A Tale of Two Cities

First of all – let me freely admit that I love historical fiction, and yet, I was leery of reading this because it was written by Charles Dickens. I sometimes growl at my high school literature classes – they turned me off several wonderful writers. Okay, to the point… =)  This is my first book report for my Family Classics Reading Challenge.

A Tale of Two Cities

photo from Amazon

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is a book ostensibly about the French Revolution. It is an amazingly adept story of opposites. Mr. Dickens starts the book with one of the most quoted (and misquoted) lines we still hear today:

“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, …”

The setting is in two contrasting places – England and France – and our story begins in 1775. We are directed through several scenes that draw parallels of circumstances between the countries, beginning with the royalty and on down through Society. He mentions several real people and situations that mean nothing to us today, but I have learned that there is a great deal of understanding to be gained by knowing who/what an author is referring to, so I happily went down a couple of rabbit trails, ferreting out those details. It was fascinating and served to help me see the differences Dickens was trying to relay.

The plot was full of twists and turns – even though I had lots of ideas of things that would happen, sometimes the way they happened surprised me. There were lots of ways that the characters behaved, talked, or endured that showed the differences our attitudes and behaviors affect others, both personally and as a collective body (as in the French revolutionists, the aristocrats, and finally as a country) – in many ways the whole book was about that very thing. He clearly delineates the differences between right and wrong, love and hate, revenge or forgiveness, justice or mercy. He references the differences in motivation for both the American Revolution and the French Revolution. Once the Americans won the surrender of the British, they tried to forge ties that would help both sides. Once the French peasants were in charge, the pent up years of neglect and abuse were released, they became relentless in their pursuit of revenge by killing everyone they could – including the very group of people in charge. Thousands of people were beheaded on the slightest charges. Scary.

One thing that I noticed was the use of red in all its various shades. It really brought home how incredibly sad, final, and violent the war was. I was sickened by the thought of the women who gloried in the all the violence, who egged it on, who actively participated in the bloodshed, and who accused people just for the sake of it. The end of the book is another quote that is quite familiar:

“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.”

After reading the story, that quote could bring me to tears. I highly recommend this book.



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