Book Review, Charles Dickens, Fiction, Historical, Literature

Review: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

“It wasn’t until after the first book (50 or so pages) of A Tale of Two Cities that I finally began to sink into the story and to appreciate what Dickens was developing. While there wasn’t as much opposition between London and Paris as I had expected (after all, the title and the history of the book make it seem that this is a story about the battle between, or at least the differences of, the two), the contrast between freedom in London versus persecution in Paris is obvious. It is also ironic that, while the Parisian “revolutionists” were espousing freedom and liberty, they were actually the cause of a great oppression of the French people and, particularly, of emigrants and nobles. Dickens does a masterful job of presenting this irony in a serious way. He allows the reader to sympathize with the plight of the peasant, while also condemning the over-zealous and destructive reaction of the lower class. The story itself reminds me – strikingly – of Les Miserables. The two main characters in both novels are an odd, prisoner father and his chaste, innocent-to-the-point-of-naiveté daughter. In A Tale of Two Cities, The daughter’s future husband reaches an epiphany about his father-in-law which allows the strange man to grow inestimably in character for the spouse; in Hugo’s Les Miserable, the young spouse is at first mistrustful of the ex-convict father but he also eventually reaches an understanding which brings the man into an almost saintly status. Also, in both, there are characters of unrelenting, spiteful yet understandable fervor. In A Tales of Two Cities, it is Madame Defarge, the vindictive wife of a wine-shopkeeper whose family was wronged in her youth and who will stop at nothing to avenge them, even if it means bringing down the innocent. Her counter-part in Les Miserables is Javert, the inscrutable police inspector who epitomizes absolute justice, regardless of man’s ability to change, grow, and make amends. Both novels are brilliant and, while I prefer Les Miserable on the whole, Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is a more real description of the beginning of the French Revolution and it’s horrors, while Les Miserable largely takes place after the fact, during the reformation. In all, I would have to say that, once one gets through the rather clumsy introduction to the storyline and its characters in Book One, the tale then picks up and is rather impossible to put down.

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One thought on “Review: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

  1. Hi Adam,

    Influenced by your comment in my post about A Tale of Two Cities, I read Great Expectations and reopened the Dickens discussion on my blog. I just wanted to thank you for the suggestion and let you know that I gave you a little shout-out on the post.

    (And yes, Les Miserables is definitely a better story about the French Revolution. No doubt. But I think the comparison is a bit unfair to Dickens, who was not trying to accomplish what Hugo achieved and still produced an excellent piece of literature.)

    Amy (The Lit Quest)

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