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?
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.