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A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

by Charles Dickens

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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21,08425768 (3.94)4 / 727
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    morryb: The French Revolutionary Mob becomes a character in each novel.
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    chrisharpe: A main source of inspiration for Dickens in writing A Tale of Two Cities.

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One of Dicken's best known stories, set amidst the bloody chaos of the French Revolution, and deftly spanning two countries, multiple generations, and a myriad of characters, in less space than any of his other novels occupied. The story begins with a rainy journey of Mr. Jarvis Lorry, a banker, who has received a mysterious message and is setting off to France. He picks up a beautiful young girl en route, and together they meet a poor prisoner who has recently been released from the Bastille. The deranged man is Dr. Manette, once a renowned physician in France, and the beautiful girl is Lucie Manette, the doctor's daughter who had believed her father dead until her visit with Mr. Lorry. The doctor is quite undone from his countless years in prison, locked away as a secret prisoner, and is fixated on the shoe making he took up during that time. Nonetheless, Lucie manages to make an impression on her father where all others had failed, and she and Mr. Lorry spirit him back to England, where Lucie had been living, before he can be locked up again by the anonymous antagonist who had him imprisoned in the first place.

The story then jumps some years into the future, picking up in the middle of an intense trial against a supposed traitor to the British crown. Charles Darnay has been accused of being a spy for France, and despite the unsavory and untrustworthy nature of his chief accuser, the proceedings don't look good for the noble Darnay. The reader meets Lucie Manette and her father again, this time as unwilling witnesses against the defendant. Exposition reveals that Alexandre Manette has recovered his intellect and strength of character while living in England with his daughter, and that Lucie is clearly in love with the prisoner rapidly heading to a death sentence. However, a last minute reveal by Darnay's lawyers, motivated by the genius of dissolute Sydney Carton, saves the man and frees him from all charges against him!

A peaceful interlude for the main protagonists then ensues, although the author intersperses scenes from back in France, where dark rumblings suggest the horrible events that are about to unfold. In England, however, all is well. Lucie and her father have found a small house in a peaceful pocket of London, where they visit with Mr. Lorry, who has become an intimate of the family. Charles Darnay also frequently visits, as does Sydney Carton and Mr. Stryver, the lawyer who was in charge of Darnay's case. A handful of minor characters are also introduced and developed. such as Mr. Lorry's every man Jerry Cruncher, and Lucie's attendant Miss Pross. Dickens uses this space to weave his masterful characterization, painting these people with varied and complicated personalities, and observing several humorous episodes along the way. Eventually, Lucie and Charles marry, they honeymoon and return, never knowing that Lucie's father had a complete breakdown while they were away, and then the novel again fast forwards to a future point in time.

Charles Darnay is concerned. Although he lives happily under his assumed name in England, rumors of the unrest from his home have reached him, and he feels an obligation to the peasants. It is revealed in the novel that Darnay is actually an aristocrat, in a family who he despises for their cruelty and greed. Now that his malicious uncle is dead, his estates have been abandoned. Darnay learns about the signs of a peasant revolt and believes he can go to them and help ease their hard situation in life; he has always sympathized with them, but been able to help because his father and then uncle ruthlessly suppressed all compassion. Of course, Darnay is deluded in his imaginations of how the peasants will receive him; as soon as he arrives on French soil, he is apprehended, brought to the Bastille, and locked away. During his long voyage over sea, the revolution had surged to a pinnacle of bloodshed and overthrow, but since he couldn't receive news on the ship, he had no idea how bad everything had become.

From this point on, the reader is immersed in the terror and suspense of the French Revolution. ( )
  nmhale | Dec 21, 2014 |
Amazing! ( )
  Gorthalon | Dec 7, 2014 |
4.5 stars but I had to round it up!
A brilliant performance of a brilliant story. Well worth listening to.
( )
  Gorthalon | Dec 7, 2014 |
This is my second book by Charles Dickens. Compared to "Great Expectations", book moves relatively fast, yet each characterization still takes few chapters and narrative builds slowly. Since story is moderately fascinating but very slow moving, narrative long and reading dreg, enjoyment while reading is only related to style of writing and word play. But those aren't any more memorable after reading is finished. So one wonders why should book like this be read at all, except that it is a big classic?

Story does pick up speed by third part of book and book becomes pager turner. While end is predictable almost from first moment you get hint of escape plan, build up is laid out well and last chapter ends on emotionally high note. Dr. Manette's letter was a surprise twist. Overall, okay read and not bad.

[Spoilers Ahead]

Most characters are consistent but some characters and episodes could be dropped. Like events around Jerry's wife and episode of lawer planning to marry Lucy and then dropping the idea could be edited out. Only other problem is that book has too many too many well timed coincides. Madam Defarge turns out to be the wronged sister. No explanation is given why Sydney Carton is in France just at right time, and he happens to be conveniently placed where Solomon Pross is recognized as Barsad, the spy, and also overhears Madam Defarge's plan to have Lucy killed. Jerry digging the right grave is also coincidence. And so is Miss Pross's killing of Madam Defarge at right time. ( )
  ashishg | Nov 16, 2014 |
Would give it six stars if I could. Lump in my goddamn throat. No words. No words at all. Please, please read this book.


