A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

Part of the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016, hosted by Books & Chocolate, for Category #1: 19th Century Classic.


I am amazingly glad that I did not have to read any Dickens for school, because that would have turned me off from classics in a millisecond. Fortunately, buddy reading this with a friend egged me on to finish the damn thing (ironic, had this been for school, I likely would have dnf'd it). And I'm glad I did, since the last third or so was quite good in terms of plot and characterization... but with many, many caveats...


The style of prose is UGH, NO, SHUT UP AND JUST TELL THE DAMN STORY CHARLES. Just because this is a classic, doesn't mean that I have to force myself to enjoy it and lull myself into a false sense of "omg, Dickens's style is dynamic and amazing!" Perhaps if I had I would have gotten more out of it, but that's just not my style--classic or not, if the prose doesn't captivate me in the first few pages, I have little hope for making it to the end.


The style just felt so.... anachronistic, and seemed more tailored and written in the American style of the time, rather than the British/European style (which I love). The American style is one that I hate deeply--I found myself comparing the writing of Tale to Cooper's Last of the Mohicans, which I had a very similar love-hate relationship with (the last third of that was excellent, but the style was terrible).


I couldn't get it out of my mind that Dickens was intentionally writing this in a more Americanized style to make this a hit in the States--and it must have worked, because it was apparently the most popular of his works in America.


Dickens's symbolism was also painfully obvious. He didn't try to hide the metaphors under other metaphors, or create any doubt that certain things weren't necessarily symbols, but just things that were discussed in detail as symbolistic red herrings. Everything was just OBVIOUS, there was no mystery to any of the symbols and it just made it almost juvenile in the way that Dickens assumed readers wouldn't be able to draw the parallels themselves.


He is also obsessed with foreheads... he focuses solely on many character's expressions through their foreheads, rather than through full facial or body expression. It's weird.


For all of the things I didn't like about this book (oh, did I mention that half the time it was never clear who was talking?) the overall plot of the story was quite interesting, and there were some fun characters. Not to mention Madame Defarge's knitting, which, as a knitter, was one of the main reasons I had to stick it out--it's practically canon to at least read the knitting parts. And the relationships (both romantic and friend/ally ones) forged between many of the main characters were actually ones I could get behind,

especially the switchero-sacrifice at the end.

(show spoiler)


In the end, I am glad I stuck it out and finished it, but at the same time, this was a bad first impression for me, and I'm not at all enthusiastic to start any of Dickens' other works that I have on my to-read list (The Old Curiosity Shop, Pickwick Papers, and the ultimate tome of Bleak House) (as a side note, if any of these are an antithesis to Tale's style, please let me know in the comments!!)


Honestly, I think I would have gotten more out of it had I just watched a Masterpiece version of this...