A Tale of Two Cities (2024)

Melissa Rudder

175 reviews261 followers

May 29, 2009

My primary goal when I'm teaching A Tale of Two Cities to my sophom*ores is to make them realize that Charles Dickens didn't write creaky, dusty long novels that teachers embraced as a twisted rite of passage for teenagers. Instead, I want them them to understand why Dickens was one of the most popular writers in England and America during his time. I want them to see the book as the suspenseful, comedic, and sentimental piece of entertainment that it is. Because, while A Tale of Two Cities is masterfully written with sly humor, densely meaningful descriptions, a cast of quirky characters only Dickens could create, an endless series of telling binaries and foils, and relevant social commentary about the French Revolution as well as Dickens' time, it is also simply a damn good story. By a damn good storyteller.

I have a difficult time writing reviews about books that I adore because, when I'm not reading them, I hug them too closely to be very critical. (BTW - I frequently hug A Tale of Two Cities in front of my students... and write Charles Dickens' name with hearts around it... They think I'm crazy, but it intrigues some of them just enough to make them doubt the derisive comments of upperclassmen.) I reluctantly admit that Dickens does oversimplify the causes of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror; however, in doing so, he successfully captures the spirit of a tumultuous period and helps readers sympathize with characters on every side of the developing conflict. I also think that the characters of Roger Cly and John Barsad get a bit messy and may have worked better as a single character. Perhaps the confusion is a result of serialization restructuring. But, really, I read A Tale of Two Cities like a costumed Lord of the Rings fan at a movie premier. I cheer when my favorite characters enter scenes and I knowingly laugh when Dickens cleverly foreshadows future events.

Though I don't think that A Tale of Two Cities is Dickens' best novel--that title I would reserve for either Bleak House or David Copperfield--I do agree with Dickens, who claims that it was his best story. It is artfully written. Dickens introduces a cast of characters, sprawled across two nations and spanning varied social classes and political affiliations, and then effortlessly weaves their stories and secrets together in a masterful way. The Modernist movement painstakingly forced literature to reflect the ambiguities and uncertainties of the real world and that's great, but sometimes it is a real joy to read a story that ends with such magnificent closure. All mysteries are solved and everything makes sense. It is beautiful.

(I have to admit that I was overjoyed when a group of my fifth period girls persistently voiced their disdain for Dickens' angel in the house Lucie and backed Madame Defarge. I think they may have created a Madame Defarge myspace, actually. Oh how the times have changed.)

"Ms. R--, you got me." "What?" "At the beginning of this book, you said you would get some of us. And that we would love it. You got me." I didn't get you G--. Charles Dickens did. I just introduced you.


"A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other."



461 reviews1,182 followers

Want to read

December 4, 2019

This is Tessa's favorite. The book that Will grew to love. It must have something special.

Mario the lone bookwolf

805 reviews4,738 followers

April 23, 2023

Never change a running plot system

Although it might get used far too often
Instead of trying out new plots and ideas, Dickens keeps focusing on his main premises, recycling himself a bit and especially losing control over the inner logic, coherency, and credibility, not ever to talk about suspension of disbelief, because this thing feels so constructed.

Kind of a franchise of social critique
Not bad, but one of his weaker works, it reminds me a bit of a certain behemoth company always following the same scheme, adoring the running system, never changing much if it brings sweet money money. I do appreciate any kind of social criticism and that´s, along with all the ethics, moral, capitalistic evil, etc. what makes Dickens´work so special, but he just didn´t put that much effort into this one, maybe there were personal reasons or problems, maybe he needed to get it published, maybe he just mehed and thought
, who knows.

Definitely did see it coming
I was pretty disappointed after about half to two thirds of the book, because I could guess that there won´t be space for more dynamic plotlines (as if Dickens would have used such) and the ending was the ultimate Deus ex machinagasm. I can´t get behind the fascination of this novel for some readers, it´s an uninspired, stale infusion of Dickens topics in an unmotivated attempt to make more money by using his position as a moral guardian, a kind of national symbol ("our great writer to be proud of BS patriotism", no matter what she/he writes), and progressive critic of society, and copying his tropes until they began to fall into pieces.

Not close to Oliver Twist and Chrismas Carol
Because the story isn´t that amazing, I would like to focus on dissecting Dickens, so let´s take a short look at the strengths and weaknesses of his writing in general, by comparing best and worst, instead of talking about a story close to redundancy. In contrast to Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist, there seems to be less real lifeblood and the true self of the author in it, instead, it becomes a kind of next part of the literary brand Dickens was able to establish himself as.

A bit more complex characters, please
Dickens writes stereotypically, overusing the good/bad ugly/beautiful, and simple characterization scheme without the second layer and avoids describing realistic inner conflicts and anything giving characters more depth and complexity. There are no real cliffhangers, second and third plotlines, dynamic changes of perspective, and a general lack of pace and suspense, it´s as if an ultra stoic person tells one a story without any mimic or emotion and one has to struggle not to fall asleep while listening.

Not everyone ages well toward ingenuity
What irritates me the most is that his 2 great classics weren´t that average, although many other authors get better and better while they age and become specialists in the game of writing, but he lost parts of his motivation and/or talent while getting older. Without his established name, the last few novels wouldn´t have sold in the way Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist did, he would probably even didn´t have had the option to write more novels without the money and success.

Without the positive intent of showing grievances and dysfunctions in civilizations, this would have been a 3 star.
I am the last one to say that activism, progressivism, etc., aren´t good, but as soon as money and economic interests become more important than the work itself and ethics are hypocritically used to boost sales, the writer has lost her/his street credibility. It just reminds me more of the daily, average „each year a new novel“ mainstream mentality, not of a real classic.

Tropes show how literature is conceptualized and created and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique:

    classics dickens-charles

Virginia Ronan ♥ Herondale ♥

575 reviews35k followers

August 15, 2019

”It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

It rarely happens that a quote from a book haunts me but this one, well, this one does. I finished “A Tale of Two Cities” about two weeks ago, yet I’m still not over the ending. But how could I? After all, this is one of those rare books that keep you thinking even after you finished the last page and already closed the cover of the book.

The most intriguing thing about this all is the following though: I had a really, really tough time getting into “A Tale of Two Cities” when I first started to read it. XD The sentences were too long and complicated and Dickens writing style is lengthy and so full of superfluous words that every editor, no matter the century she/he lives in, would have had a field day crossing them out. *lol*

”O Miss Manette, when the little picture of a happy father’s face looks up in yours, when you see your own bright beauty springing up anew at your feet, think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!”

So what happened? I can’t explain it, but I think Dickens’s magic happened. At least that’s the only thing I can come up with while I’m trying to explain my sudden love for this book. I mean we have a little bit of comedy in here when three different suitors attempt to ask for Lucy Manettes hand, yet at the same time Doctor Manette’s mental condition is making the situation as serious as it could possibly be.

”What can I do for my friend? No man ever can have been more desirious in his heart to serve a friend, than I am to serve mine, if I knew how.”

Every character in here is either an angel (Miss Manette) or a precious snowflake (Mr. Lorry & Charles Darnay) or it’s bloodthirsty and evil. (Madame Defarge & The Marquis) There is no grey area, well not unless you count Sydney Carton who is by far the most intriguing character in the entire book! I loved him! <3 Yes, he might have been a drunkard (and I’m pretty sure he suffered from depression) but of all the characters that made an appearance in “A Tale of Two Cities” he’s certainly the most honourable and pure soul!

”It is too late for that. I shall never be better than I am. I shall sink lower, and be worse.”

And this, Ladies and Gentleman, is the true tragedy of this book! That Sydney thinks he’s worth nothing even though he DESERVES THE FREAKING WORLD!!!! Excuse my screaming but ADKFASKDFKASDFKSDFKASD! I get all emotional just thinking about this lovable man! He is worthy, he is wantable, to hell with it, I’m actually going to compare him to my precious boy Adam Parrish now! *LOL* Both of them deserve so much and they are always trying to fit in, to make their life better, yet there’s always something that holds them back. That makes their lives difficult.

”You are a good man and a true friend,” said Carton, in an altered voice. “Forgive me if I notice that you are affected. I could not see my father weep, and sit by, careless. And I could not respect your sorrow more, if you were my father. You are free from that misfortune, however.”

No one notices the struggle he’s going through and a lot of people judge him for his actions. Not outright into his face but behind his back. Truth be told, I think Miss Manette might have been the only person who ever got a decent glimpse at his true character and nature. And this only because he let her see it! Because he loved her and because he wanted her to know that there was a part of him, the part that loved her, that actually was worthy of her love as well. T_T

”I would ask you, dearest, to be very generous with him always, and very lenient on his faults when he is not by. I would ask you to believe that he has a heart he very, very seldom reveals, and that there are deep wounds in it. My dear, I have seen it bleeding.”

But we’re in the time of the guillotine, the time of change, of liberté, égalité et fraternité! And forgiveness and compassion, let alone justice aren’t truly on the agenda. People like the Marquis had no mercy with their subjects and their former servants pay them back in kind. Unfortunately this also means that innocent people, regardless of their actions and their lack of involvement are sentenced to death as well. Casualties in a war that gained momentum way too fast.

And so it happens that the storyline swells to a crescendo that ends in a climax I didn’t expect!

Boy, did that ending throw me! O_o
It was a beautiful ending, tragic, but beautiful, hopeful and sad. And it taught me that Dickens was indeed a great writer. ;-)

I cried an ocean reading this scene!!! Sydney Carton deserved so much better than that!!! What a noble and gentle and compassionate soul!! What a brave man that gives comfort while he’s going to his death as well!!! I can’t even!!! T_T I just can’t… *cries and ocean again*


I really loved this book! Dickens might write long sentences, he might take his time until everything gets into motion but damn, he certainly knows how to deliver a punch line! If you like classics and don’t mind books with a lengthy build-up you definitely should go for this! It was so worth it! XD

”It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”


3 Things:

1.) I’m finally doing this and I got myself some backup! XD
This book always kind of intimidated me but I think with the help of this awesome boy I’ll eventually manage to read it!

