It is strange to read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) and see the ongoing media coverage of Charlottesville, controversies over and vandalism of Confederate monuments, and the divisions in American society becoming only sharper. I say “strange” because the story that Dickens tells is a reminder that despite our science, our technology, our educational attainments, and the growth of knowledge, our human condition remains stubbornly the same.
The first and last time I read the book was in my sophomore year of high school. Our English class dutifully carried around the paperback edition published by Dell (the publisher, not the computer maker) with a yellow-orange cover. It’s one of Dickens’s shorter works, but to 10th grade boys, it still looked like a lot of fat book to read. Some in our class found the Cliff Notes version of the book, while others got their hands on the Classics Illustrated comic book edition. A few of us read the book itself.
And until I recently reread it, I’d forgotten what a wonderful story it is. Published in 1859, A Tale of Two Cities is one of Dickens’s later novels, which had the advantage of being written from a coherent outline. His earlier books, like Oliver Twist and Pickwick Papers, were written for magazine serialization without the benefit of the author knowing from the outset where the story was going. And it is a major reason why his later novels remain some of the most powerful works in literature – he knew from the beginning where the story was going to end.
To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.
Illustration: Madame Defarge in the wine shop, one of the illustrations by Hablot Knight Browne (“Phiz”) for A Tale of Two Cities.