A Tale Of Two Cities

ISBN: 0486406512

A Tale Of Two Cities is a historical fiction novel written in 1859 that takes place in England and France around 1776. It focuses on the plight of the poor in those two countries as French peasantry begin its revolution against the aristocrats.

The writing style is very descriptive. The action moves slow but clear images pop in your mind of the characters and the environment. You can argue that this book is just as much about mood as it is plot. The author, Charles Dickens, forms characters whose motives you understand. I had to stop every couple of paragraphs to imagine what the characters must be feeling and what they will do next.

The only problem is that it takes a while for you to feel invested in the story, until all the odd bits and ends he introduces come together in the second half. I wouldn’t be surprised if many readers quit this book well before the payoffs start to arrive.

The water of the fountain ran, the swift river ran, the day ran into evening, so much life in the city ran into death according to rule, time and tide waited for no man, the rats were sleeping close together in their dark holes again, the Fancy Ball was lighted up at supper, all things ran their course.

The book is at its best during the revolution when the peasants begin hunting for those who wronged them. The aristocracy reaped what they sowed with its unfair treatment of the peasants, but the rageful hunting and rapid denouncements should give pause to any man who is a success in this world. What will happen to him if the poor and weak suddenly become the strong? Dickens seems to perfectly balance sympathy for the peasants with hints that their bloodthirst went too far.

If you attempt this book, and I must warn you that it’s not an easy read, I think you will be rewarded in the end when the loose ends get tied. Every scene and chapter has purpose. As I approached the end, and the suspense built to a fever pitch, I read even slower so it wouldn’t end. This is the hallmark of a good story. A Tale Of Two Cities is a rich book with rich characters and a plot that describes a fascinating period of mankind’s history. If you have the time and patience, I highly recommend it.

Read More: “A Tale Of Two Cities” on Amazon

19 thoughts on “A Tale Of Two Cities”

  1. Just can’t beat Dickens for the timeless characters and great storylines: Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, etc.
    One interesting side-note: Dickens himself had a real love-hate relationship with America. Apparently he was alternately disgusted and fascinated by America. Which I guess many of us here can relate to. I keep meaning to read his personal impressions of his travels around the US….

  2. Great Expectations is also excellent, although I got mired in Nicholas Nickelby near the end after one too many boring monologues from his mother made me want to punch her in the face

    1. I second Great Expectations. Pip’s oneitis and Havisham’s misandry are both very applicable to today’s world.
      I also recommend “Vanity Fair” by Dickens’ rival Thackeray. It’s a brutal examination of the dark side of human nature. The ass-kissing over Lady Crawley (and her eventual irrelevance), Becky’s brutal hypergamy, alpha-widow Amelia’s hamster, Dobbin’s permanent oneitis, and the flaws of everyone else are ripped into mercilessly (or described sympathetically with withering sarcasm).
      It has its slow parts, but it’s very red pill.
      I haven’t seen the other movie versions, but the Reese Witherspoon movie is hopelessly sanitized. In the book, Becky is an ambivalent character; you see where she’s coming from, but she’s a bitch. Movies like to sanitize her and make her into a proto-feminist heroine.
      So stick with the book.

  3. Supposedly The Dark Knight Rises was inspired by it. Bane is definitely very similar to one of the main ‘villains’ if you believe there are villains in TOTC. One of the better books written about a Revolution.

  4. A great review of a great book. However, I didn’t really sense that Dickens felt that the aristocracy was getting some sort of deserved comeuppance. My interpretation was that this was more of the classic British looking down their noses at some uncivilized rabble in another country. The two cities seemed more of a contrast of an orderly London and a barbaric Paris. I believe, at the time of the French revolution, many in Europe of all classes looked on in horror, and Dickens seems to have captured this.

