A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Summary from Goodreads:

The story is set in the late 18th century against the background of the French Revolution. Although Dickens borrowed from Thomas Carlyle's history, The French Revolution, for his sprawling tale of London and revolutionary Paris, the novel offers more drama than accuracy. 

The scenes of large-scale mob violence are especially vivid, if superficial in historical understanding. The complex plot involves Sydney Carton's sacrifice of his own life on behalf of his friends Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette. While political events drive the story, Dickens takes a decidedly antipolitical tone, lambasting both aristocratic tyranny and revolutionary excess--the latter memorably caricatured in Madame Defarge, who knits beside the guillotine. 

When former aristocrat Charles Darnay learns that an old family servant needs his help, he abandons his safe haven in England and returns to Paris. But once there, the Revolutionary authorities arrest him not for anything he has done, but for his rich family's crimes. Also in danger: his wife, Lucie, their young daughter, and her aged father, who have followed him across the Channel.

Everybody has heard of Dickens. Who hasn't? But my Dickensian experience is limited to two movie adaptations of Great Expectations and one of A Christmas Carol. That is, not counting the many parodies and loose adaptations (remember the rom-com Ghosts of Girlfriend's Past with pre-oscar Matthew McConaughey)? And the Disney variations (remember Scrooge McDuck)? And this one blasted presentation my friends and I did for our high school junior year Christmas party. A modern retelling of Scrooge which bombed so bad it haunts me until now. Anyway, all I am saying is, because Dickens has such a prevalent presence in pop culture, the level of wariness I usually have when it comes to Classics is of somewhat lesser magnitude than say reading Moby Dick.   

The opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities give quite a punch that I have grown excited about the whole thing. I am for one, quite fond of paradoxical and portentous openers.  

"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."

Okay so onwards and upwards to Chapter 1, and then 2 and 3 and 4. And boy, I was stumbling over the words (much like the darned Dover Mail [which turns out has nothing to do with the post office] climbing up Shooter's Hill). I once jested that it felt like I was reading Lewis Caroll's Jabberwocky poem. Most of the words started to appear gobbledygook. But perseverance reaps rewards! That and because our discussion leaders Ycel and DC were kind enough to give us extensive glossaries. I do hope anyone who wishes to read this, would have the same resolution to press on because it is a wonderful story with a plot that moves at a pace to rival any thriller. Plus, characters that are memorable and believable. And yes, Dickens has been known to write overwrought sentences, but it did not really bother me as much. In fact, I welcomed them because when he paints a picture, it is with such vividness and intensity, that I kind of cringed at the images that started to form in my mind. The spilled wine scene in particular is what made me sit up and pay attention. And he does lean towards the melodramatic, but it is absolutely brilliant melodrama, with grand speeches filled with passion and fervor. Then there is humor sprinkled here and there to keep one from being swallowed by the bleakness and horror of The French Revolution. Speaking of The French Revolution, I appreciated how Dickens presented both the peasantry and the nobility in an unbiased way. The nobles were pretty brutal. But the peasants were just as ruthless with their sense of justice gone askew. 

All in all, I think I can say that this is my best classic read to date (well, I haven't read that many really. But does it matter? No. Hahaha.) It speaks of love and family and freedom and morality and justice and redemption and sacrifice. And the ending is just as arresting as the opener. And Sydney Carton is especially worth meeting. 

Comments

  1. Speaking of vividness and intensity of painting pictures, my favorites are the spilled wine scene and the journey to the guillotine in the last chapter.

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    1. Oh right, the journey to the guillotine is such a compelling scene too. The one with Sydney and the girl. Gaaaah. :)

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Ack! What happened to your comment Atty. Monique? Did blogger just guillotined it? Because I sure did not. Argh. Anyway, I know you enjoyed ATo2C too. And I know we are both on #TeamSydney! Woot! :)

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  3. I agree, the 'Spilled Wine scene' spoke volumes to me too. :)

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    1. I know right? Those highly descriptive paragraphs are so so good, and very much vividly and dramatically depicts the disparity of the rich and poor during The French Revolution. :)

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  4. It's an unforgettable tale. It would have been fun if you were at the discussion while we were screaming during the "guillotine rounds". :D

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    1. Oh, I can only imagine the ruckus and all the fun you guys had. *Sigh* It shows in all the "guillotiney" photos posted on TFG's Facebook page. :)

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