Brad's Reviews > A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
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Mar 22, 09

bookshelves: most-hated, classic

A painful beast of a book. It took me five attempts to get past page one hundred, and when I finally did break that barrier I pressed on until the very end so that I didn't have to suffer ever again.

Dickens is a problem for me. I admit it freely.

There was a time, many years ago, when I was a fan. I read Great Expectations for the first time in grade four, and I was in love with the book and Dickens. And I imagine that some part of my social consciousness, which wasn't a gift from my parents, was planted with the seeds of Dickens.

Over the years, though, Dickens and I have grown apart.

I don't mean that I have "outgrown" him in any sort of condescending manner. It's not the sort of thing I expect anyone else to do, nor is it something that I blame fully on Dickens. No, we've grown apart as many couples do when one person changes through life and experience and the other remains constant.

I have become a radical over the years, and Dickens...well, he's still as bourgeois left as ever, and we're not compatible any more. He venerates the comforts of the middle class; he expounds the virtues of law and order and charity; he attacks the indignities of the abuses of power but only offers imaginary methods for overcoming them, mythologizing the bourgeoisie's ability to overthrow the things that ail us; he vilifies those who seek more radical solutions; and, whether he admits it or not, he still believes in the superiority of nobility and noble blood.

So when he starts to attack the revolutionaries in Paris and uses it to illustrate the "superiority" of civilized English behavior, when Dickens' moral soapbox weighs heavier than his plot, I begin to tune out of his lecture, and A Tale of Two Cities makes me increasingly angry from page to page.

I recognize Dickens' talent. I still love his prose. And I get why people love this book, and maybe even why you do, kind reader, but I can't stand it (and I am finding it increasingly difficult to like any of his work anymore).

I may burn this someday. But I have fully annotated the version I own and while I can burn the words of others (it's the radical in me), my lovely inner narcissist simply can't burn words of my own (unless it is for catharsis). So A Tale of Two Cities will likely survive on my shelf until I die, mocking me from its high perch in my office, whispering that a catharsis that may never come just may be necessary.
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Comments (showing 1-37 of 37) (37 new)

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message 1: by Sandi (new)

Sandi I admire you for even being able to make it through this tome.


message 2: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad Hahaha...thanks, Sandi. Now I have David Copperfield sitting there on my to-read pile. I am a sucker for punishment apparently.


message 3: by Trevor (new)

Trevor I struggled with this and stopped and never restarted at about he same place you stopped the first few times. But I don't like Dickens. I find him very heavy handed and his editorialising gets in the way for me.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads I like Dickens; but I think this is easily his worst novel.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Review from my daughter, who had to read it for her English class: "It sucked."


message 7: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad Here I thought everyone was going to be appalled by my disdain, and lookee here...actual support. Thank your daughter for me, M.


Lori (Hellian) I remember loving this book in middle school, so I tried to reread a few years ago, gave up because I was bored silly. I've tried to read other Dickens, but again got bored. There. I've said it. I find Dickens boring. *gasp*


message 9: by Brad (last edited Mar 22, 2009 03:41PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad Wow! I may have started something here. Maybe we should start an anti-Dickens group and pick one book a year to bitch about non-stop.


Lori (Hellian) But that would require we read the book!


message 11: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad maybe we could each take a chapter and report back on what we've read. then we wouldn't have to and we could still bitch about it.


message 12: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Moorhouse I like Tale of Two Cities. La! I also think the evocation of childhood in David Copperfield is some of the best writing ever on that subject. But la again!


message 13: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad Hahaha! I knew I'd bring somebody out as a fan of Dickens when I said, "Here I thought everyone was going to be appalled by my disdain, and lookee here...actual support." I do like Great Expectations, still.


message 14: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Moorhouse Hah! :D

Great Expectations is a master work.


message 15: by Emilly R (new)

Emilly R I am so glad to hear, that native English speaking people are having trouble reading this book.I am only in te beginning it has being like that for six months.I am sorry for being so gleeful.


