682 of 727 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2000
This book is incredible. I read it last year (in eighth grade), and I love it. I love Charles Dickens' language and style. Whoever is reading this may have little or no respect for my opinions, thinking that I am to young to comprehend the greatness of the plot and language, and I admit that I probably do not completely appreciate this classic piece of literature. I do read above a 12th grade level, although that doesn't count for a whole lot. It took me a while to get into this book. In fact, I dreaded reading it for a long time. But nearer to the end, I was drawn in by the poignant figure of a jackal, Sydney Carton. In his story I became enthralled with this book, especially his pitiful life. After I read and cried at Carton's transformation from an ignoble jackal to the noblest of persons, I was able to look back over the parts of the book that I had not appreciated, and realize how truly awesome they are. I learned to appreciate all of the characters, from Lucy Manette to Madame Defarge. I also was affected by all of the symbolism involved with both the French Revolution, and the nature of sinful man, no matter what the time or place. My pitiful review could never do justice to this great book, please don't be discouraged by my inability.
228 of 248 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2001
The more Dickens I read, the more impressed I become at his skill as a writer. No matter the form, be it short, long, or a monolith like some of his best works, Dickens excels at changing his style of characterization and plot to fit whatever mode he writes in. "A Tale of Two Cities" is one of his shorter novels, and he manages to make the most of out of the allotted space. The compression of the narrative sacrifices Dickens's accustomed character development for plot and overall effect, but what we get is still phenomenal.
"A Tale of Two Cities" begins in 1775, with Mr. Lorry, a respectable London banker, meeting Lucie Manette in Paris, where they recover Lucie's father, a doctor, and mentally enfeebled by an unjust and prolonged imprisonment in the Bastille. This assemblage, on their journey back to England, meets Charles Darnay, an immigrant to England from France who makes frequent trips between London and Paris. Upon their return to England, Darnay finds himself on trial for spying for France and in league with American revolutionaries. His attorney, Stryver, and Stryver's obviously intelligent, if morally corrupt and debauched, assistant, Sydney Carton, manage to get Darnay exonerated of the charges against him. Darnay, a self-exiled former French aristocrat, finds himself compelled to return to France in the wake of the French Revolution, drawing all those around him into a dangerous scene.
Dickens portrays the French Revolution simplistically, but powerfully, as a case of downtrodden peasants exacting a harsh revenge against an uncaring aristocratic, even feudal, system. The Defarge's, a wine merchant and his wife, represent the interests of the lower classes, clouded by hatred after generations of misuse. Darnay, affiliated by birth with the French aristocracy, is torn between sympathy for his native country in its suffering, and his desire to be free of his past.
"A Tale of Two Cities" is a novel driven by historical circumstance and plot, much like the works of Sir Walter Scott, wherein the characters themselves assert less agency, finding themselves forced to deal with the tide of epic events. Richard Maxwell's introduction to this newest Penguin edition does a good job outlining the themes of doubling and literary influence that Dickens works with. One specific influence I discerned in reading "A Tale" that Maxwell doesn't metion is Edmund Burke's "Reflections on the Revolution in France," which if nothing else, gives the feeling that the rampant violence of the early revolution and the later Reign of Terror has brought about an irreversible change in human nature. While Dickens remains cautiously optimistic throughout the novel that France can recover, the tone of the novel speaks to the regression of humanity into a more feral, primal state, rather than advertise any real hope for its enlightened progress.
Despite the supposed dichotomy between England and France in the novel, Dickens seems to suggest throughout that there are no real differences, due to the way that human nature is consistently portrayed. With England in between two revolutions, American and French, Lucie's sensitivity early in the novel to hearing the "echoing" footsteps of unseen multitudes indicates a palpable fear that the "idyllic" or "pastoral" England he tries to portray is not exempt from the social discontent of America or France. In this light, stolid English characters like Miss Pross, Jerry Cruncher, and Jarvis Lorry appear to almost overcompensate in their loyalty to British royalty. In a novel that deals with death, religion, mental illness, I could go on and on for a week, but I won't. One of those novels whose famous first and last lines are fixed in the minds of people who've never even read it, "A Tale of Two Cities" demands to be read and admired.
145 of 157 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 2006
I was first introduced to this book when I was 14 years old in my 8th grade English class. I found it utterly overwhelming; in its cast, its plotlines, its settings, its themes and most of all, in the intricate web the various relationships create. I only understood three things about this book. First, the two cities are London and Paris. Second, France was convulsing itself with the French Revolution while England was undergoing changes that would prepare it to enter the Industrial Revolution. Third, English in Dickens' time did not resemble English at the end of the 20th century, but somehow seemed similar to the English used in Hollywood epic movies from the 1950s and 1960s like Spartacus, Ben-hur, the Ten Commandments, Cleopatra, etc...
