A Tale of Two Cities Book Review

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

'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...' 
Thus wrote Charles Dickens in the opening lines of his classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities. That opening paragraph was my earliest introduction to this beautiful story set during the tumultuous era of the French Revolution. I remember from my childhood how my parents used to quote those lines to my sisters and me when we were discussing topics of faith and politics and the world as it is in the twenty-first century on the dinner table. I can vividly recall just how much it intrigued me. For, in a sense, we live even now in the best of times and in the worst of times, and these iconic words written for a different age echo with us all in our own lives. Some years ago, I watched a 1980s movie adaption for A Tale of Two Cities starring Chris Saradon and Alice Kirge (which I shall refer to later on in the review) that really made me fall in love with the tale, and with the characters and with the beautiful, beautiful themes reflected throughout the story's pages. It was through the movie actually, that I decided to read the actual, unabridged book. Here is my long belated review. 

Disclaimer - I wrote this review earlier this year as a guest post on Leah Elizabeth Good's blog, Leah's Bookshelf, but did not get a chance to post about it on Fullness of Joy till now. I am sorry about that... 

via Pinterest
A Tale of Two Cities 
by Charles Dickens 
*synopsis taken from Goodreads

'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.

I first read A Tale of Two Cities when I was about 13, and thus my first novel by Charles Dickens felt like a daunting one - not being very much used to reading those old classics (which I have since then come to love!); also there was Dickens' frequent wordy description of the state of people in France (both the nobility and the peasants) and of the state of society in general (hence setting the stage for the French Revolution) to reckon with. Besides the opening lines the beginning chapter was quite difficult to get into, but once I came to the scene at the French wine shop, my interest was caught up fully till the end of the book. Actually, A Tale of Two Cities is not so much more daunting or wordy than any other classic I have come across and I would most definitely not find it as arduous to read now as I did then. The descriptive prose though at times slightly dense and complicated is beautiful and poetic, and definitely something worth appreciating :-).
Monsieur and Madame Defarge "Still Knitting" (Book Two, Chapter Sixteen) in the Diamond Edition of Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities
But even when I read it for the first time the difficulty of the book could not detract from my enjoyment of the story. Set with a myriad of fascinating and three-dimensional characters like the beautiful Lucie who evokes the love of those around her through her sweet spirit and loving care for her dear father Dr. Manette, others as their close friends the faithful and very English banker Mr. Jarvis Lorry, his assistant Jerry Cruncher, and Lucie’s fiercely loyal governess the prim and proper Miss Pross - through them every page that deals with the differing characters is a delight. Along with these friends are two gentlemen with remarkable physical similarities (a coincidence that plays out more than once over the course of the story) who each long for the hand and heart of Lucie Manette: the admiringly honest and courageous aristocrat Charles Darnay who owns a past that might cast a dark shadow on his future and on the future of those he loves most and the dissipated English lawyer Sydney Carton, the man who’s unrequited love bestirs him and makes him a selfless hero—by far my most favourite character. Madam Defarge is magnificent as the vengeful villain of the tale, bitter and cold as ice and ruthless in her revenge, followed by her husband Monsieur Defarge. And of course the rich and cruel the Marquis St. Evremonde who is perhaps the disguised cause behind most of the grief and horrors of the story. These, among others, are the heroes and villains, who make up the complex threads of the book and pull on your heartstrings painfully and beautifully.

The Four Jacques
 Like many other classics, the storyline of A Tale of Two Cities is set during era of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. What I loved about Dickens’ portrayal of the times is his unbiased chronicling of both sides of the revolution, showing the ‘best and the worst’ in both the Aristocrats and the Revolutionists: describing the oppression and plight of the peasants, the extreme cruelty and wickedness of the aristocracy and the nobility and finally the horror and terror of the revolution itself, the godlessness of it all, and how these horrific times made beasts of some men and of others the selfless heroes we come to love and admire.

A Tale of Two Cities is a really beautiful story of mystery, love, betrayal, courage, and of sacrifice and redemption. I was near tears in the last two or so chapters that were heart-wrenching and horrifying and yet so touching and beautiful. There are many inspiring and uplifting themes within the pages of the book, Christian themes exemplified i.e. when Charles Darnay courageously kept his promise to a servant despite the danger and cost to himself, or the loving faithfulness Lucie had in her devotion for her father, and of course the most significant of themes is Sydney Carton’s selfless love and sacrifice. I guess if I could say all about him, I’d spoil the book for you, but it is really, really touching and painfully beautiful so all I will say is ‘go and read the book’!

Cons: 
Being a French Revolution novel, violence is a great part of the story, with people being hanged, stabbed, shot, and beheaded by the Guillotine, but none of it is unnecessarily gory or detailed. There is some romance in the book, but it is mild and classic in style and I did not have any real problems with it, coy as I am about romance generally in novels ^_^.

Movie:
As I mentioned earlier, one of my first introductions to the book was a movie adaption of A Tale of Two Cities, a 1980s version for TV, starring Chris Sarandon, Peter Cushing, Alice Krige and Billie Whitelaw. It is a little bit of an old movie, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless and it is well done. The adaption stayed very true to the heart and story of the book, with only slight differences here and there, and it helped bring to life the tale for me as I read the book later on. So, if you can get your hands on the film that would be wonderful. Here is a youtube link to the film as well if you care to watch it: A Tale of Two Cities

Memorable quotes:

“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.”   Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

“You might, from your appearance, be the wife of Lucifer,” said Miss Pross, in her breathing. “Nevertheless, you shall not get the better of me. I am an Englishwoman.” ― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

“Nothing that we do, is done in vain. I believe, with all my soul, that we shall see triumph.” ― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

In the moonlight which is always sad, as the light of the sun itself is--as the light called human life is--at its coming and its going.” ― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

4 sweet note(s):

  1. Hello Joy,

    I have enjoyed looking at your blog and all the pictures and quotes on your sidebar especially the one that Aragon says:"Sons of Gondor! Of Rohan! My brothers.... thats one of my favorite quotes from the movie!
    I enjoy finding other Christian young ladies "writing" blogs and I'm so glad I found yours!

    -Jo

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  2. Wow, nice blog! I love its colour scheme and design. I've actually reviewed A Tale of Two Cities too, here: http://may-theforcebewithyou.blogspot.hk/2013/07/it-is-far-far-better-thing-that-i-do.html
    Please comment / follow if you're interested!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Joy - hello, thank you so much for your sweet comment and for following too. I am always encouraged to meet other young ladies who love Christ and also 'write' too! :D that quote always inspires me so.

    Thank you for stopping by ^_^

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  4. May - hey, thank you! It's always lovely to meet new faces around here ;). Thank you for your sweet comment and for following. Actually, Hannah Beasley designed my blog-design. as she has a web-design business and she does beautiful blog layouts ;).

    Oh, I checked out your blog - it sounds great! I love literary blogs ;).

    ReplyDelete

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