A Tale of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens
Analysis: Steaminess Rating
Exactly how steamy is this story?
Everything’s honorable and above-board in this novel, folks. After all, Dickens was a family man. He wrote family stories. Whole families used to get together to read the newest edition of his novel’s sections aloud. Dickens was like the primetime TV of his generation.
Because of this, of course, there are really no steamy sex scenes. Sure, Lucie and Charles Darnay get married – but Darnay makes sure to ask for Doctor Manette’s blessing before he even thinks about asking Lucie out for a walk. We’re pretty sure that they weren’t sneaking behind the bushes.
Sure, Lucie and Charles even have kids (two, in fact), but the description of their births is one of the most weirdly cryptic passages of the novel. Here’s an example:
That time passed, and her little Lucie lay on her bosom. Then, among the advancing echoes, there was the tread of her tiny feet and the sound of her prattling words. Let greater echoes resound as they would, the young mother at the cradle side could always hear those coming. They came, and the shady house was sunny with a child's laugh, and the Divine friend of children, to whom in her trouble she had confided hers, seemed to take her child in his arms, as He took the child of old, and made it a sacred joy to her.
See? It’s almost like medium is reading out Lucie’s future from a crystal ball. We’re not quite sure why the tone is so different for this section of the novel, but we’ve got a good hunch that it has something to do with not wanting to have to explain sex to the kiddies.
So why the "PG-13" rating? Well, there’s one obvious reason: A Tale of Two Cities is about the French Revolution (we know, we know – we’ve said that already). It’s also a tale about rape.
Don’t worry if you missed that one. It’s actually fairly easy to miss, what with all the head-chopping and blood-spurting and axe-wielding that goes on in the last sections of the novel. We almost wonder if Dickens wants us to gloss over the fact that Charles Darnay’s uncle abducted and raped a young peasant girl. His father helped to conceal the crime.
In case you’re wondering, the girl just happened to be Madame Defarge’s sister. That’s how her whole revenge thing gets started. But to get back to our sex rating: we’d say that the rape was as cleanly-rendered as Lucie’s children, but Doctor Manette’s letter brings to light the haunting and devastating after-effects of sexual violence. The girl raves, "My husband, my father, and my brother! One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve. Hush!" (3.10.73). As her mind deteriorates, we watch her life slowly slip away. The Marquis and his brother may not care at all about her fate, but it’s pretty hard for readers to forget it.