A tale of two cities

by Charles Dickens

Paper Book, 1973

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

London : Oxford University Press, [1973]

Description

Dickens relates the adventures of a young Englishman who gives his life during the French Revolution to save the husband of the woman he loves.

User reviews

LibraryThing member SamuelW
It was the best of writing, it was the worst of writing, it was the subtlest of characterisation, it was the broadest of stereotyping, it was the quickest of pacing, it was the slowest of trudging, it was the most inspired of wit, it was the most uninspired of exposition, there were moments of brilliance, there were moments of banality – in short, what strikes me particularly about A Tale of Two Cities is its inconsistency.

Our tale begins in the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five, at which time ‘there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France.’ Instantly, Dickens catapults us into a world on the brink of revolution, and you can tell he’s having the time of his life setting the scene with sweeping (but deft) strokes. Kings, peasants, lawyers, bankers, tradesmen, whole countries – all are cut down to size with tongue-in-cheek prose and expert use of the free indirect style. Dickens writes like a favourite uncle who knows that all his nieces and nephews are seated around him, cross-legged and wide-eyed, giving him their rapt attention. Storytelling is about savouring all the best bits – the danger, the suspense, the romance, the adventure – and above all about having fun.

But there comes a point when Dickens seems to put the play aside and tell his listeners, ‘But now, children, we must get down to business; there’s a serious story to be told.’ And it’s at this point that the charisma starts to leak away. There are moments when it resurfaces, such as when Dickens describes the famous machine of the revolution: ‘the sharp female called La Guillotine’. All too often, however, the novel suffers from taking itself too seriously. Scenes like the fall of the Bastille may be impressively written, but most of the melodrama is much less stirring. Our heroes – Doctor Manette, his daughter Lucie and her husband Charled Darnay – are so incredibly beautiful and virtuous that Dickens’ acid pen leaves them entirely unscathed. How boring! Surely Lucie Manette, with her incessant laying of her golden head upon other people’s breasts, is a prime target for some of that famous Dickensian wit. But no – these characters end up just as flat as the comic-relief personalities of Mr Cruncher and Miss Pross, without the same humour to support them. How frustrating it is that Dickens can line up these one-dimensional figures beside such tenderly drawn characters as Sydney Carton, who, for all his flaws, draws our interest and our sympathy.

The descriptive language is likewise varied. Sometimes the details are brilliant and subtle and telling. At other times they are laid on far too thick. Do I really need to be familiar with every aspect of a character’s physical appearance, right down to the distance between their eyes?

The plotting is a delight. Little traps are laid down over here to be sprung over there, five years and a hundred pages later. No characters are wasted or discarded; they meet each other again and again in different locations and combinations, each with their own role to play in the drama that unfolds. Admittedly, coincidence does come into play a lot, but the coincidences are precisely what provides so much of the fun. Reading this story is like watching dominoes topple; the setup is plain to see, but the execution is still entertaining. It would be even more entertaining if all the declarations of love and loyalty did not slow it down so much.

So, having read my first Dickens novel, I am left with very mixed impressions of his writing. Perhaps I should turn to his earlier work to find a bit more fun and a bit less soap opera. David Copperfield next?
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LibraryThing member atimco
Charles Dickens' classic novel of the French Revolution is as gripping today as it was when it was published serially in 1859. Told in Dickens' masterful prose, the story explores the atrocious abuse suffered by the lower classes in France in the centuries leading up to the wild events of the Revolution. And yet Dickens also shows how victims can be as unjust and cruel as their oppressors; the tyranny of the masses is horribly evident in the tribunals and the delight the people take in their "national barber," the guillotine. And yet it is the age-old cruelty of the aristocracy that has made the peasantry so violent—so who is ultimately responsible? Dickens doesn't really answer the question.

The two cities of the title are London and Paris. Dr. Manette, a French physician, had been wrongly imprisoned for eighteen years in the Bastille when he is quietly set free, "recalled to life" (the name of the first book). Though he is a broken man, his reason and health are slowly restored by the loving ministrations of his beautiful daughter Lucie. With the help of the family lawyer, Jarvis Lorry, they escape France and make their home in London, where they become friends with a fellow exile from France, Charles Darnay. Darnay and Lucie eventually marry, but there is a dark secret in Darnay's family... a secret related to Dr. Manette's imprisonment, and a dangerous one to have during the violence and passion of the Revolution.

This is one of Dickens' least comical stories—and it is indeed hard to imagine a heavily comic take on the gruesome events of the French Revolution. And yet Dickens does infuse some humor into the story; Jerry Cruncher and Miss Pross have some golden moments (especially as regards Mrs. Cruncher's "flopping"). And the confrontation between Madame Defarge and Miss Pross, though a suspenseful fight to the death, also has its funny side.

