Dear Mr. Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities

Monday, May 09, 2011

Esteemed Mr. Dickens,

You are by this point familiar with my previous struggle with your works. Fortunately, after electing to read Oliver Twist, we were able to repair our fractured relationship and enjoy each other's company. However, it was still not without consternation that I began your later work, A Tale of Two Cities. You may remember the number of (fruitless) attempts that I previously made to enjoy this particular tale. Although I picked up the volume at multiple stages of my life, I could never get past the second chapter. After my delightful experience with Oliver Twist, I vowed that I would give this novel, described by some of my friends as your best, a second chance. However, as the time to read it approached, I wondered if I should get in another novel before attempting A Tale of Two Cities, strengthening our fragile relationship.

When I noticed your name on the roster of this month's installment of The Classics Circuit, however, I thought that the pressure of a deadline would inspire me to finish. I dug out my Dover thrift edition (cheap binding and tiny print) and settled in with the book on my two hour bus ride. Once again, the first two chapters will difficult for me. Despite the famed quote at the beginning ("It was the best of times, it was the worst of times") the beginning of the book meandered and muddled for me. Don't get me wrong - it was eloquent - but I just had no idea what was happening. The air of mystery surrounding the stagecoach did not only cloak the passengers in darkness, but my own awareness of what was going on. However, as Mr. Lorry emerged from the night into the adventures of rescuing Dr. Manette, the plot also brightened for me. Once the characters began to take shape, your heavy words enhanced instead of obscured the scenes.

I am currently one hundred pages in. While the reading is thick, so far it has been rewarding. I am curious to know who imprisoned Dr. Manette, what exactly Charles Darnay is doing in France, and who will win the heart of Lucie Manette (okay, so it really isn't that much of a surprise, Mr. Dickens - I am pretty sure my assumptions will be correct. But I want to humor you in the challenge you are presenting with Sydney Carton). I positively delight in Miss Pross and her horror of the "hundreds of men" coming to call on Lucie. I am also enjoying your language once again. While it isn't as humorous as in Oliver Twist, it still presents shades of humor and sarcasm. To me, Oliver Twist seems like you are writing in caricature and A Tale of Two Cities seems like you are writing in earnest. It seems a little more real with a little more emotion. While I wasn't able to finish the book by my deadline, I have made considerably more progress than ever before (and the number of attempts I've made have been numerous, so this is a great milestone). I will send you my review once I finish the book.

As always,
The Story Girl


  1. I listened to the audio version of ToTC and I found that really helped -- the writing is pretty dense so it did force me to slow down and listen instead of just skimming parts of it. I also found Oliver Twist delightful, it's still one of my favorite Dickens. He is an acquired taste, but worth it (except for Hard Times).

  2. Nicely done! I enjoyed the informal "Dear Mr. Dickens" format you used. I do hope you see the book through to the end. Someday you should also check out the old movie version (I'm not sure what year, but it's the one where Ronald Colman played Sidney Carton)

    I've often pondered writing a blog post about the many "false starts" I've experienced with books, some of which I eventually ended up sticking with and loving, and some of which still rest on my bookshelf, mocking my weak resolve...


  3. Cool! I haven't read any Dickens yet ... I think A Tale of Two CIties is the first one I want to try though. We reviewed Persuasion on The Blue Bookcase ... come check it out if you want!

  4. This is actually one of my favorite books. It has some of the greatest characters--villian & hero--that I've ever encountered.

  5. Great review - it has made me want to pick up A Tale of Two Cities again. It's got one of the best first lines ever.


  6. I too had SUCH a hard time with the beginning of this novel. It's definitely not a favorite Dickens for me, but some like the historical context. I hope you do enjoy the unfolding action -- and the end!

  7. Ha! I'm glad I'm not the only one who has trouble understand wtf is going on in Mr Dickens' books sometimes. I had the most terrible time with the first chapter of The Pickwick Papers, but luckily the subsequent chapters were easier to understand. (Probably also I had gotten used to his style of writing by then...)

  8. I like your letter idea! I'd have so much to say to him I wouldn't know where to begin. I have my up and downs with Dickens.

  9. My own relationship with Dickens is also troubled--on again, off again is a good summation. Loved the letter, and your observation about the difference between OT and Tale of Two Cities is right on--with OT, Dickens wanted to write a good story, with Tale of Two Cities he was to be serious.

  10. @Karen K - That does sound like a good way to access Dickens. I tend to get distracted when I listen to books on audio so when I do I usually gravitate to light reads, but I'll have to try a heavy read and see how it works out for me.

    @bibliophiica - I am determined to make it through this time, despite my slow progress.

    @IngridLola - i am afraid I am a lazy commenter and comment responder, but I did read your post and really enjoyed it - I need to reread Persuasion!

    @Kathleen - good- motivation to keep going!

    @seagreen - The first line is definitely fantastic.

    @Rebecca Reid - I hope I will too! Lately I've been hearing so much about this book for some reason, and I think I will be able to get through it this time.

    @Anastasia - That is good to know. I've been wanting to try Pickwick but haven't picked it up yet - good to know that it gets better after the first chapter though!

    @Chrisbookarama - Thanks! That is exactly why I started writing Dickens letters (I've written a few) - I felt like I had such a love-hate relationship with him that I wanted to address him directly.

    @JaneGS - Thanks! My relationship with Dickens is slowly improving, but we definitely have our moments.


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