Candi's Reviews > A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
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bookshelves: classics-shelf, charles-dickens, book-i-own

"A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!"

It has been quite some time since I’ve read Charles Dickens, excepting of course A Christmas Carol, which is an absolute favorite of mine, and a handful of his other Christmas short stories. Upon joining Goodreads eight years ago, A Tale of Two Cities was the very first book I entered as ‘want to read’. Well, time flies and here I am finally having picked up my copy and actually reading this beloved-by-many classic. While this one doesn’t take the prize for most cherished of novels on my personal list, I absolutely admired this masterpiece. In fact, it is a work that for me was more appreciated as a whole rather than for its individual parts. I needed to complete this to fully grasp the plot and the overall merit of the novel. The final portion was entirely compelling and quite brilliant, in fact.

This is a novel, as the title suggests, of two cities… that of London and that of Paris. It is a historical fiction work beginning in 1775 which then takes us further into the depths and horrors of the French Revolution. There is an abundance of mystery that I was not expecting, but thoroughly enjoyed. In addition to the juxtaposition of the two cities, we also see the contrasts between good and evil, hope and despair, death and rebirth. As suggested in my opening quote, secrets abound and are slowly revealed. Characters are drawn well, as one would naturally expect from Dickens, although I never quite felt the emotional tug towards any of them, until near the end. But when I did reach this point, gosh it was worth it! Sydney Carton… an unforgettable man… sigh. "I have had the weakness, and have still the weakness, to wish you to know with what a sudden mastery you kindled me, heap of ashes that I am, into fire - a fire, however, inseparable in its nature from myself, quickening nothing, lighting nothing, doing no service, idly burning away." This is a love story, a tale of injustice, of human suffering, and of sacrifice.

When the reader steps through the gates of Paris, one can feel the tension and sense the shadow of what is to come… the atmosphere is so charged with insecurity, suspicion, and dread. "The time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be red upon many there." The madness of the masses is frightening - there are no apologies and no exceptions. If you are born with the wrong blood, happen to land in the wrong place at the wrong time, or sympathize with the accused and the condemned, your life is in danger. The threat of the Guillotine looms like a monster over the people of the city. "Every day, through the stony streets, the tumbrils now jolted heavily, filled with Condemned. Lovely girls; bright women, brown-haired, black-haired, and grey; youths; stalwart men and old; gentle born and peasant born; all red wine for La Guillotine, all daily brought into light from the dark cellars of the loathsome prisons, and carried to her through the street to slake her devouring thirst. Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; - the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!" It is heartless and pities no one, much like Madame Defarge.

I feel as if I should be providing a more ‘scholarly’ review of this tremendous work, but I’m not quite up to the task; and you can find a plethora of excellent and more erudite reviews all over Goodreads! I’m really just here to express my personal reaction and feelings towards this one. Quite simply, the writing is excellent, but the story itself failed to grab me initially. At this same time last year, I read Les Misérables – an extraordinary piece of literature without a doubt. I could not help comparing this Dicken’s novel with that of Hugo’s. What was lacking in Two Cities for me was the existence of a character like Jean Valjean, a character so vivid and so sharply drawn that it seems I literally spent weeks in the mind of this tortured soul. Probably, it is not fair to make this comparison, but there you have it. I felt distanced from Dickens’ characters quite a bit more… at least for a good portion of the book. I’m very pleased that I persevered, however, as I was able to reap the benefits of my commitment upon finishing the last words. The development of Sydney Carton was rewarding and the ending of this tale was breathtaking. I don’t often re-read novels, but this one is certainly going to fall in the category of ‘even better the second time around’ – I feel certain of this. My rating is at a firm 4 stars, with the hope that someday the re-read will edge it up to the full 5.

"Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious licence and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind."
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Reading Progress

April 25, 2010 – Shelved
October 29, 2014 – Shelved as: classics-shelf
March 14, 2015 – Shelved as: charles-dickens
April 27, 2015 – Shelved as: book-i-own
October 1, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
February 27, 2018 – Started Reading
March 20, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-42 of 42 (42 new)

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Debra Wonderful Review Candi!


message 2: by Luffy (new)

Luffy Debra wrote: "Wonderful Review Candi!"

I agree!


