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A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

11 Aug

After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille the aging Dr Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There, two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil lanes of London, they are all drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror and soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.

So I says to myself, I says, “why haven’t I done any Dickens reviews?”. Tthen, having had a mental blockage and debated for an inordinate amount of time on where I should put the question mark in relation to the speech marks, not to mention why I talk to myself. I have finally decided to get my act together and I shall hopefully be able to avoid using the phrase ‘What the Dickens!’ at least for a while.

Set at the time of the French revolution, love does what it does best here and draws unsuspecting persons into danger and heartache.  This dramatic story is one of brutality and tenderness, which is –  for me at any rate – truly a tale of two halves.

Having read four and a half other books by Mr D, I found myself a little surprised as this wasn’t the style that I am accustomed too. There are a noticeable lack of humorously odd names for the characters, and of course a lot of it is set across the channel with our French brethren.

perhaps it was the first half of the book which bothered me most.  I struggled to get into the plot and felt it dragged mainly because the plot resolution is very predictable and could be seen a mile off like a modern day Colossus of Rhodes and I wanted to get going with it.  Yet conversely, it is that sense of inevitable tragedy that is also its greatest strength as when the plot does get going at a decent pace, it is suddenly full of lots of dramatic events and memorable characters.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….

If like me you enjoy the wonderfully whimsical sentence structure of a Dickens novel, there is an element of that in here but this being one of his shorter books at just 431 pages, he isn’t overtly ‘around the houses’ in getting to his point. Sill as Dickens’ classic sentence structure dictates, he is a firm believer in never having his characters utter one word when there are three to be had in its place.

So to the story itself, it is not just a contrast between peaceful London and vengeful Paris but also the mirroring and distinctions of their peoples.  The terrors of the French Revolution are palatable and lead to many scenes which still retain their impact in today in a world that hs seen it all. It is this atmosphere that drives the story after a slower paced scene setting.  Having built up to this explosive public outpouring and exploring the consequences thereof, it did become a much better read for me.

When I first read this I was of the mind that this was fairly average Dickens novel let down by with uneven pacing, which is still head and shoulders over above most authors of course.  Having let it sink into my brain, I think I like it better on reflection  It has a bit of everything, romance, war, humour, hatred, adversity, sacrifice and even a court room drama and is well worth a read.  It is strange that his shorter books do seem more gruelling, perhaps I will soon treat you to a review if the frankly miserable, yet oddly arresting Hard Times.

It is a far, far better thing I do than I ever have done;…

 

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48 Comments

Posted by on 11/08/2014 in Classics

 

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48 responses to “A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

  1. shadowoperator

    11/08/2014 at 17:26

    I have to confess that my favorite Dickens opening is the one to “David Copperfield,” wherein the character says something like “Whether I will turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether anyone else will hold that place, these pages must show. To begin my life at the beginning of my life…” etc. And of course Dickens himself said something too like “Every parent has in his heart a favorite child, and my favorite child is ‘David Copperfield.'” I just really like that book, and have seen it in a couple of different serializations on tv since I was young. Funnily enough, however, the Dickens novel that I have read the most times is “Dombey and Son.” I don’t know why this should be. And the Dickens that I have the least proper memories of and get confused with each other all the time are “Bleak House” and “Nicholas NIckleby.” I’ve actually read “Bleak House” twice, but got half-way through it the second time before it began to see familiar, and then I started getting it confused with the other book! I guess I’m just not a real Dickens fan, to quote a lot of chapter and verse, though I suppose I like him well enough. “A Tale of Two Cities” is anomalous in the ways you point out from his other works, true enough.

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    • Ste J

      11/08/2014 at 19:04

      As ever when we converse books, I haven’t read the books you have…I think should we pool all the books we have read between us and I bet the results would be pretty impressive. I do own all of Dickens’ books though so I will have to get on with one of the above mentioned when I finish The Uncommercial Traveller which is a nice change from his novels but any more than that would ruin my inevitable and finely typed review.

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      • shadowoperator

        11/08/2014 at 20:09

        Well, you’re one-up on me, because I’ve certainly never read “The Uncommercial Traveller.” I’ll wait eagerly for your review!

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  2. Alastair Savage

    11/08/2014 at 17:29

    A Tale of Two Cities is my favourite Dickens and funnily enough I really like the opening section of the book, especially the poor prisoner who proclaims that he is “recalled to life”. It isn’t his best book though: that has to be David Copperfield, but it’s so grim at times that you need Prozac to finish it.

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    • Ste J

      11/08/2014 at 18:55

      I look forward to reading that one then, Dickens is able to move through grimness and comedy with apparent ease, he is a true master.

