Cover image for A far better rest
A far better rest
Alleyn, Susanne, 1963-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Soho, [2000]

Physical Description:
xii, 353 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Features Sydney Carton and other characters from Charles Dickens' A tale of two cities.
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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A Tale of Two Cities is the story of Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette, but Sydney Carton is the hero who makes the ultimate sacrifice for love. Sydney disappears from the novel in London and turns up years later in Paris to bring the story to its heartbreaking end. A Far Better Rest imagines his missing personal history and makes him the center of this tragic tale.

Born in England of an unloving father and a French mother, Sydney is sent to college in Paris, where he meets Charles Darnay and the other students who will have enormous influence on his life and alter the course of French history -- Robespierre and Camille Desmoulins among them. The beauty and kindness of Charles's wife, Lucie Manette, affects Sydney so deeply that he secretly devotes his life to her happiness.

Sydney becomes a major participant in the formation of the French Republic at the end of the eighteenth century and a witness to one of the most gruesome periods in history, as the significant people in his life fall tothe guillotine. A Far Better Rest is a novel of passion, identity, and history that stands fully on its own.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Sydney Carton, the brooding hero of A Tale of Two Cities, is one of Dickens' best creations. In her first novel, Alleyn has taken Sydney as her central character and imagined his entire life. As in Tale, fate links Carton's path with those of Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette but also with that of many historical figures, such as Desmoulins and Robespierre. After the marriage of Darnay and Lucie, Carton goes off to France, expecting to live an idle life there as well but instead gets caught up in the French Revolution, first by writing for a revolutionary journal and later by being elected to the French National Convention. He even finds love again with a cousin of Darnay named Eleonore. There are some discrepancies between this novel and Tale, and Alleyn takes some liberties with Dickens' characters, but she tells a very good story. Best read alongside Tale, Alleyn's novel gives a vivid picture of the development of the French Revolution through the eyes of that wonderful hero despite himself, Sydney Carton. --Kristine Huntley

Publisher's Weekly Review

Portraying a Paris full of political intrigue, lofty goals and lost hope, Alleyn's first novel re-imagines Dickens's classic A Tale of Two Cities, charting the events of the French Revolution and filling in the missing years in Sydney Carton's life. The stage is set in Paris, where narrator Carton is studying with such illustrious historical characters as Maximilien Robespierre and Camille Desmoulins. Another classmate at Coll‚ge Louis-Le Grand is Carton's mirror image, Charles Darnay. An unfortunate turn of events leads Carton to his native England, where he is severed from his inheritance by his emotionally distant father and begins leading a dissolute life of drinking and whoring, while halfheartedly pursuing a career in the law. He meets Lucie Manette, whose youth and beauty he idealizes, when, in 1780, he represents Darnay, now residing in England and accused of treason. Darnay is acquitted, and weds Lucie. Eight years later, Carton returns to Paris on the eve of the revolution, and meets Darnay's cousin El‚onore. It is here that his life takes on meaning, and the novel acquires dramatic tension. From the fall of the Bastille to the Reign of Terror, the revolution's main players, both historical and fictional, are portrayed with skill and depth, making even such notorious figures as Robespierre comprehensible, if not sympathetic. Although the prose is encumbered with 18th-century vernacular, Alleyn's insightful storytelling and assiduous historical research create a richly textured, tragic tale that, in the tradition of the best historical novels, brings an era alive through the depiction of human drama. Agent, Don Congdon Associates. Author tour. (July) FYI: Alleyn is a dealer in rare and out-of-print French history books. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