Thank you so much for doing this buddy read with me! =))

2.) Yesh!!! I can’t wait to know what Will and Tessa meant when they compared themselves to characters from “A Tale of Two Cities”!!! I’m sure my reread of “Clockwork Angel” later on this year will make so much more sense after reading this. *lol*

3.) It’s Charles Dickens,

AND it’s about time I finally read one of his books!!!



1,259 reviews5,913 followers

November 10, 2022

انا بيت قديم جدرانه من الخوف شرخت✒
انا نكتة حلوة اتكررت و أهي بوخت
انا ارض بور اخذها الهم حق انتفاع
انا باب مقفول من سنين ومفتاحه ضاع
اهلا بكم في مدينة سيدني كارتون..حيث للعدل وجهين..و للتضحية معنيين..و للحب لونين..و للثورات منتفعين
A Tale of Two Cities (6)
A Tale of Two Cities (7)
كارتون من زعماء الكآبة عبر العالم و هو سبب وقوعي في سحر الروايات منذ درست قصة مدينتين في سن 15 و حتى يومنا هذا ..كارتون بضياعه و رماديته و تجرده و كابته التي اوصلته لاعلى مراتب الحرية ؛ يستحق لقب: اكثر ابطال الادب رومانسية على الاطلاق و لو حظت اي فتاة بمثله في الواقع؛اذن لقد فازت و كفى

قصة مدينتين هي ملحمة تاريخية عن الثورة الفرنسية ؛عن ماهية الحرية ؛ درة الادب الانجليزى لأسباب لا تنتهى. .ابطال متناقضين ..احداث متلاحقة. .حبكة محكمة..صدف تغيظ
و اخيرا لانني زرت المدينتين: باريس قبل قراءة الرواية بسنوات و لندن تو ما فرغت منها..و اؤكد ان زيارة قبو متحف مدام توسو بعد قراءة قصة مدينتين ؛ كان من اكثر تجارب حياتي سوادا و رعبا

لا تشرق الشمس على منظر اكثر حزنا 💭
من رجل يمتلك عواطف نبيلةو مواهب و قدرات فائقة و يعجز عن تطبيقها او اظهارها او حتى على إسعاد نفسه بل تتاكله التعاسة حتى التلاشي💬ا

هكذا يصف لنا ديكنز :سيدنى كارتون المحامي الملقب"بابن اوى" المنتمى الى ابطال"يشبهونني ببساطة"بشعارهم الابدي: لا استحق اي شيء و كفى

انا متهم و ماليش كمان حق الدفاع✒
انا سهم بورصة في انخفاض مش في ارتفاع

لوسي مانيت ذهبية الشعر و القلب و💫 الحلقة التي تربط بين ابطال الرواية المتعددين؛ يحبها رجلين متطابقي الملامح
A Tale of Two Cities (8)
و متناقضي الصفات
تشارلز دارني👀 الارستقراطي الفرنسي المهاجر المتمرد على قسوة و سادية طبقته و اسرته
و♥سيدنى كارتون المحامي البريطاني النابه/اليائس و الذي تزداد كابته من حياته المبددة و جهوده المسروقة بعد لقاؤه بشبيهه دارني الذي يمتلك كل ما يفتقده ..فتتناقض عواطفه نحوه بين الحب و الحسد لفوزه بقلب لوسي و لكنه بنبل و تجرد نادر ..يرى ان "دارني" الاجدر بها و تحولت لوسي في قلبه و عقله لفكرة قد يعيش و يموت من أجلها.
A Tale of Two Cities (9)
ومابين الثوار والجواسيس..و المتهمين و المحامين و الاطباء و المساجين ..و المقاصل و الرؤوس..سنسبح في عالم الثورات الرمادى ربما كان الاول من نوعه في عصره و نتمنى رواية في حجمها تؤرخ بصدق و انسانية لثورتنا العربية و تجمع بين مصر و ليبيا او تونس مثلا
A Tale of Two Cities (10)

انا دمعة نازلة بتغلي في وقت الهزار✒
✒انا جرح ممكن تقفله باي اعتذار
الغريب انني وجدت ابيات شعبية للشاعر المصري💬
محمد الجمال تعبر بدقة عن بطل بريطاني كئيب غريب ولد على الورق في 1859 ليتوج كل ابطال تشارلز ديكنز احد "البناة العظام" في الادب العالمي . . ربما لان سيدنى ببراعته و نحسه و دونيته
و مظلوميته يعبر عن حال كثير من شبابنا حاليا

فعزمت ان اقدم له احترامي المتأخر في الريفيو رقم 500 لي على الجودريدز 💯💯💯💯 💯

    classic historical


431 reviews39k followers

April 13, 2023

Za głupia na to jestem

    classics fiction in-my-home-library


1,912 reviews16.9k followers

February 19, 2019

Hundreds, thousands of stories long to have a quotable verse, just one.

Tale of Two Cities, Dickens masterpiece as far as I'm concerned, is bookended by two of the most recognizable quotes in all of English language.

This is also the darkest story I have read of his, and no doubt, it's about the bloody French Revolution and Dickens spares none of his acerbic wit to demonize what was rightly demonic. Yet, to his credit and genius, neither does he sugar coat the great social injustices that led irresolutely to the collapse of the aristocratic French class.

Lacking his usual humor, again understandable, this nonetheless again displays his mastery of characterization. No character is as complete and now archetypal as Madame Defarge. I thought that Bill Sykes was his greatest villain, but Citizeness Defarge was simply a portrait of evil.

So many stories hope for a memorable scene and this has many, highly influential since, I thought of several works that had borrowed heavily from TOTC themes (especially Doctor Zhivago, many allusions to TOTC, and that also made me wonder was TOTC the first dystopian novel?) The scene between Madame Defarge and Ms Pross was stunning, and made me think of the riveting scene between Porfiry and Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.


A Tale of Two Cities (13)

Meghhnaa (On a Review-Writing Break!)

72 reviews501 followers

November 11, 2022

Quick plot synopsis -

Set against the backdrop of the famous French Revolution, it is a tale of the cities of London and Paris. Mr. Jarvis Lorry (confidential clerk at Tellson's Bank) is travelling to meet Lucie Manette (a ward of Tellson's Bank), to inform her that she isn’t an orphan. They travel together to meet her father in Paris, Doctor Manette (a Parisan doctor), her father, is released from Bastille after 18 years. Currently he is housed in the Defarges' wine-shop, has lost his memory, but starts to regain it upon meeting his daughter and is transported back to London. Post 5 years of this episode, Charles Darnay (French emigrant to England) is accused of a charge of providing English secrets to the French. Another remarkably similar-looking Sydney Carton (a London lawyer), helps in Darnay’s acquittal. Lucie Manette has three suitors- Darnay, Carton, and Stryver (another London lawyer with colossal ego), but she ends up marrying Charles Darnay! On the wedding day, Darnay divulges to his father-in-law about his connection with the French nobleman family. Meantime, in France, Darnay’s uncle, Monseigneur, has been murdered on charges of crime again the French poor people. Darnay is imprisoned in Paris as a nobleman. Doctor Manette, Lucie, and her child all travel to Paris to save Darnay, but in a course of dramatic events, Madam Defarges(the ringleader of the Saint Antoine female revolutionaries , with a nickname "vengeance") makes a strong charge against him in court, Darnay is sentenced to death.

Most heart-rending twist for me, the epitome of selfless love is when-

When the similar-looking Sydney Carton all the way travels to Paris, on account of his selfless love for Lucie Manette, to sacrifice his life to save her husband’s life. Carton gets the information that Defarges are planning to kill Lucie and her child. Using influence he even arranges for the Manettes to leave Paris safely along with Darnay. Alas, Carton dies on behalf of Darnay (epitome of love………)my stomach jumped to my heart, and my heart leapt into my throat…all my organs displaced and shuddered and welled ☹
My views –

The sinister Madame Defarge, with incessant propensity for vengeance, has outgrown all the villainy that I have read so far in any novel. She is emblematic of VENGEANCE AND MALICE!

There are many themes talked about, but what enticed me majorly were around resurrection and family, apart from the atrocities during the French Revolution and projection of the struggle of classes, tainted with violence and hatred.

The striking theme of resurrection, Lucie’s father’s memory recovery, Sydney’s sacrifice of his life to save Charles and family, is analogous to Jesus’s sacrifice!

The importance of the family has been threaded uniformly throughout. Given the centre stage!
From Lucie’s trip to Paris for the union with the long-lost father, to the lamentations of Charles Darney upon being sentenced to death, all more concerned about family than himself. The final nail in the coffin was the sacrifice of Carton(who is not connected to the family, without kinship!), just for the selfless love for Lucie and to protect her family.
While writing this brief, my heart is welling with tears!!!!!!!!!

The majestic opening with the contrasting lines to the profound impactful ending, this classic is an evergreen work of vengeance and love , family and sacrifice!

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

No one can sail through the last chapter “The footsteps die out forever” without a heavy heart, without sobbing, without an emotional sadness. The last chapter is the final embellishment of sacrifice and tragedy. Sydney Carton is executed at the guillotine along with other French prisoners, and Charles Dickens closes the chapter with a hypothetical speech on behalf of Carton and marks an end to this tragic tale. The ending melodramatic speech was analogous to the sacrifice of Jesus for the mankind!

This book cannot be given any finite stars…it is an epic laden with infinite stars, of the Dickensian epoch !

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

NB- This book , like most of the other Dickens’ work cannot be savoured in one stretch, but gradually. It is one of the most emotionally painful novels I have ever savoured ! It is melting…..

Ahmad Sharabiani

9,564 reviews100 followers

August 17, 2021

(Book 883 from 1001 books) - A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities (1859) is a historical novel by Charles Dickens, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution.

The novel tells the story of the French Doctor Manette, his 18-year-long imprisonment in the Bastille in Paris and his release to life in London with his daughter Lucie, whom he had never met.

Lucie's marriage and the collision between her beloved husband and the people who caused her father's imprisonment, and Monsieur and Madame Defarge, sellers of wine in a poor suburb of Paris.

