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I loved this book when I first read it a quarter of a century ago, and I loved it again now. Things I thought of, in no special order:

It's set in 1776-1792, and was published in 1859. So for its first readers, the setting was only as long ago as the 1929-1945 period is for us: the descent into homicidal totalitarianism of a country which now generally behaves as a responsible neighbour.

Both Doctor Manette and Sydney Carton, the two most interesting characters in the book, have obvious, and sympathetically portrayed, mental health problems. The Doctor is a pretty clear case of what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder. Carton thinks of himself as simply an alcoholic, but clearly has irrationally low self-esteem and probably depression. Today he would, one hopes, have access to drugs and therapy, though even in the eighteenth century he is more or less able to hold down a high-profile job (the stress of which probably doesn't help).

Madame Defarge, however, is not mentally ill, just vindictive.

Is there another Dickens book with both a memorable opening and a memorable ending?

There were a number of sentences involving Manette which I was tempted to post here as a "which Doctor Who novel is this from" quiz, because he too is almost always referred to as "the Doctor". (Added bonus for fans of the recent Paul McGann audios is that these passages tend to involve his daughter Lucie.)

The comic Cruncher family are the one part of the book that doesn't work so well for me. Dickens is often a bit annoying when he does the rude mechanical bit but normally he finds some humanising feature. (The characterisation in the book is generally thin even by usual Dickensian standards.)

To finish on a more appreciative note, Dickens does social horror very well, and effectively links the social injustice of ancien régime France to inequality in contemporary England, and also even more effectively links the brutality of aristos and revolutionaries to the brutality of the British judicial system; it's not a past thing from a few decades ago, it's a hook for one of his best and most heartfelt class warfare arguments.

Anyway, it's brilliant, and I will not wait another 25 years before I read it again.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 6th, 2012 09:15 pm (UTC)
I am in general not a fan of Dickens, but I love A Tale of Two Cities.

Actually, I've been thinking lately that I have been unfair on Dickens - apart from A Tale of Two Cities, I read the Pickwick Papers in the school library when I was far too young, and was forced to read David Copperfield at universities and didn't enjoy either. There was also a guest lecture at uni that explained that a lot of the prudery of Victorian literary life was directly attributable to Dickens, which put me off even further.

I have, however, adored every televised and film version of Great Expectations, and indeed the BBC's adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby some years back, so maybe I should give him another try.
Oct. 7th, 2012 10:09 pm (UTC)
I re-read it earlier this year and I loved it. Last weekend my nan taught me how to knit. I tried to tell her about how Madame Defarge would keep a list of their enemies in code in her knitting. She looked genuinely impressed with the idea and said, "Oh I'll have to watch that".... I must have forgot to mention it was a book I read and not some TV show.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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