“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .”
So begins one of my favorite classics, a book that I didn’t expect to like and instead fell head over heels in love with. A Tale of Two Cities captivated me. Its poignancy, intrigue, and complex characters drew me in, propelling me through a book that I’d heard described many times as sluggish.
The French Revolution is a bloody, chaotic period in history, and the books that I have read during that era have always fascinated me. The Scarlet Pimpernel and Les Miserables are both great favorites of mine as well, both as movies and as books.
Like most classics, A Tale of Two Cities is anything but a quick read. It meanders along, telling the story in rich detail and vivid depth. I personally will read—and enjoy—a book no matter the length, as long as it does a good job of keeping its reader engaged.
And this book had no trouble doing that.
The story begins with the trial of Charles Darney, a Frenchman in an English court, now accused of treason and espionage. The charges are quickly dropped, however, on the testimony of Sydney Carton, a lawyer and a man who looks enough like Darney to be his twin. After the trial, the two of them continue to be linked together by a young woman, Lucie Manette, whose father has recently been rescued from a French prison. She eventually is married to Darney, and Sydney graciously steps aside, declaring the other a better man and continuing to maintain friendship with both of them.
But the turmoil in France continues to grow, and Darney, a former aristocrat who has disowned his family line, must return to plead mercy for a former servant. But the bloodshed, rampant hatred, and growing terror snatch him up as well, and the whirlwind of violence that was the French Revolution threatens the quiet family he has built.
A Tale of Two Cities is a remarkable story of love and grief, bitterness and healing. Charles Dickens weaves heroism into ‘worthless’ men, fear into courage, and forgiveness into years of hatred. This story is one that I have treasured since the moment I read it and will continue to hold dear as one of the most believable, moving stories I’ve ever read.
I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.