The story is set against the conditions that led up to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «داستان دو شهر»؛ نویسنده: چارلز دیکنز؛ انتشاراتیها: (پیروز، جاویدان، گلشائی، مجرد، درنا، توسن، علمی فرهنگی، سپیده، مریم، فرزان روز، دبیر، افق، سولدوزبایجان) ادبیات؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: ماه نوامبر سال 2003میلادی

مترجم: گیورگیس آقاسی؛ تهران، پیروز، 1347، در 300ص
مترجم: ابراهیم یونسی؛ تهران، جاویدان، چاپ اول 1346، در 436ص، چاپ دوم 1355، در 570ص
مترجم: ابوالفتوح امام؛ تهران، گلشایی، 1362، در 520ص
مترجم: ناظر نعمتی؛ تهران، مجرد، 1363، در 197ص
مترجم: کامران ایراندوست؛ تهران، درنا، 1368، در 180ص
مترجم: امیر اسماعیلی؛ تهران، توسن، 1368، در 130ص
مترجم: مینو مشیری؛ تهران، علمی فرهنگی، 1370، در 225ص
مترجم: مجید سیف؛ تهران، سپیده، 1370، در 171ص
مترجم: مهدی سحابی - متن کوتاه شده؛ تهران، مریم، 1374، در 141ص
مترجم: ابراهیم یونسی؛ تهران، نگاه، 1377، در 480ص
مترجم: مهرداد نبیلی؛ تهران، فرزان روز، 1381، در 482ص
مترجم: مهدی علوی؛ تهران، دبیر، 1389 ، در 96ص
مترجم: نوشین ابراهیمی؛ تهران، افق، 1389، در 698ص
مترجم: وحید سهرابی حسنلویی؛ خدیجه ��هرابی حسنلویی؛ نقده، سولدوزبایجان، 1393، در 165ص؛

رمانی نوشته «چارلز دیکنز» است، که داستانش در «لندن» و «پاریس»، پیش و همزمان با انقلاب «فرانسه» رخ می‌دهد، داستان جوانی کشاورززاده را با اشرافیگرائیهای «فرانسوی»، در سالهای منتهی به انقلاب، و خشونتهای انقلابیون را، نسبت به اشراف پیشین، در سالهای نخستین انقلاب «فرانسه»، به تصویر می‌کشد؛ در این جریانات، ماجرای چند تن دنبال می‌شود، از همه مهمتر «چارلز دارنه»، از اشراف پیشین «فرانسوی»، که علی‌رغم ذات نیکویش، قربانی هیجانات ضد تبعیض انقلاب می‌شود؛ و «سیدنی کارتن»، وکیلی «بریتانیایی» که فراری است و تلاش ��ی‌کند، زندگی ناخوشایند خویش را با عشق به «لوسی مانه» همسر «چارلز دارنه»، نجات دهد

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 25/06/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 25/05/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی

Bionic Jean

1,293 reviews1,336 followers

March 26, 2024

“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 spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”

So begins A Tale of Two Cities, a perennial favourite. It was an instant success when it was first published, and its popularity has remained steady ever since, as one of the best selling novels of all time. For many, it is their most loved novel by Charles Dickens.

A Tale of Two Cities is Dickens’s second shortest completed novel, possibly his tightest plotted and most dramatic novel, yet in many ways it is the least “Dickensian”. It is one of only two historical novels Dickens ever wrote, and he wanted to try out a few new ways of writing, to celebrate the launch of his new periodical.

At this time Dickens felt very at home in France, speaking French fluently, and identifying so much with the French character that he sometimes viewed himself as almost a Frenchman in exile. He despised any parochial or narrow-minded thinking he might see in English people, and frequently poked fun at them in his writing. He travelled extensively, and wherever he went he carried his friend, Thomas Carlyle’s “History of the French Revolution”, published in 1837, with him, reading it over and over again. Dickens jokingly claimed to have read the book 500 times. In truth he admired and revered his friend rather more than the feeling being reciprocated; Carlyle tended to view Dickens as a mere “novelist”. But Dickens was determined to meticulously research the historical background to his latest work, and used Carlyle’s book as a reference source.

Attempting to imbue his new way of writing with more gravitas, Dickens tried to curb, or at least subdue, some of his own habits of fanciful imagination. After criticism of his earlier slips in “Barnaby Rudge”, he had resolved to make this account, although fictionalised, an historically accurate a portrayal as possible. Along with the less discursive style, he paid less reliance on character development and humour, both more usual indicators of his style. Some readers maintain they do not associate Dickens with humour, and I personally feel that that is due in large part to their familiarity with his later works, especially this one. If this is the only Dickens novel one has read, it is possible to miss much of its quirky humour.

A Tale of Two Cities has been dramatised countless times, and in common with many others I am drawn to each dramatisation. The story is a violent and bloody one, with acts of heroism and intrigue, secrets and lies, imprisonment and torture, sorrow and loss, terror and madness, panic and frenzy. It describes in detail the depth of depravity a human can sink to, and also instances the pinnacle of an almost unimaginable force for compassion and altruism. The characters once read about here, stay in the mind for ever; they are spell-binding, whether good or evil. There is much mystery, and the development of the story is so tightly plotted that the tension mounts to almost unbearable limits. The horrors described are both explicit and totally believeable. After much thought, then, I have rated it five stars. A story which endures and continues to be retold, with images which permeate each new generation’s consciousness, which is so powerfully written and can move the reader to tears each time they read it, deserves no less.

Do I like it? No, not really. I have to steel myself to read this each time. But then I don’t enjoy Dostoevsky either, and Dickens was one of his favourite writers. So this takes nothing away from my reluctant admiration for the novel. It is a deeply spiritual work, with the main theme of resurrection sitting very firmly in a Christian context. Being “recalled to life” is a major theme throughout the novel; in fact Dickens at one time considered using “Recalled to Life” as the book’s title.

“Buried how long?”
The answer was always the same: “Almost eighteen years.”
You had abandoned all hope of being dug out?”
Long ago.”
You know that you are recalled to life?”
They tell me so.”

Of course the story is shrouded in mystery. “Recalled to life” refers to several strands and episodes in the story, as well as being a metaphor. It is possible to enjoy the story without necessarily picking up quite how embedded in the novel all the Christian references are. One might see a vaguely spiritual thread of redemption running through, and an idea of a better future life, without picking up on the myriad references to blood, river, cleansing, water, shrouds, love, light and golden threads binding families together.

Take one tiny but telling detail at the climax of the book,

“The murmuring of many voices, the upturning of many faces, the pressing on of many footsteps in the outskirts of the crowd, so that it swells forward in a mass, like one great heave of water, all flashes away. Twenty-Three.”

What, if anything, might the number 23 signify? The 23rd Psalm possibly? A psalm which is often understood by Christians as an allusion to the eternal life given by Christ? In the story, it refers to The central message of the book is that sacrifice is necessary to achieve happiness, and this is a further pointer, reinforcing the idea. Dickens liked to make his meanings crystal clear.

A Tale of Two Cities has 45 chapters, and was published in 31 weekly instalments to boost the sale of Charles Dickens’s new literary magazine, “All the Year Round”. Between April and November 1859, Dickens also republished it as eight monthly sections in green covers. This was a departure from his usual way of working, since all but three of Dickens’s previous novels had appeared only as monthly instalments. He was therefore under even more time constraints to write each episode, and he felt this acutely. He did say at the time that he thought it was “the best thing he had ever written”, but he tended to say this a lot! His marriage to Catherine was coming to a painful and very public ending, and he was embroiled in a clandestine relationship with Ellen Ternan. As usual he was under a phenomenal amount of pressure, and was beginning to feel the weight of his commitments more than ever. This is reflected in the more sober feel of this novel.

Although written in 1859, A Tale of Two Cities is set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, and starts in 1775. It has a comparatively small cast for a novel by Dickens, and we follow just a few individuals through the years building up to the storming of the Bastille, a symbol of royal tyranny, in 1789, the dark years following, and the aftermath of the French Revolution. Although describing cataclysmic social and political events in France, the novel brings this to life by focusing on just a few characters, and the effect on their lives.

The intimacy with which we know these people, is contrasted with the mass hysteria of the crowds. We know these people; yet we also know and recognise the menace brimming just under the surface, the seething surges of hatred and panic, the mob mentality and the evil deeds people can be driven to by centuries of oppression and poverty, the hate and revenge engendered by a callous indifference to their suffering. A tiny detail from the beginning is when the cruel Marquis Evrémonde kills a child by running his cart over the boy, and is more concerned with whether any damage has been done to his carriage. This is an incredibly poignant scene, and we sense the brooding resentment and hatred; the heartless indifference and callous cruelty of the privileged aristocracy. The Marquis is an archetype of an evil and corrupt social order, almost the aristocracy’s “everybody”, but portrayed very convincingly as an individual.

For those who are reluctant to believe a classic novel can truly terrify or revolt them, please think again. An early depiction of a broken wine cask outside a wine shop, vividly describes the passing peasants’ savage and desperate scrambles to lap up any drops of the spilling wine.

“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”.

Such foreshadowing makes us shudder. We know from history what is to come. This grotesque and subhuman behaviour indicates both the starving poverty of the French peasants, and the metaphorical hunger for political freedoms. But there is no rhetoric here. We read an account of the wild dance of the terrifying desperation-fuelled manic ritualistic dance, the “Carmagnole”, and gruesome details of a person being hacked to death. Dickens’s descriptions force us to believe the novel’s contention, that violence is a natural part of any and all humans, given the right circ*mstances.

“Vengeance and retribution require a long time; it is the rule.”

“When the time comes, let loose a tiger and a devil; but wait for the time with the tiger and the devil chained—not shown—yet always ready.”