    1. To be fair, Britain’s rabble comes out looking pretty uncivilized as well. After all, Dickens was himself a critic of British society and institutions, which is understandable when you think about his childhood. What I got out of ToTC in that regard was that he didn’t think the French aristocracy deserved it, but ultimately invited the horrors of the Revolution through their callousness and arrogance, and that ruling classes must show virtue or else face the consequences.
      Also, the Revolution had a few phases, and during its initial trajectory from 1789-91, there were a number of prominent intellectuals abroad who supported it with little reservation (Jefferson, Fox, Beethoven, etc), but as things became more and more violent and extremist most of them gradually withdrew or qualified their support in disappointment, and even more when republic turned to empire. Even then, there was a widespread feeling that the basic aims of the Revolution were still worthy, and attempts to reconcile its hopes and legacies with its bloody course came to define much of republican thought. And let’s not forget those who championed the Revolution’s extremes: about a decade before ToTC was written, in the very same year that a second French Republic would be founded, Marx penned his (in)famous manifesto, consciously seeing his ideology as the successor of Jacobinism. History, it seems, insists on repeating itself.

  5. Ancient history has gotten talked about a bit here (specifically Greece), but I knew the French Revolution would be brought up sooner or later…it was one of those periods in history when everything must have seemed possible, but in the end the dreams turned out to be nightmares. Tradition vs upheaval, aristocratic privileges vs republican ideals, paternalism vs egalitarianism…there’s an astounding amount to cover, much of it surprisingly relevant 220 years on. It would be very interesting to see RoK grapple with the questions and figures of that time.
    With that in mind, Tale of Two Cities is a great entry into all that…I’ve read chunks of it and it’s high time I read it cover-to-cover. This serves as a good reminder.

  6. Another great work. I applaud you.
    Dickensian writing is one I wish to become more acquainted with. I wonder how many of the revolutionaries were still alive, if any, when he did the research for this book?
    Anyways, like all great works, they have clarity. It is apparent in your sample from the book that the first chapters would definitely make most put it down for good.
    In a world of fast food, fast women, fast living, and fast lies; slowing it down is something none of us want to do. Yet, slow and steady is how we got here. It is hard to run when you can’t crawl.
    It is very sad to me, that our kids in public school get indoctrinated with so much politically correct crap, that the greats are no longer read except by the “weird” kids.
    I prefer the saying by Bill Gates: “Be nice to the nerd (weird or different kid), for someday, you just might be working for him.”
    Hopefully more of us learn to manage our time so we can sit back, read an amazing work of literary art, and gain from the experience. 2o minutes before you sleep is a great start.

  7. ” I wouldn’t be surprised if many readers quit this book well before the payoffs start to arrive.”
    “If you attempt this book, and I must warn you that it’s not an easy read”
    What is this, a 10th grade book report? Jeez this won’t play well with the elites who increasingly read sites like this.

  8. “A Tale of Two Cities” is one of Dickens last novels, and in his later career he became more meticulous about plotting and planning out his stories. In his early works such as “Nicholas Nickleby” and “Oliver Twist,” the stories always exist in the moment without too much concern for a grand design. They are still impressive works from a man in his mid 20s.
    The thing is that “A Tale of Two Cities” was the first Dickens I read and it contains Dickens’ tightest plotting. The chapter called “The Substance of the Shadow” might just be my favorite chapter of any book — it’s so revelatory and emotional. For whatever reason his other works before that don’t contain similarly tight and strong plotting — however, they’re just an entertaining and involving. In fact, my favorite Dickens is “David Copperfield,” which Dickens considered his favorite among his works and is full of vivid characters. The opening line is a classic:
    “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that
    station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

  9. Great book, this here *hic* Sail of Two Titties *hic*
    (Actually that was a famous BBC radio blooper from the 1960s I think)
    PS It is a good book but otherwise most of Dickens’ books are often quite sickening, he’s basically the 19th-century Walt Disney…. Pickwick Papers and Two Titties are all you need to read, for the rest just stick to film and TV versions, they’re shorter and better. Real men read Tolstoy and Doestoevsky if they want a dose of fiction, which is mostly for women anyways.

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