A Tale of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens
More Cuddly than a Teddy Bear
We’ve got to admit, we love Mr. Lorry. He’s everything that’s stodgy and old-school British, all wrapped into a little old man with spectacles. Mr. Lorry lives for his bank, Tellson’s. Well, at least officially Mr. Lorry lives for his bank. Although he continually refers to himself as a "man of business," he’s also just a big, soft-hearted teddy bear. He’s the one who first carries Lucie over to France to meet her long-imprisoned father. His concern for Doctor Manette and Lucie quickly blossoms into deep friendship. Skipping away from the dark corners of his office whenever he can, Mr. Lorry finds himself in a comfortable corner of the Manettes’s house in Soho, playing checkers with the doctor.
It’s pretty clear that our narrator is poking fun at Mr. Lorry when he describes the "businessman’s" concern for the integrity of his old, musty, dirty bank office. He does it so gently and lovingly, though, that we know it’s not a sharp satire. We’re laughing with Mr. Lorry. Okay, he doesn’t know that he’s laughing. But still, we’re not laughing at him in a mean way. (If you are, stop it. Right now.)
What are we laughing at? Well, for one thing, there’s Mr. Lorry’s insistence on referring to real-life problems as "hypothetical" situations. He’s a businessman, see. Businessmen don’t have to deal with personal affairs. That’s why he couldn’t really be emotionally invested in Doctor Manette’s mental health or Lucie’s fears about meeting her father for the first time. No, no. His concerns are all hypothetical. Of course, even the Manettes manage to see through the façade that Mr. Lorry constructs for himself. Mr. Lorry’s "hypothetical" situations often refer to issues that directly affect the family: Doctor Manette’s mental breakdown after Lucie’s wedding, for example, can be discussed by the two men because neither of them is really talking about Doctor Manette.
Of course, we’ve got to wonder why a banker gets to play such a key sympathetic role in the novel. Is he sympathetic despite his occupation or because of it? In other words, could Dickens be lodging a not-so-subtle plug for British businesses into the heart of his novel?
It’s not likely, we admit. Dickens tends to be pretty critical of large corporations or governmental structures. Tellson’s Bank actually gets off pretty easily. At the very least, it does good work during the revolution… or does it? Is saving the French aristocracy's money and valuables something we should be valuing? And if not, what does that say about our opinion of Mr. Lorry?