When I was seven or eight, I read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and fell madly in love. The French Revolution, resurrectionists, Madame DeFarge’s vengeful knitters, sweet golden-haired Lucy, handsome French aristocrat Charles—all of these made it a book to dive into and lose myself within. But it was a sloppy, drunken, failed lawyer, Sydney Carton, with whom I fell In love.
Imagine! At that young age, already lusting for the bad boy.
And such a perfect bad boy! Sydney is a worthless drunk. He allowed his lack of discipline and his love of liquor and loose women to derail his once-promising career. Now, he shambles around in dirty, wrinkled clothes and rents out his still-brilliant legal mind to a lawyer who hasn’t half the brains Sydney does, but who’s retained the appearance of a respectable gentleman. Sydney wryly spits on respectable. What a guy!
Of course, behind the sloppy clothes, uncombed hair, and bad habits, Sydney is not only gifted intellectually and witty in conversation, but when his hair is combed and he wears a clean cravat, he’s the spitting image of Charles, much-loved aristocrat, even saving Charles from arrest through this perfect resemblance. Isn’t that enough to make the little girl inside you fall hard? (And if you’re a guy, too bad.) It gets better. Sydney hides within his snarky exterior an ardent but pure love for golden Lucy.
Oh! She could save him from himself! But that’s not to be. Lucy’s in love with shallow, dull Charles, and she marries him and has a golden-haired tot. Sydney hangs around and smolders. (Rather like a later bad boy, Spike, hangs around Buffy’s house in the shadows of the night, keeping watch—Joss Whedon as our modern-day Dickens?)
My heart ached for Sydney’s unrequited love. Then, Dickens broke it right in two. Charles is arrested in France and sentenced to the guillotine. Lucy and tot are desperate to rescue him but nothing works. Sydney sneaks off to the prison and with bribery manages to sneak Charles out as himself. But for this to work, Sydney has to stay in the prison as Charles and go to Charles’ death for the sake of the woman and child he loves.
But Dickens was never one to stop when he’d reduced you to a sodden mass of tears. On the way to the guillotine, Sydney Carton befriends a frightened, young girl, also condemned, who recognizes that he is not the real Charles. He tells her when she asks why he’s sacrificing himself—“It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.” Probably singlehandedly through the centuries imprinting millions of young girls with a predilection for unkempt, snarky bad boys.
Linda Rodriguez’s novel, Every Last Secret (Minotaur Books), won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. She reads and writes everything, even award-winning books of poetry and a cookbook, and she spends too much time on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda. She blogs about writers, writing, and the absurdities of everyday life at http://lindarodriguezwrites.