I think everyone knows this phrase even if they've never read the book. I certainly did. Once again, Heather Ordover from the Craftlit podcast caused me to read a classic that I wasn't sure I wanted to attempt. She fully encouraged me through the "slow" pieces for the final payoff. A Tale of Two Cities is easily one of my top 5 favorite classics now.
If I wanted to boil this down: French aristocracy stomps on the peasants. Peasants revolt. People die. Someone knits through the whole thing.
That's almost insulting to this novel. I actually learned quite a bit, not just about history but about writing. There is a reason Dickens is renowned for his work.
We have 3 books: the first book introduces us to the main players. Jarvis Lorry, a man of business who I just want to hug and adjust his wig. Lucie Manette, perhaps too perfect and dull a character but very necessary for the book. Alexandre Manette, Lucie's dad who was imprisoned in the Bastille for 18 years. We do find out why he was imprisoned and the anger starts all over again. Sydney Carton, he starts off as cynical and probably alcoholic but follow him. Charles Darney, another somewhat dull but necessary character. The Crunchers, The DeFarges, The Jacques...etc. We meet them all, in London and in Paris.
Book 2 moves the chess pieces into place and gets the characters where they need to be. Here, I learned about 3 act plays and how we don't really have them anymore. People want the introduction and then the final payoff. Dickens makes us go through the moving of the pieces and he does it wonderfully.
Book 3 throws us, and the characters, into Paris and just horribleness. Reading up on the French Revolution, it was really that disturbing and sick. The peasants created an uprising, which since the aristocracy was pretty awful, I don't blame them, BUT they went so far with the guillotine and trying to wipe out entire lineages of aristocracy that it was a bloodbath. Dickens spares nothing when describing the violence and the blood. Our beloved characters get caught up in this revolution, for better or worse. When the ending comes, your heart will rend (and you will probably tear up - I did).
I also learned about allegorical characters. I never considered that The Vengeance might not be a real woman but it makes sense that she is "Plump with a starving grocer husband" if she is truly the vengeance of the peasants feeding off of their hate. She is well fed, indeed, during the revolution.
I'll admit to being very curious about Madame DeFarge because I knew she was famously always knitting in this novel. Heather even has a knitting book called What Would Madame DeFarge Knit? and that really prompted me to read this. Knitters shouldn't be evil, they just shouldn't. When we knit, we put good thoughts, prayers and positive vibes into our work. Not DeFarge. Her character was very interesting and turned into something very frightening.
Don't be afraid of this book. Tackle it. Read it. Learn from it. It's so very worth your time. This is out of copyright so it's free on the interwebz at Librivox or Project Gutenberg.
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”