Five Reasons to Drop Everything and Read A Tale of Two Cities

madame defarge

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, 1859

You do not need me to tell you that A Tale of Two Cities is a masterpiece. If you have read it, you already know. If you haven’t, stop dicking around; go get a copy or download the e-book right now.

Perhaps you are like me before I started this reading project: you think Dickens is a stuffy, long-winded prototype of the paid-per-word Victorian writer.  Maybe you need to be persuaded. If so, here are five reasons to drop everything and pick up A Tale of Two Cities.

  • A different type of Dickens. As I read it, I was shocked by how greatly this book differs from Dickens’ other novels. He typically wrote character driven works, expending thousands of words detailing every stage of the moral development of a protagonist. I went in expecting Dickensian micro-focus on characters and found myself immersed in a world populated by abstractions. Gone are the perhaps-too-fully fleshed out David Copperfields and Pips, replaced by characters who allegorically represent redemption, trauma, loyalty, vengeance, innocence, gluttony, privilege, poverty, etc. If discussions in my college literature classes are any indication, most people prefer three-dimensional characters. I don’t. I love to ruminate on the implications of an allegory. I close my eyes and dream of symbols. If you also delight in a long mental embrace with a metaphor, go read A Tale of Two Cities.
  • Emotion. It takes a rare emotional and intellectual range to make a reader laugh on page four and weep on page twenty. Dickens’ sense of irony will have you chuckling at the trivial vanities of an innkeeper, lamenting over the suffering of the starving French masses, seething at the injustice of the aristocracy and exalting in the joy of familial bliss. You will feel sorrow, amusement, outrage and sympathy. If your heart is capable of responding to the written word, go read A Tale of Two Cities.
  • In my opinion, this is the best plotted of Dickens’ novels. It has intrigue, surprises, sudden reversals of fortune and sudden recoveries from near-certain doom. If you like suspense, go read A Tale of Two Cities.
  • Style. This is a famously well written book. For good reason. Sometimes I felt like Dickens was showing off, but in a fun way. I found myself thinking, “Daaaang, Dickens, did you just fit all those literary devices in one sentence? You’re crazy, but you pulled it off.” A Tale of Two Cities is the literary equivalent of the X-Games (or some more recent pop culture reference. I don’t pretend to be cool; I’m a book nerd). Extreme metaphor, allegory, paradox, irony, social commentary, everything. It’s brilliant. If you appreciate style, go read A Tale of Two Cities.
  • Madame Defarge. You know I’m going to love any book that heavily features knitting. There are two consecutive chapters titled “Knitting” and “Still Knitting,” which I will steal for my autobiography, because they accurately describe my life. Are you a knitter? Do you ever feel that perhaps the stitches you make will determine the course of history, the fates of men? I have read so many allusions to the Greek Fates, those queens of fibercraft, that I feel a bit witchy and weird when I knit. Not as sinister as Madame Defarge, I hope. If I had her life, I’d want to decapitate aristocrats too. I’m rambling. The point is, Madame Defarge is an iconic character and I love her.

Strangely, this isn’t necessarily my favorite book by Dickens. I perhaps prefer the lighter stuff. But it’s a masterpiece.

If you have read this far, thank you. You seem cool. I like you. I care about you. As someone who cares about you, I want you to go read A Tale of Two Cities. You won’t regret it.

You might like A Tale of Two Cities if:

  • we both know this section is unnecessary. The whole post is just reasons to like this book. Go read it.

You might not like A Tale of Two Cities if:

  • you aren’t intellectually prepared for its glory. Which you are. Trust me. Go read it.

Final thoughts: GO READ IT!