The “Reign of Terror” is well named. A surging mob of “horrible and cruel faces ... the wildest savages in their most barbarous disguise ... hideous ... all bloody and sweaty ... howling ... staring and glaring with beastly excitement.” Dickens knew people inside out. Not only is one of his characters named “the Vengeance”, narrowing and focusing her personality down to one devastating aspect, but a counterpart to this is his genius at personification. “The sharp female called ‘La Guillotine’”, with her unremitting thirst for blood, is the most formidable character in the entire story. She is imbued with a superhuman power. (So strong is this image in my mind, that I automatically typed “she” rather than “it”.)

“Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; —the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!”

“It was the popular theme for jests; it was the best cure for headache, it infallibly prevented hair from turning gray, it imparted a peculiar delicacy to the complexion, it was the National Razor which shaved close: who kissed La Guillotine looked through the little window and sneezed into the sack.”

Such savage sardonic writing will make you shudder!

Giving objects personalities is a hallmark of Dickens’s writing. His novels also contain many symbols and double meanings. It is possible to read A Tale of Two Cities as a nailbiting adventure story, intensified by the knowledge that many of these were actual events, and yet metaphors and symbols abound. We have doubles in characters, parallels and contrasts. We have shadows and darkness, both literal and metaphorical. The story start in gloom and mist, and the apprehension continues throughout.

From the very start too, we have the theme of Resurrection. This can be seen as the novel’s major theme and purpose, and it can also be traced in episode after episode, even down to the in-joke of the novel, the “resurrection man” Jerry Cruncher, “an honest tradesman” by day, but who spends his evenings as a grave-robber, or body-snatcher.

“Resurrection men” were a reality. By the 18th century the medical professions were in dire need of fresh corpses to use in medical training. These could only be obtained legally from excuted murderers. Therefore a ghoulish trade began. Surgeons and anatomists alike turned a blind eye to their provenance, and looked to “resurrection men” to supply their demand.

The novel is peppered with other quirky bon mots,

“Mr. Cruncher ... always spoke of the year of our Lord as Anna Dominoes: apparently under the impression that the Christian era dated from the invention of a popular game, by a lady who had bestowed her name upon it”

but they are sadly rarer than usual. Dickens had a massive public following, yet he desperately wanted to be part of the elite literary establishment, and resented the tag “Mr. Popular Sentiment” sneeringly given him by a fellow author, Anthony Trollope.

But Dickens could not resist his nature entirely, and did not keep a check on his impish and grotesque sense of humour. Whenever the blood, gore and horror become too much we are entertained with ghoulish episodes involving Jerry Crunchers’s hair-raising exploits, or stories of Jerry and his wife, who function as a sort of Punch and Judy sideshow. There are slapstick parts even in such a grim tale, though most of the humour is black indeed. Dickens had a penchant for ghouls and ghosts, as well as positively revelling in blood-curdling scenes.

For instance, he had witnessed a beheading by guillotine in Rome in 1845 and described a year later in “Pictures from Italy”. It is a careful study; a detailed and close description. Dickens stored everything in his mind, waiting for the proper time to reanimate these grotesque images, and did so with vigour and brutality in his scenes about the executions.

We see the horrors of the guillotine, the waves of hysteria and brutishness of the crowd. We see individuals blinded to reason by their passions, and swerving allegiance on a whim. We witness the hopelessness and despair of those enmeshed in the threads, both metaphorically and also literally, This strongly echoes Greek mythology, linking vengeance to fate. “The Fates” are three sisters who control human life, weaving and sewing. One sister spins the web of life, another measures it, and the last cuts it. Whether or not we remember the direct reference when reading, the pointers are there. A wealth of significance is waiting to seep through, or strike us like a shaft of light.

And even in the midst of the unbearable horror, when we are dreading to turn the next page and are sinking in a mire of darkness and despair, we find a ridiculous death. The encounter to the death between is both unexpected and hilarious. An earlier, less experienced, Dickens would have written the former as a one-dimensional comic character, yet both these two have much depth and ambiguity.

And ask any two readers, including all Dickens’s many illustrators of this novel, to describe Madame Defarge, and you will be likely to receive two totally different answers. Yet this formidable personality is one of Dickens’s top creations.

“Tell Wind and Fire where to stop ... but don’t tell me.”

“Thérèse” Defarge “harvests” bodies; a common idiom too of La Guillotine. In contast, the angelic “Lucie” Manette’s name means “light”; she shines a beacon of hope throughout the novel.

A theme of imprisonment relates both to the mind and to incarcerated bodies, golden threads may be three strands of beautiful hair, or metaphorically of life, as may the mending of roads. There are the darkened regions both in prisons, and in the mind. And there are the dark, musty, quaint annals of Tellson’s bank. Tellson’s bank, incidentally, was based on “Child & Co bank” which was founded at Temple Bar, on the site Dickens describes in the 1660s.

Dickens always used real locations wherever possible. The Manettes lived in Soho Square, Clerkenwell was Mr Lorry’s area, Whitefriars was where the Crunchers lived. All these, and the Old Bailey, are familiar places to Londoners of today. Parisians are equally familiar with the locations of the Place de la Révolution, now called the Place de la Concorde, La Conciergerie prison, now used mostly for law courts, Notre Dame, La Force prison, and the Place de la Bastille. Saint-Antoine, where the Defarge’s wine shop was located, also exists. At the time of A Tale of Two Cities, the Bastille prison stood at its western edge, but Saint-Antoine actually became part of Paris in 1702.

Sometimes it is even possible to identify specific shops or inns. At one point, two of the characters, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton, walk down Ludgate hill to Fleet Street, up a covered way, into a tavern. Here they have “a good plain dinner and good wine.” Very probably this was an inn called “Ye Old Cheshire Cheese”, a favourite eating place of Dickens himself which had been rebuilt after the great fire of 1666.

The three parts, “Recalled to Life”, “The Golden Thread” and “The Track of a Storm” each contain several chapters, and each chapter heading is succinct, perhaps just two words, precisely describing what is to follow, without revealing it. The chapter headings alone are miniature masterpieces, and a world away from his earlier sentences taking up a full page. I have not told the story here, nor much about the characters, but both are easy enough to find.

A Tale of Two Cities remains a novel I am ambivalent about. I do not like what the author is saying to me, and that colours my view of it. Even at the start of this reread, I was tempted to view it as a lesser novel. Nevertheless, the more I consider it, the more highly I find myself obliged to rate it. If I put aside my love of Dickens, and my hopes of another, more enjoyable type of novel from my favourite author, I have to rate this as a masterpiece.

If you have never actually read anything by Charles Dickens, please do

not start with this one! Yes, you may be tempted. It is short and has an irresistible storyline. It’s probably the one you were directed to at school, too. Yes, it gets 5 stars even from me. But if you read this first you will miss so much of his humour, and of his sheer joi-de-vivre. He wanted this to be a history-driven novel, where the incidents and story would fuel the action, rather than his usual sort of book, where the plot was determined by the characters and the situations they found themselves in. Consequently it has a very un-Dickens like feel. Read it when you have a few others under your belt. Try “David Copperfield” instead. That was his personal favourite.

But if you are familiar with Dickens’s style, and have not yet read this, be prepared for a breathtaking ride. You may need to steel yourself for a grim read, and will find commanding, powerful descriptions to chill you to your core. You will find a past full of destruction, but may see a future of hope and potential. And just occasionally, you will glimpse unexpected quirky moments, which could only ever have been penned by “the Inimitable” Mr. Dickens.

The ending of the novel, known and loved by millions, is like the beginning, a favourite classic quotation. In both, Dickens is making use of a clever literary device: “anaphora”. He repeats a word or phrase over many lines, and this makes it more rhythmic and more memorable to us. We feel both that it encapsulates a rare truth, and also that it feels musical.

Yet our memories betray us. Nobody ever says these beautiful and noble lines in A Tale of Two Cities. They are said in the author’s voice—not by the character whom we remember as saying them. The author is dreaming, and taking a step back out of the book. He quite deliberately puts these words into an imagined fancy, rather than his character. Surely only Dickens could have pulled this off with such conviction—and such style.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

    19th-century-ish charles-dickens classics


1,221 reviews9,497 followers

February 21, 2019

“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.”

Another classic down! The copy of this book that I read I have owned since middle school/high school – so it has been with me for about 25 years! I figured it was about time to get to it.

The book is divided into three parts and when I got to the end of part two (which is a little over 200 pages into the book), I was sure I was going to give the book 2 stars. Not that I was kidding myself that Dickens would be an easy read, but I had to force myself back into the book every day because I knew it would end up being a chore.

Then I hit part three.

It is all worth it for part three! Part three by itself is 5 stars all the way – so I averaged out my overall rating to 4 stars. If you are struggling with the beginning like I did – don’t give up! I hope that you find the ending as interesting and engaging as I did.

Also, thanks again to Shmoop for helping me along the way with chapter summaries. I didn’t have to read a summary of every chapter, but there were a few that had me scratching my head so it was very helpful having a place I could go for help.

Finally, while I started my review with one of the most famous beginning quotes in literature, I didn’t realize that the famous quote that ends this book was from Dickens. I will end my review with it – but I am not marking it with a spoiler, so if you want to avoid knowing what it is, don’t look down!


“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

    2019 book-a-book-club classic

Sean Barrs

1,122 reviews46.6k followers

April 22, 2018

Charles Dickens is a demanding writer. The narratives of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist are relaxed and simple when compared to this. Reading Dickens requires concentration, and a will to carry on when sometimes the writing gives you a headache.

This is a historical novel. Dickens tells the story of the storming of the Bastille, some fifty years after it happened. Unlike most of his work, all traces of humour are removed. There are no caricatures and quirkiness within his writing. This is all very serious material, which, of course, it needs to be. But, for me, this is what Dickens does best. His ability to juxtapose themes of human suffering, poverty and deprivation with ideas of the grotesque, ridiculous and, at times, the plain mad, are where his real master strokes of penmanship come through.

