I feel that this book is not viewed as being one of the top tier of Dickens works due to the fact that it is thrust upon grade 9 students as an introduction to literary classics and, being so, its impact and overall cultural power has become diluted due to the audience that initially received it. It is not in regards to the content of the work itself. The intellectual abilities of students of this educational level are not able to understand the historical era, appreciate the fluent descriptive nature of the writing nor to comprehend the literary nuances that the author presents. In sum, it starts out with a less than average evaluation, by a less than receptive audience, and never fully recovers from it. A similar writing that undergoes an equally unfair youth-driven summary is that of `Silas Marner'.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. etc...." Dickens in his introductory remarks clearly lays out the tone for the rest of his historical novel; everything that is presented has two different and opposing definitions depending solely on how one views life's occurrences. What appears to be a revolution to overcome decades of elitist oppression to some, appears to be a retaliatory blood bath to others and who the people that appear to be the heroes of a just and timely uprising to some, appear to be no more than blood thirsty criminals to others. The contrast that Dickens verbally paints for us goes that much deeper; the calm and serene life in England vs. the agitated emotional level of Paris, the significant differences between the French and English Tellson Banks operations, and the respect of the ruling elite of London for the utter disdain for Paris's monsignors. Couple these contrasts with Dickens's literary description of the guttural smells and aromas of death and revenge, the pathos and vengeance felt throughout Paris and the contrasting peace and calm experienced in London and you have a novel that highlights the dichotomy that life was during this era. The dividing line to how one viewed life was simply from where you viewed it. The English Channel was the line of demarcation and it solely depended on which side of it one resided to determine how one defined life itself.
"It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done. etc...." Dickens closes his tale in the same manner in which he began it; contrasting definitions. Sidney Carton, the drudgery of mankind who overdrinks, sells his soul to the highest paying litigant and resides in the gutters of society is the man who sacrifices himself for all that is pure, loving and honorable in life. He gives up his life such that the woman from whom he experiences unrequited love may go on and obtain the life that he realizes that he would never have.
No, this is not the tale we thought it was when we were forced to absorb its contents during our early high school years. But, yet, the overall opinions regarding this historical novel reflect our early formed and juvenile opinions. This, instead, is one of Charles Dickens most powerful and engrossing tales of human existence, belonging to not only a tier#1 level of Dickens's novels but a tier #1 level of all English literature.
It is always the best of times. It is always the worst of times......