Wrongful, lengthy imprisonment is a theme common to three of my favorite stories set in France. Alexandre Dumas treats it as a training period of sorts in The Count of Monte Cristo (1844); Dickens likens it to being buried alive in A Tale of Two Cities (1859); and Victor Hugo uses it to demonstrate the brutalizing effect of France's legal system in Les Misérables (1862). Each uses it differently within his plot and the characters who suffer it are all very different from one another. But all three authors are fascinated by the psychological effects of such confinement. Imprisonment viewed as training produces the Count's terrible oath to wreak vengeance on his enemies. Hugo shows long imprisonment as creating something subhuman, and contrasts its dehumanizing effects with the humanity of his Bishop. Of the three, Dr. Manette is probably the most scrutinized from a psychological perspective. His relapses are heartbreaking, to say the least.

I listened to this on audiobook, read by John Lee, and it was superb. Lee does the characters' accents perfectly. The best narrators contrive to give me a mental image of the characters, and I will always think of these as he voices them.

A Tale of Two Cities is one of Dickens' best-known novels, and contains what are arguably the most famous opening and closing lines in 19th century English literature. And like the best and worst of times that it portrays, we also see the best and worst of humanity here. Sydney Carton, that disreputable and strangely attractive character, is this tension in microcosm. Chronically lazy, selfish, and unmotivated, he is yet capable of one great thing—and this great thing is the powerful theme of substitution that goes beyond mere poignancy. Greater love hath no man than this... The novel ends with his final thoughts:

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known."

What more is there to say? Utterly satisfying.
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LibraryThing member kaionvin
Let me tell you, popular culture is not kind about sparing the plot twists of classic literature. If you don't know, say, who stepped out in front of a train, you must have the remarkable preternatural ability to, at a moment's notice, dive under the same rock as those with no idea whose hand was cut of by his dad.

... So how is it that I upon cracking open the front cover, I knew nothing of A Tale of Two Cities other than it took place in the French Revolution and the very famous, very abridged opening line? Wikipedia tells me that it is the most printed original English book at 200 million copies. Certainly some of those copies can be attributed to decaying away on impressive foyer bookshelves next to, say, The Satanic Verses, but really, this should be all be open knowledge.

Though of course I couldn’t recognize it yet, the answer to my question lay in that opening line. Because Charles Dickens lays it all up front, and manages to tell the reader more story before his first period than most authors manage to say in a whole novel. Granted, it's a monstrous sentence and reproduced unabridged for those of us used to the short version, e.g. myself, after which we can go into some quick thoughts about it:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

- You don’t have to look very far today to see the same injustices and inequalities— downright human pains that drive drastic social upheavals. It’s no coincidence it’s been made into a musical that transplants the action to the Russian Revolution… we see it again and again, then is now.
- It’s so not about the characters (they appear neither here nor in the entire first chapter). Sure they are our points of entry into the story, but in the larger picture they are swept in the swells of the time (and so their archetypical and sometimes downright thin characterizations are intentional).
- To have power, the French people become an unseeing mob under the thrall of symbol (extremes and 'superlative's), but the heroic act the forms the climax is individual and alone and transcendent—both equally representative of ideals, one twisted by hope and another by vengeance. Is it a naïve construction that our “protagonists” are such reactive victims?

Quite simply, there’s a rare passion and ambition to the scope of A Tale of Two Cities that makes it so easy to forget the some flaws of pacing (notably the end is dizzyingly terse with plot developments that could have been dispatched to focus the middle more) or short characterization. At the end of the day, I’m going to remember when Dickens hits the mark spot on. As readers, we remember the breathlessness of a giggle (oh the frequent scathing irony), the echo of a mental refrain (“a life you love”), the shudder down a spine (“Tell the Wind and Fire when to stop, but don’t tell me.”)… the sudden dustiness in the room ([Redacted] for my modicum of self-respect) … And that’s real storytelling, folks, no shortcuts.

And I mentioned it was really crazy quotable, right?
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens rightly remains one of his most popular stories. A work of historical fiction when it was first published in 1859, Dickens tells the rich, detailed story of Dr. Manette, his daughter Lucy and the two men who love her, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. With a backdrop of the terror of the French Revolution and peopled with vivid, memorable characters, it is easy to see why this book remains so popular well over 150 years later.

This was my third Dickens this year, and perhaps I am getting used to his dense prose, but I found this one the most accessible. His trademark use of incredible coincidences to advance the plot is very much in evidence here. Characters are revealed to be related or linked by past events, even a grave robbing comes to play a significant part later in the book. You can see that Dickens methodically worked out his plot and every character, every scene was used to add another link in the chain and all were to the benefit of the story.

