A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

I have relieved some of my TBR Shame and knocked off another book from the Rory Gilmore Reading List. You, my fabulous commenters, were right about the fact that A Tale of Two Cities is superior to Great Expectations. It’s also better than “A Christmas Carol,” which is the only other Dickens I have read. I might try a couple of his other novels, and I’m intrigued by his ghost stories. We shall see.

So, A Tale of Two Cities.

What’s it about? The two cities are London and Paris, and the novel focuses on the lead up, day of, and then fallout of the storming of the Bastille. Somehow, I had literally no idea about that. Every time I’ve heard this novel spoken of I’ve heard about what is to me the secondary part of the story: the love plot. We have a beautiful girl reunited with her father after he has been released from his wrongful imprisonment, she falls in love and marries, and then her husband is wrongfully imprisoned. A lot of amazing and horrible stuff happens to everyone.

What did I think? I did like it overall, but it’s not one of my favorite books. I will keep it because I might want to revisit it later; however, it wasn’t as amazing as I was expecting. Maybe, it was just amazing in the wrong way.

My favorite part was the French Revolution part. I mean, wow, Dickens did not hold back. It was a bloody, terrifying, unpleasant time, and he showed all the grit and gore. I couldn’t read fast enough while they were storming the Bastille, and I was so emotionally invested in the fate of all the prisoners being brought to the guillotine. There’s a character called The Vengeance, who I thought was not a real person and was actually a symbol of the revolution that followed Madame Defarge around, but then she does real people stuff later in the novel. I honestly have been arguing with myself for the better part of a week about whether or not she’s an actual person. Rock solid writing for the French Revolution bits.

What kept this book from being one of my favorites is the fact that I see this novel touted as one of the greatest love stories of ever. It’s not. Yes, love is important, but the focus throughout the novel is on familial love and respect and not romantic love. I already know the argument coming, so let’s just talk about him. (SPOILERS AHEAD)

Sydney Carton. If he loved her that much, why didn’t he just freaking propose??? I mean, what the actual hell? Why does he hate himself so much? He tells Lucie that his love is unrequited and that he would do anything for her before she accepts Darnay’s marriage proposal. It’s so weird. I do not understand Carton, but I will accept it. I do acknowledge that he’s definitely the hero of the novel and that he is truly noble, even though he himself doesn’t realize it. He frustrates me, but I do like him a lot as a character.

Wikipedia lists 3 interpretations of Carton in other novels: the series The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare, which I’ve already read and talked about in earlier posts; A Far Better Rest by Susanne Alleyn, which is a re-telling of the novel from Carton’s perspective that also details his whole life; and finally, The Carton Chronicles: The Curious Tale of Flashman’s True Father by Keith Laidler, which shows Carton having a last minute change of heart, escaping the guillotine, going to work as a spy for Robespierre, and attempting to win “Lucie Manette / Darnay’s heart” (Wikipedia listed it just like that. Is he bi and trying to get jiggy with both of them? I will find out). I think I’ll read the other two to get other people’s perspectives on the character.

Speaking of characters, Madame Defarge is totally bonkers and an insane revolutionary, which was pretty cool, but how in the world did she know what happened to her family? Did someone seriously tell this little girl “hey, so your sister was kidnapped, raped, and then died. Her husband also died. Your brother tried to defend your sister’s honor, was stabbed, and then died. Your father found out and, guess what, also died.” I mean geeze! No wonder she wanted to kill everyone.

The one thing that bothers me about A Tale of Two Cities that also bothered me in Great Expectations was the obvious reaching for more words to get that money. We all know Dickens was paid by how much he wrote. In some places, it’s good description, but in others, it’s just annoying. There was one page dedicated to explaining to me that a few hours had passed. Come on, Charles; just get to the point.

All in all, it was an enjoyable read. It wasn’t perfect, but that’s okay. I’ll probably give some of this other works a shot because of it, so this novel is a win.

Who’s it for? Lovers of the classics, lovers of ripping books to shreds with criticism, and lovers of history, especially French Revolution history, will have a good time with A Tale of Two Cities.


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