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A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

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* CONTAINS SPOILERS

I was dying to finish reading A Tale of Two Cities and then it had such a dramatic finish, I was left numbed and spent a few moments reflecting on Sydney Carton. Ooh, that Dickens …

THE STORY

An English banker, Jarvis Lorry, travels with young Lucie Manette to Saint Antoine in France to find her long-lost father, Dr. Manette. Monsieur and Madame Defarge, the owners of a wine shop and the masterminds behind a secret revolutionary group, have been taking care of the old man since his release from prison. He is insensible, shows signs of suffering trauma, and strangely and obsessively works on making shoes. However, Lucie’s presence calms Dr. Manette and they bring him back to London. As the years go by, the Manettes develop a tight circle of friends, including Lorry, Charles Darnay, a French émigré who had once been accused of treason and acquitted, and Sydney Carton, a barrister who bears a striking resemblance to Darnay. Even though Carton has professed his feelings to Lucie, she loves and marries Darnay, much to the dismay of Dr. Manette once he knows Darnay’s true heritage. Back in France, the Defarges lead a raid on the Bastille and eventually a revolution against the upper and middle class. Darnay arrives in Paris to help a servant from his former life and walks into the chaos. He is imprisoned and sentenced to death. The Manettes hurry to Paris where Lorry is already located to seek his release, but are at the mercy of the Defarges and the revolutionaries. However, it is Sydney Carton who will save Darnay’s life, taking it upon himself to make the ultimate sacrifice for his friends.

THE GOOD
Novels by Dickens are famous for many things, including his imaginative writing and deeply affecting, unforgettable characters. While I struggled with the various plot lines of this story, Dickens genius was apparent throughout. The book is fully of witty barbs, funny observations and tense drama. You especially can’t put anything past the classic opening (“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …”) and ending (“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done …”) lines of this book.

THE BAD
Ugh, it pained me how long Dickens took to get to the point in this story. In typical classic book fashion, A Tale of Two Cities was published in thirty-one installments. Dickens probably dragged out the story keeping poor readers in suspense over nothing, so he could get paid more and then go out drinking with his buddy, Wilkie Collins (yes, author of The Moonstone!)

CONCLUSION
The only other Dickens I have read is Great Expectations which in comparison with A Tale of Two Cities is a much better book. For me, this book fell short in so many areas, including plot, characters and good old fashioned interestingness. I groaned and moaned with frustration up until the poignant ending where Dickens redeemed himself with Sydney Carton’s monologue. Here I had no choice but to bow to the master.

Thanks Laura for hosting yet another fantastic read-along!

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11 comments on “A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

  1. Cedar Station
    May 30, 2014

    Hm, I liked ToTC much better than Great Expectations! I think I had the same frustrations with GE that you had here, except that they weren’t vindicated at the end. 🙂

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    • ebookclassics
      May 30, 2014

      The ending of ToTC was so dramatic and touching it really saved the book for me. I also liked the Defarges because they were the most interesting characters, but then they started killing everybody …

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      • Cedar Station
        May 30, 2014

        Haha yeah, that can sometimes be a bummer.

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  2. Sophia
    May 30, 2014

    I agree, the ending with Carton is the crowning glory of this book, and by far THE best part. ToTC was the second book of Dickens’ that I finished (the other was Great Expectations, of course), and was much less draggy than Bleak House and Old Curiosity Shop, which I had begun, but never finished. (I plan to return to Bleak House, as it wasn’t too bad, but never OCS! It’s an extreme example of how Dickens word-fills to get more money on his installments.

    Anyway, I’m glad that in the end you liked Tale of Two Cities. 🙂

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  3. ebookclassics
    May 30, 2014

    I have a few more Dickens on my list to read: Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol. Then I can pick and choose what I want to read after those two. 🙂

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  4. Naomi
    May 30, 2014

    I read Great Expectations at University, and I don’t remember liking it very much, but I don’t know how fair it is to compare it with anything when I read it so long ago. More recently, I read Bleak House and loved it. So, for me, Bleak House still comes out on top, but then comes ATOTC. I liked most of it, actually, but especially the end. My favourite part is the scene with Miss Pross and Mme. Defarge. I read it several times.

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    • ebookclassics
      May 30, 2014

      Yes! Although the ending was huge for me, the scene between Miss Pross and Madame Defarge comes a very close second. I loved every little minute of that showdown. Bravo Miss Pross!

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  5. It’s been much too long since I read this. I always want to go back and reread these books but I don’t take the time to actually do it.

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    • ebookclassics
      June 2, 2014

      Do you have a favorite Dickens? It’s so hard when there are so many good books out there. I have a feeling there will be very few books I ever re-read. I’m always looking for what’s new to me, I like the excitement and novelty.

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  6. Pingback: A Tale of Two Cities Read-Along: Wrap up and contest winner | Reading in Bed

  7. When I first tried to read TOTC, I took so long to get through the beginning that it was time to return it to the library – I might never have picked it up again if it wasn’t the assigned reading in my class the next year, but I’m so glad I did read it because the journey to the end was worth it. I think my favorite Dickens story is David Copperfield, but I really loved that ending with Carton – I totally understand how it redeems the whole book for you – Carton is just amazing! 🙂

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