Bionic Jean's Reviews > A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
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it was amazing
bookshelves: 19th-century-ish, charles-dickens, classics, read-authors-c-d
Read 2 times. Last read September 25, 2016 to December 22, 2016.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ... it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”

So begins A Tale of Two Cities, a perennial favourite. It was an instant success when it was first published, and its popularity has remained steady ever since, as one of the best selling novels of all time. For many, it is their most loved novel by Charles Dickens.

A Tale of Two Cities is Dickens’s second shortest completed novel, possibly his tightest plotted and most dramatic novel, yet in many ways it is the least “Dickensian”. It is one of only two historical novels Dickens ever wrote, and he wanted to try out a few new ways of writing, to celebrate the launch of his new periodical.

At this time Dickens felt very at home in France, speaking French fluently, and identifying so much with the French character that he sometimes viewed himself as almost a Frenchman in exile. He despised any parochial or narrow-minded thinking he might see in English people, and frequently poked fun at them in his writing. He travelled extensively, and wherever he went he carried his friend, Thomas Carlyle’s “History of the French Revolution”, published in 1837, with him, reading it over and over again. Dickens jokingly claimed to have read the book 500 times. In truth he admired and revered his friend rather more than the feeling being reciprocated; Carlyle tended to view Dickens as a mere “novelist”. But Dickens was determined to meticulously research the historical background to his latest work, and used Carlyle’s book as a reference source.

Attempting to imbue his new way of writing with more gravitas, Dickens tried to curb, or at least subdue, some of his own habits of fanciful imagination. After criticism of his earlier slips in “Barnaby Rudge”, he had resolved to make this account, although fictionalised, an historically accurate a portrayal as possible. Along with the less discursive style, he paid less reliance on character development and humour, both more usual indicators of his style. Some readers maintain they do not associate Dickens with humour, and I personally feel that that is due in large part to their familiarity with his later works, especially this one. If this is the only Dickens novel one has read, it is possible to miss much of its quirky humour.

A Tale of Two Cities has been dramatised countless times, and in common with many others I am drawn to each dramatisation. The story is a violent and bloody one, with acts of heroism and intrigue, secrets and lies, imprisonment and torture, sorrow and loss, terror and madness, panic and frenzy. It describes in detail the depth of depravity a human can sink to, and also instances the pinnacle of an almost unimaginable force for compassion and altruism. The characters once read about here, stay in the mind for ever; they are spell-binding, whether good or evil. There is much mystery, and the development of the story is so tightly plotted that the tension mounts to almost unbearable limits. The horrors described are both explicit and totally believeable. After much thought, then, I have rated it five stars. A story which endures and continues to be retold, with images which permeate each new generation’s consciousness, which is so powerfully written and can move the reader to tears each time they read it, deserves no less.

Do I like it? No, not really. I have to steel myself to read this each time. But then I don’t enjoy Dostoevsky either, and Dickens was one of his favourite writers. So this takes nothing away from my reluctant admiration for the novel. It is a deeply spiritual work, with the main theme of resurrection sitting very firmly in a Christian context. Being “recalled to life” is a major theme throughout the novel; in fact Dickens at one time considered using “Recalled to Life” as the book’s title.

“Buried how long?”
The answer was always the same: “Almost eighteen years.”
You had abandoned all hope of being dug out?”
Long ago.”
You know that you are recalled to life?”
They tell me so.”


Of course the story is shrouded in mystery. “Recalled to life” refers to several strands and episodes in the story, as well as being a metaphor. It is possible to enjoy the story without necessarily picking up quite how embedded in the novel all the Christian references are. One might see a vaguely spiritual thread of redemption running through, and an idea of a better future life, without picking up on the myriad references to blood, river, cleansing, water, shrouds, love, light and golden threads binding families together.

Take one tiny but telling detail at the climax of the book,

“The murmuring of many voices, the upturning of many faces, the pressing on of many footsteps in the outskirts of the crowd, so that it swells forward in a mass, like one great heave of water, all flashes away. Twenty-Three.”

What, if anything, might the number 23 signify? The 23rd Psalm possibly? A psalm which is often understood by Christians as an allusion to the eternal life given by Christ? In the story, it refers to (view spoiler) The central message of the book is that sacrifice is necessary to achieve happiness, and this is a further pointer, reinforcing the idea. Dickens liked to make his meanings crystal clear.

