All the Dickens novels I have reviewed so far can’t really be described as having much in the way of plot. That’s not the point; they are studies, examples of life’s hardships, and thus don’t really need more than a few coincidences to keep moving along. When I did my (minimal) research to get an idea of which Dickens books to write about, most people said that their favourite was A Tale of Two Cities, but that they didn’t think it really counted as a Dicken’s novel – it doesn’t seem like the others they know.
Having looked at it, I think they’re right. A Tale of Two Cities is different. Published between 1860 and 1861, and thus one of Dickens’s later novels, it is actually somewhat exciting. It’s also different because unlike most of Dickens’s novels it’s set in the past (for Dickens as well as us), which means that although we still get a lot of Dickens’s morality towards the poor, it’s more of a theme rather than preaching.
The novel looks at the French Revolution, with the two cities being London and Paris. I have to warn you that I have only the vaguest ideas about what exactly happened during the French Revolution, so Dickens’s interpretation might make the greater history buffs out there cringe. We follow one family as they escape from the cruelties of the French prison system, and eventually become trapped in France following the Revolution. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but it involves literal self-sacrifice, unrequited love, PTSD (probably), plotting, scheming and nearly-identical strangers. The ending is beautiful, involving a change in character which has been foreshadowed since nearly the beginning of the novel.This marks the end of our Charles Dickens season, but don’t worry – he’ll be back at Christmas with A Christmas Carol. Next week, I take a break from modern(ish) classics and we’ll look at a Real classic – The Odessey.