Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities was the book I chose for the Back to the Classics Challenge “Abandoned Classic” category. I considered plugging in George Eliot’s Middlemarch here because it is another classic I tried to read and gave up on before I had made much progress. Since I was already planning to read Silas Marner for another category, however, I didn’t feel like I needed two Eliot novels on my list.
A couple of years ago, three perhaps, I had started listening to a Penguin audio version of A Tale of Two Cities. I am not sure if it was simply that I didn’t have the brain power at the time (we were in a stressful life season, and I was still nursing our daughter), or if it was also that the narrator was not great, but I simply could not get into the storyline. I generally had a grasp of the plot, but I only got as far as the trial of Charles Darnay at Bailey’s before I just couldn’t go on and gave up on the book entirely.
This time around, I had a print copy, but I also decided to try listening to different audio version, this time on Librivox. I have to give kudos to reader Paul Adams for his excellent performance. His narration brought out both the drama and the humor of Dickens’ masterful tale. I was especially surprised by the humorous passages and Dickens’ satirical voice in A Tale of Two Cities. I have to admit that aside from being very familiar with A Christmas Carol, I had not read any other Dickens in its entirety up until now. The length of his books generally intimidates me for some reason, as well as the gloom of the Victorian era world he creates. Of course, A Tale of Two Cities is set during the French Revolution, making it even more violent and dark. This aspect of the novel made portions of it hard reading, but Dickens has such a way with words that even the ugliest parts of the story are poetic and compelling to read.
A Tale of Two Cities is at its core a human story, a story of people at their very best and their very worst, a story of humanity’s struggle to find a higher meaning amidst the bitterness of a sin-cursed world. It is a beautiful, redemptive story. Dickens weaves the plot and characters together in a somewhat surprising and masterful way that brings his tale to a truly satisfying end. Perhaps most unexpected twist of all was the fact that I was actually brought to tears at the last, something I never would have thought possible when reading a Victorian novel. But now that I have read and greatly appreciated the work of Mr. Dickens, you can be sure I will be back for more! The top three Dickens novels I want to read next are David Copperfield, Bleak House and Great Expectations, with Little Dorrit right up there, too!
In the meantime, however, I must move on to something else from my challenge lists. Most of what I’m reading right now is either AmblesideOnline Year 4 pre-reads or non-fiction, so I definitely need to add some fun fiction just for me in there! I think it will be A Room with a View because for quite some time I have been eyeing this E. M. Forster trilogy that is sitting on my shelves, just waiting for the perfect moment to jump in!
That’s all for now. I will be back soon with another review because my son and I are almost finished reading By the Shores of Silver Lake together. Until then, I’d love for you to pop into the comments and tell me what you are reading!