Book review: Tale of Two Cities and the French Revolution

Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

Book description: After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the ageing Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.

My review: Well, consider me embarrassed. After all my fuss about not wanting to read the classics, they are now winning two for two. I inhaled A Tale of Two Cities and adored it. Like, adored it. This is my new favourite book. The plot was so intricate and twisted. The way every mystery was answered, and so well wrapped up, it was incredibly satisfying. I actually gasped a few times while reading this, that’s how wrapped up I got in this. The characters were fantastic, none less than the wickedly vengeful tricoteuse Madame Desfarge and my favourite, Sydney Carton.

The book has sparked a newfound obsession about the French Revolution in me. I think it comes from spending so much time in France, I find it difficult to not think about everything that went down in history more than 200 years here. In fact, I spend most mornings gazing out towards the French villages dotting the side of the Saleve. Sometimes I feel it would be so easy to slip into another time, surrounded by the ancient homesteads that have seen so much.

One I can’t stop thinking about with my new interest in the revolution, arguably the most impactful of any event in the Western world, is this article. The idea that inequality is growing in the States so rapidly that it is beginning to resemble a feudal society is quite terrifying. “If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out.”

I don’t quite think that the United States is quite on the verge of a revolution a la French. I think for a uprising on that bloodthirsty level to occur, there has to be so little value put on human life that there is no reason to not go that far. Certainly America, land of the free, does not allow for children to be casually killed under the feet of the rich (as happens in A Tale of Two Cities), or for the plight of the starving to be casually discarded with the suggestion that they eat grass (as actually happened in France). But it does make you think … how far will the people allow the wealthy to continue to amass all the moneys, while they continue to suffer greater indignities and greater poverty. The American Dream certainly seems more of a surreality than ever before.

This is a picture I took of my cover of A Tale of Two Cities, a detail of The Roll Call of the Last Victims of the Reign of Terror. I think it is such an evocative painting.

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