A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

'Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; -- the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!' After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the ageing Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but...

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Title:A Tale of Two Cities
Author:Charles Dickens
Rating:
ISBN:0141439602
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:489 pages

A Tale of Two Cities Reviews

  • Melissa Rudder
    Jan 23, 2008

    My primary goal when I'm teaching

    to my sophomores is to make them realize that Charles Dickens didn't write creaky, dusty long novels that teachers embraced as a twisted rite of passage for teenagers. Instead, I want them them to understand why Dickens was

    the most popular writer

    in England and America during his time. I want them to see the book as the suspenseful, comedic, and sentimental piece of entertainment that it is. Because, while

    is ma

    My primary goal when I'm teaching

    to my sophomores is to make them realize that Charles Dickens didn't write creaky, dusty long novels that teachers embraced as a twisted rite of passage for teenagers. Instead, I want them them to understand why Dickens was

    the most popular writer

    in England and America during his time. I want them to see the book as the suspenseful, comedic, and sentimental piece of entertainment that it is. Because, while

    is masterfully written with sly humor, densely meaningful descriptions, a cast of quirky characters only Dickens could create, an endless series of telling binaries and foils, and relevant social commentary about the French Revolution as well as Dickens' time, it is also simply a damn good story. By a damn good storyteller.

    I have a difficult time writing reviews about books that I adore because, when I'm not reading them, I hug them too closely to be very critical. (BTW - I frequently hug

    in front of my students... and write Charles Dickens' name with hearts around it... They think I'm crazy, but it intrigues some of them just enough to make them doubt the derisive comments of upperclassmen.) I reluctantly admit that Dickens does oversimplify the causes of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror; however, in doing so, he successfully captures the spirit of a tumultuous period and helps readers sympathize with characters on every side of the developing conflict. I also think that the characters of Roger Cly and John Barsad get a bit messy and may have worked better as a single character. Perhaps the confusion is a result of serialization restructuring. But, really, I read

    like a costumed

    fan at a movie premier. I cheer when my favorite characters enter scenes and I knowingly laugh when Dickens cleverly foreshadows future events.

    Though I don't think that

    is Dickens' best novel--that title I would reserve for either

    or

    --I do agree with Dickens, who claims that it was his best story. It is artfully written. Dickens introduces a cast of characters, sprawled across two nations and spanning varied social classes and political affiliations, and then effortlessly weaves their stories and secrets together in a masterful way. The Modernist movement painstakingly forced literature to reflect the ambiguities and uncertainties of the real world and that's great, but sometimes it is a real joy to read a story that ends with such magnificent closure. All mysteries are solved and everything makes sense. It is beautiful.

    (I have to admit that I was overjoyed when a group of my fifth period girls persistently voiced their disdain for Dickens' angel in the house Lucie and backed Madame Defarge. I think they may have created a Madame Defarge myspace, actually. Oh how the times have changed.)

    "Ms. R--, you got me." "What?" "At the beginning of this book, you said you would get some of us. And that we would love it. You got me." I didn't get you G--. Charles Dickens did. I just introduced you.

    Quote:

    "A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other."

  • Leslie
    Feb 09, 2008

    Most satisfying ending in the English language.

    Yes, the last line is a classic ("It is a far, far better thing ..."), concluding, in astonishingly concise language (for Dickens), the peace and redemption of the story's most poignant romantic hero. But this novel delivers such a gratifying experience because there are, in fact, many characters who cover significant emotional ground in their journey to love one woman as best they can.

    Lucie's father battles his way back from madness under the gen

    Most satisfying ending in the English language.

    Yes, the last line is a classic ("It is a far, far better thing ..."), concluding, in astonishingly concise language (for Dickens), the peace and redemption of the story's most poignant romantic hero. But this novel delivers such a gratifying experience because there are, in fact, many characters who cover significant emotional ground in their journey to love one woman as best they can.

    Lucie's father battles his way back from madness under the gentle protection of his daughter. Lucie's childhood nursemaid evolves from a comical stereotype to an embattled force to be reckoned with. Lucie's husband's well-meaning (if bland)

    culminates in -- not his hoped-for heroic moment, but a moment of quiet dignity that is most moving for its humility. Even Lucie's

    reaches dizzying heights of heroic accomplishment when Dickens appoints the quiet businessman the vehicle for an entire family's escape from the guillotine.

