During the Christmas holiday, with the end of my Classics Club challenge in sight, I finally picked up A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens which I have long wanted to read. Not even realising that as well as being a classic it is also a historical fiction; another of my favourite genres.
In this novel, Dickens takes us back to the late and turbulent 1700s. Paris at that time is brewing with the rumbles of revolution, as the peasants fear turns to anger against the nobility. Amid this, after eighteen years without trial or sentence, the ageing Doctor Manette is finally released from the infamous Bastille and reunited with his daughter, Lucie. Only her sweet presence seems to bring the Doctor’s ravished body and mind any peace, so together they travel to London to try to start anew and find some happiness at last.
In London the beautiful and good natured Lucie attracts the suit of two similar looking but in character very different men. The first is Charles Darnay, a noble self-exiled French aristocrat. The second is Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer. Though the Manettes live happily for many years, they eventually find themselves pulled from their tranquil lives in London and find themselves drawn against their will back to the streets of Paris, which are now stained red with blood at the height of the Reign of Terror, where they will fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.
I found that I flew through the first section of this book, where we meet poor Doctor Manette, the lovely Lucie and their devoted friend Jarvis Lorry. As well as the larger-than-life agitators Monsieur and Madam Defarge. I could feel the tension building and was fascinated by the secrets and intrigues of it all. In the second section, I found the pace slowed as we saw the relatively quiet life the Manettes had in London; surrounded by their friends and the formidable Miss Pross. Sadly for the characters but excitingly for the reader this peace is dramatically broken when they return to Paris. I am not morbid (honest!) however this third section was where the pace, tension and twists really came in this story. Once at this part I could barely put the book down!
This is now my eighth Charles Dickens’ novel I have read – I really think Dickens can weave a wonderful story and this was no exception. In fact I was so swept away by this story, I can’t say I even noticed his usual rather over convoluted and highly detailed writing style. Instead that high detail brought to life vividly for me the rising anger; the sorrow and suffering; the blood-stained streets and the palpable fear in the air. Added to this there was a wonderful cast of memorable characters, though they were perhaps more toned down and serious than usual. If you’re not a fan of Dickens’ trademark colourful, over-the-top characters then I can see how you would enjoy this novel more than others, which is maybe why this is such a popular choice with readers.
Overall, A Tale of Two Cities was a moving and vividly detailed look at the bloody French Revolution. I look forward to reading more by Charles Dickens; in particularly I still have Little Dorrit on my Classics Club list. Great read.
Have you read this? What Dickens’ novel do you think I should read next?
The Classics Club – 49/50