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Oliver Twist (Penguin Classics) Paperback – April 29, 2003
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"The power of [Dickens] is so amazing, that the reader at once becomes his captive, and must follow him whithersoever he leads."
--William Makepeace Thackeray
About the Author
Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, in Landport, Portsea, England. He died in Kent on June 9, 1870. The second of eight children of a family continually plagued by debt, the young Dickens came to know not only hunger and privation,but also the horror of the infamous debtors’ prison and the evils of child labor. A turn of fortune in the shape of a legacy brought release from the nightmare of prison and “slave” factories and afforded Dickens the opportunity of two years’ formal schooling at Wellington House Academy. He worked as an attorney’s clerk and newspaper reporter until his Sketches by Boz (1836) and The Pickwick Papers (1837) brought him the amazing and instant success that was to be his for the remainder of his life. In later years, the pressure of serial writing, editorial duties, lectures, and social commitments led to his separation from Catherine Hogarth after twenty-three years of marriage. It also hastened his death at the age of fifty-eight, when he was characteristically engaged in a multitude of work.
Philip Horne is a Reader in English at UCL. He is author of the acclaimed Henry James: A Life in Letters and editor of James' The Tragic Muse for Penguin.
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I am happy I stuck with it. It still felt wordy to me at times, but I enjoyed relaxing and taking in the old language. I found Mr. Dickens' writing to be rich, in a way any era might respect, if using an open mind. I chuckled a hundred times, wept a few, and cheered as well. I loved its protagonists and despised its villains. It is a masterpiece for a reason. Dickens draws a character without fear or shyness of overindulgence. His people can seem almost caricatures visually... but in a most believable way per substance.
Pip's mistakes, I found, mirrored some of my own and in this way I see that time does march on even as we humans remain, well, imperfectly human. The story actually felt comforting to me. The very last paragraph left me wondering in a way that did feel like just a little bit of a letdown... but all in all I feel my time reading was truly well invested. A pleasure.
Some of Dickens' earlier novels are overloaded with a large cast of characters. However, by the time he wrote his later books such as Hard Times and Great Expectations he had successfully learned how to tell his stories with smaller ensembles. A Tale of Two Cities returns to the use of an abundance of characters, but all of whom are fully realized. Dickens seems to have learned a principle of parsimony, and he does not require a separate character for each plot twist. A single character may be used for more than a single line of plot development, thus allowing for greater depth of each character to be depicted.
The narrative and plot are particularly strong in A Tale of Two Cities. While perhaps not as exciting or as gripping as the latest Robert Ludlum novel, the story Dickens tells is an interesting and engaging one. The reader develops a genuine interest in the story and its characters, and wants to keep reading in order to "find out what happens next."
The context of the novel is the French Revolution of 1789, but this book is not a historical novel in the sense that it attempts to portray the events of that revolution. The French Revolution is a backdrop to Dickens' story, and occasionally intrudes in order to move the action forward. Those looking to A Tale of Two Cities as a historical fiction covering the French Revolution will be sorely disappointed. The book is exactly what its title suggests: a story comparing and contrasting two cities in two different countries in a particular historical epoch. The French and the English had their differences, and it is telling that Dickens chooses an era in which the two countries are *not* at war with each other for telling his story.
A Tale of Two Cities is a novel about character, and Dickens populates his story with some of the most interesting characters in English literature. Madame Defarge and her assiduous knitting stands out in particular. Surprisingly, the book lacks some of the psychological depth of Hard Times and Great Expectations, the two books which respectively precede and follow A Tale of Two Cities. The psychological element is not entirely missing, but this reader finds it interesting that a book so founded on character does not delve deeply into those characters' inner lives.
Dickens considered A Tale of Two Cities his best story, and indeed it is a good story well told. The stereotypical Victorian language is virtually absent, and many passages are sheer poetry. The book is a thoroughly enjoyable read. If a reader is seeking only a single Dickens book to read, this is the one I would recommend.
This edition is very cheaply made. The cover looks nice online, but in person it screams cheap. The cover is just high gloss cardboard.
The pages are printed on cheap paper. The illustrations are small and indistinct. I was planning to give this as a gift but it was just too tacky. I ended up purchasing the Barnes and Noble faux leather bound version (also sold by Amazon - and for a lot less money). The B&N edition is beautiful. The cover is embossed with gold and silver, the edges of the pages are gilded. No illustrations are included, but that doesn't detract from the story. The B&N edition will make a fine gift.