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  3. Al

    11/08/2014 at 19:11

    When I hear or read “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” I see Captain Kirk holding a book at distance trying to read it. Dickens for me, is very much like Shakespeare. Amongst books I have never read. Although I did play Scrooge in A Christmas Carol – albeit his dead body.

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    • Ste J

      11/08/2014 at 19:16

      I completely forgot about that reference, a Star Trek film weekend is long overdue methinks! A Christmas Carol is a cracking a book, I am sure you played that dead body with style and aplomb!

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      • Al

        11/08/2014 at 23:30

        I did that a while ago. Went through all films. Took me a while to start though as I didn’t want to watch The Motion Picture. I eventually gritted my teeth and did it. Then watched all the way through to STID – Star Trek Into Darkness

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        • Ste J

          12/08/2014 at 13:53

          I love The Motion Picture, not from an objective point of view but from a nostalgic one. I enjoyed Into Darkness although it felt less Trek than previous films.

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          • Al

            12/08/2014 at 14:32

            I agree, and the similarities with Wrath of Khan, some of them were just plain stupid. I hope the next one is better.

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            • Ste J

              12/08/2014 at 14:35

              I hope they do the one with the whales!

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              • Al

                12/08/2014 at 15:02

                That would be cool.

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  4. Love, Life and Whatever

    11/08/2014 at 19:50

    This one reminded me of my college syllabi and you took me to the nostalgia lane

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    • Ste J

      12/08/2014 at 13:50

      I always love a trip down there myself occasionally!

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  5. cricketmuse

    11/08/2014 at 21:27

    Once again, I must publicly confess that I watch Dickens instead of read him. A good script writer trims the dickens out of Dickens and we are much happier for it.

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    • Ste J

      12/08/2014 at 13:51

      I see what you mean. I may try and talk in the style of a Dickens character, that way everybody gets to experience the headaches given out liberally by Mr D.

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  6. Elizabeth Melton Parsons

    11/08/2014 at 22:15

    Although I am a huge fan of Dickens, I’m afraid this did nothing for me and I doubt you could pay me to read it again. And yes, I know I am in the minority here. There are many who would feel the complete opposite. Every time I hear someone quote the first line, I cringe. So although Dickens was a true master of his craft, this one for me is a definite no.

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    • Ste J

      12/08/2014 at 13:54

      I didn’t like it straight away, perhaps it is the buffer of time that has allowed me to appreciate it more. I think it splits a lot of people down the middle, I suppose we just expect better from the man.

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  7. RoSy

    11/08/2014 at 23:32

    Who the dickens is Dickens?…………..Just kidding. I simply couldn’t resist.

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    • Ste J

      12/08/2014 at 13:49

      Ha! RoSy you always make me grin.

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  8. Sherri

    12/08/2014 at 11:35

    Hi Ste, good to be back here after taking a short trip across the channel to those French brethren of ours. Not read this one but reminds me of having to read Great Expectations for O level English, back in the old days. We had to read it once just for fun, then again and study it chapter by chapter. Then one more time to take notes and so that we knew it inside and out. The result? I knew every question on the exam paper and could answer with the confidence needed. Even now when I watch the film I start to analyse why Pip said such and such… I wonder if books are taught like this today? Hope all is well in your neck of the woods…

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    • Ste J

      12/08/2014 at 14:01

      Welcome back, it’s nice to have an accidentally topical review every once in a while…When I was at school, it was all analysed together as we read it, which worked alright for Shakespeare and such but for a book I don’t think it worked as well, having said that it was the way that got me into reading and eventually blogging so I won’t be too picky. I love analysing things as well, in fact it is hard to pull out of the mindset sometimes…perhaps some Jeremy Kyle will suffice to deaden the brain cells!

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      • Sherri

        13/08/2014 at 17:56

        Thanks so much for the lovely welcome Ste, it’s great to be back here, I’ve missed our little chats as you know! Sounds like you found the perfect way for you to use analysis, you are obviously a prolific reader and a quick one too. I’m amazed at how you glean the message of each book you read to give such wonderfully descriptive and succinct reviews. I’m really impressed and I don’t say that lightly!
        Perhaps some JK viewing would numb the brain sufficiently…or kill it altogether 😉

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        • Ste J

          15/08/2014 at 15:28

          I annoy people with my constant analysing of everything, it’s now natural for me to do that with everything which I quite like as it keeps my eyes open to new thoughts and ideas. My reading skills come about from having less in the way of a social life that anything but it is good to fill my mind with wonderful stories and then enjoy my few social engagements even more…complacency ruins everything! I am happy that you are impressed and there are more reviews on the way…I haven’t even reviewed a quarter of the books I have so far read.