A Tale of Two Cities has 45 chapters, and was published in 31 weekly instalments to boost the sale of Charles Dickens’s new literary magazine, “All the Year Round”. Between April and November 1859, Dickens also republished it as eight monthly sections in green covers. This was a departure from his usual way of working, since all but three of Dickens’s previous novels had appeared only as monthly instalments. He was therefore under even more time constraints to write each episode, and he felt this acutely. He did say at the time that he thought it was “the best thing he had ever written”, but he tended to say this a lot! His marriage to Catherine was coming to a painful and very public ending, and he was embroiled in a clandestine relationship with Ellen Ternan. As usual he was under a phenomenal amount of pressure, and was beginning to feel the weight of his commitments more than ever. This is reflected in the more sober feel of this novel.

Although written in 1859, A Tale of Two Cities is set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, and starts in 1775. It has a comparatively small cast for a novel by Dickens, and we follow just a few individuals through the years building up to the storming of the Bastille, a symbol of royal tyranny, in 1789, the dark years following, and the aftermath of the French Revolution. Although describing cataclysmic social and political events in France, the novel brings this to life by focusing on just a few characters, and the effect on their lives.

The intimacy with which we know these people, is contrasted with the mass hysteria of the crowds. We know these people; yet we also know and recognise the menace brimming just under the surface, the seething surges of hatred and panic, the mob mentality and the evil deeds people can be driven to by centuries of oppression and poverty, the hate and revenge engendered by a callous indifference to their suffering. A tiny detail from the beginning is when the cruel Marquis Evrémonde kills a child by running his cart over the boy, and is more concerned with whether any damage has been done to his carriage. This is an incredibly poignant scene, and we sense the brooding resentment and hatred; the heartless indifference and callous cruelty of the privileged aristocracy. The Marquis is an archetype of an evil and corrupt social order, almost the aristocracy’s “everybody”, but portrayed very convincingly as an individual.

For those who are reluctant to believe a classic novel can truly terrify or revolt them, please think again. An early depiction of a broken wine cask outside a wine shop, vividly describes the passing peasants’ savage and desperate scrambles to lap up any drops of the spilling wine.

“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”.

Such foreshadowing makes us shudder. We know from history what is to come. This grotesque and subhuman behaviour indicates both the starving poverty of the French peasants, and the metaphorical hunger for political freedoms. But there is no rhetoric here. We read an account of the wild dance of the terrifying desperation-fuelled manic ritualistic dance, the “Carmagnole”, and gruesome details of a person being hacked to death. Dickens’s descriptions force us to believe the novel’s contention, that violence is a natural part of any and all humans, given the right circumstances.

“Vengeance and retribution require a long time; it is the rule.”

“When the time comes, let loose a tiger and a devil; but wait for the time with the tiger and the devil chained—not shown—yet always ready.”


The “Reign of Terror” is well named. A surging mob of “horrible and cruel faces ... the wildest savages in their most barbarous disguise ... hideous ... all bloody and sweaty ... howling ... staring and glaring with beastly excitement.” Dickens knew people inside out. Not only is one of his characters named “the Vengeance”, narrowing and focusing her personality down to one devastating aspect, but a counterpart to this is his genius at personification. “The sharp female called ‘La Guillotine’”, with her unremitting thirst for blood, is the most formidable character in the entire story. She is imbued with a superhuman power. (So strong is this image in my mind, that I automatically typed “she” rather than “it”.)

“Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; —the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!”

“It was the popular theme for jests; it was the best cure for headache, it infallibly prevented hair from turning gray, it imparted a peculiar delicacy to the complexion, it was the National Razor which shaved close: who kissed La Guillotine looked through the little window and sneezed into the sack.”


Such savage sardonic writing will make you shudder!

Giving objects personalities is a hallmark of Dickens’s writing. His novels also contain many symbols and double meanings. It is possible to read A Tale of Two Cities as a nailbiting adventure story, intensified by the knowledge that many of these were actual events, and yet metaphors and symbols abound. We have doubles in characters, parallels and contrasts. We have shadows and darkness, both literal and metaphorical. The story start in gloom and mist, and the apprehension continues throughout.