Jennie I remember trying to read this monster in high school. It was the only book that I didn't read and instead just read the Cliffs Notes. The only Dickens I have successfully gotten through is Great Expectations and I was about 12 when I read it. I have no desire to read any of his other work. So, basically, I agree. This book sucks and I'm not a Dickens fan. =)


Andrew Ever wonder why Charles Dickens is famous? Good writing. Ever wonder why his books have been read over. and over. and over again? Good stories. Sure an opinion is an opinion, and just because you don't like it doesn't mean I need to attack you, but still, remember that it's a famous author.


message 18: by Brad (last edited May 27, 2009 06:37PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad "Ever wonder why Charles Dickens is famous?" Uh, because he was writing novels in a near void (as one of my favourite goodreaders, Ceridwen, pointed out in a recent discussion). "Ever wonder why his books have been read over and over and over again?" Because a few are truly great (e.g. Great Expectations, David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol) while the mediocre and the poor (e.g. A Tale of Two Cities) ride the coattails of the great. And as for him being a famous author, well...argumentum ad verecundiams don't do anything for me.


message 19: by Trevor (new)

Trevor And that is really true, Andrew - and tastes change over time. My problem with Dickens has always been his tendency to tell me how to feel. As much as I don't like any of the modern cliches about writing, I think one of the things that has changed and that is for the best is that writers are much less likely to editorialise their stories - that whole 'show, don't tell' thing. Even Dickens' best works tend to tell you how to respond that can be annoying - at least, to me. In fact, it generally stops me reading him. His stories are very good - and I have often found that I enjoy films of his works much more than the words themselves.

But as you say, he is considered one of the greatest writers in our language - so, who am I to criticise?


message 20: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad Trevor wrote: "But as you say, he is considered one of the greatest writers in our language - so, who am I to criticise?..."

You're Trevor McCandless, and your criticism is always worth reading (and I hope you know I write this with no sense of irony).




message 21: by Emilly R (new)

Emilly R Dear Brad,i agree with your criticism of Dickens and how irrelevant the life of those characters seens to be.The nobility is such small minority group


message 22: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad Thanks, Emily.


Carol I had to read this book for a bookclub a few years back and decided to listen to it. Maybe that is the way to go with Dickens - have a professional narrator read it to you. This book piqued my interest in the French Revolution, so that was a positive thing. I was in Paris a few weeks ago and kept looking out for Madam Defarge.


message 24: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad Carol wrote: "This book piqued my interest in the French Revolution, so that was a positive thing. I was in Paris a few weeks ago and kept looking out for Madam Defarge...."

I bet you could have found her ancestor in some crazy Paris knitting circle ;)




message 25: by Jena (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jena I agree completely.
It's nice to see someone else share my...uh...displeasure with this novel beyond the sentiment of "I had to read it in high school and I hate reading so this book sucked."
I think the main problem with TOTC is that Dickens spent all his time writing the opening and ending sentence and then no time at all writing the actual book.


message 26: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad It's definitely good to know that we're not alone. I wonder, though, how many people just keep quiet about their frustration with authors like Dickens. Smacking down one of the greats can lead to a lot of heat from fans.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Oh, I like Dickens plenty. Just not this particular novel.


message 28: by John (new) - rated it 2 stars

John It is quite odd, as this novel is really nothing like his others.
There's no satire at all ; not even the goofy, Germanic style satire that Dickens usually has.


message 29: by Bob (new)