    It is true that Lucie herself engages the reader less than her brutal counterpart -- the broken but terrifying Madame Defarge -- is able to, as modern readers are less moved by the swooning heroines who populate the period's "literature of sensibility." But we can certainly respond to Dickens' powerful and vivid claim: love is not only what makes us human, it is what allows us to be, at times, superhuman.

    And when Sydney Carton, in equal parts love and despair, tells Lucie that "there is a man who would give his life to keep a life you love beside you" ... ?

    I go to pieces. Every damn time.

  • Laura
    Jun 12, 2008

    Years of teaching this novel to teenagers never dimmed my thrill in reading it — if anything, I grew to love it more every time I watched kids gasp aloud at the revelations! Critics are divided on its place in the Dickens canon, but the ones who think it an inferior work are simply deranged. It has everything: dark deeds, revolution, madness, love, thwarted love, forgiveness, revenge, and a stunning act of self-sacrifice. And melodrama! Oh, how Dickens loved melodrama, but in

    Years of teaching this novel to teenagers never dimmed my thrill in reading it — if anything, I grew to love it more every time I watched kids gasp aloud at the revelations! Critics are divided on its place in the Dickens canon, but the ones who think it an inferior work are simply deranged. It has everything: dark deeds, revolution, madness, love, thwarted love, forgiveness, revenge, and a stunning act of self-sacrifice. And melodrama! Oh, how Dickens loved melodrama, but in

    it reaches truly grand proportions.

    It’s the ultimate mystery novel: characters act strangely, but always for a reason. Miscellaneous people drift in and out, but they’re not truly miscellaneous — you just have to wait to see how they’re connected. And like any good mystery, the payoff at the end is worth the time it takes to get there...and what a payoff! Dickens is a master of the type of narration that simultaneously moves forward and back in time. In other words, strategically placed revelations from the past inform the present and shape the future. The brilliant timing both of his hints and of the actual revelations is a bonus field of study. Merely the drama of the dark past and its impact on the “here and now” story is thrilling enough. Plus,

    is a profoundly moral story, with themes of vengeance versus forgiveness, sins of the fathers being visited on the children, resurrection and rebirth, and the possibility of redemption.

  • Jason Koivu
    Nov 22, 2008

    Hands down my favorite Dickens' I've read yet! It's got love, sacrifice, revenge, revolt and other exciting verbs! I'm a big fan of a solid marriage between character development and action.

    is well-wed. Some criticize Dickens for his trite stories and overblown caricature-esque characters. Yes, the man wrote some less-than-perfect books. He wrote them for a wide-ranging public and he wrote for money. High-minded prose eloquently crafted may garner praise, but it doesn't alw

    Hands down my favorite Dickens' I've read yet! It's got love, sacrifice, revenge, revolt and other exciting verbs! I'm a big fan of a solid marriage between character development and action.

    is well-wed. Some criticize Dickens for his trite stories and overblown caricature-esque characters. Yes, the man wrote some less-than-perfect books. He wrote them for a wide-ranging public and he wrote for money. High-minded prose eloquently crafted may garner praise, but it doesn't always pay the bills. But here you get the author at his finest, plotting a riveting tale and creating sympathetic characters with empathy up the wazoo. The great descriptions of the rebellion are interesting, but it's the dual nature of the revolutionaries that I really love. Dickens makes you feel for their plight and then twists it around, so that the tortured become the tyrants and your fondness turns to loathing as you witness their despicable deeds. "Feel" is the operative word there. Dickens put a lot of feeling into

    .

  • Lyn
    Dec 01, 2011

    Hundreds, thousands of stories long to have a quotable verse, just one.

    Tale of Two Cities, Dickens masterpiece as far as I'm concerned, is bookended by two of the most recognizable quotes in all of English language.

    This is also the darkest story I have read of his, and no doubt, it's about the bloody French Revolution and Dickens spares none of his acerbic wit to demonize what was rightly demonic. Yet, to his credit and genius, neither does he sugar coat the great social injustices that led ir

    Hundreds, thousands of stories long to have a quotable verse, just one.

    Tale of Two Cities, Dickens masterpiece as far as I'm concerned, is bookended by two of the most recognizable quotes in all of English language.

    This is also the darkest story I have read of his, and no doubt, it's about the bloody French Revolution and Dickens spares none of his acerbic wit to demonize what was rightly demonic. Yet, to his credit and genius, neither does he sugar coat the great social injustices that led irresolutely to the collapse of the aristocratic French class.

