2012 Challenges, Books, The Classics Club

Book 131: A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

I knew very little about Charles Dickens going into reading A Tale of Two Cities. Seriously, the most I know I’ve got from either The Muppets version of A Christmas Carol or the Doctor Who episode from a few years ago. (Yay Gwen!) I am glad, however, that I’m reading two of Dickens’ greatest most well-known novels this year as it is his 200th birthday! What better year to read it than on such an occasion?

I picked up this version of the book almost exactly a year ago helping my sister move to New Hampshire for grad school, mentioned in my very first Lunchbreak Interlude! I really only picked it up because I’d never read Dickens, it was incredibly cheap and is staggeringly beautiful I think – both the black and the red are actually imprinted so the cover has texture; and the pages are uneven cut. This novel counts as part of my Mount TBR Challenge (book 19 of 25 – 76%) and The Classics Club (book 10 of 100 – 10%).

I will reserve judgement on Dickens until after I’ve finished Great Expectations, but we definitely got off to a rocky start. A Tale of Two Cities didn’t really pick up for me until the last 100 pages (the last 1/3 of the novel), but it REALLY picked up – for some reason I just couldn’t get into it and wasn’t quite sure what was going on until then.

What I enjoyed most about this novel were the plot twists! There were so many, especially at the end that I was surprised a couple of times. I guessed a few of them, but I was still surprised at the ingeniousness of them. From Carton’s deed and Dr. Manette’s letter to Madame Defarge and John Barsad’s identities Dickens definitely knew how to write! I’m still reeling over the Carton’s willing sacrifice…he was such a non-entity and to end the novel like that – WOW.

The other thing that got me was the fact that A Tale of Two Cities was serialized. My book had the notes in where each release started and finished and WHOA! There were a couple when it stopped I would’ve been PISSED to have to wait for another edition of what they were printed in, as in a huge shock is revealed and then it says ‘end of xx installment’. It would have killed me to wait. But it is cool to see that modern authors (well as late as the 1970s/80s) were writing in the same way, and I guess some struggling authors still are with blog posts.

What I struggled most with was the language at first. I was able to read it fine, but occasionally I had to go back and re-read to make sure I knew what was going on. For example when the Marquis died I had to go back because there was just a bit too much description and flowery language without coming right out and saying what happened.

Recommendation: Read it! I’m not sure about the rest of Dickens work, but if it is similar I may have to expand my reading of him. Hopefully after getting through the first and finding his language and pacing it’ll be easier to read the rest.

Opening Line: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was they 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, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Closing Line: “‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to, than I have ever known.'” (Whited out.)


35 thoughts on “Book 131: A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens”

  1. I’ve only read a couple of Dickens’ books–Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol. A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations and The Pickwick Papers are all on my ‘to read’ list.
    I do love A Christmas Carol, though. It is short, entertaining and an excellent story.

    As for modern authors writing serials, Alexander McCall Smith still does, with his 44 Scotland Street. There’s a new chapter published daily (well, for a few months) in The Scotsman. And I sadly didn’t read the latest book that way.


    1. That’s awesome! I didn’t know he did that. I heard him speak here in Boston year before last and I could totally see him doing that. The last one I’ve read was Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City which I clearly read once they were compiled into novels.


      1. Did you see him speak in October 2010? I was at that discussion as well–he even answered my question during the Q&A portion of the evening.

        I’ve been meaning to read the Tales of the City books, once the dissertation is complete, of course.


        1. It must have been! It was at the BPL after being rescheduled from the Iceland volcano! That’s too funny. I was only just starting out book blogging so hadn’t ‘met’ many other bloggers yet.


          1. Yeah, that was it! Worked out in my favour, I was living in Italy during the Iceland volcano incident, so glad I got to see him speak.
            Despite having been blogging for a few years, I hadn’t ‘met’ any Boston area bloggers at that point. Small world!


  2. Hmm, Dicken’s 200th birthday, eh? That does make me feel like I ought to read something of his. Maybe A Christmas Carol since I’ve never actually read it. (I love the Muppet version too!)


  3. The opening paragraph is one of the best I have ever read – unfortunately I never finished this book despite it being relatively shorter then his other books. I just didn’t gel with it at all and couldn’t be bothered to wait until those last 100 pages so gave up half way through.

    I do like Dickens, more so when in the mood but he does babble sometimes…


    1. See I thought the opening was a little too wishy washy. Basically, to me, it said it was a time like all the rest, but not quite because there was upheaval everywhere and take this novel for what it’s worth. I thought the ending line was much more powerful, but I feel like he might be quoting from someone else – or it’s been used so many times in modern culture I wasn’t aware of the origin.


    1. Haahaa, well thanks for the comment and like! I’ll definitely keep an eye out for your review! If it makes you feel any better about reading it, there are not any major revelations (but there are major hints!) in my response.


  4. The only novel of Dickens I have read is Nicholas Nickleby and that was many many years ago now! I have 7 of Dickens novels on my Classic Club list however now this one…must resist adding anymore though!


  5. I ADORE this book — and Sydney Carton. I have a LOT of Dickens on my club list. I’ve read A Christmas Carol twice, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and all of the Christmas books. 🙂


    1. Haahaa – I wouldn’t go so far as to say I adored it, but it was surprisingly enjoyable once I got through the first bit. I hope there’s more Dickens on my Classics Club list than I think because I can’t add anymore and doubt I’ll ever get around to reading more by him unless it’s as part of a challenge.


  6. I had to memorize the opening line in high school, and I still remember it to the letter. I remember almost nothing else about the book. Hahaha! I’ll be re-reading it for the Classics Club, though.


    1. It’s a doozy to memorize! We had to learn the prologue to the Canterbury Tales in old English! For this one to be do famous, I thought it was kind of a bit waffley but that’s just me with very little literature background.


    1. Oh, maybe that’ll be a random read for me as it’s not on my Classics Club list – but I always enjoy literature based on an authors life. They seem more invested that way. 😀


      1. True, apparently he tried to write a biography but abandoned it part way through, because it was too difficult/painful, but I love that he was able to channel much of that experience into David Copperfield and like you that’s a good reason for me to want to read it.


  7. David Copperfield remains my favorite Dickens, but this one is powerful. I always thought it was fascinating that so many classics were serialized back then. I can’t imagine having to wait to find out what happens!


  8. I’ve actually only read A Christmas Carol (short and sweet). I got about halfway through Great Expectation ten years ago, but eventually got distracted. One of the few books I’ve started and not finished. I remember someone had ranted to me about him going on and on to boost his word count for the pay, as a serialized author, and I think that really messed with my enjoyment of it at the time. Looking back, I really don’t know if that was the case, as he seemed to be able to get new book deals without much of a problem.

    I plan to give it another go eventually.


    1. That is very interesting. Was he getting paid to do it or were they serialized in his own periodical? (I mean he could still have gotten paid.) I guess I use those installment breaks as good stopping points and so don’t think about them quite like that.


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