Let me count the ways that I love this book. Actually, no - I cannot quantify my love for it. This book is one of the most absorbing and affecting things I have ever read. The prose is utterly perfect. The characters are perfect. The setting is arresting (no pun intended). I didn't think I would love a Dickens novel more than David Copperfield, but this is easily in my list of not just favourite books, but objectively best books I have ever read.

I understand why some people aren't fond of Dickens. His style, particularly grammatically, is very different to what most people expect from their reading. For example, he's deeply fond of commas, which seem to have died a bit of a death over the last century. And there are places in some of his novels where it does read like he was paid by the word. If you've ever had trouble "getting into" him, I'd recommend this as the perfect place to start; it's not as long as some of his novels, and, to my mind at least, there isn't a single piece of filler in it. Quite simply, this is a masterpiece.

I had previously read a children's retelling of the story when I was a child (Top Ten Dickens, which I highly recommend for youngish children - it's hilarious and it also has a lot of stuff in it about Dickens himself) and the story affected me similarly then, as it did now, if vastly less so. As such, I knew how the book was going to end. I did worry that this would cushion the book's impact somewhat. If anything, it heightened it. Sometimes, when you know what's coming, you spend the entire book anticipating - in this case dreading - it, and that was what I felt happened here.

Dickens's prose in this book is gorgeous. He builds the entire narrative from a few strands - a seemingly innocuous beginning - into a rich tapestry, the backdrop being the French revolution, and not a word is wasted. His pacing is excellent. So many authors could learn a lesson from this (including Dickens himself in other books) - you don't need to write thousands of pages about anything. Most stories can be told in far fewer words than that, and told better (not that I'm saying that all 1000 page books are unnecessarily long, but the vast, vast majority could do with being cut at least a bit). Dickens does a great job of building up dread, even in the places where it feels like there shouldn't be any, at all - for example, when Charles and Lucie get married. You don't ever feel like you're being rushed through event, but the pace is also never languorous. This is a beautiful book, evoking so much despair, and yet so much hope.

And the characters. What bastards some of them are. The only thing I could possibly, possibly have asked for is perhaps a little more depth to Lucie, but that's really by the by - she did occasionally seem like a bit of a "doll". Madame Defarge was deliciously brilliant though, her vendetta revealed little by little along with her depths - the way Dickens slowly uncovers more and more of her true nature and the reasons behind it is nothing short of genius. Miss Pross was also wonderful, and the comparison drawn between her and Defarge towards the end, mirroring a running theme of the relative powers of love and hate, is stunningly realised. And, oh, Sydney. You are responsible for having one of the greatest book ending monologues that has ever existed.

I don't want to say too much about the ending - as much as I think knowing what happened in some ways enhanced the book for me, it might not for others, and I obviously don't know what it's like to experience the book totally unspoiled. But it is, in my opinion at least, one of the most satisfying reading experiences I have ever had. And I'm reasonably sure that, had I not known what was coming, I wouldn't have been able to work it out until the last minute, despite how obvious it seems once you do know? Although, I can't say for certain; I might be wrong!

Who should read this book? Genuinely, there is no one to whom I would not recommend this. This is a book about human nature, about the power of love, but perhaps, even more, about the power of hate. It's a book that plays with big ideas, but never loses its human core - unlike so many other novels, it doesn't get bogged down in its own importance. It is a book that perhaps feels slight at 420 pages, but is in fact the perfect length. Truthfully, the only thing that could get in the way of the enjoyment of this is, I suppose, personal taste; however, I honestly think this book is a thing of beauty, and should be required reading for anyone with a soul that craves words. Five stars is not enough. This book has stolen my heart. ( )
  humblewomble | Oct 19, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (73 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Dickensprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ben Sussan, ReneIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Browne, Hablot KnightIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Busch, FrederickIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Busoni, RafaelloIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davidson, FrederickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Haaren, Hans vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jarvis, MartinNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keeping, CharlesIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koch, StephenAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lindo, Mark PragerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maxwell, RichardEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nord, JulieEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
PhizIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pitt, David G.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prebble, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sanders, AndrewEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schirner, BuckNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shuckburgh, Sir JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vries, Theun deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilson, A.N.Afterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winterich, John T.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woodcock, GeorgeEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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This tale is inscribed to the Lord John Russell in remembrance of many public services and private kindnesses
First words
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the 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.
It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This is the main work for A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Please do not combine with any adaptation, abridgement, etc.
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Relates the adventures of a young Englishman who gives his life during the French Revolution to save the husband of the woman he loves.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141439602, Paperback)

After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille the aging Dr Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil lanes of London, they are all drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror and soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:07 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the aging Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine. This edition uses the text as it appeared in its first serial publication in 1859 to convey the full scope of Dickens's vision, and includes the original illustrations by H.K. Browne ('Phiz'). Richard Maxwell's introduction discusses the intricate interweaving of epic drama with personal tragedy.… (more)

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42 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

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Penguin Australia

5 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141439602, 0141031743, 0141325542, 0141196904, 0141199709

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