    Lacking his usual humor, again understandable, this nonetheless again displays his mastery of characterization. No character is as complete and now archetypal as Madame Defarge. I thought that Bill Sykes was his greatest villain, but Citizeness Defarge was simply a portrait of evil.

    So many stories hope for a memorable scene and this has many, highly influential since, I thought of several works that had borrowed heavily from TOTC themes (especially

    , many allusions to TOTC, and that also made me wonder was TOTC the first dystopian novel?) The scene between Madame Defarge and Ms Pross was stunning, and made me think of the riveting scene between Porfiry and Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky's

    .

    Brilliant.

  • فهد الفهد
    Feb 03, 2012

    قصة مدينتين

    استعرت هذه الرواية من مكتبة الجامعة في بداية الألفية، كان ذلك قبل عالم الانترنت، عندما كنا لا نلتقي ولا نتعرف على الكتب ومشاهير المؤلفين إلا من خلال الصحف أو الكتب التي تسقط بين أيدينا اتفاقاً، ديكنز كان مألوفاً لي حينها، كنت قد قرأت له دايفد كوبرفيلد، وأعرف موقعه كروائي إنجليزي عظيم.

    حصلت على الكتاب الضخم، المغلف من قبل الجامعة بغلاف صلب، والمختوم مراراً كجواز سائح كوني، كنت غراً حينها، جديد على كل العوالم التي أمامي، فلذا حملت النسخة الضخمة محاولاً قراءتها خلال مهلة اليومين التي تم

    قصة مدينتين

    استعرت هذه الرواية من مكتبة الجامعة في بداية الألفية، كان ذلك قبل عالم الانترنت، عندما كنا لا نلتقي ولا نتعرف على الكتب ومشاهير المؤلفين إلا من خلال الصحف أو الكتب التي تسقط بين أيدينا اتفاقاً، ديكنز كان مألوفاً لي حينها، كنت قد قرأت له دايفد كوبرفيلد، وأعرف موقعه كروائي إنجليزي عظيم.

    حصلت على الكتاب الضخم، المغلف من قبل الجامعة بغلاف صلب، والمختوم مراراً كجواز سائح كوني، كنت غراً حينها، جديد على كل العوالم التي أمامي، فلذا حملت النسخة الضخمة محاولاً قراءتها خلال مهلة اليومين التي تمنحها الجامعة للكتب النادرة – قبل أن تبدأ الغرامات القاسية -، ولكن هذه المهمة كانت أكبر مني، فلذا اضطررت لإعادة الكتاب بعدما عبرت بداياته فقط، فيما بقيت صفحات طويلة وعدت نفسي بقراءتها يوماً ما.

    وجاء... ذلك الـ (يوماً ما) جاء، صحيح أنه تأخر قليلاً، ولكن لم يكن ذلك لأن يدي قصيرة عن الوصول إلى مدينتي ديكنز، وإنما لأن نهراً من الكتب جرفني من يومها، لقد تفتق العالم لي بعدها كما يتفتق لطفل قروي، لا يعرف أبعد من بيت أهله، ووجوه أهله، ثم يحمل ذات ليلة ليرمى في ميدان عاصمة، كل تلك الوجوه، كل تلك الألوان، الروائح، الناس الذاهبة والآيبة، كل تلك الأحداث، تربكه، تنزع توازنه، وفهمه لما حوله.

    وفي ذاكرتي، وعلى مر كل تلك السنوات، تداعت كلمات الكتاب وصوره ومشاهده، تحلل كل ما قرأته، بقي في ذاكرتي فقط وأنا أجذبه من رقدته بين مؤلفات كل أولئك الإنجليز العظماء، وصف مذهل لشارع قديم، كان ديكنز يأخذنا عبره، ليصعد بنا علية ما، حيث يقبع عجوز ما !! كان هذا كل ما بقي.

    عانى ديكنز في طفولته كثيراً، لم يتلق تعليماً جيداً، وحتى المدرسة المتواضعة التي ذهب إليها، سحب منها على عجل ليعمل لعشر ساعات يومياً، بعدما سجن والده لتراكم الديون عليه، والتحقت به والدته في السجن، وهو نظام غريب مطبق حينها !! هذه الأم ديكنز يشعر بأنها لا توليه العناية والاهتمام الكافيين، من هذه الظروف، ومن هذه المشاعر نلمس رؤية ديكنز ومواقفه تجاه الفقراء، وحقوق الأطفال، وتجاه المرأة.

