This isn’t really fantasy literature, but the setting is kind of what? late Medieval, Renaissance–I can never get my history straight.
Anyway, I stumbled across a couple of reviews for “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens that gave it a measly two stars out of five. I can only surmise that the reviewers were… shall we say… not very sophisticated readers. If you are looking for blood and gore—actually this book has it: it deals with the French Revolution—but it just doesn’t dwell on it in the same way that modern fiction does. The bloodletting is left in the background and not examined up close. I originally read this book when I was in high school. At the time I enjoyed the book, but I don’t think I fully appreciated it. I didn’t quite get the foreshadowing techniques used (which may have been, actually, over-used) at the time, but I thought it was a good story. This time through, though, I really got a picture of the story as a cohesive whole. Everything in “A Tale of Two Cities” relates to everything else. It’s a great book. And a literary classic.
There are a number of crucial players in the story, including Charles Darnay, Sydney Carton, and Lucie Manette. There are others, but I will limit my discussion to those three. Lucie Manette is the love interest in the tale. She is a beautiful young woman who marries Charles Darnay, a French aristocrat who basically gave up his way of life because he was disgusted with the abuses of the aristocracy. Sydney Carton is a dissolute lawyer who is also in love with and devoted to Lucie Manette. What I liked about the book is its exploration of the concept of nobility. On the one hand, you have the aristocracy of wealth; those individuals who make their living on the backs of the common man. Then there is the concept of nobility as it should be; nobility as it is exemplified in Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. Charles Darnay knows there is trouble in France, but he leaves the safety of England and goes back to help one of his family’s servants who ran into difficulties on account of his employ in the Evremonde (Charles Darnay’s real name) family. He braves the perils of a blood-thirsty country to help a former servant out of a sense of honor and duty. Then, there is Sydney Carton. He is a pitiable character throughout much of the book, but then he goes and meets one of the best deaths in literature. Again, exemplifying a nobility in character as opposed to mere wealth.
Anyway, the book was great. My only complaint is that I think it used a tad too much foreshadowing. But it definitely helped me in my own writing; it gave me a better sense of how everything in a novel is supposed to relate to everything else. A novel isn’t just supposed to tell a story. I’ll give “A Tale of Two Cities” four and a half stars out of five. I’ll definitely check out the rest of Charles Dickens’ work.
This review was originally published on Shelfari.com on 2-27-12.