Sara Excellent review. I can understand what you are saying about the difference between this novel and Les Miserables. From an emotional pov, Hugo certainly has the edge there.


message 4: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Ansbro Despite feeling you haven't come up with a 'scholarly' appraisal of this book, you have nevertheless produced a fabulous review.
Dickens is one of my top five authors (I read all his books long before joining Goodreads) and dip into A Christmas Carol every December.
Great job, Candi!


Candi Thank you, Debra and Luffy!


Candi Sara wrote: "Excellent review. I can understand what you are saying about the difference between this novel and Les Miserables. From an emotional pov, Hugo certainly has the edge there."

Thank you, Sara. I think I was on the wrong track and had a different expectation for this book when I started out. This is why I feel confident that I will enjoy it even more with a future re-read. I feel like I missed so much the first time around, and when I got through the last section as well as reading through my notes, it all came together so wonderfully for me :)


Candi Kevin wrote: "Despite feeling you haven't come up with a 'scholarly' appraisal of this book, you have nevertheless produced a fabulous review.
Dickens is one of my top five authors (I read all his books long bef..."


Thanks so much, Kevin! I'm really keen to read one of his other masterpieces now, rather than waiting too long. I have quite a few left unread as of yet, so plenty from which to choose!


message 8: by Bionic Jean (new) - added it

Bionic Jean A lovely review, thanks Candi!

Dickens loved his mysteries - his writing is packed with them :)


message 9: by Diane (new)

Diane Barnes You manage to write great reviews about everything, Candi. I read this just a few years ago, and felt like it filled a hole in my cultural literacy education, but it's not my favorite Dickens either, although I haven't read all of them by any means.


message 10: by Rita (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rita Your review is wonderful as always. Jean and I are at odds on this book. It is my favorite Dickens right now but there are several I have not read. I have set my sights on Bleak House. I saw the original movie of it starring Ronald Colman, many years ago on TV and loved it. I wanted to watch it again but all 4 of the versions are in my Netflix saved section of my queue because they are not currently available.


message 11: by Jen (new)

Jen Wonderful review of a classic!


message 12: by Bionic Jean (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Rita wrote: "Your review is wonderful as always. Jean and I are at odds on this book ..."

Are you sure Rita? I gave it 5 stars in my recent review. (For some reason GR is linking here to a comic book version which I also have on my shelves "to read" grrr!)

Excuse me Candi :)


message 13: by Julie (new) - added it

Julie Candi,
I haven't read it since high school, but I do remember that the story made me sob. I've been wanting to reread it for years. Maybe you'll inspire me.


Laysee Excellent review, Candi. It evoked a rich sense of place in a far flung era. I need to read this. Dickens is the first classical novelist I read in school and I love him.


message 15: by Svetlana (new)

Svetlana Candi, you always give such wonderful reviews and it’s always a pleasure to read them. I’ve only ever read Great Expectations by Dickens but it’s become one of my all time fav novels. I love that book a lot and there’s a huge lesson to be learnt from it too! an outstanding review 💕


message 16: by Dem (new)

Dem Nice review Candi.


Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader Lovely review, Candi! I read this in 9th grade and remember the experience vividly, and you are absolutely right about characters. The characters did not leave a lasting impression on me. My favorite from Dickens is Great Expectations. If you haven’t read it, it has more characterization. 😊


message 18: by Julie (new)

Julie Fantastic review, Candi!! I need to start reading more classics! You have inspired me! 😊


Candi Jean wrote: "A lovely review, thanks Candi!

Dickens loved his mysteries - his writing is packed with them :)"


Thank you, Jean! I don't know why I did not expect the mystery here; perhaps only because I thought this to be one of his only historical fiction novels - of course, that doesn't mean it can't have a mystery within as well! I was delighted it did :)


Candi Diane wrote: "You manage to write great reviews about everything, Candi. I read this just a few years ago, and felt like it filled a hole in my cultural literacy education, but it's not my favorite Dickens eithe..."

Diane, it is very kind of you to say so :) Thank you. This book was not required reading for any of my courses, so I felt I was lacking as well and am happy to finally fill that gap.


Candi Rita wrote: "Your review is wonderful as always. Jean and I are at odds on this book. It is my favorite Dickens right now but there are several I have not read. I have set my sights on Bleak House...."

Thanks very much, Rita. I'm fairly certain that Jean loves all Dickens, and I see she rated this one a 5?... Ah yes, she says here that she does! She's definitely my go-to Dickens expert! I hope you get a chance to read Bleak House. I did read that one and certainly recommend it :)


Candi Jen wrote: "Wonderful review of a classic!"