    في هذه الرواية يبدو ديكنز مقارناً، بين مدينتين، باريس ولندن، نظامين ثوري وملكي، قضاءين ثوري ورسمي، وفي روايته التي كتبها مسلسلة، ونشرها في الصحف كما كان يفعل كتاب عصره، والتي لها سمات وميزات ذاك العصر وأدبه المليء بالأبطال الفروسيين، والنساء الجميلات المعشوقات من الجميع، والمصادفات التي تقبلها بصدر رحب لتستمتع، لتمضي قدماً.

    إنه عصر الثورة، تبدأ الأحداث قبل الثورة الفرنسية بقليل، حيث نتعرف على الدكتور مانيت، المسجون ظلماً في الباستيل ولسنوات طويلة – 18 عاماً -، والذي نتابع في الفصول الأولى لقائه بابنته لوسي والتي لم يكن يعلم بوجودها، وها هي تستنقذ والدها بمساعدة الثوري الفرنسي دوفارج وزوجته، وتأخذه إلى إنجلترا.

    بعد 5 سنوات يستعيد فيها الأب عقله، وتتزوج لوسي من تشارلز دارني، وهو نبيل فرنسي تخلى عن نبالته وذهب ليعيش في إنجلترا، تقوم الثورة في فرنسا، ويعرض لنا ديكنز حال الفرنسيين قبل الثورة وطريقة تعامل النبلاء معهم بأسلوب مذهل، ديكنز مذهل بحق في سرده، ساخر عظيم، لا ريب أن قراءه كانوا يتشوقون لكل فصل من فصول روايته.

    ترد تشارلز دارني وهو هناك في أمان إنجلترا، رسالة من خادم سابق له سجن في الباستيل، فيهرع إلى باريس لينقذه، فيقع بيد الثوريين ويقدم للمحاكمة والإعدام، تسرع لوسي ووالدها لاستنقاذه، خاصة والدكتور مانيت أحد نزلاء الباستيل المخضرمين، وهذا ما يكسبه الاحترام بين الثوار، هذا خلاف خبرته الطبية المفيدة لهم، وشخصيته العظيمة.

    تدور القصة، وتتشابك الأحداث ويلتقي ويتصارع الأبطال في تلك البقعة من باريس، وتنكشف الألغاز، وتقدم التضحيات، ويتركك ديكنز في النهاية وفي ذهنك وروحك ذلكم الشعور الملحمي الجميل.

  • Emma
    Apr 25, 2012

    Christ on a bike - I’d forgotten how much concentration Dickens demands.  

     

    Reading the first few chapters of this book was, frankly, a chore. I could not be less bothered about The Mail and the more Dickens banged on about that never ending carriage journey the more I daydreamed about the next book I was going to read once this torture was over. I’m glad I didn’t give up though because as soon as we hit France and the wine shop I was hooked, the pace started to pick up and there were mysteries a

    Christ on a bike - I’d forgotten how much concentration Dickens demands.  

     

    Reading the first few chapters of this book was, frankly, a chore. I could not be less bothered about The Mail and the more Dickens banged on about that never ending carriage journey the more I daydreamed about the next book I was going to read once this torture was over. I’m glad I didn’t give up though because as soon as we hit France and the wine shop I was hooked, the pace started to pick up and there were mysteries and revelations galore.

     

    There is so much in this book.  It would take me a month to provide anything other than a quick and dirty overview - which I can't really do either. Just think London/revolutionary France 1775, unrequited love, revenge, a doppelgänger and la guillotine.

     

    I loved the gothic feel to the book, Jerry Crunchers body snatching, the remote settings, the macabre events, the parts of the book that gave me an uneasy feeling.  Right up my street.

     

    I fell for Sidney Carton pretty much straight away too.  Bohemian, brilliant, indifferent. J'adore Sidney Carton. Although we never find out exactly what is up with Sid; I wonder what would have become of him and how I would have viewed him had he not become a hero. A few main characters were also a little too underdeveloped for me to connect with them.  Lucie Manette left me feeling ‘meh’.  She links nearly every character in the book and inspires love in seemingly every direction but whilst likable enough, there is no depth and certainly not my type of heroine.  But, I guess this was written in 1859 and Lucie is, I suppose, the type of heroine that would appeal to the readers of the time. 

