Sunday, February 16, 2014
Classic Lit: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Date: 1854 (1962)
Source: Christmas gift a long time ago
Read: for Historical Novel course
Reading time: one week
From GoodReads: After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the ageing Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.
My review: I started out enjoying this because of the characterizations. I remember a bit about Dickens' humorous ways of describing people from Great Expectations, but it seemed to come out even more in this novel, especially at the beginning. The further I read, however, the more issues I had. The results of Dickens' famous practice of publishing in magazines and therefore writing by the chapter and getting paid by the word really come out. For one thing, this is supposed to be centered around the French Revolution, yet we only reach the Revolution around page 300 of my copy. The rest is centered around what's going on in the Manettes' lives, and really, despite the funny caricatures of many characters, I found most of them rather two-dimensional and couldn't care less about what they did. Each character seems to have their specific set function in the story, and they very steadfastly adhere to that with few surprises for the reader.
In part because of such stringent paths for the characters, the plot seemed contrived by the end. We see a rather ridiculous string of events, when viewed in total, that results in the expected end (assuming you watched your Wishbone episodes as a child and remember their adaptation of the tale). The protagonists are sentimentally drawn, there are multiple climaxes and denouements for the sake of a longer story, and Sydney Carton's decision and concluding actions are moralistic. I just wasn't very impressed with an overly long novel that alternates between sentimentality, morality, and sensationalism.