Monday, August 13, 2018

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (novel #107)

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. ~ Sydney Carton


Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. ~ Our Lord Jesus Christ


A Tale of Two Cities is unlike Dickens’ other novels: there is no humor, no caricatures, no amusing aptronyms, all devices of Dickens I usually enjoy – and yet, for me – A Tale of Two Cities is his greatest work.


I first read this in high school. I was one of the few who liked it. I was even teased a bit for liking it – I’ll gladly own that.


Before beginning this reread I wondered if, four decades later, it would be as powerful? if I would enjoy it quite so much? It was! I did!


In truth, this is my new #1 – The best novel I’ve read.


The setting is the two cities: London and Paris, in the years of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five leading up to and during the French Revolution.


Dickens’ prose is almost like poetry. He describes the passions that overwhelmed France in a way that was almost beautiful – though they were a bloody terror. He describes life in Britain going jolly well on, but with unspoken trepidation when news from across the channel was whispered in dark corners and back rooms.


It was the best of times, 

it was the worst of times…



The characters are believable, flawed, fearful, pitiable, passionate, and noble. The hero, except for one shining moment, is a perfect reprobate – and would tell you so himself. But oh! – that shining moment!


It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…



But it is not Dickens’ prose, nor his characters that are the great achievement of A Tale of Two Cities; it is the thesis…


Love; more precisely – The Greatest Love.


It’s a classic theme, one that has been used time and again, and I must be careful in my praise of Dickens, for although I believe he employed the time-honored motif with brilliant effect, he is not the original author. There is a much older book, that speaks more perfectly of sacrificial love.


Nonetheless, Bravo Mr. Dickens!


My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I read this novel for The Classics Club Spin #18 (number 9, being the chosen number)


As I’ve already mentioned, this is the second time I’ve read A Tale of Two Cities and the sixth work by Dickens. Admittedly, I have not yet read Bleak House, which along with David Copperfield and Great Expectations is more commonly held to be his greatest. I respectfully dissent. Have you read A Tale of Two Cities? Where does it fall in your estimation of Dickens’ works?


Other Excerpts:

The famous opening lines…

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,


Mere messages in the earthly order or events had lately come to the English Crown and People, from a congress of British subjects in America:  which strange to relate, have proved more important to the human race than any communications yet received…


…the hangman, ever busy and ever worse than useless…


…although Sydney Carton would never be a lion, he was an amazingly good jackal…


She looked so beautiful in the purity of her faith in this lost man, that her husband could have looked at her as she was for hours.


Above all, one hideous figure grew as familiar as if it had been before the general gaze from the foundations of the world – the figure of the sharp female La Guillotine.


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 scripture that Sydney Carton recalled, from his youth, on the eve of his finest hour


Miss Pross was the family’s devoted friend, Miss Pross knew full well that Madame Defarge was the family’s malevolent enemy.


Miss Pross, with the vigorous tenacity of love, always so much stronger than hate, clasped her tight, and even lifted her from the floor in the struggle that they had.


I have been able to raise my thoughts to Him who was put to death, that we might have hope and comfort here today. ~ an innocent victim of la Guillotine 


Eye to eye, voice to voice, hand to hand, heart to heart, these two children of the Universal Mother, else so wide apart and differing, have come together on the dark highway, to repair home together, and to rest in her bosom.


Famous last line of a Tale of Two Cities

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.


  1. I don't re-read too often but I do think that Dickens novels are particularly rewarding upon multiple reads. I have to admit that Bleak House is probably his best book in my estimation followed by Great Expectations and/or Little Dorrit with A Tale of Two Cities somewhere after those three.

    1. You are absolutely correct...Dickens is very good on reread, sometimes even better. He includes very subtle foreshadowing, that you don't catch the first time. It is tough to reread though...when there is so much still unread.

  2. I have read it, and it is one of my favorite three Dickens (the other two: Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol). I seem to have a difficult time committing to Dickens, but Tale of Two Cities is just perfect.

    I saw what you did there, at the end, about his theme of sacrificial love. I feel like he borrows similar ideas for A Christmas Carol -- and probably for OT, as well. I do love that about him.

    Maybe TTC does not compare to his tomes, but I have not read them, so I cannot say.

    1. Thanks Ruth. I figured you'd catch the subtle allusion.

  3. I have read this years ago. I loved it, but I think Great Expectations and David Copperfield are better. But you'll never know... maybe after a second reading, I'd enjoy Tales of Two Cities better?

    1. Thanks Fanda. I do enjoy both DC and GE, and I can see why others like them. But for me, its A Tale of Two Cities. I'm looking forward to Bleak House though as it is the other one that gets a lot of nods.

  4. I LOVE A Tale of Two Cities. I have not yet learned to love most of his other books, but this one? WOW, so much my thing. I'm overdue for a re-read myself.

  5. I re-read this a couple of years ago and was equally impressed with it. I've long held Bleak House to be the greatest novel ever written, and still do, but this one comes very close. Mind you, I must admit I re-read Nicholas Nickleby last Christmas and felt exactly the same about it too - I have a feeling I'm just a Dickens addict. Glad you enjoyed your spin so much!

    1. Thanks. I've loved everything I've read by Dickens, reading The Old Curiosity Shop now, but I think A Tale of Two Cities will always be his best to me. But, I do still have to read Bleak House.

  6. I have not got around to rereading any Dickens (yet), but ATOTC and DC are my favourite Dickens to date. Bleak House is up there too.

    1. Dickens is a good argument for rereading. He does a lot of foreshadowing that you don't catch the first time.

  7. TTC, I think, used to be assigned in high schools mainly because it is short for Dickens. It's really cinematic, you can see the kid watching Jerry Cruncher & Buds gather and then do their dirty work. My review:

  8. I remembered you said this is one among your very favourite classics, and I've just finished it for this year's challenge. Wow, I so agree, Dickens' poetical take on the French Revolution was superb. And that ending - unforgettable!

    1. Yep, POWERFUL. Glad you found it so as well.


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