The righteous Miss Pross, the darkly twisted Madame Defarge, and the kindly Mr. Lorry are three of my favorite characters and all played their parts in A Tale of Two Cities to perfection. Yes, the book is melodramatic, but in such a grand scale as to be epic. This book has love, revenge, political upheaval, and a noble act of self-sacrifice. I admit that though I read the last few pages with tears streaming from my eyes, I thought the closing of A Tale of Two Cities was sheer perfection.
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LibraryThing member br13wivan
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is an interesting book with defined characters, nice use of dialect, good setting descriptions when it can, and (most important of all) a vigorous story that taps into a well of raw emotion; rage against wrongful injustices and empathy for the noble characters who never rest in their battles.
We start the story slowly, with a few characters: A banker by the name of Jarvis Lorry, his assistant Jerry Cruncher, a young Frenchman known as Charles Darnay, a scarred doctor named Alexandre Manette, his daughter Lucy, her friend Miss Pross, and an attorney’s assistant named Sidney Carton. Sidney and Darnay are unconnected with the others’ social group until both fall in love with the fair Lucy. Lucy chooses to marry Charles, but Sidney stays by her side, friend-zoned until the end of his days. Soon after, Charles receives a letter from an old friend named Gabelle, who has been captured by revolutionaries (Charles & the gang were in England, but during this time the French Revolution had broken out and the normal people were taking over France from the aristocrats) and needs Charles to come right now to bail him out by saying he’s a good guy and shouldn’t be executed. Because in the French revolution, the rebels executed everybody for every crime, even if they had made it up themselves just to get more people to kill, and they did that a lot too. Up to 40 people a day, I think, were fed to the Guillotine (referred to as the “Barber”). And so Charles went on his way, but even Admiral Ackbar couldn’t have saved him, as IT’S A TRAP! Yes, Charles Darnay came into France, was taken to a town, forced to pay for “escorts”, and was “escorted” to La Force prison. The family came out and tried to help him, the doctor being especially persuasive as he was a Bastille prisoner (and was therefore wronged by the rich), but there was no way out. Charles was to be executed the next day. But then Sidney showed up and made an incredibly heroic (though a bit predictable) move for love. And that’s pretty much it.
In my personal opinion it was interesting as I’ve already said. I noticed a few pages written in first person as opposed to 3rd person. Not to mention almost the whole last chapter being written in present tense and not past-tense. There was no defined main character. There was a doctor who wanted to be a shoemaker for no apparent reason. London (one of the 2 cities, the other being Paris) was hardly part of the story. And in the first few chapters, it features normal people doing normal things, such as reading the paper, drinking coffee, taking a walk or even talking about the weather. Those are the things that annoy me about it, setting the otherwise spectacular writing back a few steps. But I feel generous. I’ll say 4 out of 5 stars to A Tale of Two Cities
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
The two cities are London and Paris on the eve of and during the French Revolution. This is Dickens' one work of historical fiction and the most popular of his books among American readers according to one poll. I've tried reading it before and found it boring. I recently read Great Expectations and liked it more than I expected, and A Christmas Carol is a sentimental favorite, so I decided to give this another try.

I do love many classic works, but I'm afraid Dickens is going to remain a non-favorite. His characters are certainly vivid and memorable--but they're often over-the-top. The opening (It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...) and closing (It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done...) sentences to this book are among the most eloquent and famous passages in literature. But I mostly found his prose overwritten, repetitive, and melodramatic. (He'll take a refrain like "recalled to life" and beat it to a bloody pulp.)

But what really made me cringe, and a major reason why I think I find it so hard to like Dickens, is how he writes his women characters. Great Expectations was refreshing in having a bitchy heroine in Estella, but Lucie Manette reverts back to type. An "angel" with "golden hair" and "rosy lips" and everyone loves her and she's prone to swoon and to tears. I find this kind of female figure infantile, both in the sense that a character such as Lucie doesn't strike me as a functioning adult nor can I see this as a mature view of women. And I don't think we can say, well, that's the way woman were back then, or the way woman were seen. It's not surprising certainly that female Victorian authors such as Elizabeth Gaskell or Charlotte Bronte were capable of writing women characters that feel real--but so were male authors such as William Thackeray, Wilkie Collins and E.M. Forster--and for that matter even medieval and Renaissance authors such as Shakespeare managed a lot better than this.

Also, hello, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton are doubles? And believe me, the improbable coincidences do not stop there. Color me eccentric, but that doesn't constitute good plotting to me. And frankly, Sydney Carton isn't my kind of hero. His sacrifice to me seems cloyingly sentimental and abrupt. Give me the Scarlet Pimpernel any day! Or for that matter Ebenezer Scrooge, whose redemption comes in the hard work of living life, not whining he's no good then throwing his life away.
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LibraryThing member Fiona-bird
Okay, so technically I haven't finished reading it but as far as I am concerned I have. Let's not be pedantic about this - I read over half and found it so excruciatingly tiresome that I couldn't force myself through the remaining pages. I looked up what happened next on wikipedia and concluded that nothing much happened next that would validate me wasting more hours or days dragging myself through a book I did not like.For a book that is "One of the most beloved of Dickens' stories" according to the quote on the front cover or "The greatest of his historical novels" I feel very cheated and rather sad too.This book starts with the famous opener: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."That is fantastic! Reading that I thought I was going to be onto a good 'un! However, just shows that you can't judge a book by its opening paragraph.I have loved Bleak House, Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol so it's a shame I find myself giving two stars to an author I have loved in the past. I'm glad this was not my first Dickens as I do not think I would have read any others. I am very disappointed in this book as well as in part, myself for not finishing it. This would have made a much better short story I believe. There was not a plot worth speaking of and the characters were all very thin and one dimensional. Much of the French revolution was described in metaphors and complex symbolism unravelling it all was a bit like trying to find your way through a maze.I have loved Dicken's writing style, it is beautiful, humorous and full of heart, soul and humanity. However, this time it felt like digging my way through a lot of surplus words which had lost their effect long before I could appreciate them. I don't know what got into Dickens when writing this book. It felt very empty and devoid of his usual humour and interesting characters. I can't wait to read another one of his and put this one firmly at the back of my memory so that I can once again hold a high opinion of Charles Dickens.… (more)
LibraryThing member jayde1599
Synopsis: A mix of characters live their lives in different ways in London and Paris in the years leading up to the French Revolution. The story focuses on the reign of terror and the mob mentality that accelerated it. The book follows a cast of characters including eagle eye Madame Defarge and her husband, a wine shop owner. The Defarges are leaders in the revolution in their town. Contrasting the darkness that follows the Defarges, is the story of golden, Lucie Manette, reunited with her father, Doctor Manette after 18 years of his imprisonment in the Bastille. Dr. Manette is driven mad, but in a moment of clarity helps Lucie's husband Charles Darnay years later. Miss Pross, Lucie's lifelong servant, Mr. Lorry, an elderly businessman, and Sydney Carton, a drunk attorney are three other memorable characters that also help to save Darnay from the bloody guillotine.

