I’d be lying if I said that the recent use of this novel’s famous opening paragraph in an advert (BT?) hadn’t been a small nudge to finally get reading this classic. I have been setting the opening as a prac. crit. text for years, feeling like a complete charlatan each time because I have an ambivalent relationship with Dickens’ novels (I’m looking at you, Tiny Tim) and it’s been all too easy to push it down the pile to read. But I have now tackled it, and wow – that ending is just as good as the beginning.
And I suppose that sums up my review. I love that beginning for its excess and its poetry, and I loved the ending – I’ll admit that Dickens knows how to deliver a grand finale. He manages to avoid too many silly names, Mr Stryver aside, and the action in Book Three zips along once he gets all his characters to France. Sydney Carlton is marvellous, albeit absent for much of the narrative. I haven’t read Carlyle’s The French Revolution but Dickens has brought the horrors and pathos of the Terror sharply to life and he captures the fear permeating through life for those who might fall foul of the new regime.
I could have done with less of Book Two – it felt like padding – and, as with some of his other novels, I struggled with the innate purity and goodness of his Angel in the House, the lovely Lucie in this case. I did, however, enjoy the character of the redoubtable Miss Pross. She deserves her own novel. The other female of note is obviously Madame Defarge – she is brilliantly terrifying, embodying as she does the blind violence and destruction of the revolution in its later stages. The scene between her and Pross is satisfyingly charged – and it showed me that Dickens can write about powerful women after all.
In conclusion – I’m very glad I persevered through the middle sections. I knew how it would end, but I wasn’t expecting to feel so emotional about it. Perhaps I’ll tackle David Copperfield (yep – still haven’t got round to it) in 2020 after all.