My Best and Worst Times
by Charlotte Reads Classics
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.
Dickens was testing my faith with A Tale of Two Cities, but he didn’t let me down at the end. This was a challenging read mostly due to language. It was quite flowery, especially when you compare it to the novel Dickens wrote next – Great Expectations. I’d had a false start with this book a few months ago: I couldn’t get part the first few chapters because I couldn’t work out what was happening. I decided to give it another try after Ulysses, because it could never be as tough as that.
Dickens described A Tale of Two Cities as his best ever story and it certainly reads as such. This was the first of Dickens’ novels to make me pay attention to where the original installments begun and ended. I was glad I didn’t have to wait for the next part after all the cliffhangers. Fortunately despite his slight change in style, A Tale of Two Cities still has that magical quality of language that made Dickens’ writing so original. Two of my favourite instances are:
- A dead man lying in his grave is described as listening to the ‘whispering trees’
- The crowd of revolutionaries rioting are described as rising up like an angry sea
Not to mention you have two of the most famous quotes in English Literature to open and close the novel. Got a little bit tingly when I read the last line.
This book got me thinking about historical fiction: Dickens was writing about a historical event eighty or so years in the past. I think people (I do, anyway) have a tendency to assume that ‘classics’ are a product of the time they were written and that the writers are transcribing their own times. But these books are artifacts of history in their own right. So really A Tale of Two Cities is a product of how the French Revolution was viewed in the nineteenth century. I suppose it made me think about each generation since Dickens’ adding to the meaning of the book, emphasising certain parts, imagining events according to what was important to the reader in their own lives.
After struggling with this book – it was definitely a challenging one – I felt so rewarded by how it ended. I didn’t know much about the plot when I started and I’m really glad everything came as unexpected. Even when a Dickens novel is hard to read, I’d never question the value in reading it. Discovering I could enjoy Dickens is one of the highlights of my reading year so far.
I have bad memories of reading this in middle school, but your thoughts make me feel like I should try it again. I, too, have learned that I can enjoy Dickens after I read ‘Great Expectations’ in February. I think I will read ‘Bleak House’ next, perhaps sometime in the winter.
It seems a lot of people have to read this one in school, but I thought it was one of the much more difficult of his novels! I had to read Great Expectations which I hated at the time, but re-reading it earlier this year I loved it. Bleak House is still my favourite though.
Love that last line, makes it all worth it, finding the gems.
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I’m glad this won you over in the end. A Tale of Two Cities was my second Dickens read, but I think it was the first time I really enjoyed him. (David Copperfield is when I fell head over heels in love.)
I loved the point you made about classics and historical fiction — readers do tend to assume that nineteenth-century fiction was strictly contemporary, when in fact many famous Victorian novels qualify as historical fiction (Little Dorrit, Shirley, the first half of Wuthering Heights and Sylvia’s Lovers are just a few that immediately come to mind). But this leads me to wonder: when was the term ‘historical fiction’ coined? Hmm…
Good point, perhaps historical ficition is a very recent term? I think I’ll pay more attention to when classics were set as well as when they were written. I was thinking about making David Copperfield my next Dickens and I think you’ve convinced me!
I haven’t read this one yet (definitely on my TBR list, though), but the way you describe makes me want to make a mad dash to the closest bookstore and get a copy.
I love Dickens, he’s one of the two or three authors whose work has touched me so deeply that I could never look at the world or my life the same way I did before discovering it. Knowing that he himself considered A Tale of Two Cities the best story he’d ever written makes me want to tackle it all the more.
I love your comment about seeing things differently – I completely agree, I only wish I had discovered him earlier!
I loved A Tale of Two Cities…mostly for its setting more than its story. And the third part was phenomenal! It’s what sealed this as a favourite.
It is said that this novel of Dickens is a far more faithful portrayal of those times than even that of historians like Thomas Carlyle.
I agree it was definitely the last part of the book that convinced me I loved it. It is interesting how it is used as a (although fictional) historical document almost. I think it must be a real testament to how good Dickens’ writing is/was.