52 A TALE OF TWO CITIES Charles Dickens (England, 1859)
A Tale of Two Cities is set in both London and Paris, before and during the French Revolution. It tells the story of Charles Darnay, a French aristocrat who renounced his title and went to England, his father-in-law Alexandre Manette who was imprisoned in the Bastille and his friend Sydney Carton, a cynical barrister secretly in love with Lucie Manette.
A Tale of Two Cities is the most printed original English book. Interestingly enough, it does not feature the wide range of characters that Dickens had accustomed me to. I have to say this is not a strength. Dickens is one of my favorite writers, but not because of his main characters. His darker ones are usually the most interesting. In a novel like David Copperfield (one of the best novels ever written!), characters such as David and his Agnes do not have a complex personality. The ones that make the novel so great are Steerforth or Rosa Dartle.
The problem with A Tale is that Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette are too conventional, but this time there's only one character - Sydney Carton - that has the power to counterbalance their lack of moral complexity. It's not enough.
On the other hand and as far as I know, Dickens has never been so poetic. The story is not only gripping and often heartbreaking, it is also filled with beautiful symbols. The ending may be a little over the top (Victorian morality is not what I prefer) but because Dickens is such a great writer and he also knows how to be unconventional now and then, I still greatly enjoyed this highly theatrical ending.
Finally, this book was recommended by someone very special to me and it does have an influence on the grade. :)