A Tale of Two Cities- Charles Dickens [Review]

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

a tale of two cities2A classic, a very challenging one, but still a classic nonetheless. Charles Dickens sends us to France during the early days leading up to the French Revolution. I know some have tried to read and cannot get past the first 30 pages, but trust me it is worth it. Just power through and you will not regret it.

Charles Dickens once said that ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ was his best story. I agree. It is artfully written and introduces a cast of characters, extended across two nations and spanning varied social classes and political associations. He then manages to weave their stories and secrets together beautifully in a masterful way –many readers seem to agree with this.  The ending of this novel wraps everything up magnificently with no  loose ends and all the mysteries are solved. It is a beautiful story and read.

The novel is broken into three books. The first book was short and covers the time when Lucie’s long lost father is released from Bastille prison after 18 years and does not know who he is but manages to reunite himself with his long lost daughter. The second book is the longest of the three and covers a good few years leading up to the French Revolution. The third book and final book is just fantastic. You get to read and feel the poverty that has risen , as well as the danger for the aristocracy. The dreadful Madame La Guilotine is introduced which is just an image of horror for everyone. ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ is a brutal and insightful look at the French Revolution with all its heroes and villains and a clever twist at the end which will draw all the main characters together. It can be argued that it is one of the best novels on the French Revolution. It is a large work of imagination, giving a fictional account of the events and causes leading up to that dreadful summer of 1789.

You feel for many of the characters in ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and each one is unique and different. Lucie Manette, the female protagonist, seems to connect every character together and inspire love from every direction. She is a likeable character and cannot help but sympathise with her. In a way, she is a heroine herself, at least she would be viewed as one back in 1859. I found Lucie engaging despite some people views about her. She was a strong character for the time and became the sole support for her poor father. Lucie Manette attracted two suitors who coincidentally looked quite alike; Charles Darnay , a French aristocratic who abandons his family name, and Sydney Carton, an English lawyer.  Charles Darnay is a likeable character. I have to admit I was set against him because he was Sydney’s competition when it came to Lucie’s heart but in the end I did sympathise with him. Disgusted with his family’s dealings and the way they treated the poor in France, he leaves for England and takes his mother’s maiden name and changing it a bit. He is well- meaning towards the end, trying to do the right thing and go back to France at a time when it was better to stay away and save a fellow family servant/friend. He is thus arrested and imprisoned in the Bastille. He does not have a hoped-for heroic moment, but a moment of quiet dignity that is most moving for his humility.

As far as Doctor Manette, Lucie’s long lost father, goes he is first introduced in the first 0bd1d2129b06ecd9199dbccdf5d8e4c0book of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. He was a prisoner in the Bastille prison for 18 years and throughout the book he battles his way from madness under the gentle protection of Lucie.  Doctor Manette is a character that you cannot help but sympathise with. His character is written wonderfully as a man whose understandable anger whilst in the Bastille prison comes back horrifically to haunt him and his new found peace. When the reader discovers the reason why Doctor Manette  was imprisoned in the first place, you instantly empathize with him and want to seek revenge for him.

The villain of the story — Madame Defarge. A very surprising character. At the start of the book you just think she is the wife of Monsieur Defarge, the owner of a French wine shop. You always see her knitting quietly in the corner and you soon come to suspect that she knows more than it seems and that she will become a big part of the story. How right your assumption turns out to be. We soon find out that she is part of the revolution against the aristocracy and a very vengeful woman. The big revelation of who she really is, is revealed in the third book of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and all of a sudden everything clicks into place. Madame Defarge is seen as the antithesis of Lucie Manette. She is the villain of the story as already stated, consumed with revenge and in a way not even human towards the end of the book as she is consumed by her hatred. She is one of the characters that sticks to you after reading ‘A Tale of Two Cities’.

Before I begin to talk about Sydney Carton let me make a small mention of another character, that of the name Jarvis Lorry. Jarvis Lorry is a banker and a dear friend to the Manette family. Throughout the book, his love and concern for Doctor Manette is touching and his protectiveness over Lucie is just wonderful. He can be seen as a somewhat of a hero when Dickens puts him in charge of the carriage that will help an entire family escape from the guillotine.