          Ironically JK is on right now, it does make me feel like a proper human being and not one of those people…yay forself esteem!

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          • Sherri

            15/08/2014 at 16:47

            Sometimes I like the idea of reading all day and having no social life as you will soon see…or watching TV, but definitely not JK. Do those people really exist? Is it a government set-up do you think? It really is quite horrifying isn’t it? I’m really glad that you enjoy your social life when you ‘engage’. I’m sure you bring a great richness to the mix at those times and I think that’s a very great quality indeed my friend 🙂

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            • Ste J

              15/08/2014 at 16:53

              I bring something to the mix and that is usually the unexpected lol…I really do wonder how some of these people live, as well as the drain on society it makes me wonder how people can be brought like that. I prefer filling my spare time with reading, rather than cannabis, beer and ‘not putting something on the end of it’ lol.

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  9. readinpleasure

    12/08/2014 at 18:06

    A Tale of Two Cities is going to be a re-read for me; (as are quite a number of classics having read a lot growing up).

    I’m far behind with my Classics Club readings and reviews; I recently downloaded for free some classics from Amazon including A Tale of Two Cites which I hope to delve into soon.

    Your wonderful review has primed me up. 🙂

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    • Ste J

      15/08/2014 at 15:17

      If inspiration was a currency, I would be able to afford a round of orange juices for everybody. Being far behind is not necessarily a bad thing as you get a lot of wonderful works to look forward to reading and that always make life that little bit better!

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  10. Seyi sandra

    15/08/2014 at 00:19

    Hooray!! At long last, you review a book I’d read before! Kerchin!!! I love Dickens’s books, so I’m not going to read this one! 🙂

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    • Ste J

      15/08/2014 at 15:29

      Dickens really is great…I have had his complete works for years but am holding off reading them too fast…I am painfully aware that once I have read them all I’ll never experience some new Dickens for the first time and that would be a sad day and hopefully a far off day.

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  11. Christina ~

    15/08/2014 at 05:31

    You know I love classic literature…yet oddly, I’ve not read Dickens. That fact coupled with your enticing review… induces me to put this nearer to the top of my choice list. The most intriguing part of this was how you found the plotline’s intriguing dichotomy to be so well done. You do always have your Ste-style infused into your words and that always makes for an ever so very well crafted review.

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    • Ste J

      15/08/2014 at 15:22

      Ste-style! I do love your terms for my ways! Dickens really is epic and knowing your tastes, you will love the vivid nature of his works. In fact it is criminal you haven’t read any and we will be have to put that right to add to your reading odyssey.

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  12. LuAnn

    15/08/2014 at 14:47

    I have not read a Dickens book since my college days, and that goes back a far ways. 🙂 I will have to reflect on whether to put this one into my queue. Are you getting ready for another visit across the pond soon?

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    • Ste J

      15/08/2014 at 15:10

      I think I will be slightly delayed on my travel plans sadly, I shall mail you about it soon…there are much more moving Dickens books than this one but it is a good read, just not upto his usual sky high standards.

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  13. Morgan

    17/08/2014 at 19:48

    Right enough, though this is one of the few Dicken’s stories I’ve yet to read. I truly must undertake the library again, though I often think sitting with someone else, reading quietly, or aloud together, is far more enticing than curling up alone w/ said book. My Idiosyncrasies aside, I think you did the story justice in itself, meaning that, as ever, You’ve Enticed Me.

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    • Ste J

      18/08/2014 at 16:46

      Dragging people into books is always a good thing so that makes me happy. I suppose it depends who you are sitting with, people who shuffle or cough are enough to push me to anger lol…I like silence and a sneaky nap as well!

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      • Morgan

        18/08/2014 at 19:14

        So you curl up with a book to make it look like youre reading, but then you steal a few winks, eh?

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        • Ste J

          18/08/2014 at 19:18

          It is a sneaky tactic, I admit but I like to think that I am multi tasking.

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          • Morgan

            18/08/2014 at 19:20

            I wish I could multi task like that at work 😉 I think someone would notice tho when I slid out of my chair under the desk 😉

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            • Ste J

              18/08/2014 at 19:22

              Do it in plain sight, it worked for Eugene Victor Tooms the stretchy limbed killer in The X-Files!

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              • Morgan

                18/08/2014 at 20:59

                Very True…no one ever knew 😉

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  14. thejerseygal®™

    18/08/2014 at 01:36

    Mr D does no wrong. I see your point about pacing though, but the story is a work of art. The classics are still my favorites.

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    • Ste J

      18/08/2014 at 16:29

      I’m not sure what it is with this one, perhaps the shortness just doesn’t allow his usual trademarks to get more of a look in. The classics are a good bunch with a few exceptions, Moby Dick being one…

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