Years later, I picked up this book and reread it. I considered this a labor, not of love, but of duty. This book is so famous and used so often in English literature classes that I felt I had to read it again for a deeper understanding. What I got from this book a 2nd time around is a profoundly subtle yet accurate sociological and psychological study of what happens to a society and a community that is built on shaky foundations. Specifically, France was an aristocracy where a tiny minority owned all the land. The rest of society was organized into tiers that varied in their opportunities of becoming landowners. Because of this pyramid structure, most of the people hewed to the social order knowing that yes they get crapped on by those above them, but there's always somebody below them to take advantage of.
Eventually this social Ponzi scheme comes to a screeching halt with the French Revolution. Enough people have had enough that they decide to start over. In the process a lot of people get killed and a lot of property changes hands. So woven into this story of a society's collapse are individual tales of woe, revenge, sacrifice, retribution, love and lust. Some are wrongly imprisoned or executed, while others willingly trade places to free those who have been marked for punishment. Families are torn asunder, and friendships are made and betrayed.
Overall, this book is a classic; though not appropriate for anyone not in their mid-teens yet. Its careful depiction of a society warrants its reading for those interested in 18th century Western history. But it should be read with notes and study guides for its depth and complexity can easily lose the interest and focus of many readers.
139 of 151 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2005
The period from 1775 - the outbreak of the American Revolution - to 1789 - the storming of the Bastille - is the turbulent setting of this uncharacteristic Dickens novel. It is his only novel that lacks comic relief, is one of only two that are not set in nineteenth-century England and is also unusual in lacking a primary central character. London and Paris are the real protagonists in this tale, much as the cathedral was the 'hero' of Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris. Dickens was writing at a time of great turmoil in his personal life, having just separated from his wife, and no doubt the revolutionary theme was in tune with his mental state.
The result is a complex, involving plot with some of the best narrative writing to be found anywhere, and the recreation of revolutionary Paris is very convincing. The device of having two characters that look identical may seem hackneyed to modern readers, but it is here employed with greater plausibility than in Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson or Collins's The Woman in White.
Dickens was inspired to write this story by reading Carlyle's newly published history of the French Revolution. Those events and their aftermath stood in relation to their time much as World Wars I and II do to ours, that is, fading from living memory into history, yet their legacy still very much with us. In many nineteenth-century novels, especially Russian and British works, you get a sense of unease among the aristocracy that the revolution will spread to their own back yard. In the case of Russia, of course, it eventually did.
I have often recommended A Tale of Two Cities as a good introduction to Dickens for younger readers. This is based on my own experiences, because it was a set book in my English Literature class when I was 15 and I remember thoroughly enjoying it. Yes, it is challenging, with its somewhat archaic language and its slow development, but you cannot progress to an enjoyment of great literature without being challenged.
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2006
I like all of Dicken's work because of his ability to bring a place and period to life as well as his gift for creating round characters that seem like real people you can reach out and touch. This novel certainly represents these qualities, but has a dark quality with no type of comic relief. It is intense and it captures the psychological and emotional climate of the the French revolution in a visceral way.
This novel which parallels the rise of the French revolution, compares and contrasts life in two cities Paris and London. It also develops a very intricate plot that is difficult to follow if one does not read steadily. In other words, it's not a light plot that you can set down for a few days and pick back up. On the other hand, it's extremely engaging and you won't want to put it down.
When I read it, I actually bought the Cliff's notes because I needed to set the book down for a few days at a time. When I picked it up again, I found the Cliff's notes useful to help me engage again without a lot of looking back through the book for all the twists and turns in the plot and lives of the characters.
This is a great novel in every respect, but it is not a happy one. It captures the harsh reality of the French Revolution in deep way. If you are studying the French Revolution, I would say it's a must read to truly get the spirit of what was going on. I don't believe history books can do it justice, you need the inside view which this provides.
Lastly, if you are simply enjoy a good story, you will like this. Don't expect a "everyone lived happily ever" type ending, however. This is heavy stuff, almost in the spirit of a Russian existentialist novel.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
I will never, the rest of my life forget these two sentences. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness...." and at closing "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."
