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Customer Review

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best of Books..., 17 Sept. 2009
This review is from: A Tale of Two Cities (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
One of only two Dickens novels to be given a historical setting, A Tale of Two Cities is perhaps best known today as one of only a handful of novels from which both the first line (`It was the best of times...) and the last line (It is a far, far better thing I do now...) are very well known. To an extent this is unfortunate as it detracts a little from the many qualities of this wonderful book. It is undoubtedly one of the most popular and arguably the greatest of all Dickens' work. Perhaps oddly then, for a writer so renowned for his comic characters, it is one of the least humorous of his novels. There are one or two comic characters, but one of these at least, Miss Pross, turns out finally to be nothing short of heroic. It also contains many fewer characters than many of the other novels but is certainly none the worse for it. By focusing on a relatively small number of principals Dickens is able to develop them more completely than he does elsewhere and in Charles Darnay, Dr Mannette and most notably Sydney Carton he creates some of his most memorable and certainly some of his most fully developed characters. Dickens is sometimes accused of creating one-dimensional characters who display a characteristic and/or attitude early in the novel and pretty much stick with them throughout. This could certainly not be said of Carton who moves from a kind of sleazy decadence and violent self-loathing to penitent heroism as the novel progresses.

If characterisation is the novel's clearest strength, Dickens' renowned depiction of London come a very close second. His ability to evoke the sounds, sights and even smells of tough unforgiving city life is, at times quite mesmerising. From the opening dark, rain-soaked struggle up Shooters Hill in the mail coach to the fusty, antediluvian premises and employees of Tellson's Bank, this is Dickensian London at its very best. Paris too, is brought strikingly to life in numerous scenes particularly the first in which the streets of Saint Antoine are filled with spilled wine, ominously anticipating the later spilling of so much blood.

Finally it is worth saying something about Dickens' view of the French Revolution and its implications for the Europe of his day which clearly fascinated him,. His key conclusion, which he returned to on numerous other occasions, was that what is sown must finally be reaped or in other words, that if those with power and wealth fail to treat those without either with fairness and charity then revolution, bloody violent revolution is finally inevitable.
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