'A Tale of Two Cities' book cover poster

‘A Tale of Two Cities’ book cover poster

Now as regards to Sydney Carton. Oh Sydney Carton! Safe to say that I fell in love with Sydney Carton immediately, and this book is so cruel for anyone who loves him as much as I do. Brilliant, bohemian and indifferent.  He is the ultimate hero of the book with his selflessness at the end. Half way through the book he confesses his love to Lucie even though he knows it will not be returned. He tells her to forget their conversation for now and never to speak of it and that he will ever be in her service if he is ever needed. When Sydney tells Lucie that ‘there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you” you know that you will break down in tears at the end of the book. Dickens is preparing you of what is about to happen in the next chapters. You have a feeling of what is coming.  His genius, his agony, his selflessness  and his ultimate noble sacrifice make his stand out from the rest of the characters.  The ending is so heartbreaking and I don’t think I am recovered yet after reading this. If you have not read the book or do not know how it ends stop here as a major SPOILER will be discussed. Sydney’s final thoughts and vision of Paris is fantastic; ‘fair to be look upon, with not a trace of this day’s disfigurement‘. His vision of Lucie with Charles now safe and would live happily and safe is heartbreaking and emotional. He knows that Lucie would remember that promise he made her back when he first confessed his love to her and thank him for what he is about to do. His sacrifice to save Lucie Manette’s love is just perfect. I believe that the ending is what makes the book. As sad as the ending is- trust me, it is devastating- it is a perfect ending to a book with the infamous words from Sydney Carton as well as one of the most well know phrases today. By the time I finished the book, I was in tears and did not recover for a good few hours.

A book full of love, sacrifice, and revenge. A story well written and worth a read. As I said at the beginning of this post, I know it can be slow to start with but it is worth reading all the way through. I know that Dickens is not for everyone; however, I would say to have a go and see what you think. He might surprise you as a writer. The unjust imprisonment of Charles Darnay makes up for the ironic justice dealt out to Madame Defarge in the end. And of course, Sydney Carton is one of the most beautiful characters in all literature I find and will always have a place in my heart.

“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.”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

— K.J. Koukas

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens [Review]

It is that time of year when trees have been put up, lights are twinkling and gifts are being opened and enjoyed by children and adults. Santa Claus can rest easy knowing that all the children and adults of the world have received their gifts. Snow is falling, carols are being sang and families gather together to enjoy the holidays and enjoy a lovely Christmas meal.

a christmas carolEvery year, during this season I read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I believe that it is a book that can be read any time of the year and not only at Christmas. However, one year I was stuck in an airport trying to get home to Greece for Christmas and had a copy of the ‘Christmas Carol’. I starting reading it, I don’t know whether it was because of the situation I was in or just because I wanted to get in the Christmas spirit but it was like reading the book for the first time again and felt much better about my situation at the time.  I was excited and captivated in Scrooge’s journey and the visits from the three (or four if you want to be more honest) ghosts. The moral message of this book is to be kind, generous at Christmas and be happy with what you have.

Charles Dickens’s novel A Christmas Carol is a classic that even if it was written in the 1800s, a person today will still enjoy it. This story has an engrossing plot, captivating descriptions, and true motifs for moral transformation.

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The story follows miserable Ebenezer Scrooge who not only ignores Christmas and neglects to celebrate it himself but also expressed spitefulness to those who could not pay off investments. The story then continues with Scrooge being visited by the ghost of his late partner in business,  Jacob Marley, seven years to the day after his death, falling on Christmas Eve, and told to mend his ways, so as to avoid a miserable fate like his. Scrooge is then visited by three ghosts, the ghost of Christmas Past, the ghost of Christmas Present and the ghost of Christmas Future. The description of Scrooge, his cold world, and his cold heart, rises and falls like a biting wind, and the very image of Scrooge tumbles from the page as if blown in from a storm. “The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.”

At the end of the tale, a sick child who seemed destined to die is cured, and an evil man turns over a new leaf and becomes generous and affectionate. Good triumphs over evil, good-heartedness and good cheer over poverty and misery. Even though we all know that that does not happen everywhere in the world. Charles Dickens can be a bit gloomy when coming to tell a story, but by the end of the book you feel warm, good-hearted and happy for the characters in the book.

As Dickens devised his story, he “wept, and laughed, and wept again, and excited himself in the most extraordinary manner”, walking about the London streets by night.  Charles Dickens has probably had more influence on the way that we celebrate Christmas today as it was the Christmas stories of Dickens, particularly his 1843 masterpiece A Christmas Carol, that rekindled the joy of Christmas in Britain and America. A Christmas Carol continues to this day to be relevant, ‘sending a message that cuts through the materialistic trappings of the season’ (David Perdue) and gets to the heart and soul of the holidays.

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Dickens describes the holidays as “a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

— K.J. Koukas