Character Spotlight: Charles Dickens’ Madame Defarge

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A complex, well-crafted antagonist is a work of sheer beauty. I am especially drawn to brilliant villains with compelling backstories, partly because they mirror a greater truth about our own reality. The most entrenched conflicts come from two or more parties who believe they’re doing the right thing, as this short video explains:

But what does this have to do with Charles Dickins’ A Tale of Two Cities?

Everything.

At first, Madame Thérèse Defarge seems like an innocuous shopkeeper, but as the novel unfolds, Dickens reveals that Madame Defarge holds enormous power. What seems like a harmless, if somewhat obsessive, knitting hobby turns out to be a coded communication tool for the women of the revolution. With single-minded determination, she rallies a mob that carries out her vision of justice against the wealthy classes that ruined her childhood and destroyed her family. This constant need for vengeance ultimately becomes her undoing, and I find myself alternately cheering for her and denouncing her inability to work beyond the us/them mentality.

But the main reason I love Madame Defarge, and the reason she has stuck with me all this time, is how she transformed an innocent past time (knitting) into a means of orchestrating an entire revolution.


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Author: DitrieMarieBowie

Ditrie Marie Bowie (née Sanchez) is a Puerto Rican in British Columbia, Canada who writes fiction. Bowie professionally reviews books for IndieReader and teaches English to non-native speakers around the globe. A classically trained pianist, she has lived in three different countries spanning two continents. And she met her spouse in a video game. She also has a pet dragon. Bearded dragon, that is.

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