Pros and Cons: Despite knowing the famous first sentence of this novel for years, this is the first time that I have read it. I thoroughly enjoyed it, even struggling through the first half. What I found hard to read are the sentences and phrases that Dickens repeats throughout the book. In the forward, I found out that the book was published in installments, so I guess this makes sense. Also, I had trouble keeping up with time frame and minor character names. These are minor complaints to the story as a whole. The dark mood is present right from the beginning and he describes the mob mentality pushing fear and terror into all citizens. No one was safe from the guillotine!
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LibraryThing member KendraRenee
I genuinely liked this book. Fast read for a classic. Dickens had me so convinced that it was going to end badly, that I hated the entire first 3/4 of the book, and then laid it down for awhile because I was sick and thought that reading the conclusion would make me feel worse. Obviously I was anticipating a bad ending. But he came through with a spectacular hero's ending, making one of the least noteworthy characters into the saving grace of the whole story. Happy endings are good. Well done. ...Oh, and wait til you hear what happens to Madame Defarge. So gratifying. Good guys prevail!!!… (more)
LibraryThing member bfet
Times fly by, and books slowly develop so many coats of dust that they are soon forgotten. But, no matter how old Charles Dickens’ classic gets, A Tale of Two Cities will never grow dusty, for there is always someone being enchanted by this novel. With sophisticated and refreshing language, A Tale of Two Cities brings new life into the world. Set during the time of the French Revolution, it relives this experience in the lives of the two lovers, Lucie Manette and Charles Darnay, one from England and the other from France. Love is beautiful between these two fine people, and the sad and wasted Sydney Carton makes the third part in a love triangle. Heart and courage and sacrifice are shown in the deep characterization done by Dickens. The theme of being “recalled to life” is shown by how Dr. Manette, Miss Manette’s father, is brought back to reality in life after being isolated and forgotten for many years in the prison, the Bastille. Charles Dickens’ novel will bring a heart warming, unforgettable read into your life.… (more)
LibraryThing member kraaivrouw
A neighbor of my parents makes the best venison jerky I've ever eaten. It's perfectly cured, redolent of smoke and marinade, and just chewy enough. I'm telling you this because it think it accurately describes Mr. Dickens' writing. It's chewy. There's so much to think about within his writing. His characters from the most minor to the utterly crucial are conjured up out of thin air and described in ways that you can see, smell, and know them. He is at turns descriptive, sardonic, passionate, cynical, and sly. Through him the sights and sounds and smells and people of the story come vividly alive.

The Tale of Two Cities is his historical fiction novel about the French Revolution, comparing the peoples and events of the time through a tale that moves back and forth between London and Paris. I love his writing and storytelling - the serialization of his work pays off for the modern reader in his ability to keep you reading just one more chapter.

I very much enjoyed the experience of my 21st mind trying to get inside his 19th century mind as he tries to understand the 18th century mind. It's reminiscent of Matryoshka dolls - each nesting inside the other and just a little different than the rest. What a fascinating adventure for a reader.

Let's not forget the characters - the noble Dr. Manette, the somewhat insipid Lucie Manette (I know, she's of her time, but just a little sicky sweet for my taste), the dashing Charles Darnay, and one of the very best bad boys in literature - Sydney Carton - my very favorite, although Miss Pross and Madame Defarge are both unforgettable in their own ways.

Zillions of words of literary criticism expounding upon Mr. Dickens and his themes and meanings and probably anything else you can think of have been written. That's not how I want to connect to him, though. I am a reader. I wanted him to tell me a great story (and he did).
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LibraryThing member atimco
It's easy to forget that A Tale of Two Cities is Charles Dickens' only historical novel (that is, set in a period that was historical to him). To us, all of his novels are historical, but for this story he had to reach back and do research to make the period come alive. And come alive it does, in all its bloody, fiery glory. This is one of his shorter works but its characters and events are unforgettable. From the loyal Miss Pross and the sinister Madame DeFarge, the tragic ne'er-do-well Sydney Carton and the business-like but soft-hearted lawyer Jarvis Lorry, A Tale of Two Cities is peopled with personalities that stay with you long after the last page.

