Thursday, July 23, 2015
A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
Yes, I'm aware that this cover is hideous. But after discovering that ALL THREE copies we have of this at work are abridged, I had to resort to the free Kindle version...
My first exposure to this book came at the age of ten or eleven. Somehow, I got my grubby little hands on a Dickens omnibus, and I slogged my way through A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, and half of this before I left it at a friend's house in England, only to be reclaimed four years later.
So when it came time to assemble my Classics Club list, it seemed appropriate that I should put this on there. And for the most part, I found it enjoyable if not especially Dickensian.
Set during the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities is a lot more serious than the other Dickens books I've read. Which isn't to say that other Dickens books aren't serious. Many of them are! But there's usually SOME element of comic relief to the story, one or two utterly ridiculous characters who provide the reader with a few moments to come up for air before diving back into the depths of opium addiction or child abuse or debtors prison or traipsing barefoot across the moors in fifteen feet of snow or whatever other horrors Dickens put his characters through.
Dickens apparently considered this his best work, and while I'm not entirely convinced I agree, it's definitely a fabulously written book that tells a compelling story. Admittedly, it took me a while to get into things, but once I did, it was full steam ahead.
I think what's most fascinating to me where A Tale of Two Cities is concerned is that it's historical fiction. There's a great tendency, I think, to consider historical fiction a product of the twentieth century. But here, Dickens is writing about events that happened some 80-odd years earlier. This is the French Revolution seen through nineteenth century eyes. This is, in effect, the French Revolution as we view the World Wars today. And that gave me a new appreciation for the story.
Having studied the French Revolution in high school, the story made far more sense to me this time than it did at the age of 10. (Shocker, right??) The villains are spectacularly villainy. The heroes are long suffering and make sacrifices to save those they love. It's a story almost entirely free of side plots, which must have just about killed Dickens to do, because the man really does love a good side plot (not to be confused with Victor Hugo, who loved a good 100 page tangent). And it's a story full of some of the most amazing quotes to come out of nineteenth century literature.
In short, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Have you read it? What did you think?