Thank you, Jen! :)


Candi Marita wrote: "Wonderful review, Candi. It is difficult to review well-loved classics which have already been reviewed a zillion times, but you did an admirable job."

Thanks so much, Marita. It really is tricky to try to provide any kind of additional insight on the classics, so your comment is much appreciated :)


Candi Julie wrote: "Candi,
I haven't read it since high school, but I do remember that the story made me sob. I've been wanting to reread it for years. Maybe you'll inspire me."


Oh yes, Julie - I admit to needing a tissue... or two. You should definitely read it again. It would be a sort of palate cleanser for you, lol! And, a good cry is probably in order very soon :)


Candi Laysee wrote: "Excellent review, Candi. It evoked a rich sense of place in a far flung era. I need to read this. Dickens is the first classical novelist I read in school and I love him."

Thank you, Laysee! My very first Dickens was a very old, musty copy of David Copperfield I found in a box when my parents moved into a new home. It was apparently my grandfather's copy - and who knows where it came from before then!


Candi Svetlana wrote: "Candi, you always give such wonderful reviews and it’s always a pleasure to read them. I’ve only ever read Great Expectations by Dickens but it’s become one of my all time fav novels. I love that b..."

Svetlana, thanks for such a generous complement :) I loved Great Expectations too. I hope that you can find some time to squeeze in another Dickens somewhere - they really are such a joy to read. I have to decide which one is next on my list now!


Candi Dem wrote: "Nice review Candi."

Thank you, Dem :)


Candi Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader wrote: "Lovely review, Candi! I read this in 9th grade and remember the experience vividly, and you are absolutely right about characters. The characters did not leave a lasting impression on me. My favori..."

Thank you, Jennifer! Characterization is at the top of my 'required' elements in a great book. I have read Great Expectations already, although it's another I'd like to re-read someday. I guess I'll try to make it through all of his novels once and then start over again :)


Candi Julie wrote: "Fantastic review, Candi!! I need to start reading more classics! You have inspired me! 😊"

Thank you, Julie! I love to slip a classic in here and there. I am almost always rewarded for doing this, so it's definitely worth the extra time that it takes to read many of them!


message 30: by Esil (new)

Esil Fabulous review, Candi. I keep meaning to go back to Dickens.


Candi Esil wrote: "Fabulous review, Candi. I keep meaning to go back to Dickens."

Thank you, Esil. So many authors... so many books!


Cheri Excellent review, Candi, I read this many years ago. I think three years ago, I finally got around to reading the first book I added to my goodreads to-read shelf, and reading your review reminds me how good that felt!


message 33: by Fran (new)

Fran Excellent review, Candi. My all time favorite book!


message 34: by Wyndy (new)

Wyndy Wow, Candi - superb! Have to say I love the word "erudite," and this review is just that 👍


Candi Fran wrote: "Excellent review, Candi. My all time favorite book!"

Thank you, Fran! An all time favorite - awesome!


Candi Wyndy wrote: "Wow, Candi - superb! Have to say I love the word "erudite," and this review is just that 👍"

Thanks so much, Wyndy! One of my favorite words - you are too kind! :)


message 37: by Piyangie (new) - added it

Piyangie Wonderful review, Candi. I haven't read it, but looking forward to at a future time.


Candi Piyangie wrote: "Wonderful review, Candi. I haven't read it, but looking forward to at a future time."

Thank you, Piyangie. When you get to it, I will be eager to hear what you think of it :)


message 39: by Dana (new)

Dana Stellar review, Candi! I need to revisit some of the classics and read those I haven’t...which are many!


Candi Dana wrote: "Stellar review, Candi! I need to revisit some of the classics and read those I haven’t...which are many!"

Thank you very much, Dana! It's such a good feeling to get some of these read - plus, very rewarding in most cases :)


message 41: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Metcalf Wonderful review Candi. About the time you added this to your TBR I purchased it, started it and cast it aside. I had loved other works by Charles Dickens but didn't connect with this one. Your review makes me think I should give it another try.


Candi Thank you, Sharon. I can understand that you set it aside. I nearly did at first too. I think if you can stick through the first portion, then it will definitely pay off later. It's just a matter of how much you might want to plow through to get to that point!


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