I didn’t read A Tale of Two Cities with the intention of researching for my Phantom novel, but it has turned out that way anyway. Not a lot has been directly relevant, but it has added some definite shadings through reading the history. The book is set about ninety years before my novel, but considering the French spent the intervening time having repeated revolutions and changes of government, it feels like it still has a lot of bearing for my characters’ experiences.
And there was one direct edit I made as a consequence of reading about the howling mobs depicted by Dickens. The Phantom, you see, has a terror of falling into the hands of a mob, something mentioned in the very first scene told from his point of view. After reading this book, I made some key edits. Here’s the paragraph as it was before:
Any attack would be more complicated than a simple mob with pitchforks; France was a civilized country, but the result would be the same. The end of a noose or even worse—a cage. He was guilty of the crime of being different, the world had convicted him at birth, and he had ample precedent to suggest how they would sentence him.
And with edits:
Any attack would be more complicated than a raging mob with pikes; France was a civilized country, outside of her sporadic revolutions. The result would be the same. The guillotine or even worse—a cage. He was guilty of the crime of being different, the world had convicted him at birth, and he had ample precedent to suggest how they would sentence him.
Small changes, but I feel good about them. Also, weird historical note: I looked up the history of the guillotine to make sure it was still in use in 1881. Turns out, it was France’s standard method of execution until 1981, when they ended capital punishment. !!! But maybe if I was French, that wouldn’t seem weird after all…
One thought on “Writing Wednesday: French Influence by Way of Mr. Dickens”
Second paragraph does read better – and is no doubt much more accurate. That is really weird that France used the guillotine well into the 20th century as a method of execution, but I guess it was fast. I’ve heard the so-called “humane” lethal injection is not always quick and painless, so maybe they were on to something.