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Coincidence and Fate in the works of Bronte and Dickens

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    Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities and Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights are both novels in which can be found the elements of coincidence and fate. The Oxford English Dictionary defines coincidence as "a notable concurrence of events having no apparent causal connection."1 Indeed, this idea is highly important in Dickens' intricate plot which is, in fact, brought together through the power of coincidence. Similarly, in Bronte's novel, coincidence plays a role in the development of the plot. Often, however, one is not able to clearly label a series of connected occurrences as coincidence. Rather, at times it seems probable that the notion of fate is operating in both Dickens' and Bronte's works. Once again, The Oxford English Dictionary serves as a source of gaining a clear sense of what is fate. It defines this concept as "the principle, power, or agency by which, according to certain philosophical and popular systems of belief some events are unalterably predetermined."2 Although neither Dickens nor Bronte ever clearly state what elements in their novels are controlled by fate, it is possible using this definition, to analyze the works in the attempt to discover whether or not fate is in fact operative.

    Charles Dickens makes frequent use of coincidence in the structure of his novel, A Tale of Two Cities. One major coincidence surrounds John Barsad whose true identity is Solomon Pross. The first element of the coincidence is that Barsad's sister, Miss Pross, is the maid of Lucie Manette throughout the novel. This coincidence deepens when, upon their return to France, Miss Pross and Jerry Cruncher happen upon Barsad in the street. In her excitement, Miss Pross herself is struck by this great coincidence:

    `Oh, Solomon, dear Solomon! cried Miss Pross, clapping her hands again. `After not setting eyes upon you or hearing of you for so long a time, do I find you here!'3.

    The turn of events surrounding this coincidental meeting is crucial to the plot of the novel. Soon after this episode, Sydney Carton learns of the double identity of Barsad. Since it is highly dangerous for Barsad to be found out by the French, he is now partially under the power of Carton. Carton's power over Barsad enables him to enlist the dubious man's services when he changes places with Darnay in the French prison. Without the help of Barsad, this would be impossible. Thus, Dickens introduces coincidence when it is of the utmost importance to the plot.

    Arguably the most striking example of coincidence in Dickens' novel is in the uncanny resemblance that is shared by Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. In Dickens' words, the two men were "sufficiently like each other to surprise, not only the witness, but everybody present" at the trial.4 Once again, Dickens' use of coincidence is crucial to the novel's plot. Without this incredible and unexplainable likeness between Darnay and Carton, the latter character would be unable to save Darnay's life at the end of the novel. A Tale of Two Cities very much centres on the themes of friendship, sacrifice and heroism; if Carton were not able to sacrifice himself for the sake of his friend, these themes would not ring so clearly.

    While Dickens is famous for his coincidences, Bronte's work is not so dependent upon chance occurrences. The coincidences of Wuthering Heights are arguably less significant than those of Dickens' novel. One minor coincidence early in the novel is the concurrence between Lockwood's arrival at Wuthering Heights, after "wading through heath and mud"5 and the appearance of Catherine's ghost that has now been "a waif for twenty years".6 However, this may not be a coincidence at all, since it is entirely possible that Lockwood's visit to the room, in which he slept, somehow was a cause of the ghost's appearance. A further similar example is the concurrence between Heathcliff's return to Wuthering Heights and the developing marital problems between Edgar and Catherine. However, once again, it may be argued that a causal relationship does in fact exist between these two events, for Catherine's reaction to Heathcliff's return betrays her interest in him: "Catherine flew upstairs, breathless and wild, too excited to show gladness".7

    While coincidence, perhaps, does not play a major role in Bronte's novel, the notion of fate is conceivably operative. One could argue that the sad respective ends of Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw are in fact fated by their actions in the novel. The aforementioned definition of fate could be compatible with the notion that, once Heathcliff leaves, and Catherine marries Edgar Linton, the unhappiness of the two characters is "unalterably predetermined". Once the marriage of Edgar and Catherine takes place, the love between Heathcliff and Catherine is perhaps doomed never to be consummated or allowed, for as Linton tells Catherine: "Will you give up Heathcliff hereafter or will you give up me? It is impossible for you to be my friend and his at the same time".8 Catherine is caught between two men who have a strong "aversion to each other,"9 and she is perhaps fated to unhappiness. Thus, in some sense, it is arguable that fate is an operative principle in Wuthering Heights.

    The notion of fate, however, is far more pre-eminent in Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. It becomes obvious to the reader that Dickens is working with this theme from his frequent use of this term in relation to his characters. For example, the notion of fate is, at one point, associated with Madame Defarge when she questions Mr. Lorry:

    `Is that his child?' said Madame Defarge, stopping in her work for the first time, and pointing her knitting-needle at little Lucie as if it were the finger of Fate (emphasis added).10

    However, the idea of fate as an operative force in the text becomes most powerful at the end of the novel when Dickens describes Sydney Carton's thoughts at the guillotine. In his placid and heroic state, Carton realizes that the heinous crimes that have taken place in the French Revolution were fated by the events of the previous age: "I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth."11 Furthermore, Carton's thoughts, which Dickens describes as "prophetic,"12 move into the future and the hero sees the happiness of his friends, and their grief for his death as things which are predestined by his selfsacrificing action. Therefore, for Dickens, the notion of fate and predestination is clearly an operative notion.

    Thus, while in Bronte's Wuthering Heights, the use of coincidence is scarce, and the plot, for the most part, is sustained without uncanny concurrent events, Charles Dickens uses coincidence as a source of glue that serves in holding his plot tightly together, as it were. However, it is entirely possible that it is not coincidence alone that operates in Dickens' work. Rather, the force of fate, which is certainly present in the novel, is perhaps the element that brings these events into such incredible synchronicity.

    Bronte's novel also uses the notion of fate to some degree, but it is employed in a different manner than in Dickens' work. In Wuthering Heights, the lives of the characters are doomed by their own actions, or by the mistakes which they have unwittingly made. In Dickens' work, fate is a force that determines the events of an entire age based on the actions and elements which composed the previous epoch of the nation or group of people. Also we can write an exclusive dissertation on any topic


    • Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York: Signet Classics, 1993.
    • Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1985.
    • Milford, Humphrey, ed. et al. The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933.

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