A Tale of Two Cities: ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; — the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!’ | Book Review

★★★★★/★★★★★ A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

This is one of the greatest novels of all time, and I was finally convinced to do a review of it by a friend that wanted to see what I thought of it before reading it for the first time. Mary, this is for you.

This story takes place before and during the French Revolution between the main two cities referred to in the previous quote, Paris and London.  We follow Sydney, Lucie, Charles, Dr. Alexandre Manette , who all form basically one side, while on the other we have Monsieur and Madame Defarge, Jacques, and The Vengeance. I will tell you how many characters I actually like of all the ones previously mentioned, one, and it is Sydney, that beautiful cinnamon bun that everyone should adore. We also have the most developed and most evil villain of all time, Madame Defarge, she gives me goosebumps.

Now let me tell you about the characters in more depth.

  • Sydney Carton: I have mentioned in previous reviews that I adore layered and dynamic characters, Sydney is both, as well as the tragic hero in the story, screw everyone else, he is the one true hero. He is such a pessimistic bastard, I actually believe he lived most of his life as a depressed fella, deserving none of it. He is constantly denying his feelings, but we soon realize he is trying to hide how he truly feels. He is in love with Lucie, as is Darnay, but he believes he has no opportunity, and therefore tries to hide it as much as he can. He needs redemption too badly, he needs it. 
  • Madame Defarge: What an evil woman! She is a bloodthirsty psychopath, everything about her exudes hatred.If knitting was a thing you always thought was for old people, it is the single most scary thing after reading, this beast knits a register of the future victims of the revolution.  She is also obsessed with Lucie and her family, to the point she wants them executed perhaps more than the rulers of France themselves. It is made clear by Dickens that her hatred is fruition of her suffering under the aristocracy, but like my friend here says:tumblr_n2wi1tz2sz1sikfv8o2_500
  • Doctor Manette, Lucie, and Darnay: Many believe them to be the main characters, but to me they are secondary characters, only there for the purpose of Carton and Defarge, which might sound bad, but it is not, it helps with character development perfectly. This however does not mean that they do not evolve, because they do, particularly the doctor, ho shifts from a PTSD sufferer to a more clear and justice-filled man.  Lucie and Darnay are the flattest of all the characters, even the Vengeance has more depth, but they represent all that Carton wishes to become, and for this they were essential to the development of the story and the redemption arc I wished Draco Malfoy had gotten, and luckily carton did. 

“Death may beget life, but oppression can beget nothing other than itself.”

This novel is based around two themes, revolutions and their reasons and consequences, and the need of sacrifice. It is very clear that Dickens supports the revolution, but this does not stop him from showing of the evils it brought forth, where many innocent people were killed by the guillotine. Yet he does not only show the evilness of some revolutionaries, but the Machiavellian things done to the lower class by the aristocracy, particularly Marquis Evrémonde. Dickens basically points out that : “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” While leaving us to ponder that this phrase is usually spoken by a man with two eyes. And after this revolution, sacrifice must be done in order for the new France to thrive, loves will be left, lives forsaken, and loyalties destroyed. 

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. 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.”

This striking commentary on revolutionary France and its contemporary England is one of the most magnificent things I have ever read. I will never be glad enough that this elegant piece of literature came into my life. 



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