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A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

*Warning:  This post likely contains spoilers!  Beware if you’ve never read this book!*

I did it!  I finally finished A Tale of Two Cities!  This book has been on my “need to read” list since I was in high school.  Somehow I missed the class in which it was required reading, so I never read it.  I’m making up for lost time.  I have two regrets about this book: 

  1. that I didn’t read it sooner.
  2. that I didn’t read it faster. 

First, I took a whole semester of French Revolution/Napoleonic period history in college, and much of this novel would’ve made even more sense to me then.  Of course, I had other books to read then, so I never even thought about it.  Second, if I had only managed to read this one in a week instead of several weeks, I wouldn’t have forgotten the identity of some of the minor (but major in their contributions to the plot) characters.  Such is life.  I feel like I slogged through the first two-thirds of the book, and then, when most of the major characters are once again in Paris, I picked up speed.  It got good then. 

Ah, Sydney Carton.  Sydney Carton.  Sydney Carton.  He surprised me.  Way back when I posted these quotes from the novel, I had nothing more than a mere inkling of an idea of how it would all work out.  I have to say that this novel has one of the most satisfying (‘though heart-wrenching) conclusions I’ve read.  What better theme than redemption?  This exchange got me:

‘Are you dying for them?  she whispered.

‘And his wife and child.  Hush!  Yes.’

‘Oh, you will let me hold your brave hand, stranger?’

‘Hush!  Yes, my poor sister; to the last.’

I’ve never written much about the name of my blog before, but Victor Hugo wrote somewhere in Les Miserables (another classic I’ve yet to complete) that “hope is the word God has written on the brow of every man.”  I love the idea that as long as we have hope (and we do), we have no reason to despair.  I like to see the theme of hope played out in literature, and if Sydney Carton is not a seemingly hopeless character who ultimately provides the greatest gift to his friends, I don’t know who is. 

Strangely, I thought of To Kill a Mockingbird while I was reading of Sydney Carton’s sacrifice, and it wasn’t Atticus Finch or Tom Robinson who came to mind.  It was Ms. Dubose.  I always loved that little vignette–how Atticus makes Jem go and read to her, a very crochety old lady.  Later, Jem finds out the reason for his father’s insistence that he help her.  In my opinion, she is a noble character because of her steely determination to die a free woman, even in the midst of her pain.  (I don’t want to provide too many details–I don’t want to turn this into a post which provides spoilers for two books.  If you haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird, please do yourself a favor and read it.  Thank you.)  Sydney Carton’s decision to finally do this one thing right reminds me of her.

Of course, there’s the other part of A Tale of Two Cities that I love so much:  the humor.  Jerry Cruncher and Miss Pross provide just the comic relief needed in a heartbreaking story.  I’ve quoted the novel extensively in my Week in Words posts, and most of the quotes pertain to these two characters.  For a sampling of Dickens’ humor, you can read these posts here and here and here.   

I love this book, and I’m really glad I finally read it.  Now I want to watch a screen version.  Does anyone have any recommendations?  Any to avoid?

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7 Responses

  1. I loved the book, and think about it every time I see someone knitting!
    It was one of your posts that made me decide to reread it….thanks!

  2. Because I have promised Jonathan that I will eventually read this book, I’m not going to read your review just yet. But when I DO, I will come back. ;D

    In the meantime, CONGRATULATIONS! =D That was quite a feat!

  3. So glad you liked it — it’s my favorite novel. 🙂 The 1935 film, 1958 film, and 1989 BBC miniseries are all quite good, to the best of my recollection. I’ve seen only bits and pieces of the 1980 miniseries, so I can’t really say anything about that one.

  4. I have yet to read this Classic. I have it. It’s been on my shelf for years.

    The Mystery of Edwin Drood

  5. I didn’t read your entire review b/c I haven’t read it, but I think I’ll add it to my TBR list!

  6. I am so glad you enjoyed this! I think I mentioned before that it took me several false starts, trying this book and not getting into it, before I finally persevered, and I was so glad I did. Right after reading it through to see what happened, I read it through again to marvel at Dickens’ mastery in putting it together. One of my favorite passages as far as writing goes was when Dickens is describing the home of the marquis, and as he is describing the stone faces outside (gargoyles maybe? I can’t remember), and I was almost getting to the point of thinking, “OK, enough description, can we get back to the story?” when he says that this morning there was one stone face more –and I was thoroughly chilled realizing the marquis had been killed.

    Sydney Carton is one of my favorite characters in all of literature. He is a perfect depiction in the end of unconditional love, giving expecting nothing in return.

    The only film version I have seen was a BBC miniseries several years ago — it may have been the 1980 one Gina mentioned. I can’t remember much about it except that I did enjoy it.

  7. This is yet another of the classics that I’ve never read. You’ve really sold me on it, though, so perhaps I’ll have to add it to the ever-growing list. 🙂

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