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A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens' classic 1859 novel, which takes place before and during the French Revolution.

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Ladies and Gentleman:: The Rolling Stones

  • Jul 1, 2009
Dickens devoted considerable effort to naming his serials, and "Rolling Stones" was one of his possible titles for Two Cities. How different would this literary classic and the milieu it occupied have been had its famous title and its even more famous first line been different?

Its easy to say this is yet another Dickens classic as if to condemn it by faint praise. However, this book stands out as a first among equals for several reasons:

1. It was a historical fiction, at a time when that was not a separate wing of the local Borders, and it was about the French Revolution, when both characteristics were decidedly outside of Dickens' normal working subject matter. He famously worked with copious primary reference materials supplied by historian Carlyle, and manages to craft a highly personal tale while capturing key dates and events of the swirling Revolution. More to the point, and most amazingly given his very thorough Englishness, Dickens captures the terror of the Terror and the uncertainty tenure of average citizens in the face of a mob power that seemed unleashed from reality and governance.

2. It was originally published in weekly installments. While all of Dickens' books were originally published serially, most were in monthly installments, and Dickens found the preparation of a full-length novel in weekly serial installments more difficult and taxing than he had expected. Indeed, when you think about the difficulty of timing sections, scenes, settings, conversations, and climaxes, to coincide with weekly breaks, the task seems nigh impossible to do well consistently over the course of the novel.

3. It was written during the time when Dickens' personal life was being torn asunder by his affair with Ellen Ternan and his permanent and public separation from his wife. One wonders how much of his animus toward his wife and their failed relationship makes its way into the foreboding and sinister Madam DeFarge and her relationship with her husband. In any case, it speaks of Dickens writing abilities and professionalism, as well as of a seriously damaged psyche and relationships, that Dickens was able to write such classic literature at such a time.

Suffice it to say, Dickens was a mature artist at the peak of his creative powers as he created Two Cities. He set out with the intention of creating a book, as he wrote to a friend, that "you could not stop half way!" in the reading. From its famous opening, to its poignant and equally famous ending, he succeeded. Clearly, if we needed further proof of his towering abilities, Dickens proves able to create worlds outside of the London cityscape he so capably mined (and in a very real sense created through his descriptions).

Note on the edition I read: The Heritage Press editions of Dickens' novels date from the 1930s, and are published in nicely bound cloth with high quality paper. If you can find a good specimen (look for intact slip covers and the original Heritage Club "Sandglass" brochure), they make for enjoyable reading. Note that the illustrations for the Heritage series are commissioned for these editions and are not the original illustrations from the serial publications.

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More A Tale of Two Cities reviews
review by . April 19, 2010
What an interesting thought.       If it was possible for Dickens to write something that was less Dickensian than the rest of his impressive body of work, "A Tale of Two Cities" would qualify as the least Dickensian of them all. An absorbing historical work, a sharply moving forward tempo, little if any comic relief and a minimum of florid prose (at least relative to his own characteristic standard of an abundance of unnecessary embellishment) make A Tale of Two Cities …
review by . November 16, 2010
Excellent edition of Dickens' master work
A Tale of Two Cities is Charles Dickens' master work. It explores powerful issues of class, as played out against the backdrop of the French Revolution. Certain of the Dickens' characters in this novel have become emblematic of the times, such as Madam DeFarge, the probably insane working class woman who knits and cackles as she screams for others to be executed by guillotine. And Sydney Carton, the drunken wastrel whose bravery and self-sacrifice crown the story.      …
Quick Tip by . July 17, 2010
Dickens is at his best in the description department with this book. Sydney is one of the greatest character of classic literature.
Quick Tip by . July 09, 2010
Charles Dickens' heart-rending classic novel of life in London and Paris during the French Revolution deals with themes of love, loyalty, duty, honour and personal commitment to the rectification of past wrongs. The least Dickensian of all of Dickens' novels!
Quick Tip by . July 09, 2010
As required reading in my literature class in high school, It proved to be pretty good. It's a classic for a reason, but still not my favorite ever.
Quick Tip by . July 03, 2010
Quite a dense read and can get confusing at times, but interesting once you get through it.
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Love the imagery and storyline of such an uncertain political time.
Quick Tip by . July 01, 2010
Can classics become immortal?
Quick Tip by . June 29, 2010
Enjoyed this in high school.
Quick Tip by . June 25, 2010
It can be tough to get through this one the first time through (especially if you're reading it in a high school class, like I did the first time) but it's well worth it once you reach the end. It provides an insightful look at human nature. Moreover, Sydney Carton remains one of my favorite literary characters to this day.
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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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About this book


Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Richard Maxwell.
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ISBN-10: 0141439602
ISBN-13: 978-0141439600
Author: Charles Dickens
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Classics
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