Wednesday, 17 July 2013

A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens - 4 stars

'Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; -- the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!' 
Set against the bloody backdrop of the French Revolution, this is a hugely emotionally effective look at the depths to which humanity can descend when driven with a lust for vengeance.

Following the interlaced fates of the Darnay's and the Defarge's, Charles Darnay is a former French noble living in London and husband to Lucie Manette, daughter of a former prisoner of the Bastille. Whilst Charles is in London the Defarge's (who already have history with Dr Manette) sit in their Parisian wine-shop plotting revolution against the cruel and oppressive nobles (who, when judged by their characterisation within, definitely deserve overthrowing). When Charles makes an ill-timed return to French soil, the ties that bind the Darnay's and the Defarge's grow even tighter as he is taken prisoner by the new oppressors who are using La Guillotine to exact a bloody retribution for the hardships suffered under the old regime.

Dickens does a fantastic job of conjuring up the horrors of the Revolution - at first striving for justice but soon descending into nothing more than ruthless bloodlust as people, innocent and guilty alike, lose their heads even if merely deemed 'under suspicion'.

Whilst the character of Lucie is too good to be true - so sweet and pure it makes your teeth ache (and also the reason this gets a 4 instead of a 5) - some truly formidable women feature and drive the action. Madame Defarge in particular is an incredible creation as is her polar opposite, Miss Pross, whose last stand moved me to tears ("...with the vigorous tenacity of love, always so much stronger than hate...")

I loved the way in which my views on characters changed throughout the story, with Sydney Carton and Madame Defarge rising, or descending, to the occasion and showing that neither were as they first seemed. By the final, stunning act of love and sacrifice I'd been well and truly won over and touched by many of the lines within, but none more than the incredibly powerful and moving ending.

It's now easy to see why Dickens was one of the most popular writers of his time, and why his books remain widely read to this day.

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