them and the land they worked. This scene suggests how the majority of nobles probably felt about their serfs in this time frame; like property without feelings or lives, just to work for them and accomplish what the nobleman wishes. If they die or 'break' more are created through birth to take their place... and as such easily replaced if necessary or if the personality or looks of one were not to the owner's liking.

2. Minute 1:03; quote by Mrs. Defarge ... “You're the one who shot the people down. Genocide!”

I think this scene is trying to express and show us a few things. First, the peasants no longer worry about being killed as they are dying of starvation and other problems. In this sense, the number of dissatisfied and frantic people creates a form of 'mob' mentality. Death is no longer the peasant's primary concern. As the mob realizes that they are winning the mood of the group not only continues to focus on its anger and for some revenge, the peasants feel no pause at harming anyone they see as an enemy- even people who are only following the orders given to them... people who may not be that far removed from the peasants themselves in money or station. Those who have felt oppressed or overpowered rarely deal with great power in the most rational and truly 'right' and fair ways. The deaths of the king's men at the Bastille and even some of the aristocrats show that. You can hear in the laughter and the yelling the total out-of control nature of the peasants in the mob. When I was watching some of the footage of the Egyptian protests during the 'Arab Spring', I could see some of the same play of emotions of the people's faces as they fought.

3. Minute 1:08; quote by unknown servant of Mr Darnay - “What have any of these others done?” Mrs Defarge - “You ate, while we starve!”


These thoughts express both the bewilderment of those who have been removed from power or those who had some more control over their lives.... and the anger and need to 'scapegoat' that many of the peasants felt. When people make others into a scapegoat, it also absolves the 'scapegoat-er' of any wrongdoing and gives them justification for their poor behavior. We still do this today to so many people and groups over perceived grievances. I think that sometimes we as humans are so anxious for change that we do not realize that things can't be instantaneous... it causes chaos as the differing sides fight and struggle. Bloodless revolutions or large change usually take 'time'... very rarely does history give us King William and Mary. :)

4. Minute 1:10-12; Quotes - Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton talk of responsibility. Carton – “How simple it all sounds. Far simpler than I'd imagined. Goodbye to France. Farewell to all responsibilities.” Darney - “I have been selfish. I should have gone back to France when my cousin died... worked out and supervised all I meant to do.” Carton - “I see. In view of that I hope you won't contemplate doing anything foolish.” Darney - “You must leave me to make my own decision.”


This scene helps to show the hierarchy of the society and the challenges and responsibility that came with each 'station' of life. Even though aristocrats and the nobles had different problems than the other classes they too had responsibilities and things that they were required to do as well. For those who had some thoughts that were influenced by the Enlightenment, they were in a double bind... being pushed in two directions as all sides fought farther apart to hold onto what they had and to attempt to gain more. Today, we can see the same problems... the gaps between the 'haves' and 'have nots' are growing in all countries and so all people feel the tension and the struggle that is starting to build between us.

5. Minute 1:41-44; Sydney Carton sits alone in the cell.

At all times in every person's life we have times where we have done something challenging, or must or feel we must make choices that break us. How we make those choices shows our character and what truly does matter to us. Whether rich or poor, male or female, no matter our station in life, all of us must make these choices or they may be made for us. Some must reflect longer on their choices, but all will feel them and the pain they cause No character in my life from a book with one exception has ever made more of an impression on me. I have named a beloved pet after him, writing many stories and thoughts about him. This character always reminds me that in all of us is the ability to care and do amazing things... we need only have the strength and motivation to do so. I hope that I do in the mountains and pits of my life.

6.
Minute 150-151; Sidney Carton - “Suddenly I want to weep, but I must hold my tears in check less they think it is myself I weep for.... and who would weep for Sydney Carton? A little time ago none in all the world... but someone will weep for me now. And that knowledge redeems a worthless life. Worthless but for this final moment which makes it all worthwhile. It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”

We all weep for the Sydney Cartons of the world. “There must be some appeal - some chance of a reprieve” And at some point most of us give – maybe not our lives, but a part of us to take away the pain or a punishment of another. All we do to help our fellow human beings find joy and relief throughout all the ages of history matters … even when most do not remember or know of their existence.


Have a great day, my friends... and hope you enjoyed :)

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