Crying while reading Dickens's novels is getting to be a
regular thing with me. Maybe it's because I know we're getting near to the end
of our mission to read all his novels, or maybe it's because number 13, A
Tale of Two Cities, is such and exciting
and moving yarn. For sheer storytelling brio, this is up there with the best.
You may well know the set-up: two men, one woman, blood on
the streets of revolutionary Paris and, of course, LA GUILLOTINE (as well as
terrible family secrets, baby-killing aristocrats and lashings of revenge).
The set pieces are sensational: a cask of wine breaks and
everyone laps it up from the streets, mothers squeezing it from handkerchiefs
into babies' mouths. The murderous crowd sharpen their weapons on a huge
grinder, whipping themselves up into a frenzy of bloodlust. So much blood is
spilt that it poisons the water supply (apparently this is true!). There's even
a fantastic bitch fight between the devilish knitter Madame Defarge and a
doughty Englishwoman. As if these treats aren't enough, A Tale of Two Cities also features one of my favourite heroes, the lawyer
Sydney Carton: worn-down, world-weary, drunk, despairing, tortured by what he
could have been, made noble by unrequited love.
If you took away the boring bits from Barnaby Rudge, Dickens’s other historical novel (also featuring
plentiful mob violence) you might come near this for excitement, but not for
the emotional intensity of Carton’s heartbreaking story.
As Becky says:
I loved A Tale of Two Cities. Sydney Carton, the dissolute lawyer, is one of my favourite Dickens
characters (along with David Copperfield from David Copperfield and the horse from The Old Curiosity Shop). Not all the characters in this book have that much
depth, but who cares when there is such an excellent narrative arc, and so much
galloping, and so many rivers of blood. A great adventure story, but also a
book that should be read by anyone who's planning on starting a revolution to
overthrow an evil dictatorship, just to make sure they've thought it through.
Next time, there will definitely be more weeping as we move on to Great
Expectations. I'm filling up at the thought
Louise Willder, Copywriter