I admit somewhat ashamedly that A Tale of Two Cities is the first Dickens novel I have read. I’m certain it won’t be the last if Dickens’ other novels are half as good as this one.
A Tale of Two Cities is a masterfully constructed novel, providing both a perspective on the French Revolution, as well as telling a story with unparalleled characters. I have heard Dickens referred to as “the best ‘describer’”. I am certainly inclined to agree. Dickens does not describe his characters in the classic sense. He does not bore the reader with details of their physical appearance. Instead he allows the characters to speak through themselves through actions and relationships. The characters, instead of appearing dull and two dimensional, live in a three dimensional, realistic world. Two characters that are particularly well created are Sydney Carton and Miss Pross.
Sidney Carton is a mixture between Les Miserables’ Jean Valjean and Eponine. Like Jean Valjean, Carton undergoes an incredible transformation upon meeting Lucie (who is not unlike Cosette). His unrequited love for her, like Eponine’s for Marius, does not end in bitterness and hatred, but in a selfless sacrifice so that their love can live in happiness with their lover. The final chapter of A Tale of Two Cities is both heart wrenching and inspiring due to the character development of Sydney Carton.
Miss Pross is a more amusing character, a no nonsense governess who is simultaneously a proper Englishwoman and a tough lady. She will do anything to protect her “ladybird” and does so near the end of the book. Miss Pross faces Madame Defarge (a character similar to the female Thénardier), a woman carrying both a knife and a pistol. Miss Pross transforms herself from a comic, somewhat insignificant character, to a heroine in this scene.
A Tale of Two Cities is a masterpiece combining expert storytelling with incredible characters. I am officially a Dickens fan.