From the very start too, we have the theme of Resurrection. This can be seen as the novel’s major theme and purpose, and it can also be traced in episode after episode, even down to the in-joke of the novel, the “resurrection man” Jerry Cruncher, “an honest tradesman” by day, but who spends his evenings as a grave-robber, or body-snatcher.

“Resurrection men” were a reality. By the 18th century the medical professions were in dire need of fresh corpses to use in medical training. These could only be obtained legally from excuted murderers. Therefore a ghoulish trade began. Surgeons and anatomists alike turned a blind eye to their provenance, and looked to “resurrection men” to supply their demand.

The novel is peppered with other quirky bon mots,

“Mr. Cruncher ... always spoke of the year of our Lord as Anna Dominoes: apparently under the impression that the Christian era dated from the invention of a popular game, by a lady who had bestowed her name upon it”

but they are sadly rarer than usual. Dickens had a massive public following, yet he desperately wanted to be part of the elite literary establishment, and resented the tag “Mr. Popular Sentiment” sneeringly given him by a fellow author, Anthony Trollope.

But Dickens could not resist his nature entirely, and did not keep a check on his impish and grotesque sense of humour. Whenever the blood, gore and horror become too much we are entertained with ghoulish episodes involving Jerry Crunchers’s hair-raising exploits, or stories of Jerry and his wife, who function as a sort of Punch and Judy sideshow. There are slapstick parts even in such a grim tale, though most of the humour is black indeed. Dickens had a penchant for ghouls and ghosts, as well as positively revelling in blood-curdling scenes.

For instance, he had witnessed a beheading by guillotine in Rome in 1845 and described a year later in “Pictures from Italy”. It is a careful study; a detailed and close description. Dickens stored everything in his mind, waiting for the proper time to reanimate these grotesque images, and did so with vigour and brutality in his scenes about the executions.

We see the horrors of the guillotine, the waves of hysteria and brutishness of the crowd. We see individuals blinded to reason by their passions, and swerving allegiance on a whim. We witness the hopelessness and despair of those enmeshed in the threads, both metaphorically and also literally, (view spoiler) This strongly echoes Greek mythology, linking vengeance to fate. “The Fates” are three sisters who control human life, weaving and sewing. One sister spins the web of life, another measures it, and the last cuts it. Whether or not we remember the direct reference when reading, the pointers are there. A wealth of significance is waiting to seep through, or strike us like a shaft of light.

And even in the midst of the unbearable horror, when we are dreading to turn the next page and are sinking in a mire of darkness and despair, we find a ridiculous death. The encounter to the death between (view spoiler) is both unexpected and hilarious. An earlier, less experienced, Dickens would have written the former as a one-dimensional comic character, yet both these two have much depth and ambiguity.

And ask any two readers, including all Dickens’s many illustrators of this novel, to describe Madame Defarge, and you will be likely to receive two totally different answers. Yet this formidable personality is one of Dickens’s top creations.

“Tell Wind and Fire where to stop ... but don’t tell me.”

“Thérèse” Defarge “harvests” bodies; a common idiom too of La Guillotine. In contast, the angelic “Lucie” Manette’s name means “light”; she shines a beacon of hope throughout the novel.

A theme of imprisonment relates both to the mind and to incarcerated bodies, golden threads may be three strands of beautiful hair, or metaphorically of life, as may the mending of roads. There are the darkened regions both in prisons, and in the mind. And there are the dark, musty, quaint annals of Tellson’s bank. Tellson’s bank, incidentally, was based on “Child & Co bank” which was founded at Temple Bar, on the site Dickens describes in the 1660s.

Dickens always used real locations wherever possible. The Manettes lived in Soho Square, Clerkenwell was Mr Lorry’s area, Whitefriars was where the Crunchers lived. All these, and the Old Bailey, are familiar places to Londoners of today. Parisians are equally familiar with the locations of the Place de la Révolution, now called the Place de la Concorde, La Conciergerie prison, now used mostly for law courts, Notre Dame, La Force prison, and the Place de la Bastille. Saint-Antoine, where the Defarge’s wine shop was located, also exists. At the time of A Tale of Two Cities, the Bastille prison stood at its western edge, but Saint-Antoine actually became part of Paris in 1702.