The plot is so well known I scarcely need to outline it. Set mainly during the French revolution, it's the story of a family indelibly touched by oppression and then haunted by its daughter, revenge. It's a story of a brilliant man who voluntarily chooses failure due to some innate defect of initiative and character—like one caught in a net who struggles only vainly and soon lapses back into its folds. It's a story of a nation fighting so violently to change itself that it does, but only into a mockery of the ideal it once espoused. A happy ending is snatched from the flames, but they burn up so much first.

Carton's sacrifice in trading his life for Darnay's is often compared to that of Jesus Christ, who took the place of condemned criminals so they could go free. There's an interesting reversal in Dickens' picture, however; Darnay, the condemned, is morally innocent of the crimes for which he is sentenced to die. He neither oppressed nor enslaved the French serfs, but only had the misfortune of descending from those who did. Carton, on the other hand, is not so virtuous. While entirely unconnected with the French aristocracy and its crimes, still his life, compared to Darnay's, seems almost a morally culpable waste. In a sense, it was he and not Darnay who was saved by that final, beautiful sacrifice.

Becoming a mother has sharpened the emotions I experience when reading novels or watching movies that depict suffering and loss within families. I think of my child being bereft of his father so cruelly like little Lucy almost was, for no good reason at all, and how hard widowhood and single motherhood would be (sadly, an all too common reality for many). Creation groans. And while the Darnays do escape and Carton does give meaning to his entire life through a courageous death, it is such a dreadful road to get there.

I love how Dickens can show us the hearts and minds of both the maddened peasants who have experienced and therefore commit unthinkable atrocities, and the pleasure-loving aristocracy who suddenly find themselves reaping the bloody harvest they have sown. Dickens is able to enter into the suffering of both sides and while his deepest sympathies are with the oppressed serfs, still he has a tear for those among the aristocracy who are so brutally handled by their former slaves. In between are so many people, caught up in the bloodshed without really having had any stake in it, like the seamstress executed just before Carton, or the simple mender of roads who accidentally becomes a revolutionary. Saddest of all is the children on both sides who suffer for things they had nothing to do with: both the children of the peasants and those of the aristocracy. It's a bit like original sin; you're born to it and all your choices spring from that circumstance.

Simply put, don't miss A Tale of Two Cities. It's grippingly good.
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LibraryThing member tortoisebook
This novel is set in London and Paris in the late eighteenth century during the French Revolution. It is a tale of love and the lengths people will go to in the name of love.

Although this is a departure from Dickens' usual style of writing it nonetheless contains his hallmarks of beautiful, descriptive writing that draws attention to issues of poverty whilst introducing quirky and memorable characters. He is very balanced in his approach to the French Revolution. He is scathing of the lifestyles of the aristocrats whose conspicuous consumption sat uneasily alongside the starving peasants. Something had to give and Dickens is supportive of the need for a revolution. However, he shows the revolution to have spiralled out of control with unfair trials, people suspecting their neighbours, new laws brought in and applied retrospectively, finally culminating in the arrival of the guillotine and the indiscriminate slaughter of men, women and children for the sins of their ancestors. Yes, the French Revolution needed to happen, but not like this.

The story centres around Lucie Manette, exquisitely pretty with a worried expression who is devoted to her father and husband. Not the most inspiring heroine but presumably everything a young lady should have been in those days. She marries Charles Darnay, a former French aristocrat who started a new life for himself in London. He is called to Paris to rescue an acquaintance from prison, seemingly unaware of quite how dangerous a place France had become. When he himself gets arrested the rest of the cast turn up in Paris to secure his freedom. Quite what possessed them all to go to Paris is beyond me, I can only assume the dangers were unknown to them. Also in Paris is Sidney Carton, a depressed alcoholic from London who is madly in love with Lucie and who is prepared to sacrifice everything for her happiness and to free himself from the tortures of unreciprocated love and the tyranny of alcoholism.

I loved this book. The story is so famous and yet so beautifully told that it came fresh to me. It is not perfect - a few convenient coincidences were needed to bring the story together - but it is a must-read for anyone and contains some of the most famous lines, and one of the most famous endings, in literature.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
The best thing about the novel is the catchy title and opening sentence. After that you have to be a masochist to follow the plot which is convoluted, plodding and worst of all for Dickens, humorless. Somehow I got through it, mercifully one of his shorter novels. It's worth pointing out it was among the least popular novels during Dickens' lifetime, only two others sold less. It sold perhaps 5% what Bleak House did. In the 20th century the popularity of A Tale of Two Cities increased mainly because it was assigned to students due to the combination of short length and the history lesson of the French Revolution, presumably making it a good teaching novel. Oprah included it in her book club because it was short and had a familiar title. It's time the novel returned to its former place at the bottom of the list alongside Barnaby Rudge and clear room for the neglected masterpieces like Dombey and Son and
Nicholas Nickleby.
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LibraryThing member asuico
Like many other reviewers, I was required to read this during my secondary school days. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and how readable I found Dickens compared to other British authors of "great books" (I'm looking at you, Jane Austen).

