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.