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Book Review – A Tale of Two Cities

Synopsis:  After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the ageing Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of 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 roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.

First Line:  “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.”

Random Quote:  “But the comfort was, that all the company at the grand hotel of Monseigneur were perfectly dressed.  If the Day of Judgment had only been ascertained to be a dress day, everybody there would have been eternally correct.  Such frizzling and powdering and sticking up of hair, such delicate complexions artificially preserved and mended, such gallant swords to look at, and such delicate honour the sense of smell would surely keep anything going, for ever and ever.”

Review:  A neighbor of my parents makes the best venison jerky I’ve ever eaten.  It’s perfectly cured, redolent of smoke and marinade, and just chewy enough.  I’m telling you this because it think it accurately describes Mr. Dickens’ writing.  It’s chewy.  There’s so much to think about within his writing.  His characters from the most minor to the utterly crucial are conjured up out of thin air and described in ways that you can see, smell, and know them.  He is at turns descriptive, sardonic, passionate, cynical, and sly.  Through him the sights and sounds and smells and people of the story come vividly alive.

Charles Dickens Charles Dickens

The Tale of Two Cities is his historical fiction novel about the French Revolution, comparing the peoples and events of the time through a tale that moves back and forth between London and Paris.  I love his writing and storytelling – the serialization of his work pays off for the modern reader in his ability to keep you reading just one more chapter.

I very much enjoyed the experience of my 21st mind trying to get inside his 19th century mind as he tries to understand the 18th century mind.  It’s reminiscent of Matryoshka dolls – each nesting inside the other and just a little different than the rest.  What a fascinating adventure for a reader.

Let’s  not forget the characters – the noble Dr. Manette, the somewhat insipid Lucie Manette (I know, she’s of her time, but just a little sicky sweet for my taste), the dashing Charles Darnay, and one of the very best bad boys in literature – Sydney Carton – my very favorite, although Miss Pross and Madame Defarge are both unforgettable in their own ways.

Ten Russian politicians depicted in matryoshka...Image via Wikipedia

Zillions of words of literary criticism expounding upon Mr. Dickens and his themes and meanings and probably anything else you can think of have been written.  That’s not how I want to connect to him, though.  I am a reader.  I wanted him to tell me a great story (and he did).

FTC Disclosure:  Purchased at Half-Price Books


Reading Challenges:  British Books Challenge, The Classics 2011 Challenge, Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, Wordsworth Classics Reading Challenge

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