I have just finished reading a finely crafted classic called “A Tale of Two Cities, by one Charles Dickens. Dickens, a very highly regarded writer, wrote an unbelievable amount of classics including, “Oliver Twist” and “A Christmas Carol.” Interestingly enough, Dickens, (while working for two major London newspapers), decided to submit a variety of sketches under the pseudonym of “Boz.” One particular woman, Catherine Hogarth, was particularly intrigued by his sketches, and soon after the two married. Charles Dickens was such a wonderful writer that many deem him “the first modern celebrity.”
I discovered this book at a used book store called the “Book Barn.” This houses a variety of different genres, old and new. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of books, I consulted my mother and she suggested the novel “A Tale of Two Cities.” I had known of this book previously and was deeply interested in finding out what it was about. Not long after, I had my desired novel. Upon reading the back of the book I was immediately pondering how an alcoholic, while honorable, could be a serviceable main character. This drove me to choosing this book over many, many others. The French Revolution interested me as well for my Social Studies class was studying U.S. history that took place in the same time period. I was curious as to how French history and U.S. history compared.
“A Tale of Two Cities,” by Charles Dickens is about a depressed-yet-willful, attorney named Sydney Carton. It is about another as well. A confident-yet-humble, young man by the name of Charles Darnay. The two are polar opposites, the former seeing what could have been in the latter, and the latter seeing what he could turn into in the former. Charles Darnay is accused of treason. His defense, Sydney Carton and Mr. Stryver, both capable men trying to save Darnay from a certain death. Meanwhile, the surrounding crowd of many hundreds, are there to witness the spectacle of a death sentence- if that can be called a spectacle. Furthermore, Darnay desires to establish a life in England, far away from his home country of France, yet his ties to a once-powerful French family have held him back for countless years. Will his family roots be the death of him? And how does a lazy, alcoholic have a connection to Darnay?
I was surprised when I found out that Lucie Manette’s father, (Lucie Manette being the soon to be wife of Charles Darnay), had been imprisoned for countless years for seeing an event he was not meant to see. It was a clear case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The father had seemed a kind and personable old man and did not seem the type to do anything bad, but I had suspected that he had done something terrible. My shock could not have been more unexpected when it too was revealed that the Doctor’s captors where none other than the Marquis Evrémonde and his brother. To think that the father and uncle of Charles Darnay could have done anything as horrific to somebody as they did was unthinkable. They were blatantly cruel, but an act such as this was pure evil. To take away a father from a family, from the prime of his life, is a disgusting act.
I liked how the author elaborated upon the characters, and the cities, and the houses, to such an extent that as a reader you felt a deep connection with the all of the characters, not just Carton or Darnay. The author managed to force you to think of all the innocent families slaughtered during the French Revolution. Of the blood that splattered the streets. Of the Revolutionaries covered in rags and the “barbers”- the executioners who sliced the heads off of countless innocent families. Dickens expressed the emotion that the families or Darnay must have felt beautifully.
This book reminded me of “The Three Musketeers,” by Alexandre Dumas. Both books were set in France, although “The Three Musketeers” was staged in the 1500’s and “A Tale of Two Cities” was staged in the 1800’s. The two novels contained two characters that were head over heels for a woman. Both characters were separated from the woman they loved for an extended period of time. The books had oppressive governments, which resulted in a great amount of death. Although in “A Tale of Two Cities,” the King and Court of France were seen as terrible, yet “The Three Musketeers” made the monarchy seem majestic and caring. Overall, the two books were similar in some aspects, but far different in others.
Finally, I was interested in this passage, in which Charles Darnay is being tried for committing treason and at this point a supposed patriot is being questioned.
“Had he ever been a spy himself? No, he scorned the base insinuation. What did he live upon. His property. Where was his property? He didn’t remember precisely where is was. What was it? No business of anybody’s. Had he inherited it? Yes, he had. From whom? Distant relation. Very distant? Rather. Ever been in prison? Certainly not. Never in a debtor’s prison? Didn’t see what that had to do with it. Never in a debtor’s prison?- Come, once again. Never? Yes. How many times? Two or three times. Not five or six? Perhaps. Of what profession? Gentleman. Ever been kicked? Might have been. Frequently? No. Ever been kicked down stairs? Decidedly not; once received a kick from the top of the staircase and fell down-stairs of his own accord. Kicked on that occasion for cheating at dice? Something to that effect was said by the intoxicated liar who committed the assault, but it was not true.”
I loved the way Charles Dickens wrote this long dialogue. Dickens wrote it how a true court case would go- quick, short answers and a variety of seemingly irrelevant questions. I felt that this passage allowed me to quite easily picture the scene developing between these two characters. Just a well-written passage. I would rate this book an eight out of ten for its well-constructed dialogue and its beautiful description. I hope you read this book as well.