     

    Madame Defarge, the antithesis of Lucie, on the other hand is marvellous.  Clearly the villain of the piece, cold, consumed by revenge and not really even human by the end of the book but still, enthralling stuff. I think Dickens achieves a good balance with the historical telling of the revolution but perhaps was a little unfair to Madame Defarge, her motives and back story being revealed far too late in the book. 

    Overall though, I got an awful lot out of a Tale of Two Cities; I'm still heartbroken over Sidney's final thoughts and his vision of a better Paris

    ; The defarges, with their Macbeth and Lady Macbeth qualities

    - possibly the greatest dickens characters I've ever read - were awful and captivating; The oppression of the peasants, their plight and the awfulness of the revolution carefully told with historical accuracy.  The only reason a Tale of Two Cities didn't get five stars is because of that bloody awful carriage ride. 

     

  • Kalliope
    Jun 29, 2015

    Reading Dickens’s approach to historical fiction, at first I could not help but remember

    , which I read recently. And even if Romola seemed to have more of a Victorian than a Florentine Renaissance tone, the story and the context were very nicely woven together.

    While with

    I felt I as reading two separate stories. One was a the result of conscientious research, and Dickens in his Preface acknowledges Carlyle’s

    , and the other was a more melodramati

    Reading Dickens’s approach to historical fiction, at first I could not help but remember

    , which I read recently. And even if Romola seemed to have more of a Victorian than a Florentine Renaissance tone, the story and the context were very nicely woven together.

    While with

    I felt I as reading two separate stories. One was a the result of conscientious research, and Dickens in his Preface acknowledges Carlyle’s

    , and the other was a more melodramatic tale with Gothic overtones. The two meanings of the word

    separated: history and story.

    May be it was because Dickens was dealing with a convulsive period that was still too close to him and his contemporaries. Its threats must have resonated with a greater echo after the 1848 revolutions that again swept through France as well as other European countries. When he wrote his novel only a decade had passed since that latest wave of violence and political turmoil. These more recent revolutions must have had the effect of a magnifying glass when Dickens read and reread Carlyle’s study, study which had, however, been written before, in 1837. One can certainly feel Dickens alarm at the dangers that loom over humanity. His horror came first, and then he tried to horrify his readers.

    And yet, as my reading proceeded, I began to feel how these two axis or needles were pulling out something together. And I think it is Dickens excellent writing, with his uses of repetitions, or anaphora; his complex set of symbols—and I am beginning to become familiar with the Dickens iconography; his idiosyncratic mixture of humour and drama; his use of alliteration and onomatopoeia; his extraordinary development of images—and I think this novel has some of the best I have read by him; and his ability to sustain a positive core within a great deal of drab, that succeeds in making those two needles knit something coherent and consistent.

    And indeed my favourite image was the Knitting, which Dickens develops throughout the novel, with all its mythological weight--that binds the threads of fate and volition, of patience and disquiet, of love and hatred--, which became for me also the knitting of the writer. The periodic and steady rhythm of Knit and Purl produced with threads of words, meshing in the melodrama and the emotions, the varying colours with their lights and shadows, increasing or decreasing the episodes with literary tricks such as adding a new thread or character or knitting two stiches in one go by solving a mystery. And this he achieved by handling with shrewd dexterity his two needles of ‘story’ and ‘history’, his two tales.

    So, as I came to the end I had to admit that , yes, the Tale of Two Tales has woven for me a magnificent novel. There has been somewhat of a 'Resurrection' in my reading too.

  • Jean
    Dec 22, 2016

    So begins

    , a perennial favourite. It was an instant success when it was first published, and its popularity has remained steady ever since, as one of the best selling novels of all time. For many, it is their most loved novel by Charles Dickens.

    is Dickens’s second shortest completed nov

    So begins

    , a perennial favourite. It was an instant success when it was first published, and its popularity has remained steady ever since, as one of the best selling novels of all time. For many, it is their most loved novel by Charles Dickens.

    is Dickens’s second shortest completed novel, possibly his tightest plotted and most dramatic novel, yet in many ways it is the least “Dickensian”. It is one of only two historical novels Dickens ever wrote, and he wanted to try out a few new ways of writing, to celebrate the launch of his new periodical.

