My Thoughts on Charles Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’

My latest read was A Tale of Two Cities. Juxtaposed with my previous two reads, it’s obvious what literature actually is. Don’t get me wrong, a light read is fine. Those who write fun modern fiction should be commended, but a novel that causes one to ruminate, even after the final sentence has been read, is a valuable achievement.

Before picking it up, I knew nothing about the book, but, as I read on towards page fifty, I realized it was about the French Revolution. My thoughts on that portion, and what Dickens taught me about that notoriously dark event, will come later.

Instead, first off, I’d like to reflect on the characters. It seems, at least to me, and maybe it’s obvious, that Dickens believes that any man, no matter their stature, is vulnerable to humiliation. Beyond that, a few of the most pathetic characters in his book become heroes. Their strength, resolve and feats are admirable. With that, some of the characters, whom the reader may initially view as heroes, well, they reveal a dark and cruel side at the end.

Still thinking about the characters, Dickens draws out conflicts in many. This left me satisfied at the end, because, by the final chapter, my wants for each character were realized. Well, I would have desired better ends for some, but when the tale came to a conclusion, all conflicts seemed comfortably resolved. I think that that, in and of itself, makes for a great read.

As for Dickens’ view on the French Revolution, I’ll say this. First off, I’d like to say that I don’t know much about this bloody period of French history. What I do know, or I should say ‘what I did know’, was learned through the eyes of American historians. That is to say, the French Revolution had a profound impact on early American politics.

What I gained better knowledge of, and what Dickens does a great job of illustrating, is that things were very much out of control, and, while I thought the guillotine was reserved for aristocrats only, it seems, at least from Dickens’ point of view, no one was truly safe. Unbridled hatred, fueled by years of callous aristocratic misdeeds, rendered vengeful patriots who observed the beheadings with an air of triumph.

And at the onset, the ‘Citizens’ seemed to have just motivation to overthrow the aristocracy, but it seemed that there was no objective intellect to rein in the countless executions.

As for Dickens’ delivery. The man’s prose is so rhythmic that, at times, it lulls me into, I don’t know, kind of a trance. Sometimes, I found myself rereading a portion, because I was more focused on the prose, rather than the content.

Another thing I had a slight problem with, though it was a common 19th century literary practice, is that, when you know what is about to be revealed, Dickens takes pages of dialogue to get to the point. I know this is done, as we’ve been given foresight into the character’s intentions, to let the reader savor the moment. But many times, I just get annoyed.

And at times the book seems to meander, however, as you reach the finish, you realize that every instance in the book serves a purpose. With that, once Charles Darnay, who feels obliged to exonerate a friend in a Paris prison, makes the I’ll-advised trip from London into France, the book becomes a page turner. I was especially glued to the pages when Sydney Carton, a down trodden bachelor, who, in hopes of saving Darnay from the guillotine, has seemingly devised a plan. Dickens is clever to allow no one, not even the reader, hints about the man’s scheme. In the end, it is well worth the suspense.

I liked this book a lot. In the beginning, I was lost in the settings and the lives of the characters. By the end, I was on the edge of my seat, wary of the treachery that abounded everywhere. I believe that was Dickens’ point. The revolution was a manifest of vengeance. And yet, though angst and hatred prevailed on the streets of Paris, compassion triumphs in the end.

Take Care and Safe Travels!

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