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A Tale of Two Cities – Book Review [NOTE: There are some spoilers in this review.] I originally picked A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens because I already knew the book’s title and that the author wrote A Christmas Carol. Surprisingly, it was in fact a pleasurable novel to read. The novel is divided into three sections. The first one was dedicated to introducing the main characters and setting up the general plot of the story. The second one watching the personal drama of our main characters in London while the escalation of the revolution goes on in Paris. The third happens primarily in France, and it sees the climax of its plot at the end. In this review, I will mainly focus upon what I thought of the books main themes. The book certainly warrants from me a reread sometime in the future, since it contains lots of symbolic ideas and motifs that may have missed when reading. I identified two main ideas: duality and symmetry between adverse ideas and people, as well as the idea of resurrection and fulfillment of life’s purpose. The main theme in this novel was a more-evident contrast of opposites, as well as a more-discreet acknowledgement of shared traits between opposites. The “two cities” part is a highly crucial key to understanding this theme. Britain was considered a relatively moderate and conservative country from the 1700s onwards. In this novel, London and Britain are a Some democratic and Enlightenment elements had filtered through, but gradually, and not to any extreme that would seriously disrupt tradition. France, on the other hand, was a country that, especially between the late 1700s and late 1800s, saw unprecedented change between extremes ranging from strong absolutism to anarcho-socialism to conservative republicanism and everywhere in between. This is evident in the novel, where the French populace was in abject poverty, while France’s absolutist rulers were cruelly hubris to their subjects. Charles Darnay was imprisoned and had treasonous sentences applied or nearly applied to him earlier on in London, and later on in Paris. Doctor Manette was imprisoned unfairly by the French aristocratic government for eighteen years, and even though he escaped, later in life he would see his son-in-law be unfairly imprisoned in France like him. It’s entirely ironic and, historically speaking, tragically common for the revolutionaries, seeking to overthrow their maddened administration of nobles, to create a new order just as unfair, insane, and cruel as the first one was. The novel points out the fallibility of the law in both of these cities, even in London, where tradition and order supposed are just. The same judge who had tried Darnay at court in London would years later try him in Paris. There are tensions between the different classes of both Britain and France, and there are also many people trying to go about with similar lives to each other. What should be kept in mind is a bit of contextualization. A Tale of Two Cities was written in 1862 by the English author Charles Dickens. England and France, while they had, for centuries, fought and competed between each other for power, were becoming increasingly close. The 20th century and even today clearly demonstrate the strength of the Anglo-French Entente. From what I know from history, the alliance between Britain and France was mainly progressed starting in the 1850s, between the British Queen Victoria and French Emperor Napoleon III. They fought together in the Crimean War against Russia, and the warming relations were occurring at the time of this serial’s publication. I believe that the trend of the time between France and Britain may be a main topic that was focused upon by DIckens. The symmetry and resemblance between the two countries may have been purposefully implied by him in order to persuade readers about trying to mend the psychological gap between his British readers and not only the French, but everyone else. Another theme, although probably not as overarching as the first, was the idea of resurrection and a return to life from death. This is most evident in the Book the First: the title is literally “Recalled to Life,” and it was called that because of the return of Doctor Manette into the lives of his friends and loved ones. Lucie Manette had thought of her father as long gone from being in a French prison, but to her surprise, he ends up being released. It takes a long time for Doctor Manette to recover, however, because his mental state had far deteriorated during his imprisonment, but eventually Manette really recovered. Sydney Carton throughout the novel laments his life, which he considers pointless and inferior to his apparent doppelganger, Charles Darnay. Carton decides to, at the end of the novel, trade fates with Darnay so that Carton would be executed while Darnay would return to life with his family. In this sense, Carton’s execution was ironically his symbolic birth, since his noble sacrifice finally gave him a great purpose in life. To conclude, life and purpose can be re-created for people even after supposed death and pointlessness. One of the only issues I had with the novel was the introduction. In its beginning, it jumps between plotlines involving Mr. Lowry and Jerry Cruncher, Lucie Manette, the DeFarge family in Paris, Dr. Manette. It was very confusing as a reader; many new settings and people were being introduced, and more importantly, these plot details didn’t really link at first. Only after the first few chapters of the second book did I finally link most of the characters together thematically, and after that, everything from then on could be comprehendable within the story’s framework. Overall, this novel was very enjoyable to read. While I was puzzled by the beginning’s first few chapters, I eventually found my way through the story with ease. Dickens uses very complex diction throughout the work, and the sentence structure was very diverse as well. The character development was quite well done, especially considering the wide arrange of notable characters that were included in A Tale of Two Cities. You can really feel sympathy and real emotion towards nearly all of the main characters, including Doctor Manette and his daughter Lucie, as well as Charles Darnay and especially Sydney Carton by the end of the story. The tragic ending is portrayed in a beautifully and unexpectedly optimistic light, with Carton coming to realize that the sacrifice of his life means that all of those he loves, especially Lucie, will ultimately be well and happy. This novel cements Charles Dickens position as a major writer during the Industrial Revolution and Victorian Era in Britain.
Categories: Book Reviews