A while back I decided that I was going to start reading my way through classical literature, even the stuff that never held any interest for me, because I think that classical literature is pretty important. Towards that end I made myself a reading jar in which I put the names of a long list of literary texts that I want to get under my belt. A Tale of Two Cities is the most recent book that I drew from my jar, and I was not excited to read it. I read Dickens’s Great Expectation in college, and I was not a fan. Dickens is, to put it bluntly, very long winded. Rumor is that he was paid by the word, although a quick bit of research seems to indicate that this is not the case and he was actually paid for something like every thirty-two pages that he wrote. Either way, it was in his best interest to write in as lengthy a way as possible, which can make his novels a bit hard to get through.
It’s been a couple years now since I read Great Expectations but I remember it as being ceaselessly wordy, and the story seemed to drag pointlessly on when it all could have been wrapped up so much sooner. You can see why I was dreading A Tale of Two Cities, but I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised.
Unlike in Great Expectation I found that in A Tale of Two Cities Dickens makes excellent use of his wordy style to create an artful, witty, and engaging narrative. Yes, he goes on at length in certain scenes and about certain occurrences that really could have been abbreviated considerably and still done their job very well; however, his way of talking round and round a subject turns in to a kind of double edged wit where he gets across the point of what he is trying to say without ever actually saying it. It’s this style that really sets the tone for the novel, and I really came to enjoy it. That being said, the convoluted paragraphs and run on sentences did get tiresome and hard to follow at times, but once I got into the style I was able to manage without too much trouble.
The characters in A Tale of Two Cities are also a great improvement on those that I remember from my last Dickens novel. I actually liked a lot of these characters. Certainly they have that quality that you often find in classic literature of being pretty one dimensional and seeming more like caricatures than real people, but that actually worked quite well with the story and the style of the narrative. Without a doubt the best character was Sydney Carton. I liked him right away and was never sure quite where the character would go, out of the whole cast he was the only character that I really felt could surprise me and the one I was most invested in.
The plot itself was interesting, if exaggerated and somewhat unrealistic. For the most part, not knowing much at all about the book before I picked it up, I wasn’t able to predict where the plot would go. In the last few chapters I was able to figure out how it was going to end, and, when I figured it out, I realized that there had been clues pointing towards this very conclusion throughout the novel that only made sense after I figured out what was happening, and I thoroughly enjoyed putting the pieces together. I am still not sure whether I only figured it out so late because I wasn’t paying enough attention, or if Dickens did it that way on purpose. For my pride’s sake if nothing else I’d like to give the credit to Dickens and his top notch story telling.
All together I was very satisfied with this read. The story was interesting, the characters were beautifully crafted, and the writing was very well done. This is a solid 4.5/5 with half a point taken away for being confusing sometimes. I highly recommend you give this a read if you haven’t already, after all, you can never read too many classics.