A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities
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Age Range
14+
Release Date
December 31, 1969
ISBN
0451526562
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Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; -- the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!'

After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the ageing Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.

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A Tale of Two Extremes
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“Death may beget life, but oppression can beget nothing other than itself.”

Slow to start, but intricately woven and stunning in its conclusion.

So far my favorite work by Dickens--on par with my love for A Christmas Carol (although they are hardly comparable works, aside from having the same author.) I would assert their similar appeal--at least to this reader--lies in their under-girding of moral inquisition and enduring value. While the story really takes its time picking up any steam, Dickens seems to pull the narrative together a lot faster and with more impact than he did in works like Oliver Twist or Great Expectations. (It might also be the difference between a social protest novel and a historical novel attempting to give human conveyance to the documented insanity of a rebellion gone awry.)

The subject matter is fascinating on many levels--historical, sociological, psychological, and interpersonal. In a broad sense, it is a chilling observation on how human nature tends to swing like a pendulum--over-correcting as it goes from one awful extreme to another.

Set in both London and Paris prior to and then in the midst of the French Revolution, it follows the primary thread of a French doctor named Manette as he is released from a lengthy, unjust prison sentence and reunited with Lucie, the daughter he was never able to raise. The good doctor's memory is spotty and his psyche fragile--which ultimately conceals a good deal of the plot points that eventually unfold after five years in England, when his angelic daughter is sought after by two very different men--Charles Darnay, a conscience-ladden French emigrant, and Sydney Carton, a boozing British lawyer. The two happen to share both a similar physical appearance and a deep, abiding love for Lucie. And even when she chooses Darnay over Carton, they all remain close--Carton resigned to being a steadfast come-and-go family friend.
Carton's loyalty is then tested when Darnay is detained in France with his neck literally at stake. After all, Darnay's execution would then leave Lucie available...

The Revolution is a character unto itself, providing the ominous backdrop for this complexly nuanced story. Dickens makes you feel the plight of the French commoners under the horrendous abuses of those with noble blood. Then, as the power structure shifts, the downtrodden become the tyrants. And under the long fall of the guillotine we see the unquenchable thirst for blood and vengeance by the once oppressed peasantry. Men, women, children... even those only vaguely related to nobility who never enjoyed any of the benefits. The revolutionaries sought to mercilessly purge them all from France. It was the perfect setting in which to extend and viciously settle old grudges. And that is exactly what forms the backbone of the conflict in A Tale Of Two Cities.

Revolutionary figurehead, Madame Defarge, has a literal ax to grind (or perhaps guillotine?)--not with Charles Darnay himself, but with the man's vile-yet-dead father and his estranged uncle. (Darnay himself so despised his father and uncle's lasciviousness and brutality, he voluntarily denounced his family name and any inheritance he may have been entitled to--leaving instead to start his life over in England.)

“Then tell Wind and Fire where to stop," returned madame; "but don't tell me.”

Madame Defarge may be the most singularly terrifying villainess I have ever encountered in literature. In part because the loss and horror she went through as a child at the hands of a "nobleman" makes her sympathetic to start out. But she takes the cry for justice and twists it into a vicious thing that rivals and perhaps exceeds the evilness of what was done to her family. For to her, it's not enough to see dead and financially redistributed the men who destroyed her family. She desires the slaughter of all of their descendants as well, no matter how unconnected to the original crime--no matter how young and innocent the descendant. (If revenge is a dish best served cold, Defarge is cooking with liquid nitrogen.)

It may be hard to believe, given this is such a well-known classic, but I honestly didn't see the end coming. It built up to last chapter with such an overwhelming magnificence and redemptive majesty, and then culminated with proof of pure and unselfish love... from an alcoholic melancholic anti-hero most wouldn't have thought to expect anything from.

CONFESSION: I cried. Boo-hoo, cried.
I didn’t realize how invested I was in the story until that surprising point. (I should preface this by saying it is rare for me to cry over a book, aside from the occasional non-fiction biography or memoir, when the harshness of the reality expressed tends to get to me.) This marks the first classic to make me cry. Combine that with the abundance of lyrical quotes and haunting impressions that lingered for weeks, and it deserves every star I’m allowed to give it.

Bravo, Mr. Dickens.

Side Note: For a more upbeat and faster-paced classic read involving the French Revolution, I strongly recommend THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL.

Favorite Quotes:

*“Perhaps second-hand cares, like second-hand clothes, come easily off and on.”

*“?And yet 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.”

*“Think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you.”

*“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.”

