I first read this novel almost 40 years ago. I’ve just finished rereading: it remains my favourite Charles Dickens novel.‘A Tale of Two Cities’was initially published in weekly instalments over 31 weeks in 1859: it is historical fiction, encompassing the period from 1775 to 1792.
The novel is divided into three separate sections (books) dealing with different events in the lives of Dr Alexandre Manette, his daughter Lucie, French emigrant Charles Darnay and his family, as well as a number of other people and events in France and England.I believe that the novel will be easier to follow for a reader broadly familiar with the history leading to and consequences of the French Revolution in 1789.
On my first read, I was most interested in the French aspects of the novel: the images of Madame Defarge knitting, and Vengeance, together with the guillotine, have remained in my mind.This time, I was more focussed on identifying some of the themes that run through the novel.Those themes are resurrection, relationships, retribution and redemption.
The sufferings of Dr Manette, and later of Charles Darnay; the relationships between Dr Manette, Lucie, Mr Lorry, and others; the role of the DeFarges, and Vengeance, in both sustaining relationships and seeking retribution; and the redemption of Sydney Carton: combine in a way which illustrates much of what can be good and bad about humanity.
‘Repression is the only lasting philosophy.The dark deference of fear and slavery, my friend,’ observed the Marquis, ‘will keep the dogs obedient to the whip as long as this roof,’ looking up to it, ‘shuts out the sky’.
To write more about the story may spoil its impact for those yet to read it.It is both a fine example of English literature and an interesting work of historical fiction.This is a novel where both the journey and the destination matter.
‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.’