Sometimes it is even possible to identify specific shops or inns. At one point, two of the characters, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton, walk down Ludgate hill to Fleet Street, up a covered way, into a tavern. Here they have “a good plain dinner and good wine.” Very probably this was an inn called “Ye Old Cheshire Cheese”, a favourite eating place of Dickens himself which had been rebuilt after the great fire of 1666.

The three parts, “Recalled to Life”, “The Golden Thread” and “The Track of a Storm” each contain several chapters, and each chapter heading is succinct, perhaps just two words, precisely describing what is to follow, without revealing it. The chapter headings alone are miniature masterpieces, and a world away from his earlier sentences taking up a full page. I have not told the story here, nor much about the characters, but both are easy enough to find.

A Tale of Two Cities remains a novel I am ambivalent about. I do not like what the author is saying to me, and that colours my view of it. Even at the start of this reread, I was tempted to view it as a lesser novel. Nevertheless, the more I consider it, the more highly I find myself obliged to rate it. If I put aside my love of Dickens, and my hopes of another, more enjoyable type of novel from my favourite author, I have to rate this as a masterpiece.

If you have never actually read anything by Charles Dickens, please do not start with this one! Yes, you may be tempted. It is short and has an irresistible storyline. It’s probably the one you were directed to at school, too. Yes, it gets 5 stars even from me. But if you read this first you will miss so much of his humour, and of his sheer joi-de-vivre. He wanted this to be a history-driven novel, where the incidents and story would fuel the action, rather than his usual sort of book, where the plot was determined by the characters and the situations they found themselves in. Consequently it has a very un-Dickens like feel. Read it when you have a few others under your belt. Try “David Copperfield” instead. That was his personal favourite.

But if you are familiar with Dickens’s style, and have not yet read this, be prepared for a breathtaking ride. You may need to steel yourself for a grim read, and will find commanding, powerful descriptions to chill you to your core. You will find a past full of destruction, but may see a future of hope and potential. And just occasionally, you will glimpse unexpected quirky moments, which could only ever have been penned by “the Inimitable” Mr. Dickens.

The ending of the novel, known and loved by millions, is like the beginning, a favourite classic quotation. In both, Dickens is making use of a clever literary device: “anaphora”. He repeats a word or phrase over many lines, and this makes it more rhythmic and more memorable to us. We feel both that it encapsulates a rare truth, and also that it feels musical.

Yet our memories betray us. Nobody ever says these beautiful and noble lines in A Tale of Two Cities. They are said in the author’s voice—not by the character whom we remember as saying them. The author is dreaming, and taking a step back out of the book. He quite deliberately puts these words into an imagined fancy, rather than his character. Surely only Dickens could have pulled this off with such conviction—and such style.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
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Quotes Bionic Jean Liked

Charles Dickens
“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens
“Before I go," he said, and paused -- "I may kiss her?"

It was remembered afterwards that when he bent down and touched her face with his lips, he murmured some words. The child, who was nearest to him, told them afterwards, and told her grandchildren when she was a handsome old lady, that she heard him say, "A life you love.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens
“Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens
“Death may beget life, but oppression can beget nothing other than itself.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens
“A multitude of people and yet a solitude.”
Charles Dickens , A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens
“Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seeds of rapacious licence and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens
“The great grindstone, Earth, had turned when Mr. Lorry looked out again, and the sun was red on the courtyard. But, the lesser grindstone stood alone there in the calm morning air, with red upon it that the sun had never give, and would never take away.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities


Reading Progress

January 1, 2013 – Started Reading (Other Hardcover Edition)
March 1, 2013 – Finished Reading (Other Hardcover Edition)
June 26, 2013 – Shelved (Other Hardcover Edition)
September 25, 2016 – Started Reading
September 25, 2016 – Shelved
September 25, 2016 –
page 19
4.74% "The little narrow crooked town of Dover hid itself away from the beach, and ran its head into the chalk cliffs, like a marine ostrich ... sea and stones tumbling wildly about ... the sea did what it liked and what it liked was destruction. It thundered at the town and thundered at the cliffs...the air of the town was of strong a piscatory flavour that one might have supposed sick fish went up to be dipped int the sea"
October 3, 2016 –
page 96
23.94% "... this man stood still on his way across a silent terrace, and saw for a moment, lying in the wilderness before him, a mirage of honourable ambition, self-denial, and perseverance ... No sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away."
October 5, 2016 –
page 129
32.17% "'Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear and slavery, my friend,' observed the Marquis, 'will keep the dogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof,' looking up to it, 'shuts out the sky,'\n\nDarnay - 'bound to a system that is frightful to me, respnsible for it, but powerless in it ... There is a curse on it, and on all this land'"
October 8, 2016 –
page 169
42.14% "[Young Jerry] made out the three fishermen creeping through some rank grass! And all the gravestones in the churchyard that they were in - looking on like ghosts in white, while the church tower itself looked on like the ghost of a monstrous giant. They did not creep far, before they stopped and stood upright. And then they began to fish.\nThey fished with a spade, at first..."
October 30, 2016 –
page 227
51.95% "mass of scarecrows heaving to and fro, with frequent gleams of light above the billowy heads, where steel blades and bayonets shone in the sun. A tremendous roar arose from the throat of St. Antoine, and a forest of naked arms struggled in the air like shrivelled branches of trees in a winter wind: all the fingers convulsively clutching at every weapon or semblance of a weapon that was thrown up from the depths below" (Other Hardcover Edition)
November 1, 2016 –
page 232
53.09% "The sea of black and threatening waters, and of destructive upheaving of wave against wave, whose depths were yet unfathomed and whose forces were yet unknown. The remorseless sea of turbulently swaying shapes, voices of vengeance, and face hardened in the furnaces of suffering until the touch of pity could make no mark on them." (Other Hardcover Edition)
November 4, 2016 –
page 232
53.09% ""The sea of black and threatening waters, and of destructive upheaving of wave against wave, whose depths were yet unfathomed and whose forces were yet unknown. The remorseless sea of turbulently swaying shapes, voices of vengeance, and face hardened in the furnaces of suffering until the touch of pity could make no mark on them."" (Other Hardcover Edition)
November 4, 2016 –
page 232
57.86% ""The sea of black and threatening waters, and of destructive upheaving of wave against wave, whose depths were yet unfathomed and whose forces were yet unknown. The remorseless sea of turbulently swaying shapes, voices of vengeance, and face hardened in the furnaces of suffering until the touch of pity could make no mark on them.""
November 4, 2016 –
page 271
67.58% "The horrible massacre, days and nights long, which, within a few rounds of the clock, was to set a great mark of blood upon the blessed garnering time of harvest, was as far out of his knowledge as if it had been a hundred thousand years away. The “sharp female newly-born, and called La Guillotine,” was hardly known to him, or to the generality of people, by name. The frightful deeds that were to be soon done ..."
December 22, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-50 of 56 (56 new)


message 1: by Elyse (new)

Elyse  Walters Jean --you are 'amazing' --and soooo sweet!!!
Thanks for being 'you' --and my friend!


message 2: by Bionic Jean (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Aw ditto Elyse :) And thank you!


message 3: by Bionic Jean (last edited Dec 22, 2016 03:53PM) (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Quotations I had to cut out, in order to make my review fit the space:

“Drive him fast to his tomb. This, from Jacques.”

“Those who had been greedy with the staves of the cask, had acquired a tigerish smear about the mouth; and one tall joker so besmirched, his head more out of a long squalid bag of a nightcap than in it, scrawled upon a wall with his finger dipped in muddy wine-lees—BLOOD.”

“‘It is a long time,’ repeated his wife; ‘and when is it not a long time? Vengeance and retribution require a long time; it is the rule.’
‘It does not take a long time to strike a man with Lightning,’ said Defarge.
‘How long,’ demanded madame, composedly, ‘does it take to make and store the lightning? Tell me?’”

“Cramped in all kinds of dun cupboards and hutches ... the oldest of men carried on the business gravely. When they took a young man into Tellson’s London house, they hid him somewhere till he was old. They kept him in a dark place, like a cheese, until he had the full Tellson flavour and blue-mould upon him”

“Above all, one hideous figure grew as familiar as if it had been before the general gaze from the foundations of the world—the figure of the sharp female called La Guillotine.”

“All the women knitted. They knitted worthless things; but, the mechanical work was a mechanical substitute for eating and drinking; the hands moved for the jaws and the digestive apparatus: if the bony fingers had been still, the stomachs would have been more famine-pinched.

