Sydney, Dickens, Serendipity, And Me


I didn’t know it was fan fiction. I swear.

I didn’t even know I was going to write it, much less revisit a favorite literary part of my high school years. Just like I didn’t know I was going to chance upon the dusty framed print of Sydney Carton in an antique store in my little Texas hometown, as unlikely a place to find a piece of English literary art as any. Id become used to looking at vintage furniture that was all too similar to my own grandparent’s collection of goods. But there it was, sitting on the floor propped up against a chair like it was an afterthought, a drawing of a beloved character that I’d never seen before. I almost passed it by. I almost didn’t buy it. Apart from a couple of mold spots and battered frame, there was nothing to recommend it apart from the fact that it was Sydney Carton in beautiful detail. 

Which got me to thinking: I hadn’t read “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens since I was a freshman in high school. Which brought back a lot of old feelings because I remembered being so immersed in the story, so devastated when I got to the end, and reliving those emotions each summer thereafter. What had happened? College. Life. Marriage. So on and so forth. And I couldn’t recall where my old copy of the book had landed in all that time. “This calls for a trip to Barnes & Noble!” I said…as if I needed any excuse at all. 

It had to be a spirit of serendipity hovering around me that day because once I’d located the shelf where Dickens’ books resided, I pulled out the latest paperback copy…and there it was. THE EXACT SAME PICTURE.

I’m sure the person at the check-out counter thought I was acting like a nutcase, but I was giddy. I didn’t even care if I got a lecture about the budget when I got home (we were poor-as-church-mice newly weds): IT WAS MEANT TO BE. 

I think only other bookworms can understand the space that occupies your brain and heart after reading a book that means so much to you. It isn’t merely entertainment. It isn’t merely “enlightenment.” It’s FOOD for the soul, and re-reading ToTC took me into that space for several days afterwards, especially since I had Frederick Barnard’s sketch to light the way. 

And then it all came out in a single afternoon, sitting down to write out the scene playing in my mind. *I* wanted to be in that story. *I* wanted to immerse myself. 

Well, I also wanted to write a story I could send to a publisher. I bought myself a copy of “Writer’s Market” (this was the early days of the internet) and submitted my little flash of inspiration to as many magazines as I could find that might possibly be interested.

I had one taker. A small publisher that offered to print stories submitted to their quarterly writing contests agreed to publish it, even though I had not been aware there was any other competition than the usual kind. I still have the copy.

It wasn’t until years later, after the internet boomed with all manner of fandom and fan fiction that I realized just what I had done (as well as why perhaps a lot of my submissions never made it for consideration). It wasn’t an original idea. Just a variation on a theme by Charles Dickens. I didn’t write it to be great literature. I wrote it because the scene played out in my minds eye as if I were living some part of a world that Dickens had imagined and decided not to include. To top it off, a very kind publisher lady went out of her way to give it a spot of its own. I’ll always be grateful for that.

But truth be told, it is JUST fan fiction. 

So, here it is, “For Sydney’s Sake.”

Most people groan when they are told they have to read a book, but books and me, we have a different kind of relationship. Books are my lodestone. And sometimes, the author grabs you instead of the other way around. Charles Dickens took hold of me in a serendipitous way that was completely unexpected. 

I hope you like it.

~ Mary Thornell

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