If it has been a while since you read Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, now you have a chance to reread it from the viewpoint of Sydney Carton. Beginning with Carton's childhood, debut novelist Alleyn fleshes out his character and makes his dying for Charles Darnay even more understandable than in the original. Having Carton write his life story while awaiting his date with the guillotine, Alleyn proposes that after Carton declares his love for Lucie Manette, he goes to France, sobers up, and becomes involved in French politics. The author follows the French Revolution through its increasingly violent stages as Carton tries to use his position to rescue his friends. With each failure, he again turns to alcohol, becoming more and more dependent until the opportunity comes to save Darnay. This well-written historical romance is recommended for all readers, especially those who have read the Dickens classic.DAndrea Lee Shuey, Shuey Consulting, Dallas (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Paris 16 Germinal, Year II of the Republic 5 April 1794 old style To-day they guillotined Danton; and with him died the fragile dream of Clemency, and all my hopes and prayers. For if Danton the Colossus has succumbed to the Terror, this ravenous Goddess who has devoured or corrupted the best of France, what chance of enduring has any of us?     Wanting hope, two paths now stretch before me, one towards Love and the other towards Honour, and I know not which I should choose. For I made a solemn vow once to Lucie, and once again to myself this very day, and despite my many faults, I do not break my word. Yet the man who made that long-ago vow to Lucie was not the same man who writes these words to-day.     What a tangled path has led me to this moment, from my father's country estate to the gin-shops and stews and back-alleys of London, from London to the salons and parliaments of Paris, and at last to this dreary Parisian lodging-house. Or perhaps my story truly began--as I think it shall end--not in England, not in my father's fine brick mansion, but in Paris. Perhaps my path began to twist and turn, through the ravaged landscape of my life, on the day I met Charles Darnay. "New boy," said one of my fellow senior students, jerking his head at the slender figure who stood irresolute in the door of the rhetoric-hall at the Collège Louis-le-Grand. "A relative of yours?"     "Why do you say that?" said I. All my relatives with whom I was on speaking terms--my father, his brother and nephew, my sister Bella, and my elder brother Oliver--were on the other side of the Channel, in England.     "Why, I merely thought ... but go and take a look at him, then."     My curiosity piqued, I strolled over to the new student's side. He was two or three years younger than I, sixteen perhaps, handsome and fine-boned with an air of quiet assurance. And indeed I knew his face, tho' I could not, for a moment, think how we might have met. But in another moment I realised (I know not how, for are we not more accustomed to the faces of our closest companions than to our own?) that the visage opposite me might have been that of my brother. No, not my brother, for I and my brother Oliver were little like--not my brother, but myself, my own looking-glass image.     "My name is Carton," I said, offering my hand.     He nodded. "Darnay." He spared us both discomfort by giving me as frankly curious a glance as I imagine I was casting his way. "Have ... have we met?" he enquired, at length.     "No" said I, "we've not met. But I imagine you've glanced in a glass of late?"     He stared at me a moment ere laughing out loud in astonishment. "Mon Dieu," he murmured, adding: "I don't suppose you could be one of my relatives?"     "That depends who your relatives may be," said I, carelessly.     "O--nobody in particular."     "It scarce seems likely, nevertheless, since I am English."     "English! Then what a quirk of Fate it was, that has placed us together here in Paris."     "Who knows the workings of Fate, or of Providence?" said I, with a laugh. "But a fellow ought not be shy with his looking-glass twin; I hope we may be friends, Darnay. Come, I'll show you about." "I can't help but observe that your French is nearly perfect," Darnay told me, a few days later, as we strolled together along the perimeter of the central courtyard, where the younger boys were playing ball under the watchful eye of two of the masters. "The other English and Irish students speak French as if they were talking thro' a mouthful of porridge."     I laughed. "A compliment indeed! I must thank my mother, who taught me. She was a Frenchwoman. My father met her whilst visiting France on a matter of Business and wedded her six weeks later. His first wife had died, you see, and his little daughter, my half-sister Bella, needed a mother."     My poor mother, wedded in her blooming youth to a gruff and exacting man twice her age! I cherish fond memories of her to this day, my gentle, kind, pretty mamma, whom as a child I thought the most beautiful lady in the world (tho' at times I believed Sarah, the golden-haired little daughter of our nearest neighbour Sir Mallory, was near as lovely).     "And she wished you to come here, to Louis-le-Grand?"     "Yes. It was her fondest wish for me, that I should attend the finest school in France, and then go on to the University of Paris. But she is dead, now, too, and never saw me here; indeed never saw France again."     "I am sorry."     "I don't believe she ever felt herself truly at home in England." I mused. "Though she never would return to France. It was as if she had cut herself off from her family."     "Or they from her," Darnay suggested. "Did you never ask her?"     "No. And she never spoke of them, beyond their name and their province. I think she was determined to make the best of her lot, and raise her children, and shut her eyes to whatsoever it was she had quitted in France."     "Perhaps. My mother did the same. I don't remember my father, for I was only four years old when he died, but sometimes ... one hears things. From the elder servants, you know. Abominable rumours."     "Rumours?" said I, my curiosity whetted.     "They say he was lewd and immoral, that decent women would take care not to be alone with him. He was killed in a duel by the husband of a lady he had dishonoured, I believe, or so they tell me. But everybody knew my mother was unhappy in her marriage. She turned her back on my father's family after he died, and returned with me to her own people. I was educated with my cousins and I dare say I was the better for it."     "Were you not sent away to school?"     "No, we had a tutor. Louis-le-Grand is my first taste of boarding-school."     "And what do you think of dormitory life, and boarding-school food?"     "The food isn't quite as bad as my cousin Eléonore assured me it would be," said he, with a grin.     "Truly! Well, speak for yourself. I am mightily glad to be free of it when I choose, and free of dormitory beds, and schoolmasters prowling the corridors."     "You don't dwell here at the Collège ?"     "No, I've my own lodgings on rue de la Parcheminerie. It was my father's doing. I told him that I'd been out of school in England for near a year, and that I had no taste for the dormitory life once again, particularly at a school governed by priests. One needs special permission to live outside the Collège --my father very nearly had to obtain a papal dispensation!"     Darnay laughed. "Your father must indulge you, then."     "Yes, I suppose he does, or so might a stranger say," I reflected. "He gives me everything I could ask for, so long as I give him no trouble in return."     "But ..." said my companion, hearing the hesitation in my voice.     "But ... he does not love me. He gives me all I wish, very nearly, because he will not ... or cannot ... give me affection." I looked away, praying that the autumn sunshine would not catch the glint of tears in my eyes. "He loved me once, in his own rough way; there's the rub of it. But since my mother died, and even ere that, we have been strangers to one another." My mother had died of consumption the year Bella wed, when I was yet a lad of twelve, and with her into her grave had gone my boyhood's happiness and any illusion of tenderness my father might have attempted.     The boys' ball came skidding towards us, to an accompanying chorus of "Hi, look out, there!" I scooped up the ball and flung it back at them, perhaps with more force than I had intended. "What did I ever do," I continued, "to deserve such coldness? I have been asking myself that question since I was ten years old. O, I grant you, I was not a model pupil at Shrewsbury School ... but should a few poor marks, and a few schoolboy scrapes, turn a father against his son? And I tried, Darnay, I truly tried: I applied myself and earned prizes for Latin, for Composition, for History, yet nothing I did could please him. When I showed him the prize book I had won for taking first place in Latin, he only grunted and said `You'd better turn your attention, then, and improve your Arithmetic'. Perhaps he grew indifferent to me when in my school-work I showed no commercial aspirations or talents whatsoever--for what use, to a manufacturer and merchant of porcelain, is a first prize in Latin? Perhaps," I added bitterly, "since my brother Oliver is to inherit his property and his fortune ... perhaps he regards me as so much superfluous baggage that must still be fed, clothed, and educated. He is a monstrous practical man, after all."     "I doubt that's the circumstance," said Darnay mildly, "if he is as rich as you have led me to believe."     I winced. Tho' I had suspected, from his courteous and graceful bearing, that Darnay was sprung from the lesser Nobility rather than from the bourgeoisie and the professions as were most of the boys at Louis-le-Grand, I had guessed, also, that his family was only of modest fortune. "I am sorry," I said. "I oughtn't to have spoken so."     "You needn't apologise."     "Are you here on a scholarship? It's nothing to be in the least ashamed of, you know, not here. Half the boys have scholarships. It's an honour, rather."     "No," said he, "I am not here on a scholarship. My mother's family can afford the fees." He turned to me. "Are you indeed as good at Latin as all the seniors say you are? Perhaps you could help me; I'm struggling through Virgil at present."     "If you like," said I, with a smile. Tho' his abrupt change of subject baffled me, I thought it better not to pry. "Of course; whatsoever you like." In all I spent three years, perhaps the gayest of my life, as a student in Paris. Glittering, unforgiving, fascinating Paris, then and ever the centre of European civilisation! My father might have done worse for me; I will readily admit that he never deprived me of the benefits that a man of his wealth might bestow upon his children. In truth, he gave me all I needed but approval, and affection.     What a remarkable place the Collège Louis-le-Grand was, and what a remarkable collection of Alumni it produced. I speak not of myself, nor of Darnay, but rather of the host of native-born students who, long afterward, would overturn a Kingdom. I speak, in fact, of Robespierre himself, at that time a pale, solemn eleven-year-old scholarship-boy from Arras; for the masters, upon his arrival, unceremoniously placed him in my care for his first week or two at the school, until he should learn his way about the buildings and the rules.     During my last year at the Collège I befriended a small boy very different from Robespierre. I came upon him in a courtyard where the younger pupils often played, but he was not playing. He was, rather, braving a half-dozen boys of his own age who were taunting him. I had no liking for bullies and with a few sharp words sent them packing. The thought that his saviour was one of the senior students, an elder of the lofty age of nineteen, must have over-awed the lad, for he stept back a pace and attempted to swallow his tears as I approached him.     Taking his hand, I sat on a stone bench and drew him beside me, suffering him to sob into my shoulder. Soon he calmed and raised his head, gazing at me with a pair of splendid black eyes that must, at better times, have sparkled with merriment.     "Why were they teasing you?" I asked him.     "B-Because I stutter," he faltered, his nether lip trembling. "They c-call me s-stupid stammerer , and I'm n-not! I'm c-cleverer than any of them!"     "Well, they are envious then, aren't they?" said I. "They would like to be as clever as you are, but they choose to be cruel to you out of spite, because they know they are not. Boys are horrible little creatures, you know. I was one myself once."     " I'm a boy," said he, indignant.     I stared at him in mock astonishment. "Why, so you are. What's your name?"     "Desmoulins ... C-Camille Desmoulins."     "Mine is Carton."     "That's a funny n-name," he declared, brightening, attempting to pronounce it in the French fashion.     "It's an English name."     "Are you English? I'm from G-Guise. It's in P-Picardy."     "Guise, you say?" I echoed him. My erstwhile acquaintance, young Maximilien de Robespierre, was from a northern province also. Though shy and solitary, he seemed the sort of boy who might take a younger lad under his wing. "Well, Desmoulins, I can see you want a friend, and I happen to know a boy from Arras who I think also wants a friend. Would you care to meet him?"     "Will he l-laugh at m-my stutter?" "I am sure he will not," said I. "He seems a very quiet, gentle boy, and rather lonely."     I escorted the lad inside and found Robespierre. They quickly struck up a friendship, although Robespierre's habitual gravity stood in odd contrast to Camille's sunny, lively disposition. How could I have imagined, then, what those two boys would become, and how our lives would touch again? Tho' intimate associations amongst the boys were frowned upon at Louis-le-Grand, the masters could not prevent Darnay and me from spending many hours in each other's company. Even the elder students were allowed only limited freedom away from the Collège , so he came but infrequently to my lodgings. We soon discovered, however, an attic that lay forgotten beneath a high-peaked roof in one of the Collège 's lesser buildings, and there often retreated of an evening to pore over our books, or perfect each other's Latin (or Darnay's English), or argue some point of rhetoric or philosophy from the day's lectures. Lest it be thought by some that we had overnight become monks, I may add that we spent many more hours, and drank down many bottles of good red wine, in talk of pretty women, and in talk of the newest sensations at the theatre and the opera, and in news of Court and town, and in chattering of nothing of import whatsoever.     