With my fondness for this classic in mind, I recently reread the book again, and while I still found it enjoyable, I thought the story suffered from the characterization of Lucie Manette. Almost every scene involving the good doctor's daughter has one of her male comrades or family members remarking on her goodness, her beauty, her strength of character, etc. when we almost never actually SEE this goodness and strength--they're just asserted through other characters' thoughts and actions.

These traits contrast starkly with those of the dastardly Madame Defarge, but to me the two characters are ironically similar in that just as Madame Defarge is unlikeable for her total cruelty, Lucie is also unlikeable for her total goodness, which is a reader response I'm sure Dickens did not intend to provoke. Sydney Carton was my favorite character when I first read this in high school, and four years later, I'm better able to articulate why: unlike Lucie and Madame Defarge, he is a mix of vice and virtue. He's complex and morally grey. Unlike the other two, he's an actual person.

Apart from Lucie's role as a Mary Sue, however, A Tale of Two Cities is a good read. As others have noted, it's rather slow in the beginning, but the thrill and suspense woven into the last quarter of the book makes waiting out the slow build worth it.
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LibraryThing member marwanbadri
Another prominent Dickens masterpiece. This novel puts a human face to the French revolution.
Regardless of how true its representation of the revolution is, it depicts the suffering of many innocent people that happens in any revolution, where the tide of change sweeps the good and bad equally, and where the human perception of violent and brutal acts changes from outright condemnation to what can be described as enjoyment.… (more)
LibraryThing member FrancescaForrest
Sometimes you read a book at just the right time, and now was just the right time for me to read A Tale of Two Cities. I'd never read it before and knew nothing of the story, going in, so it was a terrific adventure.

There were three types of thing I was enjoying and paying attention to as I read. The first was just the rollicking good plot, and how Dickens carried it off--what pieces of information he planted when, in order to bring them up later, how some scenes in the beginning foreshadowed other scenes later on, how he interwove fast action with scene setting and so on. Some developments--namely, the climactic role to be played by Sydney Carton--I could see coming a mile off, but I didn't mind that fact. Other plot twists took me completely by surprise, such that I actually screamed aloud. Good story, Mr. Dickens!

The second was the picture of a totalitarian state in the grip of an ideology. It could have been Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, but it wasn't; it was more than a century earlier than either. But you see the same focus on ideological purity, the same requirement that everything be sacrificeable to the ideology. When Doctor Manette, the beloved of the revolutionaries, protests his son-in-law's rearrest, he's told,
If the Republic demands sacrifices from you, without doubt you as a good patriot will be happy to make them. The Republic goes before all. The People is supreme.
(Not to imply that Dickens is saying that the population was wrong to revolt; on the contrary, he makes it quite clear that the revolution was justified: he paints the crimes of the aristocrats and the suffering of the population quite graphically. It's just where the engine of revolution goes once it's started rolling that he's appalled by.)

The third thing is Madame Defarge. She has about 80 percent of the excellent, quotable lines of dialogue in the book, and the rest belong almost entirely to Sydney Carton. Her implacability, her will to destroy--it's breathtaking. She's pretty much a force of nature, like the things she draws on for her metaphors of retribution and revenge--lightning, earthquakes, wind and fire. Only when it becomes clear that she wants to destroy Charles Darnay's family down to his little daughter does she descend to true villain, and even then, her self-justifying speech isn't without persuasiveness:
, I was brought up among the fishermen of the sea-shore, and that peasant family so injured by the two Evremonde brothers, as that Bastille paper describes, is my family. Defarge, that sister of the mortally wounded boy upon the ground was my sister, that husband was my sister’s husband, that unborn child was their child, that brother was my brother, that father was my father, those dead are my dead, and that summons to answer for those things descends to me!

Her family died unjustly; why, then, should not the family of those responsible for their deaths pay the price?


Why not indeed. There's the argument that revenge is a hunger that cannot be satisfied: the more deaths you feed it, the hungrier it becomes. But that's not the argument Dickens makes. His is more about human kindness. The revenge that Madame Defarge wants is her personal ideology, to which all must be sacrified (even her husband--nothing is more important than the idea of revenge. Dickens simultaneously shows the magnificence of someone who's given their life to an idea . . . and also the horror. The particularistic claims of human affection have no sway over her--her humanity itself is sacrificed to the idea in her head, her drive for revenge, and that's what Dickens finds fascinatingly horrible.
...And I have more to say, maybe, but it's late and I'm falling asleep as I type. More later! (Maybe)
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LibraryThing member theokester
Somehow I managed to get through Junior High, High School and even College (as an English major) without ever reading A Tale of Two Cities. Since I'm about to graduate, I figured it was time to read this classic and see what it's all about. I knew from a high level that it was about some of the dynamic between London and Paris at the time of the French Revolution, but not much beyond that.

I can honestly say that I wanted to give up a few times as I started. The famous opening lines were interesting ("It was the best of times it was the worst of times…"), but as the story went on, it was a balancing act. For the first 50 or 60 pages, I had to readjust myself to Dickens style. I had to try to care about a myriad of characters without knowing who was going to be important or what their importance would be. I was tossed around between a few locations and seemingly random stories. The writing was gorgeous, the characters were full and the situations were interesting, but the overall pacing of the story felt like it was crawling very slowly. I felt like I was turning page after page and gathering data that felt insignificant. I felt as though I had no clear understanding of the overall plot or the prospective arc of the story and thus I had no way of knowing how quickly (or if at all) I was progressing along that arc towards any type of intrigue, climax or conclusion.

