Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities is a sprawling tale of London and revolutionary Paris with a complex plot portraying the results of terror and treason, love and supreme sacrifice.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”—opening line of A Tale of Two Cities
It was the time of the French Revolution, a time of great change and great danger. It was a time when injustice was met by a lust for vengeance, and rarely was a distinction made between the innocent and the guilty. Against this tumultuous historical backdrop, Dickens’ dramatic story of adventure and courage unfolds.
Unjustly imprisoned for 18 years in the Bastille, Dr. Alexandre Manette is reunited with his daughter, the gentle Lucie Manette, and safely transported from France to England. It would seem that they could now take up the threads of their lives in peace. As fate would have it, however, the two are summoned to the Old Bailey to testify against a young Frenchman, Charles Darnay, falsely accused of treason. Strangely enough, Darnay bears an uncanny resemblance to another man in the courtroom: Sydney Carton, a dissolute barrister. It is a coincidence that saves Darnay from certain doom more than once, as the two men’s fates become intertwined with that of the Revolution.And there is Madame Defarge, a female revolutionary who has an implacable grudge against the aristocratic Evrémonde dynasty and who knits as she watches the beheadings.
The storming of the Bastille, the death carts with their doomed human cargo, the swift drop of the blade of La Guillotine—this is the French Revolution that Charles Dickens vividly captures. Brilliantly plotted, the novel is rich in drama, romance, and heroics that culminate in a daring prison escape in the shadow of the guillotine.
“Beginning and ending with some of English literature’s most famous lines, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities thrives on tension and conflict, all set against a bloody backdrop of the French Revolution…Through the senses, Dickens transports us deeper and deeper into another era with each turn of the page. Smell the acidity of red wine as it spills on the streets and ominously stains the faces, hands, and feet of peasants who lap it up in desperation; feel the competing emotions of heartache and hope as one of Lucie’s suitors stands trial; hear the cries of the raging mob and the clangs of their weapons as they storm the Bastille; see the glint of the guillotine as it falls swiftly to its victim below. The novel’s sense of urgency and intimacy will draw you in and propel you through one of the most tumultuous times in history.” (Oprah’s Book Club)
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Best of Listens, Worst of Listens
I love that it gave a clear view of the French Revolution and an understanding of the celebration for the people's storming of the Bastille. Dickens opening page that it was the best of times and the worst of times, gives a clear picture to the two opposing sides of this bloody history, when the good side descends into the worst of human behaviour.
It opens with the very best lines, that sum up each point along the continuum of human history. It ends with the best line of all: "It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known."
It begins with one and that continues to the last line of the book.
Huge competition but perhaps it's the battle of equals when Miss Pross and Madame Defarge confront each other.
As page one tells, this book could be written for any time in human history. The same brutality and injustice exists in our world today as it did hundreds of years ago. Dickens provides these deeds with a smattering of humour in both main and secondary characters. His wit is certainly razor-sharp.
- Wendy Lohse
Simon Prebble, you bring this classic to life