Crying while reading Dickens's novels is getting to be a regular thing with me. Maybe it's because I know we're getting near to the end of our mission to read all his novels, or maybe it's because number 13, A Tale of Two Cities, is such and exciting and moving yarn. For sheer storytelling brio, this is up there with the best.
You may well know the set-up: two men, one woman, blood on the streets of revolutionary Paris and, of course, LA GUILLOTINE (as well as terrible family secrets, baby-killing aristocrats and lashings of revenge).
The set pieces are sensational: a cask of wine breaks and everyone laps it up from the streets, mothers squeezing it from handkerchiefs into babies' mouths. The murderous crowd sharpen their weapons on a huge grinder, whipping themselves up into a frenzy of bloodlust. So much blood is spilt that it poisons the water supply (apparently this is true!). There's even a fantastic bitch fight between the devilish knitter Madame Defarge and a doughty Englishwoman. As if these treats aren't enough, A Tale of Two Cities also features one of my favourite heroes, the lawyer Sydney Carton: worn-down, world-weary, drunk, despairing, tortured by what he could have been, made noble by unrequited love.
If you took away the boring bits from Barnaby Rudge, Dickens’s other historical novel (also featuring
plentiful mob violence) you might come near this for excitement, but not for
the emotional intensity of Carton’s heartbreaking story.
As Becky says:
I loved A Tale of Two Cities. Sydney Carton, the dissolute lawyer, is one of my favourite Dickens characters (along with David Copperfield from David Copperfield and the horse from The Old Curiosity Shop). Not all the characters in this book have that much depth, but who cares when there is such an excellent narrative arc, and so much galloping, and so many rivers of blood. A great adventure story, but also a book that should be read by anyone who's planning on starting a revolution to overthrow an evil dictatorship, just to make sure they've thought it through.
Next time, there will definitely be more weeping as we move on to Great Expectations. I'm filling up at the thought of it.
Louise Willder, Copywriter