    At this time Dickens felt very at home in France, speaking French fluently, and identifying so much with the French character that he sometimes viewed himself as almost a Frenchman in exile. He despised any parochial or narrow-minded thinking he might see in English people, and frequently poked fun at them in his writing. He travelled extensively, and wherever he went he carried his friend, Thomas Carlyle’s

    , published in 1837, with him, reading it over and over again. Dickens jokingly claimed to have read the book 500 times. In truth he admired and revered his friend rather more than the feeling being reciprocated; Carlyle tended to view Dickens as a mere “novelist”. But Dickens was determined to meticulously research the historical background to his latest work, and used Carlyle’s book as a reference source.

    Attempting to imbue his new way of writing with more gravitas, Dickens tried to curb, or at least subdue, some of his own habits of fanciful imagination. After criticism of his earlier slips in

    , he had resolved to make this account, although fictionalised, an historically accurate a portrayal as possible. Along with the less discursive style, he paid less reliance on character development and humour, both more usual indicators of his style. Some readers maintain they do not associate Dickens with humour, and I personally feel that that is due in large part to their familiarity with his later works, especially this one. If this is the only Dickens novel one has read, it is possible to miss much of its quirky humour.

    has been dramatised countless times, and in common with many others I am drawn to each dramatisation. The story is a violent and bloody one, with acts of heroism and intrigue, secrets and lies, imprisonment and torture, sorrow and loss, terror and madness, panic and frenzy. It describes in detail the depth of depravity a human can sink to, and also instances the pinnacle of an almost unimaginable force for compassion and altruism. The characters once read about here, stay in the mind for ever; they are spell-binding, whether good or evil. There is much mystery, and the development of the story is so tightly plotted that the tension mounts to almost unbearable limits. The horrors described are both explicit and totally believeable. After much thought, then, I have rated it five stars. A story which endures and continues to be retold, with images which permeate each new generation’s consciousness, which is so powerfully written and can move the reader to tears each time they read it, deserves no less.

    Do I like it? No, not really. I have to steel myself to read this each time. But then I don’t enjoy Dostoevsky either, and Dickens was one of his favourite writers. So this takes nothing away from my reluctant admiration for the novel. It is a deeply spiritual work, with the main theme of resurrection sitting very firmly in a Christian context. Being “recalled to life” is a major theme throughout the novel; in fact Dickens at one time considered using

    as the book’s title.

    Of course the story is shrouded in mystery. “Recalled to life” refers to several strands and episodes in the story, as well as being a metaphor. It is possible to enjoy the story without necessarily picking up quite how embedded in the novel all the Christian references are. One might see a vaguely spiritual thread of redemption running through, and an idea of a better future life, without picking up on the myriad references to blood, river, cleansing, water, shrouds, love, light and golden threads binding families together.

    Take one tiny but telling detail at the climax of the book,

    What, if anything, might the number 23 signify? The 23rd Psalm possibly? A psalm which is often understood by Christians as an allusion to the eternal life given by Christ? In the story, it refers to

    The central message of the book is that sacrifice is necessary to achieve happiness, and this is a further pointer, reinforcing the idea. Dickens liked to make his meanings crystal clear.

    has 45 chapters, and was published in 31 weekly instalments to boost the sale of Charles Dickens’s new literary magazine,

    . Between April and November 1859, Dickens also republished it as eight monthly sections in green covers. This was a departure from his usual way of working, since all but three of Dickens’s previous novels had appeared only as monthly instalments. He was therefore under even more time constraints to write each episode, and he felt this acutely. He did say at the time that he thought it was

    , but he tended to say this a lot! His marriage to Catherine was coming to a painful and very public ending, and he was embroiled in a clandestine relationship with Ellen Ternan. As usual he was under a phenomenal amount of pressure, and was beginning to feel the weight of his commitments more than ever. This is reflected in the more sober feel of this novel.

    Although written in 1859,

    is set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, and starts in 1775. It has a comparatively small cast for a novel by Dickens, and we follow just a few individuals through the years building up to the storming of the Bastille, a symbol of royal tyranny, in 1789, the dark years following, and the aftermath of the French Revolution. Although describing cataclysmic social and political events in France, the novel brings this to life by focusing on just a few characters, and the effect on their lives.