How well, and how fondly, I remember those few golden years in Paris, undoubtedly the most dazzling city on the face of the Earth. And how I gloried in it! I confess I ran wild, like any other young scapegrace whose ample allowance burnt a hole in his pocket. Free of the dormitory's restrictions, I enjoyed the liberty to haunt theatres, cafés, gambling-hells; to drink coffee and Cognac at Zoppi's, read the forbidden books of the fashionable new Philosophers, dream of becoming an author like Voltaire or Diderot; to visit the most notorious bawdy-house in the city and there be initiated into its mysteries, after which I promptly kept a saucy shop-girl as a mistress; and somehow thro' it all I attended the lectures, read a heap of dusty books, learnt my share of French Law, and discovered a profound kinship of minds (if not always of opinions) with my looking-glass twin.     "Tell me about your brother and sister," said Darnay to me one day in our attic retreat, after lectures were done.     "What is there to tell?" said I, laughing.     "Whatsoever you wish. I have no brothers or sisters myself, only three cousins ... and one of them is in his cradle still. My cousin Gilbert is a dreadful little priggish boy, and my cousin Eléonore is but thirteen years old, and far too clever for her years--she is the very devil!"     "O, I have cousins, too--my father's brother's children, Elijah and his three sisters. My uncle is no more than a lazy, good-natured drunkard, if truth be told, but Elijah seems likely to get on. As for my brother, Oliver, he is a splendid fellow, all that my father could ask for. He is tall and ruddy and handsome, just as an English gentleman should be; my mother used to say that he would grow to be a true John Bull Englishman , and that one would never guess he was half French. He rides hard, drinks hard, and works hard. But he would spring to my defence in an instant, whether against some school-yard bully or against our father himself when he is ill-tempered."     "And your sister?"     "I scarce know Bella. She is nine years older than I and is wedded to a ship-owner in Bristol, and they don't often spare time for a visit. I remember that she was rather vain, and selfish, but quite shrewd, and had little patience for small brothers who might be underfoot. She assists her husband in managing his concerns and evidently does well at it, for they are enormously rich." I poured out another glass of red wine for him and grinned. "You are more fortunate than you know, Darnay, not to have had some imperious elder sister ordering you about."     "Won't you call me Charles, in private? Are we not good enough friends for that, by now?"     "If you wish," said I. "If you will call me Sydney in return."     "Willingly."     "Darnay ... Charles," I ventured, "since we are friends, and speaking of our families, may I ask you a question?"     "Anything. You know that."     "Well then ... Darnay is not your true name, is it?"     "No," said he after a moment's silence. "It's not. How do you know?"     I shrugged. "Darnay is not the name of a Nobleman, and you are manifestly one of the Noblesse . You are no more an ordinary Advocate's son, or a provincial Banker's son, than I am the First Prince of the Blood Royal."     To my surprise, he crimsoned. "To me," he whispered at last, "that word Noblesse is more a term of shame than of honour ... tho' I ought not brand all the Aristocracy with the same stigma."     "I-I meant only that you carry yourself like a gentleman born: in a courtly manner, like one taught to observe honour and courtesy in all things--"     "And as so many do not!" he exclaimed, fiercely. I stared at him, all amazement.     "Darnay?"     "Forgive me. But if you knew what I know, or merely suspect, about my own family, the people whose name I bear ..."     It was my own turn to change colour. "I didn't mean to pry."     "No, it will be a relief to speak of it to someone. And who better than you, whom I know I can trust?"     "If you wish, then."     "Well ... do you remember, we once spoke of our kinfolk, and I told you my father had gained an ill reputation? He was only one of a bad family. They have always been judged callous landlords and harsh masters. And there were others who were far worse than my father. My uncle, his elder brother, was banished from Court for his--his private conduct."     "Banished from Court?" I echoed him. "From this Court, from Versailles? From the court of the Lecher-King, who keeps a brothel on the Palace grounds?"     He nodded. "Banished by Louis XV himself. So you can imagine how very vile my uncle's behaviour must have been. If it were only debauchery and lechery ... but I've heard other rumours, ugly rumours of how he gets his women, and how he treats them." He lowered his voice, though no one could have overheard us. "Whipping, bloodletting, rape ... and they say he prefers little girls, of no more than thirteen, tho' he'll take any woman who strikes his fancy ... he enjoys deflowering them, corrupting them, hurting them. I've heard that he is diseased, as well, and that's why he has no living children. It's no more than I would expect. Of course," he added hastily, "I've scarce met him, nor do I wish to. But if you were I, would you care to know that such a man is your blood-kin?"     "Mordieu," I murmured, "it's an ugly story you tell me. We all imagine our own troubles are the worst ... until we hear another's."     "I wish nothing to do with him, or his tainted name. So, with my mother's blessing, here at Louis-le-Grand, and probably elsewhere, I am and shall be merely Charles Darnay, son of nobody in particular."     "I won't tell a soul. Word of honour."     He smiled and clasped my hand. "Thank you, Carton."     "Sydney," I corrected him.     "Sydney. That's not a very common name, is it? In England?"     "No," I agreed, refilling our glasses once again, relieved to have changed the subject of our conversation. "It's more common as a surname, I expect."     "Sir Philip Sydney," said Darnay, nodding, "he was a poet, was he not?"     "Yes. But I was named for his descendant. Algernon Sydney."     "Algernon Sydney?"     "A comrade of Cromwell's--"     "Ah, your Civil Wars."     "--who fought against the King, even tho' he was himself an Earl's son," I told him. "He was a great man. Long after the Restoration, he spoke out against the King and was at last condemned and put to death, because the King feared him. He died for the cause of Liberty."     "A great man indeed," murmured Darnay.     "My father has always held with the rights of Parliament, and the people, above the rule of Aristocracy. He named my brother after Cromwell, and me after Sydney."     "Did you know," said Darnay suddenly, "that there are tidings from America of a riot in Boston, in the British colonies, some months since? They are calling it a massacre, it's said. It's rumoured that dozens of folk, perhaps hundreds, were killed by British troops."     "What of it?"     "What of it? You, who a moment ago spoke of the cause of Liberty, can ask that? Carton, their taxes lay too heavy a burthen upon them. Once again an oppressed people are speaking out against unjust rule."     "Very well; but nothing that you or I can do will make a whit of difference," said I.     "It's the fruit of the modern Philosophy, Carton! A hundred years ago such a thing couldn't have happened. But to-day ... to-day change is everywhere--change and reform. Soon folk like my uncle will have to answer for their outrages. Ere you and I have passed our prime, we'll be dwelling in a new world."     "And you are going to take part in this great endeavour, are you?"     "Perhaps. Perhaps I shall. You needn't smile. When one sees the Injustice carried on here in France, the Nobility's detestable privileges--yes, and in England, too--"     "Not so inequitably, and not by me."     "Seeing a wrong done, and doing nothing to correct it, is near as bad as committing a wrong oneself. You will be a Barrister one day; why not defend the victims of Injustice? Think on it. You can't sit idly by forever, Carton."     "I'll think on it," said I, smiling, and drank down my glass. My Parisian idyll came to an abrupt close when I had scarce turned twenty. "We have received a letter from your father in England," said Father Bérard to me, after having called me into his study. "He tells us that you are to return home immediately, and permanently."     "Return home?" I stammered. "For what reason?"     "He does not say. He merely includes a draught on the bank of Tellson et Fils to pay for your passage to England. We shall miss you, Carton."     Mystified, and monstrous disappointed, I ordered my servant to pack my belongings, bade adieu to Célie (my pretty shop-girl) with a handsome present, and at last went in search of Darnay. "I don't know why I'm to go home now," I complained, after divulging my ill tidings in a secluded corner of the library. "I was to stop on in Paris. I was to go on to the University here, as my mother wished. I'd rather be here, where my friends are."     "I'll miss you," said Darnay. "This place will be empty without you. But you know that. Do you think you will ever return?"     "How should I know? I don't know, even, why my father has called me back. But perhaps you could come to England. Some day."     "Perhaps. If circumstances don't keep me in France."     "What circumstances?"     "Property I may inherit, if my uncle has no more children, which seems likely."     "Property?" said I. "You never before mentioned property. Where is it?"     "A country estate east of Paris. Nothing remarkable about it. But it may be mine, some day, and then I shall have obligations, particularly to put right what my uncle and his family have made wrong."     "Always so grave and responsible!" said I, laughing despite my gloomy temper. "You make me almost delighted that I shan't inherit my father's estate. Charles, take care you don't grow old too soon."     "And you, take care that you don't linger in your youth too long," returned Darnay, gently, as we embraced. "We will see each other again, Sydney; I am sure of it." Copyright © 2000 Susanne Alleyn. All rights reserved.