Book Review: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities began as a serial story from April to November of 1859 appearing in a periodical, All The Year Round.
The following link is the original first page, courtesy of The Victorian Web. 

"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."
Opening paragraph in Book One of A Tale of Two Cities.

If time permitted and my readers would not become antsy-itchy for the post to end, I would go on and on about this book. While reading it I wished I'd had the ability to speak with a person who is knowledgeable about Charles Dickens, for example an English major or English literature teacher. Instead I've had to guess at the symbolism in this story, as well as the use of repetitive words Dickens used, his ability to create characters unlike any other authors books I've read, and his focus on society themes that point the reader to the plight of those suffering through poverty and neglect.

For those of you who wish to know if I liked the book, absolutely yes! I loved it!

I'd read a reviewer remark once that the beginning and the end is the greatness of A Tale of Two Cities, the rest of the story is bleak, just average. I disagree. If you read the story for just a story, and for just entertainment, maybe it is just average. While reading A Tale of Two Cities I had the attitude of tell me a story I've not heard ole Dickens my dear literary friend. And he did.

When A Tale of Two Cities begins Miss Lucie Manette and Mr. Jarvis Lorry make a trip to Paris because they believe they've found her father. Dickens describes their venture as on their, "way to dig someone out of the grave." page 18. With this description I had the mental image of a person in an earthly grave, in a way Lucie's father had been in a grave, for 18 years.
Monsieur and Madame Lefarge live in the suburb of St. Antoine in Paris. They are the owners of a wine-shop. The Lefarge's had taken in an elderly man (who does not remember how he came to live with them). This elderly man stayed shut-up, in a darkened room, bent over, making shoes. When I began reading A Tale of Two Cities I failed to pick up on foreshadowing clues about the Lefarge's. Madame LeFarge with her vigorous crafty knitting needles! After an initial introduction to this couple, Dickens writes, "The time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be red upon many there." page 32-33.
Monsieur the Marquis is a dour, vile, arrogant, unfeeling, hateful, cruel man. He is an aristocratic. He lives in a chateau with servants. He looks upon the common---poor people as rats.
"Monsieur the Marquis ran his eyes over them all, as if they had been mere rats come out of their holes."
Several times Dickens used the word rat in describing the common---poor people. I believe he is also using symbolism.
Rat could apply on several points.
  • Rats are unclean, filthy, known to have diseases.
  • Rats are scavengers, they eat whatever they can find to eat.
  • Rats often work with others to destroy, steal. 
  • Rats are more intelligent than we believe them to be. As well as calculating. 
  • As far as the Marquis was concerned these poverty stricken people reminded him of rats because they were poor, yet breeded prolifically.
  • Rats watch from behind wherever they are hiding, yet Monsieur the Marquis believed them to,
    "have crept out of their holes to look on," page 113. These rats had become dauntless, defiant.
Charles Darnay, a man wrongly accused. As the story progresses we will understand the reasonings behind why he is hated by the "people".
Sydney Carton, an English man who wants to be the friend of Charles Darnay. Sydney has an addiction to alcohol. His reputation is poor. A Tale of Two Cities will give Sydney a chance at redemption.
The backdrop of the story is The French Revolution. The two cities are London and Paris.
The two cities merge because of the people involved.

When reading A Tale of Two Cities pay careful attention to repetitive words, for example:
rats, poor, echoes, stone, ghost. 

On pages 114-115 Dickens description of these poverty stricken people are given with gripping emotion that provokes a response. Their despair is heart-wrenching. It gave me insight as to why and how these people rose-up in arms against the aristocracy. 
I'd stated in the previous post that the story of Annette Vallon had been my favorite so far of the books I'd read for September in Paris Reading Challenge 2012 (because I'd not finished yet with A Tale of Two Cities).  A Tale of Two Cities has moved to first place! I loved this story and I'm certain I'll re-read it again and again.

As far as I'm concerned no one else can tell a story as Charles Dickens. It is a story of love and hate, war and peace, villains and heroes. Although, A Tale of Two Cities is unique in that the villains were both expected and unexpected. The unexpected villains were not even aware they'd become one. Women who are often seen as a damsel in distress especially during the Victorian Period, is given a front stage pivot in a fearful portrayal that evil character is no respecter of sexes.

A Barnes and Nobles Classic, introduction and notes by Gillen D-Arcy Wood, published in paperback by Barnes and Nobles in 2004
Originally published 1859 by Chapman and Hall
448 pages

Link for book @ Barnes and Nobles:
Paperback $5.35
Nook $3.99
A free source for your e-Reader or computer.
Book #8 in September in Paris Reading Challenge 2012
This 8th book will be the last for The September in Paris Reading Challenge 2012.
My next classic reviews will be Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained by John Milton, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.


  1. All I knew about this book was the famous opening line. I've never read it and never knew the other city was Paris! Sometimes the titles are so well known that you never stop to think about what they mean. I definitely want to read this sooner than later.

  2. I added this title onto my Classics Club list recently and I can't wait to read it! -Sarah


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