I've always heard of A Tale of Two Cities, and many know the famous line, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...". So I finally decided to read it, and was very gratified to learn that I liked it. For someone who, on first reading, did not enjoy Oliver Twist (though I do now), it was a nice surprise to like it at first sight. Here is my review.
Dr. Manette, a doctor who has been a prisoner in the Bastille for eighteen years, is finally released. Broken and fragile from his long captivity, he is taken in by a wine shop keeper, Jacques Defarge, and his wife, who live in France. His banker from England, Jarvis Lorry, comes to meet Dr. Manette, telling him his daughter Lucie is still living. They are reunited and begin a new life together in England.
Charles Darnay, a self-exiled French aristocrat, is on trial for being a spy against England. He is acquitted with the help of a barrister, Sydney Carton, a man who resembles him very closely. Dr. Manette and Lucie are present at the trial, and they make the acquaintance of Mr. Darnay and Mr. Carton, who are both attracted to Lucie’s beauty and sweetness.
While this is going on, the French people, sick of oppression, prepare for revolution, led by the Defarges. As the years pass and the time for revolution is nigh, the Manettes and their friends are swept up into the cruelty and the bloodshed of the French Revolution.
Dickens is absolutely an amazing writer. I’ve read and enjoyed a few of his books and I love how he connects all the characters so expertly, not to mention his brilliant descriptions and little ironic comments.
The characterization in this book is lovely. You feel that you can get to know the characters personally. Dr. Manette’s dependence upon Lucie, Mr. Lorry’s helpfulness, the shiftless yet tortured Sydney Carton, the cold vengefulness of Mrs. Defarge—all are so real and motivated. E.M. Forster, a British novelist and essayist, says this about his characters:
“Part of the genius of Dickens is that he does use types and caricatures, people whom we recognize the instant they re-enter, and yet achieves effects that are not mechanical and a vision of humanity that is not shallow.” (Aspects of the Novel)
Yes, while Lucie may be always good and sweet, and Sydney always afflicted, and Charles Darnay always noble, they are not, to my mind anyway, boring. And there are some surprising aspects of characters as well, such as Jerry Cruncher, a porter for the bank, who is a grave robber by night.
Also, the twists of the story are very intriguing, like who Madame Defarge turns out to be, an explanation for her hatred of aristocrats. Or what happens to Sydney at the end (I won’t spoil it, but I saw it coming and I loved it and hated it at the same time!). It is such a long, long book, but I felt that every page was interesting. Since I have never studied the French Revolution, I don’t know how accurate the history is, but I did feel it gave me a picture of the futility and the instability of the times. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I don’t recall any language in it, but I’m sure that there is a little swearing, as there sometimes is in Dickens. Obviously there is bloodshed in it as well.
If you like Dickens, old and long novels, the French Revolution, or books in general, you’ll like this book!