That’s what I like the most about Dickens, so I knew my enjoyment of this very serious novel would be hindered immediately. What we do have though is a strong revenge plot running through the book, and the revolt which occurred two thirds of the way in. And, like the name of the book suggests, this is a tale about two cities: London and Paris. Dickens loved to criticise society, and all its stupid aristocratic nuances. Here he takes great pains to show that London is no symbol of societal perfection. The aftermath of the French revolution placed the British on a pedestal, at least, to their own minds. They could not believe that their own current systems of ruling could cause such a travesty within their own capital. Dickens shows that the men in power were just as corrupt and corruptible wherever they sit, revolution can happen again.

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

A Tale of Two Cities (19)

The streets of Paris are seen before and after the bloodshed, and all the strands of seemingly unrelated plots are artfully (perhaps slightly forcefully?) woven together. Dickens brings the lives of a huge cast of characters, spanning over two cities, and two nations, all of which have a varied station in life and political beliefs, into one final conclusion. And it’s a strong conclusion, though heavily reliant of coincident. This is nothing unusual for fiction of the Victorian era, though it did feel very much like a construct. The modernists would address such issues in the next century, mainly to criticise them heavily due to their incapability at capturing the essence of life within fiction. Perhaps they have a point here?

So this is a very strong story, one that is highly perceptive and intuitive at times. As a reader, I need a certain degree of entertainment when reading. I find that the wonderfully comic elements that are in some of Dickens’ other books help to break up the more intense moments of the plot. Even Jane Austen would interpose her narrative with moments of scathing sarcasm and wit. For me, this is far from the finest work of Dickens despite the fact that it seems to be his most popular.

    3-star-reads classics

Fergus, Quondam Happy Face

1,110 reviews17.7k followers

March 18, 2024

I read this book in my Junior Year of High School - the year of a Gathering Storm in my heart and head. The teacher who led us through its gritty, noble intricacies, the year I assumed the role of High School Head Boy, was also my home room instructor.

Am I wrong - you professionals out there may want to correct me - or do teachers of unexciting subjects like English more often get the nod in carrying out the role of home room supervisors?

Happened to me in more years of secondary school than not!

Well, anyway, let me at any rate proceed now to set the stage for yet another of my usual hyperbolic meanderings of a literary tenor...

My Mom, you must understand, was in love with Ronald Colman.

Who, you kids may ask?

Ronald Colman, the early Talkies mâtinée idol, played the swoon-worthy Sidney Carton, who is the hero of this book, in the 1935 version of Tale of Two Cities.

Mom loved the trait of nobility in guys, I guess, when at 10 Years old she saw this film and imagined herself playing Lucie to Colman's Sidney, and so musta already have been dreaming of her many future noble-hearted beaux!

Trolls take note - you'll never get leers from such noble damsels.

But watching that goopy old flick Spoiled the book for ME and Mom, alas!

Ruined it.


Well, it's like this...

Mom and I didn't understand the world of Realpolitik - I certainly didn't wanna face my Student Council (after a few rancorous and rowdy run-ins over student smoking rights) - nor did Mom look forward to facing her library board, who, being elected, represented (you Got it) the voters, not dreamy literacy.

We were two round pegs in two square holes. Mashed peas, anyone?

Further, watching the movie version never gets you in touch with a book! Have you ever read Dickens' Bleak House?

Bleak House is a very vivid, very Unsentimental portrayal of the London poor. And it IS Bleak. Without hope.

And such, dear readers, is Realpolitik. Hard, cold, naked human reality. Like the evening news at its most brutal.

Now, Mom and I visited the Evening News every night - but we could never Live in it. Because we both lived in a goopy, sentimental world, being slightly autistic: innocents manqués.

But we took the evening news straight up each night and digested it.

So, when she was diagnosed with cancer at 54, she was not unhappy.

Cause she saw the World was now Dystopian.

And she wanted OUT.

So that friends, is this book.

The Realpolitik of the French Revolution, seen from ground level.

It's not pleasant (though it is TRULY noble).

And it certainly doesn't paint a picture of a pretty adolescent dream world, like my Mom and I always inhabited!

You know... she musta smiled with me when, a year after she died at 55, I became a Catholic.

For I had found my own painless way OUT - to the other side of death.

Valeriu Gherghel

Author6 books1,678 followers

February 3, 2024

Dacă aș fi citit mai devreme acest roman, probabil că mi-ar fi plăcut. Și mi-ar fi plăcut să-mi placă măcar lectura asta tîrzie. Din păcate, romanul nu mi-a stîrnit entuziasmul. Să vă spun și de ce. Iată, în opinia mea, trei mari defecte:

1. Verbiajul, retorica: Dickens ține morțiș să scrie „frumos”, să provoace cititorului o exclamație de uimire, un spasm; și chiar scrie frumos. Folosește figuri de stil în exces. Repetiția și enumerarea, de pildă. Aș fi preferat să fi scris mai simplu și mai firesc, pentru că simplitatea e cea mai persuasivă retorică.

2. Naratorul își judecă personajele. Îi mustră pe vinovați, îi laudă pe inocenți. Intervenția lui e inoportună.

3. Maniheismul: personajele cărții se împart în două categorii antinomice: cei buni și cei răi. Nu există personaje neutre. Nu exist�� cenușiu. Cei buni sînt foarte buni, extraordinar de buni, sublimi în bunătatea lor (avocatul Sydney Carton, de pildă, care alege să moară ghilotinat în locul lui Charles Darnay, e doar un exemplu), în timp ce oamenii răi sînt foarte răi, înfiorător de răi, răi la extrem (marchizul St. Evrémonde, unchiul lui Charles Darnay, un individ apăsat sinistru, ar fi exemplul direct opus). Dar omul însuși, omul real, e mult mai ambiguu decît îl prezintă Dickens. Nu poate fi doar bun sau doar rău. E un amestec.

Ca toate cărțile lui Charles Dickens și acest roman istoric (acțiunea lui se petrece între 1775 și 1792-1793) a fost scris anume pentru cei umili și obidiți. Probabil că nenumărații cititori ai acestei cărți priveau cu îngăduință și plăcere (pe care eu, unul, sărac fiind totuși, nu le mai simt astăzi) astfel de construcții literare baroce:

Începutul cărții (pasajul cel mai citat de exegeți): „Era cea mai bună dintre vremi, era cea mai n��păstuită dintre vremi, era epoca înţelepciunii, epoca neroziei, veacul credinţei, veacul necredinţei, răstimpul Luminii, răstimpul întunecimii, primăvara nădejdii, iarna deznădejdii, aveam totul în faţă, aveam doar nimicul în faţă, ne înălţăm cu toţii de-a dreptul la ceruri, ne cufundam cu toţii de-a dreptul în iad - pe scurt, epoca aceea era atit de asemănătoare cu cea de acum, încît unele dintre autorităţile cele mai proeminente au stăruit să fie prezentată, în tot ce avea ea bun sau rău, numai la gradul superlativ”.

O repetiție de mare efect la mijlocul secolului al XIX-lea: „Foamea e gonită afară din casele înalte, oploşită în veşmintele flenduroase care spînzură de ţăruşi sau pe fringhii; Foamea se tupilează în încăperile astupate cu paie şi cîrpe, şipci de lemn şi ghemotoace de hîrtie; Foamea se iveşte în fiecare surcea din puţinul lemnelor de foc pe care le despică bărbatul; Foamea se zgîieşte prin coşurile fără de fum şi se iscă din străzile puturoase printre ale căror gunoaie nu se rătăceşte nimic bun de mîncat. Foamea şi-a săpat numele pe tejgheaua brutarului, şi l-a înscris pe fiecare bucată din sărăcăciosul morman de pîine rea; şi l-a semnat şi la cîrnăţărie, în fiecare tocătură de cîine mort care se vinde acolo. Foamea îşi pîrîie oasele uscate printre castanele care se coc pe frigarea rotitoare; Foamea se fărîmiţează în atomi...”.

Încă un pasaj întemeiat pe figura repetiției și enumerării: „Satul avea o singură uliţă amărîtă, cu o berărie amărîtă, o tăbăcărie amărîtă, o crîşmă amărîtă, un grajd amărît pentru schimbul cailor de poştă, o fîntină amărîtă, şi toate obişnuitele instituţii amărite. Avea şi oamenii săi amărîți”.

În sfîrșit: „Castelul domnului marchiz era o clădire masivă, greoaie… Un mare conglomerat de piatră, cu balustrade grele de piatră, urne de piatră, flori de piatră, chipuri omeneşti de piatră şi capete de animale din piatră în toate colţurile”.

În încheiere, repet că-mi pare rău că n-am citit acest roman la timpul lui. L-aș fi judecat, cu siguranță, cu mai multă simpatie.


142 reviews

December 3, 2012

Most satisfying ending in the English language.

Yes, the last line is a classic ("It is a far, far better thing ..."), concluding, in astonishingly concise language (for Dickens), the peace and redemption of the story's most poignant romantic hero. But this novel delivers such a gratifying experience because there are, in fact, many characters who cover significant emotional ground in their journey to love one woman as best they can.

Lucie's father battles his way back from madness under the gentle protection of his daughter. Lucie's childhood nursemaid evolves from a comical stereotype to an embattled force to be reckoned with. Lucie's husband's well-meaning (if bland) noblesse oblige culminates in -- not his hoped-for heroic moment, but a moment of quiet dignity that is most moving for its humility. Even Lucie's banker reaches dizzying heights of heroic accomplishment when Dickens appoints the quiet businessman the vehicle for an entire family's escape from the guillotine.

It is true that Lucie herself engages the reader less than her brutal counterpart -- the broken but terrifying Madame Defarge -- is able to, as modern readers are less moved by the swooning heroines who populate the period's "literature of sensibility." But we can certainly respond to Dickens' powerful and vivid claim: love is not only what makes us human, it is what allows us to be, at times, superhuman.

And when Sydney Carton, in equal parts love and despair, tells Lucie that "there is a man who would give his life to keep a life you love beside you" ... ?

I go to pieces. Every damn time.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.


422 reviews17.2k followers

May 29, 2020

Excuse me while I'm CRYING over this MASTERPIECE.