*“Nothing that we do, is done in vain. I believe, with all my soul, that we shall see triumph.”
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Better than I expected
I tried to read this last summer and just didn't understand it. Then when I read it for GLobal this year after having the French Revolution Knowledge I understood it and actually enjoyed the story. I liked the character development, you really learn a lot about the story from the characters personalities.
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Slow beginning, better middle, excellent ending!
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Reader reviewed by Gigi

Charles Dickenss novel, A Tale of Two Cities, is a story about love and sacrifice. It is set in England and France in the years leading up to the French Revolution and after the Revolution, during the Jacobin Reign of Terror. The book begins with the mystery of Dr. Manette. Dr. Manette was imprisoned in the Bastille (a prison in France) for 18 years and does not know nor remember anything of his life before imprisonment, not even his own name. It is only until after he is released from his 18 year sentence that he remembers something of his past by looking at his daughter he never knew he had and matching her hair color to the strands of hair (his wifes) in a bag tied around his neck. Lucy, his daughter, takes him away from France to London, England. Fast forward five years to a trial taking place in England, where we find that Dr Manette has recovered from his ordeal and is vouching for a man named Charles Darnay. Darnay is eventually acquitted with the help of Sydney Carton, a drunkard who bears a striking resemblance to Darnay. In this same section of the novel, we learn that the peasantry in France is becoming unsettled and want a revolution where the aristocracy is overthrown. It is this principle that initiates the events in this book that connect all the characters together.
As it is with most, if not all, of Dickens's books, A Tale of Two Cities is really long and boring (especially at the beginning) and at times I found myself thinking "ok, just hurry up and get to the point!" and sometimes skipping over whole paragraphs because it was so boring. But once I got to the middle of the book, it got so good that I couldn't put it down till the end. A Tale of Two Cities is my favorite Dickens book.
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Oh Jerry Cruncher!
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Reader reviewed by Bria

Oh. This book is something. I am sure all you teens might have to read this book for school. And when you see the book for the first time, i'm sure you will grown but this book is amazing. I usually like to explain my books, but i can't explain this one. It is a one of a kind book, that can't be explained in a few short sentences (not well at least), this book talks about the Revolutionary War, and the people involved. This book is totally wizardry. I mean this book is more that it appears. Secret societies, cool villains, and some amazing heroes. This book is not just some boring book you have to read for school, but an amazing that will stick with you for life.
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Interesting Classic
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Reader reviewed by amanda

This is a more difficult book to read, mid-to-late teen age. Although it may take a while to get use to the language and how it is written, it is worth it. One thing to keep in mind however is that this work was originally divided into parts to be published in a weekly magazine and not as a whole novel.
I think that is good information to have because when I remember that, it is easier to figure out why things may repeat at times, especially in the very beginning of the chapters.

Despite this, it is a book that will carry you along until the end if you let it and invoke great discussions or questions.
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a true classic
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Reader reviewed by abscae

This book is what I might call a true classic. I read it for English class, but while other kids (well some) continued to groan about how long and boring it got, I learned to look for the best parts of it. Because I read it from a truly literary standpoint, I was not reading for what I enjoy in a book, but for the more literary devices and elements used in this book. Thus, my intake of the book would be far different that one who read it for fun.

Charles Dickens writes with a very eloquent style, and the best part of this book I liked was how deep the writing could get. It was so cool how many layers of the writing you could dissect and what you could draw from it.

Overall, this was a fantastic read. Not only is it a great way to expand your vocab, but you can also get to really appreciate the views and concepts it offers.
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Classics come to Life
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Reader reviewed by Scarlet

A Tale of Two Cities is one of the greatest pieces by Charles Dickens. I loved this book for its individuality, its historical precisness and ofcourse its engaging text. The book exmplifies beautiful imagery and plenty of suspense. My favorite chapter in the book would have to be the Gorgon's head. The repetition of the word 'stone' gave the chapter a cold, sombre, perfect for what Mr. Dickens intended to do. It was also loaded with foreshadowing to predict the death of the Marquis. This book though being a classic is still a wonderful read to children and adults alike.
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A great book
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Reader reviewed by April

A Tale Of Two Cities is a very intresting and intelligent read it has a large diversity of complex yet not to complex turns and twists in the story line that is why i love it so much i think that it is complex enough for adults yet still appopriate for children i greatly advise anyone that is thinking of buying it to do so.
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awesom read
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Reader reviewed by missy

The history and how it all fit it, made the book wonderful. It was well writen. The pot had many twists and turns, it was stightly predicable which made it such a great read.
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hard to understand i
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Reader reviewed by noxzeema

The book centers around the French Revolution, and how peasants are waiting in the weeds for the chance to get their country back under its rightful rulers.

Sydney is a grave digger who is in love with Lucy, and will do anything for her, and her daughter.
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Great!!!
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Reader reviewed by Twinkie

I thought this was an awesome book!!! I have read other Charles Dickens books and this is by far the best one yet!! I recommend it to anyone who loves great classic books!!!
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