* 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 …
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.
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.
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!)
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!