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A Tale of Two Cities
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Charles Dickens Collection > A Tale of Two Cities - SPOILERS

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message 1: by Renato (last edited Oct 31, 2014 05:02PM) (new)

Renato (renatomrocha) This is the SPOILERS thread for our November 2014 Old School Read of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Do not read this thread if you want to avoid spoilers!

Happy reading! :-)


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

A Tale of Two Cities was the only novel by Charles Dickens that I did not like. That's a shame, because so much of it is brilliant, and I can never get Madame DeFarge's knitting far from my mind, thinking how that quietly angry woman wove all the coded names of crimes of the aristocracy into her fabrics ... and her frothing toward the end of the novel as she helps lead the Reign of Terror. The guillotine scene is so classic that I realize it's cliche to love it.

But the plotting was too dense for me, and the historical coincidences too much for even me to stomach - a die-hard Dickens fan - and I like to approach authors on their own terms, as much as I can. I couldn't muster enough for Tale of 2 Cities, though. Focusing on other reading this month.

[Hope everyone else enjoys it, though]


Shelley | 53 comments I agree with Jasper that this is my least favorite.I believe Dickens was going through the worst of his marital woes and trying to work things out (whatever that means) with Ellen Terry, so maybe that temporarily threw a spanner in the works.

But his portrait of how the old man reverts to his prison behavior is stunningly prescient for someone who'd never read Freud....

Shelley
http://dustbowlstory.wordpress.com


message 4: by Renato (new)

Renato (renatomrocha) I'm still on the fence about reading this one...


Eman (ebibliophile) | 10 comments Just finished reading. I found the book a very good one but still need to read more of Dickens' novels to decide what's his best. So far I prefer Oliver Twist to this one. However, loved Dickens' metaphors and how he throws in some humorous lines in the middle of miserable times. Who else thinks that Lucie was too-good-to-be-true? I found Madame Defarge a far more interesting character despite her sinister deeds.


Janet (goodreadscomjanetj) | 852 comments Eman wrote: "Just finished reading. I found the book a very good one but still need to read more of Dickens' novels to decide what's his best. So far I prefer Oliver Twist to this one. However, lov..."

I agree that Lucie was too-good-to-be-true and that Madame Defarge was more interesting. However, as sinister as Madame Defarge was she did not bother me in the way that Jacques Three did. He was one of the most gruesome characters I have ever met in literature. His glee at the executions(thinking about how Lucie would look upon the scaffold of the guillotine and "the child also". He continues "we seldom have a child there. It is a pretty sight!" He is a plotter with Madame Defarge, a juryman, and a witness to the executions. Although Madame Defarge was evil she did have twisted reasons for revenge. Jacques Three had no reason other than pure evil to wish for the execution of so many.

In the back of the book I read there were some questions. One asked "Would the novel be better without Sydney Carton's sacrificial act and final speech?". My answer is an unequivocal no. The act was necessary for the plot to proceed and the speech was heartrending and made the story complete. It also gave what is undoubtedly one of the best closing lines of in the literary history.


Nathan | 421 comments Janet wrote: "In the back of the book I read there were some questions. One asked "Would the novel be better without Sydney Carton's sacrificial act and final speech?". My answer is an unequivocal no. "

I agree. There were a number of very good scenes in books one and two, but book three was much stronger overall. I enjoyed Carton's character-arc and I thought the end was excellent.

This was my second Dickens novel. Great Expectations was a little bit better, but I'm glad I read A Tale of Two Cities. I've really become a big fan of Victorian novels.


Eman (ebibliophile) | 10 comments Janet wrote: "However, as sinister as Madame Defarge was she did not bother me in the way that Jacques Three did..."

Totally agree! Madame Defarge had motives (even though her sense of justice is distorted) while Jacques Three was SO blood-thirsty for the mere love of killing and inflicting pain on others. That dude had nothing to do with the true meaning of the revolutionary spirit. It was great of Dickens to show how some people abuse critical humane causes for evil purposes.


message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

I might have to read this again - it's been a while, and I only remember it being one mighty slog. Maybe I'll get the library's audio version, and listen to prisons, riots, and decapitations while I'm basting the turkey and rolling out the dough for rolls. (Falls to the Fellow of the House, this year. Hmmmm.)

Let the good times roll, y'all. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!


Christine | 1217 comments I'm a latecomer to this group read, but I am SO GLAD I didn't skip this book. I loved it!!! This is only the second Dickens novel I've read (the first being A Christmas Carol for this December's Revisit group read) and I think I can say I am now officially a Dickens fan. I can't wait to read more of his writing.

