"Book Report: A Tale of Two Cities"

A Tale of Two Cities book cover

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

A novel that builds continuously to the end, A Tale of Two Cities is one of the most eloquently written texts I've read in some time.

Set during the onset of the French Revolution, Charles Darnay (formally Charles Evremonde) runs away from an aristocratic life in Paris he hates to live as a free working man in prosperous London. In England he meets Lucie Manette, the daughter of a doctor who happened to (spoiler alert) be imprisoned by Charles' late family in the infamous Bastille for over a decade. Charles and Lucie are married, after which Charles is called back to France by a plea letter from a colleague of his left in charge of his estate, now imprisoned by French revolutionists.

Charles is put on trial as an aristocrat emigrant and sentenced to death. He is saved in the end by the social reject character, Sydney Carton, whose life of bad behavior is redeemed by his sacrifice in taking Charles' place on the chopping block.

This story builds progressively until the very end unlike a typical rise- climax-fall setup. Dickens confesses this style explicitly at one time writing: "... if you want to put it down halfway through, don't."

I am inspired to read more about the French Revolution. Dickens used a single source as a historical reference, The French Revolution: A History by Thomas Carlyle. I suppose that would be a good place to start.

A Tale of Two Cities goes out with a bang with the fantastic closing line:

"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."

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