    The intimacy with which we know these people, is contrasted with the mass hysteria of the crowds. We know these people; yet we also know and recognise the menace brimming just under the surface, the seething surges of hatred and panic, the mob mentality and the evil deeds people can be driven to by centuries of oppression and poverty, the hate and revenge engendered by a callous indifference to their suffering. A tiny detail from the beginning is when the cruel Marquis Evrémonde kills a child by running his cart over the boy, and is more concerned with whether any damage has been done to his carriage. This is an incredibly poignant scene, and we sense the brooding resentment and hatred; the heartless indifference and callous cruelty of the privileged aristocracy. The Marquis is an archetype of an evil and corrupt social order, almost the aristocracy’s “everybody”, but portrayed very convincingly as an individual.

    For those who are reluctant to believe a classic novel can truly terrify or revolt them, please think again. An early depiction of a broken wine cask outside a wine shop, vividly describes the passing peasants’ savage and desperate scrambles to lap up any drops of the spilling wine.

    .

    Such foreshadowing makes us shudder. We know from history what is to come. This grotesque and subhuman behaviour indicates both the starving poverty of the French peasants, and the metaphorical hunger for political freedoms. But there is no rhetoric here. We read an account of the wild dance of the terrifying desperation-fuelled manic ritualistic dance, the “Carmagnole”, and gruesome details of a person being hacked to death. Dickens’s descriptions force us to believe the novel’s contention, that violence is a natural part of any and all humans, given the right circumstances.

    The “Reign of Terror” is well named. A surging mob of

    Dickens knew people inside out. Not only is one of his characters named

    , narrowing and focusing her personality down to one devastating aspect, but a counterpart to this is his genius at personification.

    , with her unremitting thirst for blood, is the most formidable character in the entire story. She is imbued with a superhuman power. (So strong is this image in my mind, that I automatically typed “she” rather than “it”.)

    Such savage sardonic writing will make you shudder!

    Giving objects personalities is a hallmark of Dickens’s writing. His novels also contain many symbols and double meanings. It is possible to read

    as a nailbiting adventure story, intensified by the knowledge that many of these were actual events, and yet metaphors and symbols abound. We have doubles in characters, parallels and contrasts. We have shadows and darkness, both literal and metaphorical. The story start in gloom and mist, and the apprehension continues throughout.

    From the very start too, we have the theme of Resurrection. This can be seen as the novel’s major theme and purpose, and it can also be traced in episode after episode, even down to the in-joke of the novel, the “resurrection man” Jerry Cruncher,

    by day, but who spends his evenings as a grave-robber, or body-snatcher.

    “Resurrection men” were a reality. By the 18th century the medical professions were in dire need of fresh corpses to use in medical training. These could only be obtained legally from excuted murderers. Therefore a ghoulish trade began. Surgeons and anatomists alike turned a blind eye to their provenance, and looked to “resurrection men” to supply their demand.

    The novel is peppered with other quirky bon mots,

    but they are sadly rarer than usual. Dickens had a massive public following, yet he desperately wanted to be part of the elite literary establishment, and resented the tag

    sneeringly given him by a fellow author, Anthony Trollope.

    But Dickens could not resist his nature entirely, and did not keep a check on his impish and grotesque sense of humour. Whenever the blood, gore and horror become too much we are entertained with ghoulish episodes involving Jerry Crunchers’s hair-raising exploits, or stories of Jerry and his wife, who function as a sort of Punch and Judy sideshow. There are slapstick parts even in such a grim tale, though most of the humour is black indeed. Dickens had a penchant for ghouls and ghosts, as well as positively revelling in blood-curdling scenes.

    For instance, he had witnessed a beheading by guillotine in Rome in 1845 and described a year later in

    . It is a careful study; a detailed and close description. Dickens stored everything in his mind, waiting for the proper time to reanimate these grotesque images, and did so with vigour and brutality in his scenes about the executions.

    We see the horrors of the guillotine, the waves of hysteria and brutishness of the crowd. We see individuals blinded to reason by their passions, and swerving allegiance on a whim. We witness the hopelessness and despair of those enmeshed in the threads, both metaphorically and also literally,

    This strongly echoes Greek mythology, linking vengeance to fate. “The Fates” are three sisters who control human life, weaving and sewing. One sister spins the web of life, another measures it, and the last cuts it. Whether or not we remember the direct reference when reading, the pointers are there. A wealth of significance is waiting to seep through, or strike us like a shaft of light.

    And even in the midst of the unbearable horror, when we are dreading to turn the next page and are sinking in a mire of darkness and despair, we find a ridiculous death. The encounter to the death between

    is both unexpected and hilarious. An earlier, less experienced, Dickens would have written the former as a one-dimensional comic character, yet both these two have much depth and ambiguity.

