A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

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...

Title:A Tale of Two Cities
Author:
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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

     

  • Bookdragon Sean
    Jan 17, 2014

    Charles Dickens is a demanding writer. The narratives of

    and

    are relaxed and simple when compared to this. Reading Dickens requires concentration, and a will to carry on when sometimes the writing gives you a headache.

    This is a historical novel. Dickens tells the story of the storming of the Bastille, some fifty years after it happened. Unlike most of his work, all traces of humour are removed. There are no caricatures and quirkiness within his writing. This i

    Charles Dickens is a demanding writer. The narratives of

    and

    are relaxed and simple when compared to this. Reading Dickens requires concentration, and a will to carry on when sometimes the writing gives you a headache.

    This is a historical novel. Dickens tells the story of the storming of the Bastille, some fifty years after it happened. Unlike most of his work, all traces of humour are removed. There are no caricatures and quirkiness within his writing. This is all very serious material, which, of course, it needs to be. But, for me, this is what Dickens does best. His ability to juxtapose themes of human suffering, poverty and deprivation with ideas of the grotesque, ridiculous and, at times, the plain mad, are where his real master strokes of penmanship come through.

    That’s what I like the most about Dickens, so I knew my enjoyment of this very serious novel would be hindered immediately. What we do have though is a strong revenge plot running through the book, and the revolt which occurred two thirds of the way in. And, like the name of the book suggests, this is a tale about two cities: London and Paris. Dickens loved to criticise society, and all its stupid aristocratic nuances. Here he takes great pains to show that London is no symbol of societal perfection. The aftermath of the French revolution placed the British on a pedestal, at least, to their own minds. They could not believe that their own current systems of ruling could cause such a travesty within their own capital. Dickens shows that the men in power were just as corrupt and corruptible wherever they sit, revolution can happen again.

    The streets of Paris are seen before and after the bloodshed, and all the strands of seemingly unrelated plots are artfully (perhaps slightly forcefully?) woven together. Dickens brings the lives of a huge cast of characters, spanning over two cities, and two nations, all of which have a varied station in life and political beliefs, into one final conclusion. And it’s a strong conclusion, though heavily reliant of coincident. This is nothing unusual for fiction of the Victorian era, though it did feel very much like a construct. The modernists would address such issues in the next century, mainly to criticise them heavily due to their incapability at capturing the essence of life within fiction. Perhaps they have a point here?

    So this is a very strong story, one that is highly perceptive and intuitive at times. As a reader, I need a certain degree of entertainment when reading. I find that the wonderfully comic elements that are in some of Dickens’ other books help to break up the more intense moments of the plot. Even Jane Austen would interpose her narrative with moments of scathing sarcasm and wit. For me, this is far from the finest work of Dickens despite the fact that it seems to be his most popular.

  • 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.

  • Michelle
    Feb 21, 2016

    I first read this in high school as a substitute for "Oliver Twist" which was not in my high school library catalog (it was in the elementary school catalog). Come to think of it now, I have never read that book. Weird... If ever I get a chance to meet "high-school-me", I bet she will be over the moon and back to know that the world is her library! Any book, on demand! I guess it would distract her enough not to realize she's living an almost hermetic way of life. Anyway... "A Tale of Two Cities

    I first read this in high school as a substitute for "Oliver Twist" which was not in my high school library catalog (it was in the elementary school catalog). Come to think of it now, I have never read that book. Weird... If ever I get a chance to meet "high-school-me", I bet she will be over the moon and back to know that the world is her library! Any book, on demand! I guess it would distract her enough not to realize she's living an almost hermetic way of life. Anyway... "A Tale of Two Cities" is, once again, one of those books I have read when I was too young to understand. I still struggle reading this book, but this time around, it generated more empathy from me. Charles Dickens wrote this novel long after the French revolution but it was still timely. Centuries later, in the here and now, it's major themes still hold true. Any generation, in my opinion, could start their story with, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...."

    Dickens explores human emotions and reactions that aren’t specific to any one historical event. Human suffering isn’t simply an 18th-century French problem. The novel, with all of the poverty and injustice it displays, is an exploration of conditions that will persist just as long as violence and inequity continue to flourish.

    Although this book is a major social critique, it’s also an exploration of the limits of human justice. What is justice really? When does justice start becoming injustice? It provokes big questions and they’re still pretty relevant today. Can you imagine a country in which innocent people are persecuted for their political view? The closer I look, the more the false imprisonment of Dr. Manette or Charles Darnay becomes something that we deal with in the real world, as well as the fictional one.

    "A Tale of Two Cities" is also a meditation on some of the most pressing existential questions that trouble humankind. Do we really know anything at all about the people around us, even the people we love? Can a single life make a difference in a world filled with hatred, rage, and violence? Times of strife make these questions all the more pressing to answer, but, as Dickens reminds us, that doesn’t mean that the answers are easy to find.

    This was difficult to read but it still managed to captivate me and forgo doing the dishes. I'm quite happy to give this book another chance. Books that disappointed me before might change my mind at some point in my life. As always, I don't confuse my own lack of sympathy with the assumption that, if I don't get it, the book is necessarily flawed. I think that's why classics endure


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