Book: A Tale of Two Cities

Author: Charles Dickens

Rating: 4.5/5

A Tale of Two Cities-Charles Dickens

 The novel with one of the most famous opening lines in the history of fiction, A Tale of Two Cities is set in Paris and London of the 1780-s and 1790-s. Dr. Manette is incarcerated in the Bastille for eighteen years without trial. His daughter Lucie grows up in London, thinking that she is an orphan. But her life changes when her father is released from prison. Charles Darnay is an emigrant who has left France because of his hatred for his family. Charles and Lucie fall in love and marry. But there is another person who loves Lucie with all his heart and will do anything for her sake. A Tale of Two Cities is a story of love, war and tragic heroism.  

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Social/Historical context:

A Tale of Two Cities (published in 1859) is one of the greatest novels on the French Revolution. Partly inspired by Thomas Carlyle’s French Revolution, it is a mammoth work of imagination, giving a fictional account of the events and causes leading up to that fateful summer of 1789. Dickens had immense sympathy for the plight of the poor and the downtrodden, and he saw the revolution (like Carlyle) solely as the uprising of the poor intent on seizing their rights and exacting revenge on the aristocrats. Dickens leaves out the philosophy of Rousseau and concentrates on the representation of a certain section of society that has proved, throughout history, that there is a limit to human endurance. In the first part of the novel Dickens is full of admiration for the people who refuse to surrender their humanity and are ready to employ any means to assert it. But the massacres, the bloodbaths, the Guillotine filled Dickens with horror, and in the latter half of the novel he shows how blood thirst kills every human instinct and noble ideal and replaces it with a destructive madness.  

Writing Style:

The novel, though long, is very fast paced; it is a novel of incidents, each incident following close upon the last. The style, the technique, and especially the humor, are typically Dickensian. Dickens’s language can sometimes prove to be difficult, but not exceptionally so. The story is an epic tragedy, masterfully portraying the great hero with a tragic flaw, caught in an atmosphere of hatred and ruthlessness.  

My Thoughts:

Sydney Carton is, and will always remain, one my most favorite characters. His genius, his selflessness, his agony, and ultimately his noble sacrifice make him stand apart from all other heroes. On the other hand is Madame Defarge, whose name is carved in popular memory as one of the most sinister and malevolent characters in literary history. Many people, who have never read A Tale of Two Cities, have some idea about Madame Defarge and her knitting register. When I first read this novel I was too young to understand the language, but I was profoundly moved. I read it again recently- the magic hasn't worn off.

Book Reviewed by Amrita Dutta

A Tale of Two Cities-Charles Dickens-Review#2

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