By Charles Dickens
"It used to be the simplest of instances, it was once the worst of instances . . ."
With those well-known phrases, Charles Dickens plunges the reader into one in all history’s so much explosive erasthe French Revolution. From the storming of the Bastille to the relentless drop of the guillotine, Dickens vividly captures the fear and upheaval of that tumultuous interval.
At the heart is the novel’s hero, Sydney Carton, a lazy, alcoholic lawyer who, encouraged by means of a girl, makes the ideal sacrifice at the bloodstained streets of Paris.
One of Dickens’s most enjoyable novels, A story of 2 Cities is a stirring vintage of affection, revenge, and resurrection.
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Additional info for A Tale of Two Cities (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)
But the society of spectacle has a second, more sinister aspect from which England is not immune: paranoia. Dickens in Paris watching the passing crowds, who in turn watch him, might pass for a harmless afternoon舗s entertainment in the city, but when the opportunity for seeing and being seen is hardened to an expectation, or even a right to total visibility, it is a short distance to paranoia and a culture obsessed with secrets. When there is no escape from the social gaze, voyeurs quickly turn into spies and informants, and the least assertion of individuality or privacy is interpreted as a guilty secret that needs to be exposed.
In A Tale of Two Cities, the role of the Cratchits is played by the Manettes and their friends, the battered but unbroken community that reclaims its head from the dungeons of the French police state, and retreats to its quiet suburban idyll at the northern outskirts of London: 舠a cool spot, staid but cheerful, a wonderful place for echoes, and a very harbour from the raging streets舡 (p. 94). The miniature social order they reconstitute for themselves in Soho is a kind of benign matriarchy, presided over by the heroine, Lucie Manette: 舠Ever busily winding the golden thread which bound her husband, and her father, and herself, and her old directress and companion, in a life of quiet bliss, Lucie sat in the still house in the tranquilly resounding corner, listening to the echoing footsteps of years舡 (p.
A Tale of Two Cities, which Dickens sat down to write a few years later, is only in part a 舠historical舡 novel. On Dickens舗s mind was not so much the state of France in 1789, as the current state of England, and his fear of public riots and mob violence in the streets of London. Karl Marx, in an article for the New York Daily Tribune, wrote that Dickens had 舠issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the professional politicians, publicists and moralists put together舡 (August 1, 1854); but, unlike Marxism, Dickens舗s politics were essentially a matter of inexhaustible personal sympathy, not an abstract program of social change.