Still, I loved the language and I was intrigued by the characters and wanted to find out how they would interact and where their paths would lead. So, I pushed through. As I passed into the 100+ page mark, I had a clearer idea of the relations of the characters and could start to guess at upcoming events. Halfway through the novel, the intensity really took off and for the last 150-200 pages, I had a hard time putting the book down because I was so invested in what was going on and truly NEEDED to know what was going to happen.

I felt that Dickens did a wonderful job creating vibrant characters that I could intimately invest myself in. I felt great compassion for Doctor Manette and Lucie. I had genuine concern for Charles. I literally shuddered as I got closer and closer to Madame Defarge. Even the peripheral characters and their more minor stories were engaging. I was worried about Cruncher and Miss Pross as they tried to escape Paris. It was interesting the way seemingly minor characters would wind in and out of the story taking on larger roles at times and even becoming highly pivotal characters.

In addition to the wonderful tension in the story and the amazingly vivid characters, I think one of the amazing aspects of this novel is the portrayal of the French Revolution itself. I'm not a historian by any stretch. My knowledge of the Revolution is largely limited to a brief history lesson in High School and reading and watching The Scarlet Pimpernel and Les Miserables. (I kept expecting the Pimpernel to swoop in and save the day…alas, he didn't)

So I have no idea how accurate Dickens portrayal is. But I did find that his descriptions of the buildup and eventual explosion of the Revolution is amazing. I loved that he showed some of the actions that led up to the hatred. As the book went on, the atrocities of the upper class became more and more heinous to the extent that I could relate and empathize with the Revolutionaries to some degree. But as the powder keg erupted into the absolute thirst for blood and vengeance, it became frightening how all-encompassing the hatred was. I really felt the sense of the flood that flowed through Paris and the absolute horror of the thing. While this is a work of fiction, I think this portrayal of the Revolution was absolutely amazing.

Now that I've finally read this novel, I feel really bad that it took me so long to get to it. I also feel like, now that I know the trajectory, the first ~50-100 pages would be more intriguing. I can truly understand why this book is considered a classic and is so open for discussions. It provides plenty of conversation about humanity and history. It also displays lots of intriguing literary techniques that are very cool.

I absolutely recommend that everyone makes time to read this book at least once in their life.

*****
5 out of 5 stars
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LibraryThing member mattviews
A Tale of Two Cities offers a swift, exciting story and an unforgettable rendering of the French Revolution, in a lethal, vengeful and exiguous Paris and a tranquil London. This novel as Dickens's most memorable effort to see a world in a very confined space indeed: a work very short by its nature and yet in which hundreds, even thousands of people do appear in a state of belligerence. The book is riddled with the howling mobs, epic scenes and tightly packed incidents that concentrate on a few central characters. It is an intimate piece of work, which somehow deftly evokes the epic presence of crowds and the vast movements of history, as well as the engrossing terror and compassion of individual characters.

Within the condensations of historical time, the lives of the characters play themselves out. Besides the dreadful Madame Defarge of whose power derives from her surreptitious but all engrossing lust for vengeance on the Evremonde family (aristocrats), Dickens is particularly concerned with three men, all obsessed with the same dreamy, beautiful and svelte figure of desire: Lucie Manette. Doctor Manette, who had been for 18 years jailed by the Evremonde in the Bastille to cover up its atrocious crimes, reveals much more fully his character through actions than by mere dialogue and introspection. Realizing his tormented imprisonment that has thrown him into a delirious repression as strength, he announces himself to the Revolutionists and pleads for Charles Darnay's life and liberty.

An heir of the Evremonde family but lives under the name Darnay in England, his ambiguous historical guilt is converged through a crucial historical ellipsis. The other central figure is Sydney Carton; a lawyer with thwarted ambition that takes on a mythical aspect at the end to save his friends and so to fulfill his promise. If Charles Darnay is the society's innocent victim who suffers because of the sins of his forefathers and of Madame Defarge's inveterate hatred of the aristocrats, Sydney Carton, who suffers from an inexplicable melancholy, is the sacrificial hero who redeems those sins in an re-enactment of Christ's expiatory death.

The novel is also redolent of the theme of resurrection: the release of people from the realm of death and from their own morbid isolation. The novel begins with the rescue of Doctor Manette from the proximity of the Bastille. Apprehension, repression and revulsion weigh in his mind and make it difficult for him to utter a word upon the topic that oppresses him. There has always been a strong and extraordinary revival of the excruciating train of thought and remembrance that are the first cause of his malady. Charles Darnay, who is accused by being a traitor and forfeit to the French people, has to be rescued from the realm of death, or more precisely, the wrath of Madame Defarge by, ironically, Doctor Manette. Imbued from her childhood with a brooding sense of wrong, she is utterly implacable and inimical. She is intransigent to recognize in her determination to exterminate the entire Evremondes insanity. The inveteracy of her pursuit is unfathomable for she is completely deprived of pity and compassion. Her surreptitious, conspired management of Charles Darnay's arrest is cunning but not without immense cruelty. The scheme manifests in a woven form, or knitting, which represents calculation, patience, pertinence, and an urge to retaliate.