[I know I promised a review, but the truth is, I am at loss for words. Who am I to talk about Dickens? Who am I to talk about a gut-wrenching, brilliant story that brings out the magnitude of human nature? A Tale of Two Cities haunts me. Follows me everywhere. And I have to thank Will Herondale and Tessa Gray for cultivating the need to read it.]

    2020-reads classics favorites


1,029 reviews4,245 followers

Shelved as 'abandoned'

March 20, 2018

DNF at page 150

Well, I can't believe I am abandoning a Charles Dickens novel but I do not want to go on. It is so different from the other two works that I've read by him and loved. I don't know, I don't like the tone of the story(it might be the translation), cannot connect with the characters and I just don't like it. I thought that something is wrong with me but my mum saw the book on my shelf Today and she confessed that it was the only Dickens she could not read...and my mum finished everything. Just recently I begged her without success to DNF a novel that she told repeatedly how much she hated.

I might give this a try later but for now I have other books in line. I promised myself I will not torture myself anymore with books I don't like so next, please.

    1001 british classics


652 reviews4,939 followers

April 14, 2018

"A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!"

It has been quite some time since I’ve read Charles Dickens, excepting of course A Christmas Carol, which is an absolute favorite of mine, and a handful of his other Christmas short stories. Upon joining Goodreads eight years ago, A Tale of Two Cities was the very first book I entered as ‘want to read’. Well, time flies and here I am finally having picked up my copy and actually reading this beloved-by-many classic. While this one doesn’t take the prize for most cherished of novels on my personal list, I absolutely admired this masterpiece. In fact, it is a work that for me was more appreciated as a whole rather than for its individual parts. I needed to complete this to fully grasp the plot and the overall merit of the novel. The final portion was entirely compelling and quite brilliant, in fact.

This is a novel, as the title suggests, of two cities… that of London and that of Paris. It is a historical fiction work beginning in 1775 which then takes us further into the depths and horrors of the French Revolution. There is an abundance of mystery that I was not expecting, but thoroughly enjoyed. In addition to the juxtaposition of the two cities, we also see the contrasts between good and evil, hope and despair, death and rebirth. As suggested in my opening quote, secrets abound and are slowly revealed. Characters are drawn well, as one would naturally expect from Dickens, although I never quite felt the emotional tug towards any of them, until near the end. But when I did reach this point, gosh it was worth it! Sydney Carton… an unforgettable man… sigh. "I have had the weakness, and have still the weakness, to wish you to know with what a sudden mastery you kindled me, heap of ashes that I am, into fire - a fire, however, inseparable in its nature from myself, quickening nothing, lighting nothing, doing no service, idly burning away." This is a love story, a tale of injustice, of human suffering, and of sacrifice.

When the reader steps through the gates of Paris, one can feel the tension and sense the shadow of what is to come… the atmosphere is so charged with insecurity, suspicion, and dread. "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." The madness of the masses is frightening - there are no apologies and no exceptions. If you are born with the wrong blood, happen to land in the wrong place at the wrong time, or sympathize with the accused and the condemned, your life is in danger. The threat of the Guillotine looms like a monster over the people of the city. "Every day, through the stony streets, the tumbrils now jolted heavily, filled with Condemned. Lovely girls; bright women, brown-haired, black-haired, and grey; youths; stalwart men and old; gentle born and peasant born; all red wine for La Guillotine, all daily brought into light from the dark cellars of the loathsome prisons, and carried to her through the street to slake her devouring thirst. Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; - the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!" It is heartless and pities no one, much like Madame Defarge.

I feel as if I should be providing a more ‘scholarly’ review of this tremendous work, but I’m not quite up to the task; and you can find a plethora of excellent and more erudite reviews all over Goodreads! I’m really just here to express my personal reaction and feelings towards this one. Quite simply, the writing is excellent, but the story itself failed to grab me initially. At this same time last year, I read Les Misérables – an extraordinary piece of literature without a doubt. I could not help comparing this Dicken’s novel with that of Hugo’s. What was lacking in Two Cities for me was the existence of a character like Jean Valjean, a character so vivid and so sharply drawn that it seems I literally spent weeks in the mind of this tortured soul. Probably, it is not fair to make this comparison, but there you have it. I felt distanced from Dickens’ characters quite a bit more… at least for a good portion of the book. I’m very pleased that I persevered, however, as I was able to reap the benefits of my commitment upon finishing the last words. The development of Sydney Carton was rewarding and the ending of this tale was breathtaking. I don’t often re-read novels, but this one is certainly going to fall in the category of ‘even better the second time around’ – I feel certain of this. My rating is at a firm 4 stars, with the hope that someday the re-read will edge it up to the full 5.

"Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious licence and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind."

    book-i-own charles-dickens classics-shelf


247 reviews847 followers

February 7, 2021

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities (27)
A Tale of Two Cities is one of the most famous books, where Dickens shows humans at their best and their worst. But Dickens' descriptive writing was difficult for me. And for this reason, I could not connect myself to the characters much. Surely, I shall give some more time to this book later.

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.



2,070 reviews846 followers

February 3, 2024

The year is 1775, and Dr. Manette, imprisoned unjustly 18 years ago, has been released from the Bastille prison in Paris. His daughter, Lucie, who had thought he was dead, and Jarvis Lorry, an agent for Tellson's Bank, which has offices in London and Paris, bring him to England.
Skip ahead five years to 1780. Frenchman Charles Darnay is on trial for treason, accused of passing English secrets to the French and Americans during the American Revolution. He is acquitted when eyewitnesses prove unreliable partly because of Darnay's resemblance to barrister Sydney Carton.
In the years leading to the fall of the Bastille in 1789, Darnay, Carton, and Stryver all fell in love with Lucie Manette. Carton, an irresponsible and unambitious character who drinks too much, tells Lucie that she has inspired him to think about how his life could have been better and that he would make any sacrifice for her. However, Stryver, Carton's barrister friend, is persuaded by Mr. Lorry, now a close friend to the Manettes, against asking for Lucie's hand. Nevertheless, Lucie marries Darnay, and they have a daughter.
Meanwhile, in France, Darnay's uncle, the Marquis St. Evremonde, is murdered in his bed for crimes committed against the people. Charles has told Dr. Manette of his relationship with the French aristocracy but no one else.
By 1792, the revolution had escalated in France. No one knows why Mr. Lorry receives a letter at Tellson's Bank addressed to the Marquis St. Evremonde. Darnay sees the letter and tells Lorry that he understands the Marquis and will deliver it. The letter is from a friend, Gabelle, who was wrongfully imprisoned in Paris and asked the Marquis (Darnay) for help. Knowing that the trip will be dangerous, Charles feels compelled to go and help his friend. He leaves for France without telling anyone the real reason.
The mob recognized Darnay (St Evremonde) and was imprisoned in Paris on the road to Paris. Mr. Lorry, in Paris on business, is joined by Dr. Manette, Lucie, Miss Pross, and later, Sydney Carton.
Dr. Manette influences the citizens due to his imprisonment in the Bastille and can have Darnay released, but he is retaken the next day on a charge by the Defarges and sentenced to death within 24 hours.
Sydney Carton influences one of the jailers and can enter the cell, drug Darnay, exchange clothes, and have the jailer remove Darnay, leaving Carton to die in his stead.
On the guillotine, Carton peacefully declares, "It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

    british-literature charles-dickens e-3


3,746 reviews1,149 followers

April 30, 2022

Dickens classic classic (purposefully repeated) tale centred around an English domiciled French family during the French Revolution in which he draws the love of his main female protagonist as the catalyst that beckons her suitors page by page to the blood splattered streets of Paris. The better of his his historical dramas, with one of the most famous opening lines ever written. 6 out of 12.
A Tale of Two Cities (30)
2009 read

    classic historical-fiction


542 reviews608 followers

April 15, 2024

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...". The opening line says all that is needed to be said about the book. The time was worst, for it was tainted with hatred, violence, and vengeance. The time was also the best because there were love and compassion which endured it all.
The only historical novel that I've read of Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities moved me like none other. I can still feel the effect of the suspense and tension even when writing the review a few days later.

Set on the backdrop of France before and after the French Revolution, Dickens weaves a sensitive and sympathetic tale on all those affected while laying down the grounds which caused the frenzy. Dickens's historical portrayal is balanced and impartial. He shows what lead to the uprise of the peasants so brutally against the king and aristocracy. They were suppressed and were treated no better than animals. When people are so treated like beasts for a long time, it is no wonder that they would turn beasts eventually. That is what happened with them and Dickens is full of sympathy and empathy. But the reign of terror that followed exercised more than retributive justice. Like the bloodthirsty vampires, it hunted the innocents whose only crime was being of aristocratic blood. Dickens boldly exposes this monstrous side as well. He doesn't judge the frenzied Republic, nor condemn it, but he compares the action to a season of pestilence where some will have a secret attraction to the disease. In short, Dickens shows the abuse of power by both aristocrats and the republicans equally.

The story is one of the warmest of Charles Dickens. Witty and bold would be my description of Dickens's writing, and it may extend to being sympathetic. But I wouldn't have associated warmth with his writing. So it seems I still haven't fully comprehended him. The story drew me in from its opening. Though it had a bit of a disorganized structure and some repetitive writing, it was a solid four-star for me. The storyline was beautiful irrespective of the brutality and my nervous tension.

The characters, being few (another surprise for a Dickens book), it was easy to keep close contacts with them all. I've read many reviews of the book where it was said that they disliked Lucy Manette, so I went into the read with a prejudiced mind. But to my surprise, I liked her from the start. I also liked Charles Evremond, Dr. Manette, and Sydney Carton. I felt that all of them were victims, and were full of sympathy. The latter, however, rose to the heights of a hero at the end, and without prejudice, I believe Sydney Carton is the noblest hero that ever graced classical literature for giving his life to keep a life dear to the woman he loves. While I'm at the characters, I must say a word about the villain of the story. It is none other than Madame Defarge - a sinister woman - a sworn enemy of the aristocratic Evremond family (with reasons of course), but who displays a disproportionate propensity for vengeance. Charles Dickens seems to have surpassed Dumas there, for Madam Defarge surpassed Milady de Winter of The Three Musketeers in her villainy.

