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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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An awesome tale of the horrors of political revolution

  • Apr 19, 2010
Rating:
+5
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 a tense, somber, compelling and moving piece of work that is the shortest, yet perhaps most well known, of his major novels.

The characters, as one would expect from Dickens, are still ambitious, magnificently described creations - Charles Darnay, son of the Marquis Saint Evrémonde, who moves to England and disowns his heritage as part of the ruling French aristocracy; Darnay's look alike, Sydney Carton, a hard-drinking ambitionless lawyer who comes at last to the realization that his life has been wasted; Lucie Manette, the typical Victorian heroine, who lives and loves with a faint heart, teary eyes and heaving bosom; her father, Alexandre Manette, who barely survives a long imprisonment in the Bastille and recovers his health and his reason only in the nurturing environment of his family in England; Jarvis Lorry, the man of business, the Tellson's Bank representative in Paris and the steadfast family friend of the Manettes; Ernest and Thérèse Defarge, the maniacal, metaphorical representatives of France's working class who evolve (or might that be devolve) into the citizens and citizenesses of a post-revolutionary French Republic; and, of course, Jerry Cruncher, a close to the edge Londoner, who makes his dubious living as a "resurrectionist", that is, a procurer of recently deceased corpses for medical research.

Covering the history of London and Paris during the period from 1775, just prior to the onset of the American Revolution, to the storming of the Bastille in 1789, the height of Robespierre's Terror, and the daily bloodshed of the close shaves of France's barber, Madame La Guillotine, A Tale of Two Cities dwells on a multiplicity of themes - romance; unrequited love; altruism; the terrors of revolution; the evils of class distinctions; the power of friendship; the terrifying ability of power to corrupt; and the amazing ability of a faith in God to comfort through troubled times.

If you're already familiar with Dickens, but have yet to read "A Tale of Two Cities", run to the nearest library or bookstore, curl up by the fire and read it as soon as you can. If you have yet to try your first Dickens novel, this is a fine place to start. Compose yourself and relax. Be patient and take the time to discover Dickens' style of writing. With the possible exception of Wilkie Collins, I don't believe there's another author who could have got away with writing complex, enormously lengthy paragraphs that, upon hindsight, the reader will discover were but single sentences. Of a sudden, you'll discover you're at the end of the novel. And, I defy you - I defy you - to read the last chapter of "A Tale of Two Cities" without finding a lump in your throat.

Paul Weiss

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November 16, 2010
I adore this novel and think that you have written a brilliant review of it. Thank you.
November 16, 2010
Thanks, Bonnie. This was always one of my very favourite reviews of one of my very favourite all-time novels.
 
April 19, 2010
Out of all of Dickens' full-length novels this is probably my favorite because I've always loved stories about the French Revolution. It was such an interesting period in history, because you had the French peasants suffering so horribly and they did need to revolt, but rather than embracing a particular political practice or moral code, they turned into a bloodthirsty execution squad essentially. So, often revolutions fail because the oppressed become so fixated on revenging their own personal pains that they fail to see what is beneficial in forming new government and new policies. Beheading isn't the way to go about creating a better government.
April 23, 2010
I couldn't agree with you more! I'm reading McCullough's book on John Adams, and it is fascinating that Adams predicted this would happen when France went into revolt. There are some interesting letters Adams' wrote about this time period that would probably supplement this reading too.
April 23, 2010
How's the book? Our neighbors actually know David McCullough and I'm kind of hoping I might get the chance to meet him.
 
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More A Tale of Two Cities reviews
review by . July 01, 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 …
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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Paul Weiss ()
Ranked #16
   A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Richard Maxwell.
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Details

ISBN-10: 0141439602
ISBN-13: 978-0141439600
Author: Charles Dickens
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Classics
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