    And ask any two readers, including all Dickens’s many illustrators of this novel, to describe Madame Defarge, and you will be likely to receive two totally different answers. Yet this formidable personality is one of Dickens’s top creations.

    Defarge “harvests” bodies; a common idiom too of La Guillotine. In contast, the angelic

    Manette’s name means “light”; she shines a beacon of hope throughout the novel.

    A theme of imprisonment relates both to the mind and to incarcerated bodies, golden threads may be three strands of beautiful hair, or metaphorically of life, as may the mending of roads. There are the darkened regions both in prisons, and in the mind. And there are the dark, musty, quaint annals of Tellson’s bank. Tellson’s bank, incidentally, was based on “Child & Co bank” which was founded at Temple Bar, on the site Dickens describes in the 1660s.

    Dickens always used real locations wherever possible. The Manettes lived in Soho Square, Clerkenwell was Mr Lorry’s area, Whitefriars was where the Crunchers lived. All these, and the Old Bailey, are familiar places to Londoners of today. Parisians are equally familiar with the locations of the Place de la Révolution, now called the Place de la Concorde, La Conciergerie prison, now used mostly for law courts, Notre Dame, La Force prison, and the Place de la Bastille. Saint-Antoine, where the Defarge’s wine shop was located, also exists. At the time of

    , the Bastille prison stood at its western edge, but Saint-Antoine actually became part of Paris in 1702.

    Sometimes it is even possible to identify specific shops or inns. At one point, two of the characters, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton, walk down Ludgate hill to Fleet Street, up a covered way, into a tavern. Here they have

    Very probably this was an inn called “Ye Old Cheshire Cheese”, a favourite eating place of Dickens himself which had been rebuilt after the great fire of 1666.

    The three parts,

    and

    each contain several chapters, and each chapter heading is succinct, perhaps just two words, precisely describing what is to follow, without revealing it. The chapter headings alone are miniature masterpieces, and a world away from his earlier sentences taking up a full page. I have not told the story here, nor much about the characters, but both are easy enough to find.

    remains a novel I am ambivalent about. I do not like what the author is saying to me, and that colours my view of it. Even at the start of this reread, I was tempted to view it as a lesser novel. Nevertheless, the more I consider it, the more highly I find myself obliged to rate it. If I put aside my love of Dickens, and my hopes of another, more enjoyable type of novel from my favourite author, I have to rate this as a masterpiece.

    If you have never actually read anything by Charles Dickens, please do

    start with this one! Yes, you may be tempted. It is short and has an irresistible storyline. It’s probably the one you were directed to at school, too. Yes, it gets 5 stars even from me. But if you read this first you will miss so much of his humour, and of his sheer joi-de-vivre. He wanted this to be a history-driven novel, where the incidents and story would fuel the action, rather than his usual sort of book, where the plot was determined by the characters and the situations they found themselves in. Consequently it has a very un-Dickens like feel. Read it when you have a few others under your belt. Try

    instead. That was his personal favourite.

    But if you are familiar with Dickens’s style, and have not yet read this, be prepared for a breathtaking ride. You may need to steel yourself for a grim read, and will find commanding, powerful descriptions to chill you to your core. You will find a past full of destruction, but may see a future of hope and potential. And just occasionally, you will glimpse unexpected quirky moments, which could only ever have been penned by “the Inimitable” Mr. Dickens.

    The ending of the novel, known and loved by millions, is like the beginning, a favourite classic quotation. In both, Dickens is making use of a clever literary device: “anaphora”. He repeats a word or phrase over many lines, and this makes it more rhythmic and more memorable to us. We feel both that it encapsulates a rare truth, and also that it feels musical.

    Yet our memories betray us. Nobody ever says these beautiful and noble lines in

    . They are said in the author’s voice—not by the character whom we remember as saying them. The author is dreaming, and taking a step back out of the book. He quite deliberately puts these words into an imagined fancy, rather than his character. Surely only Dickens could have pulled this off with such conviction—and such style.

  • Pouting Always
    Feb 26, 2017

    Though the book was a little slow at first it picked up in book two and then really gets good in book three. It was kind of confusing at first to know where it was going but it really can't together in the end. The writing was really excellent especially the opening and ending passages. Don't know if I could read it again though.