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Cryptic Texts: Coded Signs and Signals in A Tale of Two Cities

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A Tale of Two Cities, a novel about the past, portrays language, and communication generally, in a very modern—at times postmodern—way. Although language is used as an unambiguous means to convey ideas and information, much of the communication that occurs in the novel is buried, encrypted, dislocated, and transmogrified; the secrecy and “secret signaling” that pervade the later Dickens extend, in A Tale of Two Cities, even to the linguistic and semiotic realms. While one of the obvious purposes of these cryptic texts is to keep incriminating or compromising communication secret, the purposes are not limited to this. Generally the text evinces a radical skepticism towards the necessary or ineluctable connection between the signifier and signified, between word and deed. Although A Tale of Two Cities may not offer a new or penetrating interpretation of the French Revolution, it does interrogate the very bases—language and identity—upon which we build our representations of our world and our selves.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2011-06-01

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  • Founded in 1970, the centennial anniversary of Dickens's death, DSA has been published since 1980 by AMS Press in cooperation with the Ph.D. program in English of the City University of New York and in association with the Graduate Center, CUNY and Queens College, CUNY. Besides presenting articles exploring the wide range of Dickens''s interests and talents, DSA also includes essays on other mid- and late- nineteenth-century authors and on the history and aesthetics of the period's fiction. In addition, each volume contains a substantial review article examining a prior year's scholarship on Dickens, and DSA occasionally publishes surveys of work on other Victorian writers, as well as review essays considering specialized studies of subjects in Victorian fiction. The editors seek to offer essays of "the most diverse kinds," those employing innovative as well as traditional approaches.
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