This novel shares certain qualities with a lot of the other 19th century novels I've read lately: the eyebrow-raising coincidences, the ultra-innocent and pure heroine, and lots of swooning. But it also has a fascinating plot and interesting, sympathetic characters. I really appreciated Dickens' sense of humor - I found myself snickering aloud several times while reading. I also loved the historical setting of the French Revolution, which I really want to learn more about one of these days.


message 11: by Eman (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eman (ebibliophile) | 10 comments Dickens definitely had the humorous gene. He really made me laugh in the middle of miserable situations.

Christine wrote: "I think I can say I am now officially a Dickens fan. I can't wait to read more of his writing..."

I recommend Oliver Twist. Such an amazing book.


Vatsa | 49 comments Christine wrote:I found myself snickering aloud several times while reading

I too found myself snickering - not laughing.. you know, like when he tells that at Tellson's they hire young people and hide them till they're old when they are made to sit in the bank..


message 13: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - added it

Katy (kathy_h) | 9560 comments Mod
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is our March 2018 Revisit the Shelf Reread.

This thread is open to spoilers for the book.


message 14: by Alia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alia | 228 comments I was so offended by the scene where the wealthy creep crushes a child with his carriage and tries to pay off the parents with drinking money.

To be honest I mostly read it to compare it with Deathly Hallows. Rowling said it was like A Tale of Two Cities, but apart from the occasional beheading I fail to see why. Maybe I need to read it again…

Unlike many from three years ago, I didn't hate it. I thought it was dark and gloomy and maybe less fascinating that some of his other writing, but I still like it.


Tonia (yestonia) | 250 comments I really enjoyed this read. I did feel that book 2 dragged on a little and seemed to have a lot of unnecessary detail, but once I was invested in the characters I wanted to know where the story was going.


message 16: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 05, 2018 07:43AM) (new)

I like everything about this book; the themes of resurrection and redemption, the gruesome portrayal of the aftermath of the French revolution and the things that made it inevitable, but most of all the remarkable characters. Dickens wrote characters that you just don't forget. Every character was richly drawn, with the possible exception of Lucie Manette.

Like other real classics, the book is timeless. There are many lessons to be learned about the dangers of an unjust society and the mob mentality caused by hatred.


message 17: by Carlo (last edited Mar 05, 2018 01:29PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Carlo | 206 comments I absolutely loved this book! My favourite Dickens so far. It started off slowly and I began to wonder what all the fuss was about, but then the plot started to develop and all the strands came together in a fantastic climax with a great twist. I know it's melodramatic and a bit over the top but I just couldn't stop reading it!


CluckingBell | 25 comments I love the courtroom hyperbole of chapter II.3, but especially in the first paragraph with the flattering presumption of the jury's familiarity with poetry, and their answering expressions no doubt the same that every high school or college lit teacher has faced during discussions of the assigned readings. I don't think I credited the 19th century with being a very humorous place when I was young, so I'm glad that I'm better able to enjoy Dickens (whom I haven't read in 20 years) in my more advanced age.


message 19: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - added it

Katy (kathy_h) | 9560 comments Mod
A Tale of Two Cities opens with a passage that has become one of English literature's best known: "It was the best of times…" It is a passage well worth parsing. What does Dickens mean by setting the stage with such polarities? For whom was it the best and the worst of times? Dickens also mentions that the era about which he writes was very much "like the present period," which when he was writing meant the late 1850s. Why does this passage continue to be quoted today? In what ways does our own present period merit such an assessment?

Question from the back of the book: Penguin Group USA-Oprah's Book Club edition


Petrichor | 300 comments I am not completely finished yet (a little over halfway through book 3), but I have to say that I'm not a big fan.
I had to read/listen to the first few chapters 3 times to get into it. For the third time I chose a different audiobook reader, which made it a bit better, but not much.
I was thinking about giving up, but then I read the plot summary, which I found intriguing, but the book itself bores me somehow. I suppose it must be the writing style, but I can't really put my finger on it.

I really liked the idea of the encoded knitting patterns, though. And as someone who can knit and knows a tiny bit about information theory and a little more about how computers encode characters, I can't stop thinking about how it could be done and/or how Madame DeFarge would have done it, especially if the pattern shouldn't raise attention due to looking like a mess.


message 21: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - added it

Katy (kathy_h) | 9560 comments Mod
Not sure where you are all at in the book, but an interesting thing to me is the use of doubles in the book --
* Two cities
*Darnay is tried as in both England and France
*Lucie Manette has both an English mother and a French father


message 22: by Patrick (last edited Mar 11, 2018 08:18AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Patrick Katy wrote: "Not sure where you are all at in the book, but an interesting thing to me is the use of doubles in the book --
* Two cities
*Darnay is tried as in both England and France
*Lucie Manette has both an..."


