I had read Dickens fairly extensively in my youth, the usual suspects plus Bleak House and Barnaby Rudge.  I think that last put me off returning to Dickens for a long time!  But although it took me a while to read the "Tale of Two Cities" I was really glad to return for a spell of Dickens on account of a new book group I joined at Urban75.  I had forgotten how adept Dickens is at making his stories a cracking read.  This was initially published like most of his works in serial fashion, though shorter episodes than he preferred initially (I wonder if that was a more lucrative way for a writer to be published?).  It was reprinted in the more customary monthly episodes with Phiz illustrations, their last collaboration, and I expect this was the format for the "posh folk"!  There's no real equivalent today that I am aware of, athough some writers are experimenting with similar endeavours online these days, notably Alexander McCall Smith's "Corduroy Mansions").  After the initial comment on Maggie O'Farrell below perhaps a Dickens is appropriate to mix things up too?

There were a couple of things I would single out; one a piece of trivia (likely known to many) is that both the opening and closing sentences are extremely famous as quotations.  The opening I was familiar with -

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, ...."

I was quite surprised at the close though to read

"It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done; ..."

I chose the illustration to show this last, rather then a jacket cover, as Sydney Carton takes the place of his friend at La Guillotine.  Incidentally I discovered this illustration was made by Ralph Bruce who worked a good deal on " Look and Learn" which I fondly remember my grandmother scrimping and saving for me to compile into binders when I was a young boy.

The other point is how much Dickens managed to bring alive the history he was portraying (this was written some fifty or sixty years after the revolution, so is comparable to recent literature like Pat Barker's regeneration trilogy.  I do not normally enjoy this sort of "educational" side to literature especially, but by interweaving it as a very necessary plot component Dickens managed to make it thoroughly engaging for me.  It comes with the territory for Dickens, and I was able to take it in good spirits of course, but the prose does wax lyric at times and I could not help wondering if he was "padding" to make the required wordage perhaps!  This is more than compensated by some of the cracking dialog, I especially enjoyed that of "Cruncher" when forswearing any return to grave robbing and forgiving his wife her "flopping" as he is himself praying for his and Miss Pross' lives.

Some last point of trivia, a couple of obscure words I enjoyed and a fact;

"Choused" - duped, deprived of.

"Metempsychosis" - the translaton of souls from one body to another.

Apparently this is also the first mention of eating "chips" in literature and, needless to say, it seems they came from France!


  1. I remember being really scared of even the theme tune of the TY series when i was a kid, but the books is far better. The last lines are so wonderful, that it makes you wish you could say them one day yourself and really mean it

    saharial on
  2. I think 'Great Expectations' slightly spoiled Dickens for me. Though I like the plot I'm not that keen on the execution. However, I do like the serial format that he and so many of his peers used. Much more accessible and something that should be resurrected. BTW-WC now on to read pile rather than terrifying pile ;-)

    Milly on
  3. At school I found Dickens far too dense and it's been difficult to even approach him since. He also suffers from "costume drama syndrome" - I blogged on this a couple of days ago; it means I've avoided Austen et al too.

    I do like how the Spoonerism of that title is "A Sale Of Two Titties" though.

    Fish on