Review: A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two CitiesA Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has many merits and few faults.

I loved the characters. Miss Pross was especially my favorite. Her introduction stuck out in my memory:

"Mr. Lorry knew Miss Pross to be very jealous, but he also knew her by this time to be, beneath the service of her eccentricity, one of those unselfish creatures–found only among women–who will, for pure love and admiration, bind themselves willing slaves, to youth when they have lost it, to beauty that they never had, to accomplishments that they were never fortunate enough to gain, to bright hopes that never shone upon their own sombre lives. He knew enough of the world to know that there is nothing in it better than the faithful service of the heart; so rendered and so free from any mercenary taint, he had such an exalted respect for it, that in the retributive arrangements made by his own mind–we all make such arrangements, more or less– he stationed Miss Pross much nearer to the lower Angels than many ladies immeasurably better got up both by Nature and Art, who had balances at Tellson’s."

This was such a wonderful observation that it caused me to suddenly gain admiration for so many women.

The plot was well construed, though perhaps misshapen and out of balance. The intertwining nature of the lives of the characters was very strong. Dickens makes it look easy. After observing the seemingly effortless connections between plot points I thought to myself, "That’s what I should do with my stories," as if I wasn’t already putting forth great effort already.

The length of this book should be cut by about one-third, in my opinion. There were scenes that were just too long and frankly unnecessary. For instance the scenes of Jerry and his son, Jerry Junior, robbing graves. I enjoyed the individual moments within those scenes, particularly Jerry Junior’s exclamation to his father that when he grew up he wanted "to be a resurrection man." It’s a quotable line, but it should have been saved for an entirely separate short story, if anything. Otherwise, the scenes with Jerry could have been cut nearly entirely.

The handling of the weight on individual protagonists could have been better handled. Carton’s eventual emergence as the Christ-type and most noble hero was unfortunately both ill-preconditioned and easily expected. Darnay was heroic throughout the story, but he never rose to the level of Carton’s, which makes him less of an interesting character. The "telling" nature of the Defarge’s poverty-stricken history as motivation for their villainry left me a little skeptical of their actions.

There was a major error that caused about a fourth of the book to fall flat for me. This was Carton’s declaration to Lucy that he would, ‘die for her, or for any man whom she loved.’ I know that the storyteller was trying to set up the climax, but he revealed so much of his hand that the ending became predictable. This left me wading through the latter fourth of the story purely bound to the prose by obligation.

However, it did pick up in the end. Once Carton had openly revealed his plan the story again became suspenseful.

Four stars for its remarkable characters and character relationships.

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