Monday, 27 January 2014

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

A Tale of Two Cities

From Goodreads.

Novel by Charles Dickens, published both serially and in book form in 1859. The story is set in the late 18th century against the background of the French Revolution. Although Dickens borrowed from Thomas Carlyle's history, The French Revolution, for his sprawling tale of London and revolutionary Paris, the novel offers more drama than accuracy. The scenes of large-scale mob violence are especially vivid, if superficial in historical understanding. The complex plot involves Sydney Carton's sacrifice of his own life on behalf of his friends Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette. While political events drive the story, Dickens takes a decidedly antipolitical tone, lambasting both aristocratic tyranny and revolutionary excess--the latter memorably caricatured in Madame Defarge, who knits beside the guillotine. The book is perhaps best known for its opening lines, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," and for Carton's last speech, in which he says of his replacing Darnay in a prison cell, "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." -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... These well-known and loved lines begin Dickens's most exciting novel, set during the bloodiest moments of the French Revolution. When former aristocrat Charles Darnay learns that an old family servant needs his help, he abandons his safe haven in England and returns to Paris. But once there, the Revolutionary authorities arrest him not for anything he has done, but for his rich family's crimes. Also in danger: his wife, Lucie, their young daughter, and her aged father, who have followed him across the Channel.

This is Dickens’s only novel that lacks comic relief, and one of only two that are not set in nineteenth-century England. It is also unusual in lacking a primary central character. London and Paris are the real protagonists in this tale, much as the cathedral was the 'hero' of Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris.

My thoughts

When I spotted that this was on the list of books to be read by the local Library Reading Group that I'm a member of, for December last year and to be discussed in January this year, I must admit that my heart sank a little. I knew vaguely what the story was about and just felt that it was rather a heavy and long story to read at such a busy time of the year.

I decided to give it a go and boy am I glad I did.  I really enjoyed it, despite it's overly long descriptiveness at times and the old fashioned words being used.  Of all the characters Madame Defarge has stuck in my head the most.  I found her to be a truly despicable woman and I am glad she got her just desserts in the end, if you've read this story you'll know what I mean. 

With some comedy elements it turned out not as dark and heavy as I had at first thought it was going to be.  The comedy passages helped to balance out the dark and troubled times that France went through in the late 1700's that have been written about in this story.
Oh what a tangled web we weave when we practise to deceive, springs to mind as an apt thought after reading this book.  What man is prepared to give up for love and make the ultimate sacrifice.

I loved this passage in the book when an possible execution was being talked about ~

'  ''She has a fine head for it,'' croaked Jaques Three ''I have seen blue eyes and golden hair there, and they looked charming when Samson held them up.'' Ogre that he was, he spoke like an epicure.
   Madame Defarge cast down her eyes, and reflected a little. 
''The child also,'' observed Jaques Three, with a meditative enjoyment of his words, ''has golden hair and blue eyes. And we seldom have a child there. It is a pretty sight!'' ' 

It shows the mentality of thought that will pass through peoples heads at times like this, when they are called upon to carry out such cruel atrocities against people that have done no wrong and their only crime in the eyes of the revolutionaries was that they were of aristocratic blood.

If you fancy reading a classic this year, then perhaps you might consider giving this one a go.

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