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Book #37: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens



Number of pages: 489

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, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

The opening lines are arguably the most famous in all literary history, and they help to set up the tone of this book, which stands out from other Dickens novels, in that instead of being set in Victorian London, it is set in the 1700s, at the time of the French Revolution, with much of the action taking place in Paris, with London as the other one of the eponymous two cities. Arguably, the title could also give reference to the vast division between rich and poor in Paris at the time, effectively making it feel like two separate cities.

Dickens’ portrayal of how life was in this era makes it one of his grittiest books, particularly a harrowing scene where a French aristocrat shows disdain for the family of a boy who his horse and cart has just killed, and the scenes during the storming of the Bastille, around two-thirds of the way into the book are vividly written and very dramatic.

This is also one of Dickens’ shorter and easier books, with the main storyline revolving around Charles Darnay and his doppelganger Sydney Carton (also Darnay’s lawyer). The ending of the book is well known, but for anyone not familiar, there will be spoilers.

[Spoiler (click to open)]

Although Darnay is found innocent of a crime he is charged with early in the book, he returns to France at the start of the revolution, and is arrested. After being released, he is arrested again and sentenced to be executed by the guillotine. Darnay has a wife and child to look after, and so Sydney Carton switches places with him, and is executed instead, turning this story into a moving tale of heroism and self-sacrifice.



I studied this book at school, and I loved the way that Dickens uses metaphors throughout to get across his point, comparing the audience in a courtroom to buzzing flies, and particularly the opening chapters, which use the phrase “recalled to life”, has obvious double meanings that are explored throughout the book. Overall, I found this to be a book that I enjoyed reading again, as well as an accurate portrayal of a very dark period of history.

Next book: The Cold Moons (Aeron Clement)
Tags: 19th century literature, book review, classic, drama, fiction, grief, gritty, historical fiction, historical romance, history, literature, politics, realism
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