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This Dickens masterwork is filled with all the elements of a great redemption story. The novel is set in Paris and London during the French Revolution, spanning from 1775 to 1792. Prior to the revolution, the French aristocrats abused and suppressed the poor at every opportunity. Rather than using their positions of power and wealth to care for the poor, they showed themselves to be animals. During and shortly after the revolution, the pendulum swings. The blood-thirsty peasants, drunk with the power of the guillotine, massacre anyone and everyone with the slightest link to the former aristocracy. There is daily bloodshed as people loose their heads, often the result of sham trials. The people sing and rejoice as the blood flows in the streets. In their lust for power and in the name of egalite, the peasants show themselves to be even more barbaric than the aristocrats.


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Amid all of this bloodshed, malice and destruction, Dickens paints a marvelous picture of redemption. He shows it for what it truly is - brutally complicated and sickeningly messy. Just before the revolution, a young aristocrat named Charles Darnay denounced his aristocratic lineage and moved to London where he became a teacher of French language and literature. In his new, modest life, he married Lucie Manette, the daughter of a French medical doctor. Lucie and her father were also living in London. Dr. Manette had previously and wrongly been imprisoned in the Bastille for eighteen years. For various reasons, the three find themselves back in Paris in 1792 right in the middle of the post-revolution bloodbath. Darnay's family history is discovered and he is quickly imprisoned. He committed no crime. He was imprisoned simply because of who he was. Dr. Manette, beloved among the republicans because of his Bastille experience, offered testimony in Darnay's defense. Darnay was set free. In a sense, you could say that Darnay was redeemed by the pain suffered by Dr. Manette. But, the redemption was not a lasting redemption.

Before the family could leave Paris, a particularly evil person (referred to as the daughter of the Devil) brings a new set of charges against Darnay. This time, the good doctor's testimony is not sufficient to save him. No, in this case, the only way Darnay can escape his sentence is for a substitute to stand in for him - a Redeemer. In the end, Dickens masterfully tells this story of redemption and of the redeemer, an unexpected person who willingly stands in the accused's place at the guillotine and takes the punishment for him. It is a brutal and disturbing story. Man is shown at his best and worst. The reader is left in wonder at the power of redemption and shocked at the grand divide between good and evil.