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A Tale of Two Cities Hardcover – Apr 26 2011

4.0 out of 5 stars 336 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (April 26 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141196904
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141196909
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 4.4 x 20.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 662 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 336 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #227,391 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

About the Author

Charles Dickens (1812-70) was a political reporter and journalist whose popularity was established by the phenomenally successful Pickwick Papers (1836-7). His novels captured and held the public imagination over a period of more than thirty years. Richard Maxwell teaches in the Comparative Literature & English departments at Yale.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From Gillen D'Arcy Wood's Introduction to A Tale of Two Cities

When Dickens expressed to A. H. Layard his fear of revolution in Britain in 1855, he only echoed many dozens of commentators over the preceding six decades, who wondered why mob violence could not simply cross the English Channel and turn the streets of London into a bloodbath of class retribution. The textbook historian's answer points to the bloodless coup of 1688, the so-called Glorious Revolution, which saw the tyrant James II forced into exile, and William and Mary inaugurate a form of managerial rule in Britain, a constitutional, "mixed" monarchy where many absolute powers of the Crown were ceded to Parliament. With the consolidation of that legislative body, however unrepresentative, Britain's nobility insured itself against the apocalyptic disaster that was to befall their French counterparts. The divergent tale of the two cities thus begins in 1688.



But as a novelist, Dickens, who loved Paris and traveled there often, offers more intuitive, closely observed reasons for the untranslatable quality of that city's Revolution. In an 1856 article for his weekly magazine, Household Words, he calls Paris "the Moon," and describes a culture of spectacle implicitly alien to his London readers. On the grand Parisian boulevards, Dickens watches the upper classes put on "a mighty show." Later, he takes coffee and a cigar at one of Paris's ubiquitous cafés, and participates in a kind of collective voyeurism unfamiliar to the English capital:

The place from which the shop front has been taken makes a gay proscenium; as I sit and smoke, the street becomes a stage, with an endless procession of lively actors crossing and re-crossing. Women with children, carts and coaches, men on horseback, soldiers, water-carriers with their pails, family groups, more soldiers, lounging exquisites, more family groups (coming past, flushed, a little late for the play). . . . We are all amused, sitting seeing the traffic in the street, and the traffic in the street is in its turn amused by seeing us ("Railway Dreaming," pp. 373-374). Paris is a society of spectacle, a glamorous outdoor "stage" where citizens are both actors and audience. Later in the article, however, Dickens describes a more sinister aspect of this culture of display when he is jostled by the crowds at the Paris morgue, whose "bodies lie on inclined planes within a great glass window, as though Holbein should represent Death, in his grim Dance, keeping a shop, and displaying his goods like a Regent Street or boulevard linen-draper" (p. 375). Dickens is unnerved here, as he was at Horsemonger Lane, by a society that places no restraints on visibility, even to preserve the solemnity of the dead.

It is a short step in Dickens's imagination from the peep-show atmosphere of the Paris morgue in 1856 to the ritual slaughter in the Place de la Révolution during Robespierre's "Reign of Terror" of 1793-1794. A Tale of Two Cities shows the dark side of urban theatricality, that a public appetite for glamorous "show" can rapidly degenerate into an insatiable hunger for "scenes of horror and demoralization." The essentially theatrical quality of Parisian social life produces a theatrical Revolution. At the revolutionary "trials" at the Hall of Examination, Madame Defarge, we are told, "clapped her hands as at a play." There is something uniquely Parisian, too, in the spectacle of the liberation of the Bastille (with only seven prisoners inside) and in the rituals of the Terror itself, as the tumbrils roll daily to the guillotine watched by knitting ladies, who take up seats in their favored spots each morning as if at a sideshow or circus. As Dickens describes it, even the victims of the Terror cannot escape the theatrical atmosphere of the proceedings. Among the condemned, "there are some so heedful of their looks that they cast upon the multitude such glances as they have seen in theatres, and in pictures." Contrast this with Charles Darnay, who, on trial for his life earlier in the novel, disdains "the play at the Old Bailey": He "neither flinched from the situation, nor assumed any theatrical air in it." Our hero disappoints us on occasion, but here, by resisting being converted into a spectacle, he defends the most important social principle of the novel: the dignity of the private citizen in the face of the howling mob.


--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read this book in order to read some of the classics. It was somewhat confusing for me, as many characters were introduced. The book did get a hold of me and I had to finish reading it. So it was a good read.
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Review by Mary Haskett
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is a mesmerizing read. This timeless novel set in the time of the French revolution portrays the evil and the good in man. The French poor, spurred to anger and hatred by the injustices incurred upon them by the French aristocracy, by degrees turn into an unrelenting murderous mob as they seek justice. Many innocent victims are trundle to Madame Guillotine day after day, adults and children alike, and Madame Defarge filled with hatred for injustices done to her family sits and knits at the foot of the guillotine along with her peers, reveling as heads fall.
Across the sea in England, society is more civilized. In London, the reader meets a variety of characters, Charles Darnay, formerly Evermonde, Lucie his wife, and Lucie’s father, all have escaped from France. Charles feels compelled to return to France and rescue his overseer wrongly imprisoned. He meets the same fate. Lucie and her father set out to save him.
In the shadow of this drama is one, Sydney Carton, a heavy drinker, who strongly resembles Charles in appearance. The true character of Sydney Carton surfaces as he devises a plan to take Charles place at the guillotine. He arranges the escape of the family, with the help of good servants.
If you have never read a Tale of Two Cities, you have doubtless heard of Sydney Carton’s last words as he went to the guillotine. “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.” He emerges at the end of this tale as a true and noble hero.
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I have read this book many times and always enjoy it. This time was great but different. I felt more forced to read every word. It made me realize how stilted Dickens writes though the story is still one of the most altruistic ever.
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Format: Paperback
I will never, the rest of my life forget these two sentences. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness...." and at closing "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."

Wow, this is not your usual Dickens. No quirky characters with strange names and laugh out loud moments, just a darn good story -- the story of two cities, London and Paris. It is difficult to put the plot into words, but when the book begins you are in London at the time of the American revolution and spies (or suspected spies) abound, and the story eventually switches to France prior to and during the French revolution.

Dickens does a marvelous job (as always) of building his story one step at a time and slowly peeling back the layers one at a time. This is not a put down and pick it up a week later kind of a book, it is very intense and complicated and you have to pay close attention. I was just floored at how he sucked me in with his descriptions of the mobs, terror and the madness of the revolution leading you to a nail biting finish. I admit to holding my breath during those last few pages!

Highly recommended, and well worth the time to discover (or rediscover) an old classic.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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