Book Cover of A Tale of Two CitiesFor school, I had to write a critical book review of  Charles Dickens' classic A Tale of Two Cities. I thought that I would share that review on the blog.

ATTENTION: Review contains a spoiler

It is easy to understand why Charles Dickens is listed among the great authors when one reads his classic A Tale of Two Cities.  This exciting novel is the story of a family during the French Revolution and their struggles to survive.  Dickens quickly captures and maintains the reader’s attention throughout the entire book, then masterfully shapes his emotions so that he experiences the same curiosity, nervousness, horror, and awe as the main characters.

        Dickens begins his novel with a puzzling enigma to catch the reader’s attention.  This opening statement has become one of the most famous lines in literature:  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”  How can it be the best of times and the worst of times?  And what times?  These questions puzzle the reader as he next reads about a man who was buried for almost eighteen years then  “recalled to life”, about the curious actions of his caretakers, the Defarges, and about the love of a daughter who, having never met her father before, willingly takes him in and cares for him.  In just a few short pages, the author has peaked the reader’s curiosity and is ready to help him experience the unrest of the age.

        A Tale of Two Cities by Charles DickensThe time leading up to and during the French Revolution was period of tremendous unrest.  This unrest in England is demonstrated through the bloodthirsty trial of Charles Darnay who was accused of being a spy for the French.  The reader sees that the bloodthirsty crowd – and many in the jury – would much rather see a gruesome death for this young Frenchman then see an innocent man acquitted of his accusations.  Darnay is defended by Sydney Carton who uses the fact that the two of them look remarkably similar to prove that the witnesses could have been mistaken in their identification of Darnay as the spy.  Lucie Manette, who later becomes Lucie Darnay, frequently hears echoes in the house where she and her father live, and often imagines these echoes to be the tramping and marching of thousands of feet of some kind of evil marching slowly into their lives.  In France, we learn of the cruelty and selfishness of the upper class and of the desperation of the lower class.  The people are starved and told to eat grass if they are hungry and later, when the coach of a French aristocrat runs over and kills a little girl, he does not appear to be sorry for his actions (only telling the coach to drive faster) and instead tosses a small amount of money to the father – as if a bit of gold could pay for the dead child!

        Tensions reach a peak and finally the flame of revolution is ignited when the Bastille is stormed – two leaders of which were Monsieur and Madame Defarge.  Lucie’s imaginations come true as Charles is forced to travel to France to rescue an old family servant and is instead captured by the revolutionaries and held prisoner because he had been related to French aristocracy – although he had previously renounced his title and had lived as a commoner in England.  Historical records of the age describe the incredible carnage that took place during the French Revolution, but this bloodshed is so much more horrifying when seen in light of the indifference of the people.  Dickens shows us how La Guillotine was a national symbol, and it was as common to go to the executions as it was to go to the theater.  It seemed like the people could never get enough blood and they found every reason to gain more heads for La Guillotine – even to the point where they were keeping score as to how many people they could execute in a day!

        Sydney Carton at the guillotineIt appears all hope is lost when Darnay is sentenced to the guillotine for the crimes of his father and uncle and Sydney Carton uncovers a plot by Madame Defarge to kill, not only Darnay, but also his wife and daughter.  Lucie and her family is rushed to safety and a family friend, Miss Pross, stays behind to detain Madame Defarge and risks her life so that Lucie might get away.  It still seems hopeless for Darnay until the reader learns that Carton drugs Darnay and secretly arranges for him to be taken to his family, then switches places with him.  Carter had decided to die so that Darnay might live portraying the Biblical principle, “Greater love hath no man than this than a man lay down his life for a friend.”  .  On his way to the guillotine, the verse that comforted Carton and gave him the strength to continue was John 11:25-26, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord:  he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:  and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”  

        The compilation of a great author, puzzling enigma, vivid portrayals of the unrest and horror of the times, and the Biblical principles of love and sacrifice have earned Dickens’s novel its well-deserved title of “classic”.  It is a wonderful and thought-provoking story that will continue to be read throughout the years to come.

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