Bob Jove You did not like the book because of the difficulties it pocessed. I recall that it showed that France was in a revolution, yet England wasn't/ Dickens described France as a the chaotic mess it became during that revolution. As for you having trouble reading page 100. I am 11, and only had trouble reading pages 1 to 60. You all are complaining about how it was bad. For starters, it is famous because it is an amazing Novel. You all couldn't even handle it. I had a troubles I admit it, but I showed some balls and finished it. I was so touched by the ending, I am upset you even criticize it. I would not be upset if you were an actual critic, thus having gaining a lot of knowledge about reading, and why complaining for a scholar is ok. A scholar of reading has rights to criticize because they know what they're are talking about. Thus leaving one thing Brad you look like a dumbass who failed college and likes complaining about things


message 30: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad Are you sure you're eleven, Bob? Loved your message. Thanks for the comedy.


message 31: by Lisa (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lisa Faye "I have become a radical over the years, and Dickens...well, he's still as bourgeois left as ever, and we're not compatible any more. He venerates the comforts of the middle class; he expounds the virtues of law and order and charity; he attacks the indignities of the abuses of power but only offers imaginary methods for overcoming them, mythologizing the bourgeoisie's ability to overthrow the things that ail us; he vilifies those who seek more radical solutions; and, whether he admits it or not, he still believes in the superiority of nobility and noble blood." --> You have EXACTLY described my feelings about Dickens! But I also continue to find him on my reading list for some masochistic reason. Just starting "A Tale of Two Cities" and I have "A Christmas Carol" on the shelf. I most recently complained about "Oliver Twist". Not sure why I keep doing this to myself, but here goes...


message 32: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad Nice to find a fellow sufferer, Lisa, though I have to say that I quite like Christmas Carol. That could just be nostalgia, though. Looking forward to your review.


message 33: by Wendy (new) - rated it 1 star

Wendy Terry Most boring book ever!


message 34: by Darkpandora (last edited Oct 21, 2012 02:22AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Darkpandora I understand your interpretation of the novel as you consider that Dickens is a "left bourgeois".

As far as I am concerned, I had no opinion about the author's doings and political views before I opened it, so I did not interpret the story as you did. As a French reader, this novel has much meaning to me and the History of my country. I've always been proud of our Revolution and even, in a childish misunderstanding, of the beheading of Louis XVI.

But the historical sources Dickens used are very accurate and reading the novel made me think about that pride I've cherished ever since I learnt about that part of our past, when I was very young. If it is sadly true that the nobles opressed the French people and that the power had to be overthrown and the criminals punished, it is also true that the people who had Louis XVI put to death did become just as tyrannical as the nobles they killed. The era was explicitly named "La terreur" as people were put to death for the sake of it, even when they were innocent.

I liked the way Dickens managed to show that one side was not better than the other. That manicheism does not exist. When you think of it, the same things keep happening, even nowadays. Tyranical powers are being replaced by others, only a few get out while the going is good, but the others still have to undergo the same sufferings. Dickens managed to show this brilliantly in A Tale of Two Cities, in my opinion.


message 35: by Brad (new) - rated it 1 star

Brad Fantastic response, Darkpandora. Thanks for sharing that.


Darkpandora Lol! I did not think it would sound fantastic! :) I hope it can reconcile you a little with Dickens then.

This was the first Dickens novel I've ever read and I must say I love his style, everything fits together, no word is present in the text randomly and I like the ironic comments he makes now and then (they sometimes remind me of Thomas Hardy's irony). The plot is well thought and built up little by little to lead the reader to the intense and tragic end.

I can't wait to read more of his novels (but there are others I have to read before that...)


Darkpandora Emilly R wrote: "Dear Brad,i agree with your criticism of Dickens and how irrelevant the life of those characters seens to be.The nobility is such small minority group"

Don't forget, Emily, that back then the nobility may have been a small group but they were all-powerful on the population: Why do you think we French (ok, not me.... I was not born then) beheaded the King and Queen? They were the symbol of the nobility they hated so much and who used them at will. The Poor were overworked, girls and women were used as sexual objects and had to submit to the nobles' will and the whole population was overtaxed and starving.

The story may sound irrelevant nowadays to us who are lucky to live in decent conditions, but it is totally relevant to the situation of 1789 in France.


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