Wednesday, February 27, 2008

'A Tale of Two Cities'

by Charles Dickens

Fiction/Classic/Historical, first published serially in All the Year Round in 1859
Penguin Classics, trade pb, 529 p.
Charles Dickens on the Literature Network
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.
What does one say about a classic such as this? It did take me quite a long time to get through but that wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying it. I was, but life interfered a bit, and I do have to admit that I needed to concentrate more on Dickens' dense prose and turns of phrase than I would on a contemporary novel. This meant that it was sometimes hard to read much at night in bed when I was already tired, and since that is where I do most of my reading, it was slow going at times. It was worth it though because Dickens is a master storyteller, and several times in this rather tragic story, he had me chuckling over some description or his way with words. Plus he certainly does create memorable characters and scenes.

As I mentioned before, I was a bit disappointed that the endnotes contained spoilers about the ending but it was still a very good read. I’ve not read much on the French Revolution so the historical aspect was also very interesting. I even learned a couple new words (see below). All in all it was a bit of work, but I’m glad to have finally read it and I look forward to reading more by Dickens in the future. The other two works by Dickens that I’ve read are A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations. Any suggestions for which one I should tackle next?

Vocabulary building:
es·cutch·eon /ɪˈskʌtʃən/
1. a shield or shieldlike surface on which a coat of arms is depicted.
2. an ornamental or protective plate around a keyhole, door handle, drawer pull, light switch, etc.
3. Nautical. a panel on the stern of a vessel bearing its name and port of registry.
4. blot on one's escutcheon, a stain on one's reputation; disgrace.
[Origin: 1470–80]

ter·gi·ver·sate /ˈtɜrdʒɪvərˌseɪt/
–verb (used without object), -sat·ed, -sat·ing.
1. to change repeatedly one's attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc.; equivocate.
2. to turn renegade.
[Origin: 1645–55]

My Rating: 4/5

(#5 for 2008, My Year of Reading Dangerously #1)


  1. I think you might try 'David Copperfield' before moving on to his much more political novels like 'Bleak House' and 'Little Dorrit'

  2. "Dombey and Son" is good, esp for its villain and strong female character. "Bleak House" is a favorite -- it's great for its descriptions of London and the corrupted legal system. His last completed novel, "Our Mutual friend" is probably my favorite for several reasons, one being its depiction of a crazy stalker schoolteacher!

    Sorry I couldn't pick just one! :)

  3. The only Dickens I've read is A Christmas Carol, and even though I enjoyed it a lot, I always find myself avoiding Dickens for the reasons you mentioned: he does demand a lot of concentration. That is silly, though, and I must stop it, because I have no doubt that his books really are worth the effort.

  4. I personally would read GREAT EXPECTATIONS, it has humor, is relatively easy to read. I like the story ( I would't mind reading it again). A CHRISTMAS CAROL i would chose to read around Christmas.

    Let me know what you chose and do not go to the end page, something i always do, cannot break the habit. It often has info. i whish to know about the story and spoilers, there should be a warning (that is why it is at the end, I must be tired)

    THE CAT'S EYE looks really good, will read it in March

  5. I don't remember ToTC being that long! I'm glad you liked it...I have yet to meet a Dickens story I do not like.

  6. Table Talk- Thanks for the suggestion of David Copperfield. Onto the list it goes.

    Teresa- More than one is just fine! It's always good to get several suggestions. Bleak House is one I'm kind of leaning toward for some reason so glad to hear it's one of your favourites. And I'll certainly add Our Mutual Friend and Dombey and Son to the list. Thanks.

    Nymeth- They are worth the effort but I can totally relate as I usually avoid him too. I'd had this copy of A Tale of Two Cities for a few years already but only now finally read it.

    Madeleine- I can't believe you flip to the end! I really liked Great Expectations too when I read it.
    I'm not sure if I'll be reading Cat's Eye next month or not. I was hoping to find a copy in the library or somewhere but haven't so may just read another of Atwood's books for the challenge instead.

    Nyssaneala- I added the intro, appendices and notes into the page count since I did read them all but the actual story was about 400 pgs.

  7. Not the last page of the story Ahahah! (I do know people who do look at the end, this I do not get, why bother reading a book),I read the Afterword, I always end up checking it when something interesting comes up in the story, to see where the author checked the facts etc...sometimes I wish I didn't because of spoilers.

    I see my message went through, wasn't sure

  8. Madeleine- OK, I understand now. :)
    If there is an afterword I read it at the end, the only thing I read during is footnotes or endnotes if there are any.

  9. Some books definitely do require more of our time and attention, and I can see Dickens being one of those authors whose books require it. That really is too bad that the endnotes had spoilers in them. Maybe they assume that everyone must know the story since it's been around so long, which of course, isn't true.

  10. Ooooh, great vocabulary words!

    I've only read A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations, so I'm no help. Sorry.

  11. Literary Feline- It certainly seemed that the editor thought everyone should already know the story. Oh well. Now I do too. :)

    Nancy- There were probably more but I remembered to put sticky notes next to those. I can't imagine finding a way to slip them into a conversation though. :P

  12. This is my all-time-favorite Dickens novel so I'm glad you enjoyed it. Bleak House is my 2nd favorite so of course I recommend reading that one. :)

  13. Heather- I do hope to read Bleak House someday. It seems to be one that people mention a lot. :)


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