Payback Time: Dickens and Revolution

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This essay assesses the long history of political disappointment with Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, including George Orwell’s description of the novel as a counterrevolutionary text that depicts the French Revolution as “no more than a pyra-mid of severed heads” (59). It suggests instead that the novel’s nested use of prophecy and hindsight, borrowed to a certain extent from Thomas Carlyle, supports a reading of revolution as the natural and inevitable result of injustice. Thus the novel can be read along a line of development from Walter Scott’s historical novel Waverley, which sees the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion as a foolish mistake, to William Morris’s News from Nowhere, in which the protagonist’s desired socialist revolution is seen from the far future to have succeeded. Sydney Carton’s final prophecy takes part in a vision of the post-revolutionary future that is permitted to omniscient narrators, but usually forbidden to literary characters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)425-433
Number of pages9
JournalVictorian Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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