Initial Thoughts from A Tale of Two Cities

I have surprised myself. Really, shocked me. I picked up A Tale of Two Cities, and almost read the entire book in one day. It was simply gripping. I read it through lunch, walking to class, and at work. And then I stopped and forced myself to do homework.

This book is simply stunningly beautiful. And it’s the first Dickens novel, other than A Christmas Carol, I’ve ever really read. I remember skimming though a children’s version of David Copperfield, and I’m familiar with Great Expectations and Oliver Twist.

But I’m reading A Tale of Two Cities. And it’s glorious. I wasn’t expecting it to be so emotional and beautiful.

Here’s my unsolicited thoughts from A Tale of Two Cities.

The History is balanced

Dickens doesn’t just pin classes of people against each other. The English aren’t completely perfect, the peasants all murderous lunatics, and the aristocrats all evil scumbags.

Instead, we see good and evil on both sides of the revolution.

I really enjoy the complexity of Monsieur and Madame Defarge. They’ve been treated unjustly, but I like how each respond differently. Also, reminds me to be wary of knitting revolutionaries.

And of course, the contrast between Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay is intense. And the best part of the story.

The characters tie together incredibly well

So, Dickens is a master at backstory. A book with winding plots that all come together. You come to love each little story, and stand amazed at how everyone is eventually related. He does this in almost all of his books, and the same goes for A Tale of Two Cities.

*I’ve not quite finished the book, but I’m very, very interested to see how the Defarges, Lucie, and Darney all tie together. 

Wordiness isn’t weighing down the wit or emotion

Dickens, and other 19th century writers, have this thing with wordiness. Heavy description. Flowery language. It’s just too much, most of the time.

But it’s not like this in A Tale of Two Cities. The description enhances the story, without being overbearing. The wordiness is acerbic, biting. Sometimes, I’m moved to tears. Other points, I’m laughing.

Lines like these, complete with my first reactions.

“All the people within reach had suspended their business, or idleness, to run to the spot and drink the wine.”

So, this is very early on in the book. And I read it twice, just so I could laugh twice.

“Why should you particularly like a man who resembles you? There is nothing in you to like, you know that…Come on and have it out in plain words! You hate the fellow!”

The first moment I realized I would like Sydney Carton – this monologue.

Detestation of the high is the involuntary homage of the low.”

And, yep, Monsieur the Marquis, we all hate you. I took a picture of this quote, just so I wouldn’t forget this line. And how angrily disgusted I was.

A multitude of people and yet solitude.”

If only I could write so succinctly and descriptively.

So, if all you know about A Tale of Two Cities is the intro, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” then you should definitely try reading more. Because while the intro is memorable, the entire book is fantastically written.

Sydney Carton will make me cry. Alot. 

I’ve already teared up over Sydney. I’m not sure why he’s so determined to be a dissolute drunk. But despite his bad behavior, this man has a way with words.

“Think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you.”

I’m spoiled to the story, because people just talk about A Tale of Two Cities. So I do know what happens to Sydney. (Sorry if you don’t know 🙁) But what people never mentioned is this guy’s emotions.

Yes, he loves Lucie. But he hates himself. And that’s whats killing me.

How much do you have to hate yourself to completely give up on yourself? 

Maybe I’ll get more backstory later in the book, in the last 135 pages I haven’t read. (Don’t let me down, Dickens!) But I’m terribly curious why Dickens has made Sydney to be so bad. Why? Why can’t Sydney reform?

If my question isn’t answered, I shall be greatly disappointed. Maybe disappointed is too nice a word. Upset. Frustrated. Kind of mad.

But, I have to admit A Tale of Two Cities isn’t perfect. I have one big issue. And that’s Lucie Manette. I feel like there’s no real character development for her going on. She just exists for her father, Darnay, and Sydney to idolize.

The story isn’t about Lucie and Charles Darnay. I feel like the story is truly about Sydney Carton and Madame and Monsieur Defarge. But the way Dickens opens the novel makes you think it’s about Lucie Manette. That’s why her near zero-character growth is so frustrating.

Anyway, I hope to finish the last 100 pages soon. And then I’ll update my review to reflect my thoughts!

……On another rabbit trail, I’ve read several people comparing The Scarlet Pimpernel’s treatment of the revolution to Dickens. And while I hate to admit it, the Pimpernel doesn’t quite live up to Dickens example. Baroness Orzky treats the French as all rabid murderers. Dickens tries to show the causes that led to the Reign of Terror, and still show how gruesomely evil the whole thing out. 

Not saying Sir Percy isn’t as good or better than Sydney Carton. But Dickens was a less biased & better writer. 

let's chat

Have you read A Tale of Two Cities? Or any other Dickens books? 
Are you a fan of Sydney Carton?
What’s your favorite line from A Tale of Two Cities? 

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A Redheaded Texas Gal. I love the woods and thrive where there’s green grass and room to grow. I dream of living in a used book store and wearing period costumes to work everyday. In the meantime, I’m studying Journalism and Political Science, and trying to follow Jesus wherever He leads.

  • Chauncey Rogers

    Well good for you for reading a classic and enjoying it! I feel like it’s way more common for book bloggers to be a bit dismissive of classic works (which is understandable, I suppose. We usually know too much about the plot lines already, and the writing is slower than we’re accustomed to.)
    I must admit that I haven’t read “A Tale of Two Cities.” I was supposed to during high school, but it was a required summer reading, and I have a strong morally-based opposition to required summer readings, so I just spark-noted it. The only Dickens work that I’ve read was Great Expectations, but I loved it! I’ll have to add this to my TBR after reading your initial thoughts–or maybe I’ll hold out until your actual review and see if Dickens delivered all the way to the finish.
    Also, I love the Scarlet Pimpernel. Haven’t read that one either, but the 1982 film is one of my favorites.

    • Elizabeth Hunter

      Classics are definitely underrated! I really should thank Cassandra Clare for encouraging me to read Dickens, she referenced A Tale of Two Cities heavily throughout the Infernal Devices trilogy. In fact, several of my favorite lines were definitely paraphrased from Dickens.
      Last spring, I decided to read all of CS Lewis, which was a great goal, until I realized I didn’t really want to tackle the deep space trilogy this year. So, now, I think I’m going to tackle Dickens instead.
      And who assigns reading over the summer? And actually thinks any student will really get that done?
      And the 1982 Scarlet Pimpernel film is fantastic. I rewatch it a ton each year, since it’s on youtube, and it always manages to cheer me up.

      • Chauncey Rogers

        Whoa! You watch it a ton each year? “Sink me,” that’s a lot. But I guess I would do likewise, if the internet were faster out here. It’s just too much fun watching Gandalf/Magneto get his butt kicked in fencing by a frilly fop!
        Great post!

        • Elizabeth Hunter

          Haha, yes. Gandalf and Sir Percy are great enemies. 🙂 I think I manage to watch it about every 10 weeks, which maybe isn’t a certified ton. Just more than the average fan.