A Tale of Two Cities


My primary goal when I'm teaching A Tale of Two Cities to my sophomores is to make them realize that Charles Dickens didn't write creaky, dusty long novels that teachers embraced as a twisted rite of passage for teenagers.Instead, I want them them to understand why Dickens was one of the most popular writers in England and America during his time.I want them to see the book as the suspenseful, comedic, and sentimental piece of entertainment that it is.Because, while A Tale of Two Cities is masterfully written with sly humor, densely meaningful descriptions, a cast of quirky characters only Dickens could create, an endless series of telling binaries and foils, and relevant social commentary about the French Revolution as well as Dickens' time, it is also simply a damn good story.By a damn good storyteller.

I have a difficult time writing reviews about books that I adore because, when I'm not reading them, I hug them too closely to be very critical.(BTW - I frequently hug A Tale of Two Cities in front of my students... and write Charles Dickens' name with hearts around it...They think I'm crazy, but it intrigues some of them just enough to make them doubt the derisive comments of upperclassmen.)I reluctantly admit that Dickens does oversimplify the causes of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror; however, in doing so, he successfully captures the spirit of a tumultuous period and helps readers sympathize with characters on every side of the developing conflict.I also think that the characters of Roger Cly and John Barsad get a bit messy and may have worked better as a single character.Perhaps the confusion is a result of serialization restructuring.But, really, I read A Tale of Two Cities like a costumed Lord of the Rings fan at a movie premier.I cheer when my favorite characters enter scenes and I knowingly laugh when Dickens cleverly foreshadows future events.

Though I don't think that A Tale of Two Cities is Dickens' best novel—that title I would reserve for either Bleak House or David Copperfield—I do agree with Dickens, who claims that it was his best story.It is artfully written.Dickens introduces a cast of characters, sprawled across two nations and spanning varied social classes and political affiliations, and then effortlessly weaves their stories and secrets together in a masterful way.The Modernist movement painstakingly forced literature to reflect the ambiguities and uncertainties of the real world and that's great, but sometimes it is a real joy to read a story that ends with such magnificent closure.All mysteries are solved and everything makes sense.It is beautiful.

(I have to admit that I was overjoyed when a group of my fifth period girls persistently voiced their disdain for Dickens' angel in the house Lucie and backed Madame Defarge.I think they may have created a Madame Defarge myspace, actually.Oh how the times have changed.)

"Ms. R—, you got me." "What?" "At the beginning of this book, you said you would get some of us.And that we would love it.You got me."I didn't get you G—.Charles Dickens did.I just introduced you.


"A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other."

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