But, as the fingers went, the eyes went, and the thoughts. And as Madame Defarge moved on from group to group, all three went quicker and fiercer among every little knot of women that she had spoken with, and left behind...

So much was closing in about the women who sat knitting, knitting, that they their very selves were closing in around a structure yet unbuilt, where they were to sit knitting, knitting, counting dropping heads.”

“You might, from your appearance, be the wife of Lucifer,” said Miss Pross, in her breathing. “Nevertheless, you shall not get the better of me. I am an Englishwoman”

"[t]he basin fell to the ground broken, and the water flowed to the feet of Madame Therese Defarge.”

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”



Mona This an outstanding review of a classic masterpiece by a favorite author. Very powerfully written, Jean.


message 5: by A. (new) - added it

A. Dawes Thanks, Jean. Hope to get t it one day...


Cynda I have recently recently read -The Little Iceman Age: How Climate Made history 1300 - 1850-. One of the arguments: the upper classes, the nobility and the clergy, did not heed the cold and sick miseries of the peasants, like the English powerful finally listened, so the French peasants revolted. Weather. That powerful.


Candi An exceptional review, Jean! I was curious to see how you would rate this one - I seem to recall that you have mentioned it is not your favorite Dickens. I am glad that you feel it deserving of the 5 stars, even if it is not one of your cherished reads! I believe this is the first book I put on my TBR when I joined GR. I would say it's about time to read it and knock it off the list!


message 8: by Bionic Jean (last edited Dec 23, 2016 01:42AM) (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Thank you so much Marita, and Mona!

A - I hope you enjoy the read eventually!

Cynda - indeed that sounds interesting.

Candi - thank you very much too. After spotting that I had rated it 5 stars, Chris expressed surprise, followed by ... "so it's the sort of book you dislike, but think is very good even so?" A rather shorter way of saying all this!

Yes, it is my least favourite novel by Dickens. Assessing it for review has taken me a month of struggles. I'll be interested to see how you enjoy it :)


message 9: by Tim (new)

Tim Great review, Jean. I love Dickens but like you am less keen on this one than the likes of Great Expectations, Bleak House and Dombey and Son. For all its qualities it always seemed to me a little more facile.


message 10: by Bionic Jean (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Thanks Tim! I think you've picked out some of the darker ones there.


message 11: by Bionic Jean (last edited Dec 23, 2016 06:18AM) (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Thank you very much for your lovely comment, Stephanie :)

I don't think I understood half of it the first time I read it - in fact it's probably one of those books you see something new in each time you read it. A review here can only touch the surface anyway ... I do think it's better to come to later, but I won't be reading it again for a long while!


message 12: by Ziad (new) - added it

Ziad Nadda Your reviews are so truthful and magically faithful to the books. Always enjoying your reviews. This one was amazing as usual !!


message 13: by Luffy (new)

Luffy Jean wrote: "The name “Thérèse” Defarge means “the Hunter”."

I know some French, and The Hunter in French means Chasseur. Doubtlessly, Therese Defarge is 'hunter' in another dialect of France.


message 14: by Bionic Jean (last edited Dec 23, 2016 09:48AM) (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Yes, that is true Luffy. One meaning of "Chasseur" is certainly "hunter". There is a famous piece of music called "La Chasse" - and I think this meaning of hunting is connected with shooting pursuits, as it involves rifles.

"Thérèse" also has more than one meaning. Perhaps "Harvester" is closer? Thérèse Defarge certainly harvests bodies, and that image comes up time and time again in the book to do with the Guillotine "harvesting" her victims. Unfortunately there is no space to explain all this in the review - though if I can find anywhere to cut a word out I shall put (or harvester) in brackets afterwards. I just need 14 character spaces ... LOL!

Thanks for conmmenting and I hope you enjoyed my review :)

Edit: I have altered those few words and I think it is now clearer as a result :)


message 15: by Bionic Jean (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Thank you very much Ziad. Those are very kind words :)


Lynne Pennington This is not just a review--it is a tour de force!


message 17: by Luffy (new)

Luffy Jean wrote: "Yes, that is true Luffy. One meaning of "Chasseur" is certainly "hunter". There is a famous piece of music called "La Chasse" - and I think this meaning of hunting is connected with shooting pursui..."

