Werner's Reviews > A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
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's review
Mar 02, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: classics, historical-fiction, books-i-own
Recommended for: Fans of 19th century fiction
Read 2 times. Last read January 1, 1996.

Most of Dickens' novels were set in his own time; this was one of only two forays he made into historical fiction (both of which are set in the time of the generation immediately before his own, for which he could still draw on the impressions of living witnesses) but in it, he managed to produce one of the genre's timeless classics. All of the best traits of his writing are here: his unequaled characterizations, his mastery of plotting, his passionate sense of justice, his ability to evoke the atmosphere of his settings, and his capacity, as one critic has said, "to make us care about the things that matter." This is also probably the one novel, besides A Christmas Carol, that most clearly reflects his nondenominational but heartfelt Christian convictions --not so much because of the one passing narrative mention of Christ as "our Saviour," though that type of reference is rare in his writing, as because of the unmistakable Christian symbolism of the novel's climax, which is all the more powerful because its implications are left clear but unstated.

A Tale of Two Cities is also the Dickens novel most charged with socio-political relevance for today, because the present-day hard-core, totalitarian Left was born in the French Revolution (it's not at all surprising that Arthur Koestler's Stalinist characters in Darkness at Noon frequently make comparisons between themselves and the architects of the Terror!) Whole volumes could be written about the connections; but those wouldn't be strictly relevant to a review of a novel by Dickens, whose own perspective was circumscribed by the 19th century. What is relevant, though, is to note that he pegged and delineated the "humanitarian with a guillotine" mindset perfectly, in all of its stark, nauseating ugliness: its vicious self-righteousness, its utter absence of anything resembling compassion or human decency, its mindless group-think, its messianic zeal to create hell on earth in the chimerical pursuit of an imagined heaven on earth, and above all its fundamental moral springs of unbridled psychopathic hate and envy. A reading of this novel could furnish a better understanding of 20th and early 21st century political forces than most "standard" textbooks!
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
Started Reading
January 1, 1996 – Finished Reading
March 2, 2008 – Shelved
March 2, 2008 – Shelved as: classics
March 2, 2008 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
August 15, 2012 – Shelved as: books-i-own

Comments (showing 1-8)

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message 8: by Henrik (new)

Henrik Great review, Werner. I think you're quite right in your assesments of this Dickens story.

Werner Thanks, Henrik!

message 6: by Mahnoor (new)

Mahnoor Barkat Cool

Werner Thanks, Mahnoor!

Alice Poon Thanks for this insightful review. I have "A Tale of Two Cities" on my to-read list and your review has nudged me one step nearer to wanting to read it.

Werner Glad you liked the review, Alice. Hope you enjoy the book; I'll be interested in your review!

message 2: by Laura-Lee (new)

Laura-Lee I'm a big Dickens fan and I've never read this - "SHAME" on me! Why do you put up with me?
Thanks for taking the time to do such a thorough and intuitive review.
Sincerely, L-L

P.S. Can't wait to read a book by you filled with reviews of books, not by you. ;-)

Werner Nah, Laura-Lee, you're not one bit hard to put up with. :-) And thanks for the kind words about my review! (Even though I count Dickens as a favorite writer myself, there are still a lot of his books that I haven't read. But they're on my to-read shelf, and I'm hoping to remedy that eventually!)

One of our fellow Goodreaders, Manny Rayner, actually has self-published his Goodreads reviews to date as a book. That gave me the idea of doing something similar, except that I want it to include ALL the reviews I ever write, so I'm going to arrange for posthumous self-publication. (I've had the project in full swing for awhile --it's mostly just a matter of copying-and-pasting, editing and arranging the existing reviews; keeping it updated with new ones won't be as time-consuming.) So you might well get to read it, but (hopefully) you will have to wait for awhile! :-)

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