A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is one of those novels that’s been in my TBR (to be read) pile for many, many years. And I finally got around to checking it off the list, albeit by not actually reading. If you’ve been paying attention to my blog, and I’m sure you have, then you know that I’ve been listening to A Tale of Two Cities as an audiobook (Librivox.org, as read by Paul Adams) for the past few weeks.
This classic Dickens tale is first and foremost a commentary on the French Revolution which happened about 80 years before this book was written and published. It follows several characters whose stories all come together. Dr. Manette has spent eighteen years as a prisoner in the Bastille. In the beginning of the novel, Manette is shown as a half-wit-like character who make shoes—a strange coping mechanism that he has devised after his imprisonment. Once his daughter, Lucie, finds him however, he recovers his former glory and wit. He becomes a loving father to Lucie. Lucie grows into a compassionate woman who falls in love with Charles Darnay. Darnay is a French aristocrat by birth, but lives in England because he does not approve of the French aristocratic system. He rejects the snobbishness and cruelness of his uncle, the Marquis Evrémonde. Before asking for Lucie’s hand in marriage, he wants to reveal his relationship with the infamous Marquis Evrémonde to Doctor Manette. Later he risks his life to help out an imprisoned friend names Gabelle, and get imprisoned by the revolutionaries in the process.
Sydney Carton is a one-time suitor of Lucie, and looks very much like Charles Darnay. He is an alcoholic and doesn’t strive for much else in his life, except for Lucie’s love. His feelings for her lead him to perform the ultimate sacrifice. When Darnay is sent to prison for the crimes of his estranged family, Sydney takes his place at the guillotine.
The Guillotine itself seems almost a character in this tale. In multiple chapters, Dickens describes the many exploits and adventures of “La Guillotine.” It becomes at once both a character and a symbol. The Guillotine represents the harshness and hypocrisy of the French Revolution.
This story is a classic for a reason. It is a tale of rebellion, mystery, violence, hypocrisy, and sacrifice. Dickens illustrates this horrific point of history with intelligence and a bit of humor (There’s one part where he describes bankers as moldy cheese that definitely made me giggle). I believe that anyone who is a fan of French culture or Victorian writings should read (or listen to, as the case may be) this work.