The book was a solid four-star as I already mentioned until I reached the final few chapters. Those few chapters took me through such a bittersweet journey that my rating jumped up another star and complemented the book with a firm five star.

    brittish-lit favorite-classic my-library


477 reviews748 followers

March 4, 2022

Alright, I've mentioned before that I majored in English in college. If you've been following my reviews you'll notice that I've been knocking off a lot of classics that I missed out on in that time. Now here it is, my big dark secret… I've never read a proper Dickens novel. Prior to this I've only read some of his short stories and A Christmas Carol.

Well, it's been corrected! I've finally read a Dickens novel! Huzzah! Hooray! I went with the one it seems like… well, everyone has read.

Okay, so yes, I went with his most commonly read book, and yes I chose it entirely because it was his most commonly read book. I confess though, other than that it took place during the French revolution and those most famous and often quoted opening and closing lines, I knew very little about the book. Seems like the perfect introduction to Dickens proper, right?

Well, yes and no. Let me start by saying that yes, I did greatly enjoy this book. I liked it very much and was impressed at how intricately plotted it was. Scenes that I genuinely thought might have been comedic padding actually turned out important. Little details mentioned early on are used in interesting ways throughout. There are some genuinely beautiful, almost reflecting passages of the book where a scene early on is somewhat repeated with characters changed. There is a lot I loved about this book and I think my rating reflects that.

Here's the thing… my two favorite aspects of the book? The moments of humor and the interesting side characters. I'll be honest here, I didn't really care much about Charles Darnay or Lucie. They were frankly bland and uninteresting. Charles had the charisma of a board of wood and Lucie is so overly sweet that I feared diabetic issues if there were many chapters from her point of view. Dr. Manette was an interesting character because Dickens gave him more of a psychological depth to him… but really, the characters I liked reading about? The humorous messenger, grave robber and occasional bodyguard Jerry Crutcher, the man of business Jarvis Lorry, the clever and snide Sydney Carton and the sinister Madame Defarge. The side characters were all interesting, I loved seeing these quirky and interesting people come and go.

In other words, from what I gather, the thing I liked about this book the most (humor and the interesting side characters) are the aspects that show up more prominently in Dickens's other works.

So, apparently I picked wrong.

That said, this was a lovely and wonderful read. The writing was beautiful, I enjoyed my entire time with it and it will almost certainly not be my last Dickens novel… though it is a relief to finally cross him off my list of authors I'm embarrassed to say I had not read. 4/5 stars.

    19th-century classic read-2022

فهد الفهد

Author1 book5,031 followers

December 24, 2013

قصة مدينتين

استعرت هذه الرواية من مكتبة الجامعة في بداية الألفية، كان ذلك قبل عالم الانترنت، عندما كنا لا نلتقي ولا نتعرف على الكتب ومشاهير المؤلفين إلا من خلال الصحف أو الكتب التي تسقط بين أيدينا اتفاقاً، ديكنز كان مألوفاً لي حينها، كنت قد قرأت له دايفد كوبرفيلد، وأعرف موقعه كروائي إنجليزي عظيم.

حصلت على الكتاب الضخم، المغلف من قبل الجامعة بغلاف صلب، والمختوم مراراً كجواز سائح كوني، كنت غراً حينها، جديد على كل العوالم التي أمامي، فلذا حملت النسخة الضخمة محاولاً قراءتها خلال مهلة اليومين التي تمنحها الجامعة للكتب النادرة – قبل أن تبدأ الغرامات القاسية -، ولكن هذه المهمة كانت أكبر مني، فلذا اضطررت لإعادة الكتاب بعدما عبرت بداياته فقط، فيما بقيت صفحات طويلة وعدت نفسي بقراءتها يوماً ما.

وجاء... ذلك الـ (يوماً ما) جاء، صحيح أنه تأخر قليلاً، ولكن لم يكن ذلك لأن يدي قصيرة عن الوصول إلى مدينتي ديكنز، وإنما لأن نهراً من الكتب جرفني من يومها، لقد تفتق العالم لي بعدها كما يتفتق لطفل قروي، لا يعرف أبعد من بيت أهله، ووجوه أهله، ثم يحمل ذات ليلة ليرمى في ميدان عاصمة، كل تلك الوجوه، كل تلك الألوان، الروائح، الناس الذاهبة والآيبة، كل تلك الأحداث، تربكه، تنزع توازنه، وفهمه لما حوله.

وفي ذاكرتي، وعلى مر كل تلك السنوات، تداعت كلمات الكتاب وصوره ومشاهده، تحلل كل ما قرأته، بقي في ذاكرتي فقط وأنا أجذبه من رقدته بين مؤلفات كل أولئك الإنجليز العظماء، وصف مذهل لشارع قديم، كان ديكنز يأخذنا عبره، ليصعد بنا علية ما، حيث يقبع عجوز ما !! كان هذا كل ما بقي.

عانى ديكنز في طفولته كثيراً، لم يتلق تعليماً جيداً، وحتى المدرسة المتواضعة التي ذهب إليها، سحب منها على عجل ليعمل لعشر ساعات يومياً، بعدما سجن والده لتراكم الديون عليه، والتحقت به والدته في السجن، وهو نظام غريب مطبق حينها !! هذه الأم ديكنز يشعر بأنها لا توليه العناية والاهتمام الكافيين، من هذه الظروف، ومن هذه المشاعر نلمس رؤية ديكنز ومواقفه تجاه الفقراء، وحقوق الأطفال، وتجاه المرأة.

في هذه الرواية يبدو ديكنز مقارناً، بين مدينتين، باريس ولندن، نظامين ثوري وملكي، قضاءين ثوري ورسمي، وفي روايته التي كتبها مسلسلة، ونشرها في الصحف كما كان يفعل كتاب عصره، والتي لها سمات وميزات ذاك العصر وأدبه المليء بالأبطال الفروسيين، والنساء الجميلات المعشوقات من الجميع، والمصادفات التي تقبلها بصدر رحب لتستمتع، لتمضي قدماً.

إنه عصر الثورة، تبدأ الأحداث قبل الثورة الفرنسية بقليل، حيث نتعرف على الدكتور مانيت، المسجون ظلماً في الباستيل ولسنوات طويلة – 18 عاماً -، والذي نتابع في الفصول الأولى لقائه بابنته لوسي والتي لم يكن يعلم بوجودها، وها هي تستنقذ والدها بمساعدة الثوري الفرنسي دوفارج وزوجته، وتأخذه إلى إنجلترا.

بعد 5 سنوات يستعيد فيها الأب عقله، وتتزوج لوسي من تشارلز دارني، وهو نبيل فرنسي تخلى عن نبالته وذهب ليعيش في إنجلترا، تقوم الثورة في فرنسا، ويعرض لنا ديكنز حال الفرنسيين قبل الثورة وطريقة تعامل النبلاء معهم بأسلوب مذهل، ديكنز مذهل بحق في سرده، ساخر عظيم، لا ريب أن قراءه كانوا يتشوقون لكل فصل من فصول روايته.

ترد تشارلز دارني وهو هناك في أمان إنجلترا، رسالة من خادم سابق له سجن في الباستيل، فيهرع إلى باريس لينقذه، فيقع بيد الثوريين ويقدم للمحاكمة والإعدام، تسرع لوسي ووالدها لاستنقاذه، خاصة والدكتور مانيت أحد نزلاء الباستيل المخضرمين، وهذا ما يكسبه الاحترام بين الثوار، هذا خلاف خبرته الطبية المفيدة لهم، وشخصيته العظيمة.

تدور القصة، وتتشابك الأحداث ويلتقي ويتصارع الأبطال في تلك البقعة من باريس، وتنكشف الألغاز، وتقدم التضحيات، ويتركك ديكنز في النهاية وفي ذهنك وروحك ذلكم الشعور الملحمي الجميل.

    0-favorites 9-kindle fiction-europe-british

Always Pouting

576 reviews883 followers

February 16, 2020

Some how my review of this got deleted which is good because I think after sitting a while I can appreciate the book more. When I read it it was confusing and slow and then towards the end really picked up and I was kind of disoriented but it gives a really good view into things in the period before the French Revolution. Learning about it was one thing but reading this made me very sympathetic of the peasants and angry on thier behalf, honestly surprised they didn't start rioting sooner.


119 reviews103 followers

March 8, 2024

Antes que todo: ¡Que pedazo de final!
Dickens está en el podio de mis escritores favoritos, pero si hay algo que le faltó es un poco más de claridad al expresarse en oraciones largas, y eso se refleja claramente en esta novela.
A pesar de eso, es encantadora. Los personajes están muy bien hechos, la trama de las dos ciudades (París y Londres) están bastante claras: los comentarios que hay sobre la Revolución Francesa son los perfectos para hacer de esta novela algo genial, y siempre en el estilo muy característico de Dickens. También se mezcla el amor (algo muy común en esos tiempos), sacrificio y venganza, lo que hace a esta novela incluso más oscura, teniendo en cuenta el contexto histórico. ¡Simplemente genial!
Hablando de su estilo de escritura, siempre hay que estar concentrado para poder entender lo que dice, ya que su lenguaje nunca fue el más fácil de entender.
¿Recomendable leer? Absolutamente sí, siempre y cuando tengas la disposición a concentrarte 100% en la lectura, ya que, como dije antes, no es fácil de entender, pero se disfruta mucho.


966 reviews29.1k followers

August 16, 2020

“He had never seen the instrument that was to terminate his life. How high it was from the ground, how many steps it had, where he would be stood, how he would be touched, whether the touching hands would be dyed red, which way his face would be turned, whether he would be the first, or might be the last: these and many similar questions, in no wise directed by his will, obtruded themselves over and over again, countless times…”
-Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

The opening of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities is one of the most celebrated in the history of literature. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Dickens writes, beginning a lengthy, single-sentence paragraph that is marked by its rhythmic contradictions. “[I]t was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…” By the time you reach the end of this ambitious tease, you are compelled – at the least – to finish the page. In terms of grasping the reader’s attention, and convincing him or her to continue, Dickens succeeds marvelously.