I did enjoy the review! You didn't like this book yet gave it 5 stars. You really know how to catch the attention of your readers.


message 18: by Bionic Jean (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Thanks Luffy - I just tried to be objective.


message 19: by Bionic Jean (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Thank you Lynne :)


Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ My favourite Dickens although there are quite a few I haven't read. A flawed masterpiece but the parts that worked really worked!


message 21: by Bionic Jean (last edited Dec 23, 2016 10:40AM) (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Glad you like the book Carol. Odd that we are both extremes ... I guess we look for different things with this author.


Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ Jean wrote: "Glad you like the book Carol. Odd that we are both extremes ... I guess we look for different things with this author."

I don't know if we are that far apart Jean - I read this just before joining GR so it is not rated here. But if I did rate it it would be 5★ The moving parts of the story make me forgive a lot.


Tristram Shandy I read this review on my smartphone yesterday, but as always I found that writing a comment on a virtual keyboard is not really one of my strengths. One of your strengths is definitely writing comprehensive and insightful reviews on classics in which you show that you make a distinction between your personal tastes and your feeling for the importance of a book in terms of literature. Reading your review was one of the most enjoyable things I did yesterday.

A Merry Christmas to you, Jean!


message 24: by John (new) - rated it 4 stars

John Frankham Well, Jean, you didn't like it, and gave it 5*!

As you know, I read all the novels over the past couple of years, mostly 5*, some 4*, and Hard Times 2*!

This one I read early, and gave it 4*, then re-read in proper order this year. Reduced to 3*. Bereft of his usual characters and characteristics, and replaced by, or left with, Grand Guignol, and a resurrection theme that seems to peter out unconvincingly, I increasingly felt this was excruciating and incoherent rather than breathtaking. Oh, well.


message 25: by Bionic Jean (last edited Dec 26, 2016 03:49AM) (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Hi John - well you know how long I've been pondering this review! And also the comments I've made along the way. I've come to admire it greatly though, so feel my personal dislike is irrelevant really. Thanks for "liking" and commenting though, even though our critical summations are profoundly different. We agree on preferring the style of his others, certainly! He was just trying to do something else here, I feel, and in my view succeeded as well as any great writer, producing a masterpiece.


message 26: by Bionic Jean (last edited Dec 26, 2016 03:52AM) (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Hi Tristram - that is indeed a lovely thing to hear, especially from someone whose point of view, again, is rather different from my own.

Thank you so much, and I look forward to reading Great Expectations with you very soon.


message 27: by John (new) - rated it 4 stars

John Frankham An interesting comment, Jean, about dislike, admiration, and ranking.

I think the best novel on this theme is Anatole France's 1912 novel, Les Dieux Ont Soif (The Gods Are Thirsty/Athirst).

Not melodramatic, but human and awful. And therefore so much more powerful.

"The story of the infernal rise of Évariste Gamelin, a young Parisian painter, involved in the section for his neighborhood of Pont-Neuf, The Gods Are Athirst describes the dark years of the Reign of Terror in Paris, from Year II to Year III. Fiercely Jacobin, Marat and Robespierre's most faithful adherent, Évariste Gamelin soon becomes a juror on the Revolutionary Tribunal.

The long, blind train of speedy trials drags this idealist into a madness that cuts off the heads of his nearest and dearest, and hastens his own fall as well as that of his mentor Robespierre in the aftermath of the Thermidorian Reaction. His love affair with the young watercolor-seller Élodie Blaise heightens the terrible contrast between the butcher-in-training and the man who shows himself to be quite ordinary in his daily life.

Justifying this dance of the guillotine by the fight against the plot to wipe out the gains of the Revolution, in the midst of the revolutionary turmoil that traverses Paris, Gamelin is thirsty for justice, but also uses his power to satisfy his own vengeance and his hatred for those who do not think like him. He dies by that same instrument of justice that up until then has served to satisfy his own thirst for blood and terror."

