A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two CitiesMy first Charles Dickens and it was fairly difficult.

I was unfamiliar with the author’s abundant use of language combined with satire, but I was very satisfied in the end. It’s probably the second novel (the first is Orwell’s 1984) I’ve read that has an ending which is so deserving of the previous pages that one feels it came too soon.

In short, it’s a classic.

In brief, A Tale of Two Cities is the story of the devoted Lucie Manette and his unfairly imprisoned father, Dr. Manette and their escape from the horrors of Paris to London, before and during the French Revolution. Circumstances make the father and daughter dependent on the kindness and friendship of Manette’s banker, Mr. Lorry. But Lucie’s beauty binds them to the lives of the secret French aristocrat Charles Darnay and the hopeless and heroic Sydney Carton.

It’s a story of hope for new life, of achieving harmony with old and new love, of performing one’s moral obligation, of making sacrifices, and of redeeming oneself for the love of the person that binds them all. Expect lots of mystery and drama in between, told plainly but with hint of the theatrical. While reading it, imagine the sound of screaming violins or the repetitive and slow piano music in the background.

Reader, you will love Sydney Carton.

He is a hero who, in the beginning, does nothing to improve our impression of him, but in the middle surprises us with his tender nature by his confessions of love and promised sacrifice to Lucie. Meaning: he is most interesting. But Dickens didn’t give us reasons for his self-flagellation and yet in the end, his final act, his final thoughts, can’t be written otherwise.

And to arrive at that closing of the novel, when death is certain and the start of an immortal life is everything to be hoped for, is one of the best reading experiences I’ve had.

There are more characters of note, including the villain, the shroud-knitting Madame Defarge whose background story is as mysterious as Dr.Manette’s. It would have been curious if we could see inside their heads—the former, while plotting for murder and the latter, after the reading of his prisoner’s letter. But we don’t read Dickens for psychological insight. We read him for the joy of seeing how these characters come to life and how each struggles to win over the other.

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