Aside from hooking your attention with the skill that Quint uses to hook great white sharks, the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities marvelously grasps the paradox of the French Revolution, which serves as the novel’s backdrop.

Begun in 1789 as a revolt against the poverty and hunger suffered by huge masses of the population, the French Revolutionaries sought the noble ideal of equality. In achieving this end, however, they unleashed a torrent of blood. They toppled a king, and then beheaded him. They killed thousands of people who resisted, many of those resisting in thoughts or words only. Finally, they started to kill each other, in a dispute over who was most pure. The result was a tumultuous decade in which lofty ends crashed against lethal means, leaving us with an event that is still hotly debated to this day.


For me, reading Dickens has been a lot like eating my vegetables. Both are good for you, but I have never been able to fully like either.

It has never been a question of talent. Dickens is an incredibly skilled writer with an unmatched eye for creating memorable characters. The problem I’ve had with many of the works I have read – or attempted to read – is that the whole is often less than the sum of their parts. That is, Dickens published many of his novels in serial form, and it often feels like he is actively inflating his word count in order to pad his (oft-troubled) bank account. The resulting digressions, plot contrivances, and weak endings tend to dampen the enjoyment I get from the worlds he creates.

The best Dickens is – in my humble estimation – A Christmas Carol. The novella is slim, symmetrical, and achieves the perfect balance between character and plot. Though it has been adapted so often that the whole thing feels like a cliché, there is a real genius to its structure and execution. There is not a single unnecessary moment, not a single misplaced beat. Compared to the shaggy meanderings of Great Expectations or Bleak House, A Christmas Carol is a breath of pine-scented winter air. Despite Dickens’s struggles to complete it, the finished novel knows exactly what it is trying to do, and exactly where it is going.

A Tale of Two Cities, one of two works of historical fiction Dickens published in his life, straddles the extremes. Certainly, it is not an endlessly growing story, such as the weighty, ever-expanding David Copperfield, but neither is it as sleek and efficient as Scrooge’s yuletide transformation. It is a bit of both, actually.

One is almost tempted to say it was the best of books, it was the worst…

But no, I would not give into that temptation.


The two cities referenced in the title – Paris and London – provide Dickens with his setting. We begin in the year 1775, with a messenger flagging down the mail-coach between London and Dover. The passenger who receives this message is a banker named Jarvis Lorry, who has just learned that Dr. Alexandre Manette, a French physician, has been released from the infamous Bastille prison in Paris, after serving an eighteen-year sentence. Dr. Manette, it turns out, has a daughter named Lucie, who has always believed her father to be dead.

While Lucie reunites with her father, we are introduced to the cruel Marquis St. Evrémonde, who gets our attention by running over a child in a carriage, and then yelling at the peasants for endangering his horses. The Marquis has a nephew, Charles Darnay, who narrowly escaped a conviction for treason against Great Britain.

Ultimately, Lucie and Charles fall in love, but Charles returns to France as the City of Lights is roiled by a storm of revolutionary violence. At the risk of spoiling anything, I will end my summary there. Suffice to say, the results are both entirely predictable and also entirely unpredictable. This is a function of Dickens’s propensity for over-plotting, as well as his habit of utilizing sheer melodrama to obscure the reality that his twists and turns aren’t all that clever. There are parts of A Tale of Two Cities that rely on reveals that would shame the writers of Scooby Doo.

Still, the storylines get so tangled and confused, it almost feels like a surprise when things happen. More importantly, Dickens seems to write with a clear idea of where he is going. In that sense, the plot is actually rather satisfying. It also helps that A Tale of Two Cities is less than four-hundred pages long. Thus, despite being serialized in weekly installments from April to November 1859, I didn’t feel like Dickens was trying to get paid by the word.

As I mentioned above, Dickens is famed for his fictional creations, whether that is flinty Ebenezer Scrooge, sycophantic Uriah Heep, or the sad*stic Miss Havisham. Here, that list is added to greatly, especially Madame Defarge, a devoted Revolutionary who chillingly knits patterns that represent the names of people to be killed. At one point, her husband starts to worry about the excesses of the Revolution. Not Madame Defarge. She says to him: “Tell the wind and fire where to stop, but don’t tell me.” The supporting cast alone makes A Tale of Two Cities worth reading.

Not all the characters are winners, though. The blonde, saintly Lucie, for instance, described as “the golden thread” holding her family is together, is absolutely insufferable, to the extent I can only surmise she is the love child of Pip from Great Expectations and Esther from Bleak House. Every moment I spent with her, I darkly hoped that Madame Defarge was adding some stiches to her list.


Dickens’s novels shone a light on the lower classes. He had an obvious social conscious when it came to the poor and the downtrodden, a consciousness fervently expressed by the Ghost of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol. To that end, he clearly has sympathy for France’s peasantry, and the way their daily bread was subject to powers far outside their control. His outrage is nearly glowing when he describes the Marquis, who kills a child and pays the father off with a coin. It is just as clear, however, that the violence attending the French Revolution disturbed him. The most affecting part of this novel – or perhaps any of his novels – is the tumbril ride one of his characters takes to the guillotine. Meanwhile, the zealous Revolutionary Madame Defarge is portrayed as a villain.

In that way, A Tale of Two Cities really captures the tension of the French Revolution, where bad acts gave way to good intentions, which gave way to bad acts in the name of good intentions.

    classic-novels french-revolution


132 reviews598 followers

June 12, 2008

Years of teaching this novel to teenagers never dimmed my thrill in reading it — if anything, I grew to love it more every time I watched kids gasp aloud at the revelations! Critics are divided on its place in the Dickens canon, but the ones who think it an inferior work are simply deranged. It has everything: dark deeds, revolution, madness, love, thwarted love, forgiveness, revenge, and a stunning act of self-sacrifice. And melodrama! Oh, how Dickens loved melodrama, but in A Tale of Two Cities it reaches truly grand proportions.

It’s the ultimate mystery novel: characters act strangely, but always for a reason. Miscellaneous people drift in and out, but they’re not truly miscellaneous — you just have to wait to see how they’re connected. And like any good mystery, the payoff at the end is worth the time it takes to get there...and what a payoff! Dickens is a master of the type of narration that simultaneously moves forward and back in time. In other words, strategically placed revelations from the past inform the present and shape the future. The brilliant timing both of his hints and of the actual revelations is a bonus field of study. Merely the drama of the dark past and its impact on the “here and now” story is thrilling enough. Plus, A Tale of Two Cities is a profoundly moral story, with themes of vengeance versus forgiveness, sins of the fathers being visited on the children, resurrection and rebirth, and the possibility of redemption.

    classic english-lit perennial-favorite


691 reviews22 followers

March 2, 2019

A Tale of Two Cities (39)


Reading Dickens’s approach to historical fiction, at first I could not help but remember Romola, which I read recently. And even if Romola seemed to have more of a Victorian than a Florentine Renaissance tone, the story and the context were very nicely woven together.

While with A Tale I felt I as reading two separate stories. One was a the result of conscientious research, and Dickens in his Preface acknowledges Carlyle’s wonderful book, and the other was a more melodramatic tale with Gothic overtones. The two meanings of the word historia separated: history and story.

May be it was because Dickens was dealing with a convulsive period that was still too close to him and his contemporaries. Its threats must have resonated with a greater echo after the 1848 revolutions that again swept through France as well as other European countries. When he wrote his novel only a decade had passed since that latest wave of violence and political turmoil. These more recent revolutions must have had the effect of a magnifying glass when Dickens read and reread Carlyle’s study, study which had, however, been written before, in 1837. One can certainly feel Dickens alarm at the dangers that loom over humanity. His horror came first, and then he tried to horrify his readers.

And yet, as my reading proceeded, I began to feel how these two axis or needles were pulling out something together. And I think it is Dickens excellent writing, with his uses of repetitions, or anaphora; his complex set of symbols—and I am beginning to become familiar with the Dickens iconography; his idiosyncratic mixture of humour and drama; his use of alliteration and onomatopoeia; his extraordinary development of images—and I think this novel has some of the best I have read by him; and his ability to sustain a positive core within a great deal of drab, that succeeds in making those two needles knit something coherent and consistent.

And indeed my favourite image was the Knitting, which Dickens develops throughout the novel, with all its mythological weight--that binds the threads of fate and volition, of patience and disquiet, of love and hatred--, which became for me also the knitting of the writer. The periodic and steady rhythm of Knit and Purl produced with threads of words, meshing in the melodrama and the emotions, the varying colours with their lights and shadows, increasing or decreasing the episodes with literary tricks such as adding a new thread or character or knitting two stiches in one go by solving a mystery. And this he achieved by handling with shrewd dexterity his two needles of ‘story’ and ‘history’, his two tales.

So, as I came to the end I had to admit that , yes, the Tale of Two Tales has woven for me a magnificent novel. There has been somewhat of a 'Resurrection' in my reading too.

    2015 britain classics

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽

1,880 reviews23k followers

March 21, 2018

A Tale of Two Cities was the first Charles Dickens novel I read on my own, not because an English class required it (looking at you, Great Expectations). I was going on a cross-country trip and decided this would be a good book to while away the hours.

From the first immortal words:

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 ...
to the very last ones, it was an absorbing story that ties in many themes, including love, loyalty, war, revolutionary fervor, justice, and sacrifice for a greater cause.

Set in the years 1775 - 1790, before and during the French revolution, this long Victorian novel follows the lovely, kindhearted Lucie Manette and the people whose lives she touches, especially her father Dr. Alexandre Manette, imprisoned in the Bastille for 18 years and driven nearly insane; Charles Darney, an emigre from France; Sidney Carlton, a cynical English barrister. We meet the infamous Defarges, a husband and wife who embrace the revolutionary cause and (especially Madame Defarge) descend into bloodthirsty proponents of Madame Guillotine.

I'll never forget reading the last pages on the plane, trying (probably in vain) to hide my tears from the strangers sitting around me on the plane.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done ..."

    classics historical-fiction
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