Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Reading Tale of Two Cities

I'm sorry to be largely absent from these pages of late. Many of the Darwin clan have been sick (and I sit upon the knife's edge, waiting to see if I'll fall into full illness or just keep feeling like I might the next day) and things have been busy at work too.

However, my trips to and from work have been enlivened with a new audiobook: I finally gave up on Ken Follet's Fall of Giants half way through and did what I've never done with an audiobook before -- quit half way through. I'd wanted a good sweeping historical novel, so the replacement I picked up was Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, which I'd never read before. Dickens is such a quintessentially English writer that it had never occurred to me to read his book dealing with France.

I'm a bit more than half way through right now, but one of the things that has been interesting to me (coming at it knowing nothing about the story except for the couple of lines which everyone has heard quoted) is that the novel has such a very English take on the French Revolution. Dickens is, on the one hand, writing about England of eighty years before his own time (it's drinking, its penal system, it's society) with a highly critical eye and at the same time is very clear that he finds English society far better and more balanced than that of France. He goes to great lengths to show what he sees as the wrongs committed both by the aristocrats and by the common people, and how the one feeds the other. Indeed, thus far I'd say that here you get more a sense of how the different levels of society corrupt each other in this novel than in his more contemporary novels in which the social criticism is often more one-sided.

And yet, for all that Dickens arguably has a bigger ideological ax to grind than Follet, he also writes far more interesting characters than Follet does. One wouldn't call Dickens' characterization deep, but it is far, far preferable to anything in Fall of Giants. (Did I mention I didn't like that one?)


Julie D. said...

Hi five on this one. I had the same problem with Follett and gave up on Pillars of the Earth in the first third of the book.

A Tale of Two Cities is the book that introduced me to Dickens several years ago ... and I've never looked back. Slowly, slowly I work my way through his books and each one has something to delight me (except Great Expectations ... I've got some kind of mental block with that and had to put it down halfway through).

Mary Hennessey said...

I have been reading this to my 2 boys. It seems they want me to read it as it is harder for them to understand when they read it by themselves. (They are 14 and 15, for Pete's sake!) However, slowly savoring the masterful wordsmithing of Dickens is inducing interesting discussions in our homeschool.