Oh yes, absolutely.

I have always felt that the title A Tale of Two Cities is pure genius. I am an urban guy, and it stimulates my curiosity instantly.

As the crow flies, London and Paris are only 215 miles apart (compare New York / Boston, 190 miles; New York / Washington, 204 miles).


message 23: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy | 31 comments Petrichor wrote: "I am not completely finished yet (a little over halfway through book 3),
I'm also a knitter and have to say I can't think of any way to encode such complex information (name, crime, sentence of the committee), at least not quickly enough to keep up with events. I'm afraid it's mostly there as a metaphor, a quiet domestic activity concealing a deadly peril, knitting "a shroud."


message 24: by Judy (last edited Mar 12, 2018 05:40AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy | 31 comments I'm impressed by the author's insight into the psychology of Dr. Manette's situation, so long before modern advances in psychology. The poor man would now be seen as afflicted by PTSD. And how tender is Mr. Lorry's handling of his relapse after Lucie's marriage!


Petrichor | 300 comments Judy wrote: "I'm afraid it's mostly there as a metaphor, a quiet domestic activity concealing a deadly peril, knitting "a shroud."

I didn't think of it as a metaphor before! Compelling theory! That's probably it.

If one still wants to take it literally, you could use knit and purl as 0 and 1 and use ASCII, or you knit a Morse code pattern (just pearl on a knit background), but both of those might fall within "not quickly enough to keep up with events". Moreover, Morse code hadn't been invented yet and would have been too obvious/visible in any case.

In any case, knitting seems to have been used to sneak information across enemy lines, but more by allowing you to look innocuous while spying or by hiding paper messages in balls of yarn. I found this article about it.


Tonia (yestonia) | 250 comments That's a really interesting article, Petrichor. What a sneaky way to pass on information!


message 27: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - added it

Katy (kathy_h) | 9560 comments Mod
I'm reading this one on my Kindle. About 25% through the book. We really don't have that many main characters in the book so far, so I should hopefully be able to keep them straight.


message 28: by Elena (last edited Mar 17, 2018 10:02AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Elena | 2 comments Judy wrote: "I'm impressed by the author's insight into the psychology of Dr. Manette's situation, so long before modern advances in psychology. The poor man would now be seen as afflicted by PTSD. And how tend..."

Yeah, he describes the post traumatic stress disorder with empathy. Not a common sentiment in that times. I like this book so much also because I consider it as a thriller. I think that Dickens was very clever in building the suspense.

And besides that, the french revolution is one of my favourites historical periods.


Colleen  | 27 comments The beginning of the book was a bit tedious but the last third I flew through. My first Dickens novel and not my last. I read Great Expectations last year. I think AToTC is better but GE easier to read, again, it doesn't get more interesting until at least half way through.


Jehona | 182 comments I found it hard to care about any of the characters. The beginning was also boring.


message 31: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - added it

Katy (kathy_h) | 9560 comments Mod
Jehona wrote: "I found it hard to care about any of the characters. The beginning was also boring."

But still you gave the book 4-stars. What changed your mind later that you ended up liking it?


message 32: by Amy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Amy Eckert | 117 comments I agree, it is hard to care too much about the characters. I'm listening to the audio now, and for some reason, my brain interchanges the characters of Jarvis Lorry and Jerry Cruncher, and Mr. Stryver. None of them really hold any interest with me. Madame Defarge is evil and that makes her so much more interesting. I love Dickens, but this book is a tough one to keep interest in. I'm going to finish it, as I only have 6 hours left to listen. Definitely not my favorite Dickens. Oliver Twist had some parts that got a bit boring, but at least had a TON of really cool, interesting characters.


message 33: by Thorkell (last edited Mar 27, 2018 12:29PM) (new) - added it

Thorkell Ottarsson I'm so relieved to see that I'm not the only one who struggled with this book. I was getting seriously depressed reading it. I kept thinking that something was wrong with me. Why the hell is it so universally loved and I struggle getting through it?