Just a horrifying delight!


message 28: by Bionic Jean (last edited Dec 26, 2016 03:08PM) (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Hi John - Wow I've never heard of this book! You are far more expert than I on French writers - in fact my knowledge of non-English writers - even in translation - is sketchy at best. Some other European styles or "flavours" I find extremely depressing and dour. I do think the English writers of classics often have a particularly whimsical quality, and a droll wit, which I find delightful. So it's unlikely I'll read Les dieux ont soif. But thanks :)


message 29: by John (new) - rated it 4 stars

John Frankham Yes, our whimsy is a great strength, isn't it. And you know I share your view of Dickens. He is a great writer, as much for his oddities and imagination, and human sympathy, as anything else.

Cried while listening to the end of A Christmas Carol, read during a carol concert on television on Christmas Eve. I ask you.

And yes, earnestness in a writer can be a burden on the reader, can't it. A fair few English writers suffer from this as well, of course.

I confess, we did the Anatole France for French 'A' Level, so hardly a proof of my breadth of reading!


message 30: by Bionic Jean (last edited Dec 26, 2016 03:55PM) (new) - added it

Bionic Jean That is of course true: the English have their share of over-earnest writers (especially in modern literary novels). I suspect they might have appealed to me more when I was younger.

Nobody should ever lose their facility to cry when appropriate, I don't think. If we lose our emotional reactions to something, we have lost our humanity.


message 31: by John (new) - rated it 4 stars

John Frankham Bah, humbug!


Tracey Just read your review Jean, absolutely brilliant.. I loved this one as you know and you have captured everything relevant here.. :)


message 33: by Bionic Jean (new) - added it

Bionic Jean LOL John!


message 34: by Bionic Jean (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Hi Tracey - It's so good to hear from you! I know how much you loved this novel, and was uncomfortably aware that my feelings towards this novel were very different. So this comment is particularly gracious of you. Thank you :)


message 36: by Bionic Jean (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Hi Jerry - maybe you could try again?


Linda Fantastic review, Jean. I'm reading ATOTC right now in my classics book group, and I agree with you completely in your ambivalence toward it. I might only give it 4 stars though, perhaps 4 1/2. It is great, but it didn't knock my socks off, LOL. I can't wait for the group discussion next month.


message 38: by Bionic Jean (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Thank you very much Linda! I think you'll have a great discussion with this one :)


message 39: by Rita (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rita I love, love love this book. I also love the movie starring Ronald Colman. I guess I'm just a soft romantic at heart.


message 40: by Bionic Jean (new) - added it

Bionic Jean LOL It can certainly be read in that way Rita :) Do you also like the one starring Dirk Bogarde? It probably comes the closest for me.


message 41: by Rita (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rita Jean wrote: "LOL It can certainly be read in that way Rita :) Do you also like the one starring Dirk Bogarde? It probably comes the closest for me."
I didn't know there was one starring Dirk Bogarde. I'll have to look for it.


message 42: by Rita (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rita Rita wrote: "Jean wrote: "LOL It can certainly be read in that way Rita :) Do you also like the one starring Dirk Bogarde? It probably comes the closest for me."
I didn't know there was one starring Dirk Bogard..."

There are about 10 movies based on a Tale of Two Cities, including an animated one


message 43: by Bionic Jean (new) - added it

Bionic Jean I may not bother worth some of those ;) But thanks for the info!


Susie Loved this one!


message 45: by Bionic Jean (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Yes :)


Cynda I had wondered about Dicken's use of the name "Thomas Carlyle". Now I know.
This novel was my first introduction to the problems of French society and the French Revolution. May it is a 2-for-1 deal that encourages schools to teach this novel. Who knows.


Cynda In fact, I now remember that I did used to know. Just forgot (silly, silly me)


Steph Matthews This is an outstanding review. I did read this as my first Dickens venture, and was still able to find his signature humour despite the grim subject matter. I look forward to lighter novels by him, but will carry this one with me forever, I think.


message 49: by Bionic Jean (last edited Mar 06, 2019 03:18PM) (new) - added it

Bionic Jean Steph wrote: "This is an outstanding review. I did read this as my first Dickens venture, and was still able to find his signature humour despite the grim subject matter. I look forward to lighter novels by him,..."

Thank you very much Steph! Yes I too was surprised to discover more humour than I remember in this book. He knew, I think, that it makes the hair-raising parts more easy to tolerate, when there are these interludes when you breathe, and get back a little of your equanimity.


message 50: by Louise (new) - added it

Louise Paech What a brilliant review. I've never really read Dickens. You've inspired me ☺️


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