Wow, this is not your usual Dickens. No quirky characters with strange names and laugh out loud moments, just a darn good story -- the story of two cities, London and Paris. It is difficult to put the plot into words, but when the book begins you are in London at the time of the American revolution and spies (or suspected spies) abound, and the story eventually switches to France prior to and during the French revolution.
Dickens does a marvelous job (as always) of building his story one step at a time and slowly peeling back the layers one at a time. This is not a put down and pick it up a week later kind of a book, it is very intense and complicated and you have to pay close attention. I was just floored at how he sucked me in with his descriptions of the mobs, terror and the madness of the revolution leading you to a nail biting finish. I admit to holding my breath during those last few pages!
Highly recommended, and well worth the time to discover (or rediscover) an old classic.
40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 1999
I just finished reading this book in my 9th grade Honors english class, and I have to say that I loved it! It was terribly boring at first--very hard reading! And Dickens IS VERY wordy; or, as my English teacher says, he likes to make his point and than slap you in the face with it several times until you get the point! Aside from that however, I really enjoyed the story. I laughed with my friends over the mini battle between Madame Defarge and Miss Pross, and cried with them at Sydney Carton's courage(he made Charles Darnay look meaningless). Although this classic story is by far one of the best I've ever read (Black Beauty is THE best), I don't think I could have enjoyed it nearly as much without my wonderful English teacher explaining every "difficult" section-- and pointing out the humor that Dickens uses, and which many overlook. To fully enjoy this book, you have to read "between the lines", but if you have the patience to do this, I gaurentee you will love this book as much as I do!
45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2011
I did not realize that, to avoid being scammed, it was necessary to read a complete description of this product, including customer reviews, before purchasing. This book, listed as a paperback version of A Tale of Two Cities, is, in fact, a "retelling", I suppose for children! What an unscrupulous seller! There is an obvious intent to mislead here. Beware is right! Don't buy from this seller!
31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2000
This book will forever be one of my favorites. Charles Dickens, in this book more than any of his others, twists and sews the plot in circles, keeping the reader in suspense and a state of unknowing--all while the tension continues to build to a climax.
This is a story of so many topics. While the simple poor find themselves in a revolution attempting to oust the aristocracy for their wealth and luxury in a time of so little, Dickens focuses on the struggle of one man and his beloved friends trying to stay alive. And in their attempt, tales of utter hatred and cruelty take place at the hands of both sides of the Revolution, with the plot stuck between the two. Forgiveness, sacrifice, devotion....the novel strikes upon so many human emotions.
And the ending--the ending you will never forget. It will impact and inspire you. Dickens has a beautiful style of writing for audiences. Reading the words at face value tells a terrific story. But Dickens always has a second or third meaning to them all. In this story he comments upon humanity itself, and in that way, we can all learn something of ourselves.
I highly recommend this novel. Wow.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2003
There is so much to say about A Tale of Two Cities that one hardly knows where to begin. The scene of our book is the French Revolution. It is a time in history when the french peasants, horrifically treated by the nobility, revolted and caused what is known as 'the terrors'. It is a time when people can be accused in secret, tried summarily, and then tortured and beheaded. Many, many people were beheaded on a daily basis, sixty, or more, at a time.
A Tale of Two Cities takes this story up by beginning with the story of Dr. Manette, who has spent fifteen years as a secret prisoner in a tower of the Bastille. He is rescued by an old servant, Monsieur Defarge, who turns him over to his daughter Lucie. Lucie, who has always thought her father dead, takes care of her mentally damaged father and helps restore him to his health and sanity.
We also meet Charles Darnay, who Lucie eventually comes to love and marry. Turns out, unfortunately, that Charles is actually living in England under and assumed name, because he is really a french nobleman, much hated in his mother country. When Charles is called back to Paris to clear the name of an old servant he is imprisoned. Much of the story is then spent in the effort to get Charles out of prison, and his family safely out of Paris.
The story is too complicated and wonderfully intricate to describe in full here. There are many other characters which are all important. For those who loves suspence, A Tale of Two Cities holds many surprises and will keep you wondering the entire time. There are loves unrequitted, acts of horror, deep sadnesses, and acts of perfect heroism. This story will bring tears to your eyes.
As a piece of literature, A Tale of Two Cities is unsurpassed. The writing is beautiful! This book begins and ends with two of the most famous lines in all of literature. The words are truely poetic. The prose is full, deep, and perfectly moody. Dickens does an excellent job of painting not just the scenes for us, but the feel of the time. He makes you experience the weight of the drudgery the peasants experienced, the horror of the terrors, the grief of the mourner, and the triumph of the human spirit. Read this book, you cannot be disappointed.