So here are my main problems:

I had seen the 1935 film version and, while it is a fine film I found the characters paper thin. Everyone was either good or bad and everyone was a stereotype. And this is Dickens who is known for amazing characters! To my amazement I found the same problem with the book. These characters don't drive the story. They are there like chess pieces to be moved around. You could shuffle the good characters around and it would not change the plot at all. Right there you have a huge problem. In stead of telling a story about people he is telling us a story about ideas or rather about how bad people will do bad things and how good people suffer because of it. This is such a childish view of the nature of evil. A story line like this works in an opera (where we at least get some good music to enjoy the journey), but a book has to be more than this.

The other problem I had with the book is that Dickens is so obsessed with writing beautiful prose that sometimes it is all he is doing. He will spent sentence after sentence saying the same thing again and again and sometimes he will pack his thoughts in so beautifully that all you see is the wrappings. That is not a good story telling, but rather a show off.


maria (maria-blackthorn) it's the only Dickens book I've read. And if was HARD. I read it little over a year ago and it took so much concentration. The language I think was just too much for me


Rosemarie | 1574 comments Dickens is a very wordy writer.


Petrichor | 300 comments Thorkell wrote: "I'm so relieved to see that I'm not the only one who struggled with this book. I was getting seriously depressed reading it. I kept thinking that something was wrong with me. Why the hell is it so ..."

Couldn't have said it better. I totally agree.
Except: I haven't seen the movie.


Sotiris Karaiskos | 2 comments I had not read it so far, I confess that it had fallen into my hands when I was young and I had left it after a few chapters. That was strange since at that age I had already appreciated Dickens since I had read his most important books. Now I read it to correct this fault of my childhood but I think I come to similar conclusions, I think the book is inferior to its important books. At my age I was more able to appreciate it and so to understand why it has this place in world literature. It is certainly his most obvious political work that makes us experience the way in which the events of the French Revolution influenced people but also shows us in a clear way how the progressive British perceived this historical event. I do not agree that it presents things in a simplistic way, it does not portray it as a conflict between good and evil, instead he tells us that even the most horrible revenge crimes have their roots in the injustice these people have suffered. Of course it mixes the political part of the French Revolution with the humanistic element, but obviously we have to expect this from Dickens.

I will agree that in the others he do not do an equally good job. In the first part the story starts very well when we meet Dr. Manette and his adorable daughter, in the second, however, interest is greatly reduced as the author does not use well enough the interesting characters he created when is describing their most peaceful activities. But I think the third and most adventurous party is fully compensating us.


Joseph Fountain | 290 comments I’m due for a reread of this, but since I haven’t read it recently, I have just one generalized comment.

I’ve read a fair amount of Dickens and for me this is his greatest, even though David Copperfield is typically given that distinction. CD himself said that DC was his favorite; that and the semi-autobiographical nature I think accounts for it, but again, for me A Tale of Two Cities is his masterpiece.
It’s least like his other novels: few caricatures, little humor, and the lack of perfectly satisfying poetic justice at the end. What an ending – I love it.


Candi (candih) | 779 comments I found that I struggled with this book initially, but the deeper I got into it, the more I became engaged with the plot and the characters. I do agree that the characters perhaps don't have as much depth as I would like to see, however. I find that I certainly appreciate it even more, now that I have finished reading it. I can see and understand more of what Dickens was setting up earlier in the book - things that I did not catch at first. Everything became more clear and all was tied together into one cohesive package! I loved the ending!

Having said that, I could not help making comparisons in my mind between this book and Les Misérables which I read a year ago. The emotional charge was just not the same with A Tale of Two Cities. It would be very difficult to match the depth of a character such as Valjean, in my opinion.


message 40: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - added it

Katy (kathy_h) | 9560 comments Mod
Thanks for the comparison, Candi. I did like Les Misérables, but put down A Tale of Two Cities for later.


message 41: by [deleted user] (new)

For me parts 1 and 2 were a bit of a slog but I enjoyed part 3. I haven't read much Dickens but I have seen quite a few adaptations and I always associate him with detail and big books. I think this was partly why I was disappointed in this one as I would have liked more detail on life before and during the revolution.

I agree that the characterisation could have been better especially Lucie Manette who was the usual Victorian heroine - pretty, sweet, slightly fragile, etc. I also felt that we were mainly told that she was wonderful by other characters rather than being shown it by her actions - but then again we don't get to see that much of her.

I think Dickens missed a trick by not showing us more of Sidney Carton and how he comes to his decision on how to save Charles Darnay. He was the one character I found truly interesting and would loved to have been able to delve into his character more.


Rosemarie | 1574 comments I agree with your assessment of Sidney. He was the most interesting character in the book among the protagonists.
I think that Mme Defarge makes a perfectly nasty villain.


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