The doctor realizes that up to that time, his imprisonment and repression have been associated in the minds of others with his personal affliction, deprivation and weakness. But he feels now, that his suffering is strength and power with which he can deliver Charles Darnay. The urge to returning to France has passed through his mind often as he cannot help thinking and having had some sympathy for the miserable people. Letter from an old servant who is in peril rouses the latent uneasiness in his mind to a vigorous resolution. One can immediately discern Darnay's futile attempt to save the servant and win influence with the revolutionists in order to do good, for no sooner has he arrived in Paris than he languishes in jail. The lack of reason and pity on Madame Defarge'' behalf is exposed to the fullest extent as one realizes how she has cunningly managed and manipulated the actions behind the scenes by letting Doctor Manette expend his force in a mock victory, accusing Darnay and re-arresting him, arraigning him to a new trial, and using the doctor's own manuscript on which written his confession and curse of his persecutors hidden in the Bastille against Darnay. All this Madame Defarge has premeditated in order to lure Darnay back to Paris and put whom on trial as a former aristocrat and a member of the very culpable Evremonde family who also happens to wrong the doctor.

The root of all the terror and bloodthirst, or even the Revolution, under Dickens's hand in this novel, is Madame Defarge's hatred for the Evremonde who had caused the death of her family. She is therefore the revolutionary impulse incarnate who is held together by class-hatred. Stony, absorbed in her knitting, seemingly unobservant, she is in absolute control of the mob. With her indomitable will she seem less a person than a force of destiny. She might have imbued the mob with her incendiary speeches but the real diabolism of the revolutionary mob rests in its overweening arrogance, its god-like assumption of power over the lives of the French people. Portrayal of the Revolution is achieved through an acceleration of events such as the arrest on mere suspicion, the mock trials and sheer murderousness.

Lastly the concept of martyrdom contained within the novel is to a good deal paradoxical: a Christianly, self-sacrificial death with a resurrection context and a prophetic countenance that brings together and contrasts ideas of justice and mercy. It echoes with the opening paradox "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times...."
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LibraryThing member mkhongms
The love story was a little flat for me.
LibraryThing member victrola
I just reread this for the first time since high school and I found it just as great as I did then. I can't help but love Dickens and his insane coincidences. When I get about to the halfway mark I can barely put it down. Everything just comes together in those last few chapters, and the final pages give me the chills.
LibraryThing member cbl_tn
This book has one of the greatest opening statements and also one of the greatest closing statements in all of literature. I've read it more than once, and every time the ending leaves me in tears. Each time I read it, I discover something I overlooked in my previous readings. It hadn't sunk in until this time through how long a time span is covered in the book – from the American Revolution to the French Revolution, a period of 15-20 years. I always had a mental image of Lucy as a young woman, but she must be approaching middle age by the end of the book.

I think Dickens' real genius is in his characters and the world they inhabit. Although the plot details grow fuzzy between readings, the characters remain alive: Dr. Manette and his shoe bench; Mrs. Cruncher and her floppin'; Madame Defarge and her knitting; Sidney Carton, ever conscious of his moral weakness, yet capable of one great act of courage and sacrifice. This novel is on my top ten list, and it's one that I think everyone should read at least once.
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LibraryThing member MrsLee
I believe this book has stirred my soul almost more than any other I have read. The tale of how much a man will sacrifice for pure love is moving indeed. This book takes us through the turmoil of the French Revolution and looks at it from several viewpoints, both horrifying and inspiring. Lucy Manet, her grandfather and husband are caught up in something which they cannot control and cannot escape, but this is not just their story, it is the story of the peasants of France, of the others who were enmeshed in the turmoil of that time. Dickens paints each character with humanity and fleshes them out so that they are in the room with us. Ultimately, it is the story of selflessness and love triumphing in times of great darkness.… (more)
LibraryThing member PatrickHackeling13
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens takes place in the turmoil of the French Revolution. The numerous plots of it are so complex and intertwined that I would not be doing the novel justice by just restating them. Let me just say it is the story of how even in the most deprived circumstances love and hope prevail. Even when man is kicked, bullied, and ultimately tortured he may summon the courage to not only face the music, but conduct it himself.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is a unanimous classic. But theres more to it. It is not only a masterpiece of the English language. It is a masterpiece of the human psyche. It delves into the deepest corners of the human mind and shows how even the most wretched creatures can possess an infinite source of goodness.
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LibraryThing member jlelliott
This may be the only Dickens novel I can stand, probably because it would be difficult to render the French Revolution boring or preachy. The story, full of the lucky coincidences and chances for redemption that make it a Dickens novel, is rather unbelievable, making it more of an allegory than a true tale of human characters. However the backdrop of revolutionary France is fascinating. The story of an oppressed people rising up and quickly turning to brutality has been repeated oft enough in history to be worthy of interest.… (more)
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