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A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. My copy is published by Signet Classics and boasts "8 pages of photographs from the CBS Hall of Fame presentation." Prince Humperdinck is on the cover.


1.) I quite enjoyed the Wishbone version.

2.) I've also enjoyed many other stories about the French Revolution, including but not limited to the webcomic Bite Me! by Dylan Meconis; Tom Hiddleston's narration of the YA novel The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner; and that one song from The Scarlet Pimpernell, Madame Guillotine.

3.) It was on a shelf at work so I picked it up.


Chapter 1: The Period, in which Dickens does some scene-setting. The year is 1775.

pg. 13: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Probably one of the best-known opening lines, right up there with "Call me Ishmael." But that's not all there is to it.

pg. 13: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

There's your first sentence, reproduced in full. Draw your own conclusions.

pg. 13: There were a king with a large jaw, and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw, and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France.

Here Dickens is referencing the infamous Habsburg jaw, also known as "why you don't let cousins intermarry for thousands of years."

On the whole, Dickens seems to have a low opinion of pre-revolution France.

pg. 14: Under the guidance of her Christian pastors, she entertained herself, besides, with such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off, his tongue torn out with pincers, and his body burned alive, because he had not kneeled down in the rain to do honour to a dirty procession of monks which passed within his view, at a distance of some fifty or sixty yards.

Yeah, I can see why the peasants revolted.

Chapter 2: The Mail switches locations to England; more specifically, the Dover road, and a mail carriage traveling on it. The carriage is attempting to go uphill in the mud in the rain, and all the passengers are forced to walk alongside it. In this day and age, the country is beset by highwaymen, so the atmosphere surrounding the coach is somewhat less than friendly.

pg. 17: The Dover mail was in its usual genial position that the guard suspected the passengers, the passengers suspected one another and the guard, they all suspected everybody else, and the coachman was sure of nothing but the horses; as to which cattle he could with a clear conscience have taken his oath on the two Testaments that they were not fit for the journey.

And on the same page, just because it amuses me:

pg. 17: "My blood!" ejaculated the vexed coachman

While everyone's suspicious and miserable, a rider approaches on horseback. The guard stops him at gunpoint a fair distance from the coach.

pg. 18: "Keep where you are," the guard called to the voice in the mist, "because. if I should make a mistake, it could never be set right in your lifetime.

(Translation: I am totally willing to shoot you right now.)

The rider, Jerry, is looking for a passenger: Mr. Jarvis Lorry. Thankfully Mr. Lorry is present and able to receive Jerry's letter.

pg. 19: He opened it in the light of the coach-lamp on that side, and read–first to himself and then aloud: "'Wait at Dover for Mam'selle.' It's not long, you see, guard. Jerry, say that my answer was, RECALLED TO LIFE."

This answer is as much a puzzlement to the rest of the cast as it is to the audience.

pg. 20: "Tom!" softly over the coach-roof.

"Hallo, Joe."

"Did you hear the message?"

"I did, Joe."

"What did you make of it, Tom?"

"Nothing at all, Joe."

"Thats coin
cidence, too," the guard mused, "for I made the same of it myself."

Chapter 3: The Night Shadows

pg. 21: A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!

Mr. Dickens, what are you even talking about.

Back at the narrative, Mr. Jarvis Lorry falls asleep while riding in the mail coach and has spooky, spooky dreams.

pg. 23-24: Now, which of the multitude of faces that showed themselves before him was the true face of the buried person, the shadows of the night did not indicate; but they were all the faces of a man of five-and-forty by years, and they differed principally in the passions they expressed, and in the ghastliness of their worn and wasted state. Pride, contempt, defiance, stubbornness, submission, lamentation, succeeded one another; so did varieties of sunken cheek, cadaverous colour, emaciated hands and figures. But the face was in the main one face, and every head was prematurely white. A hundred times the dozing passenger inquired of this spectre:

"Buried how long?"

The answer was always the same: "Almost eighteen years."

"You had abandoned all hope of being dug out?"

"Long ago."

"You know that you are recalled to life?"

"They tell me so."

"I hope you care to live?"

"I can't say."

"Shall I show her to you? Will you come and see her?"

The answers to this question were various and contradictory. Sometimes the broken reply was, "Wait! It would kill me if I saw her too soon." Sometimes, it was given in a tender rain of tears, and then it was, "Take me to her." Sometimes it was staring and bewildered, and then it was, "I don't know her. I don't understand."

After such imaginary discourse, the passenger in his fancy would dig, and dig, dig–now with a space, now with a great key, now with his hands–to dig this wretched creature out. Got out at last, with earth hanging about his face and hair, he would suddenly fall away to dust. The passenger would then start to himself, and lower the window, to get the reality of mist and rain on his cheek.

Unsettling, no?

In Chapter 4: The Preparation, the coach finally arrives at its destination. It's at this point I began to underline lines that were apparently intentionally humorous and which made me chuckle. Upon reading these lines aloud to D-Ray, I was informed that these lines were not, in fact, very funny at all.

pg. 25: The mildewy inside of the coach, with its damp and dirty straw, its disagreeable smell, and its obscurity, was rather like a larger dog-kennel. Mr. Lorry, the passenger, shaking himself out of it in chains of straw, a tangle of shaggy wrapper, flapping hat, and muddy legs, was rather like a larger sort of dog.

Mr. Lorry gets the Concord bedchamber at the Royal George Hotel and settles in.

pg. 26: The Concord bedchamber being always assigned to a passenger by the mail, and passengers by the mail being always heavily wrapped up from head to foot, the room had the odd interest for the establishment of the Royal George, that although but one kind of man was seen to go into it, all kinds of varieties of men came out of it.

And as for Mr. Lorry himself?

pg. 26: He had a good leg, and was a little vain of it, for his brown stockings fitted sleek and close


pg. 27: Completing his resemblance to a man who was sitting for his portrait, Mr. Lorry dropped off to sleep.

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Lorry wakes up, has breakfast, and goes for a walk about town.

pg. 28: A little fishing was done in the port, and a quantity of strolling about by night, and looking seaward

By the time Mr. Lorry returns to the hotel, there is someone waiting there to see him.

pg. 29: As his eyes rested upon a short, slight, pretty figure, a quantity of golden hair, a pair of blue eyes that met his own with an inquiring look, and a forehead with a singular capacity (remembering how young and smooth it was) of lifting and knitting itself into an expression that was not quite one of perplexity, or wonder, or alarm, or merely of a bright fixed attention, though it included all the four expressions

Oh, that expression.

The person in question is Miss Manette. She has an account with the bank that Mr. Lorry works for, concerning the property left to her by her late father. Is this father, perhaps, the person who was RETURNED TO LIFE?

(Well, duh.)

The full story is, of course, much more needlessly complicated, and fraught with double-talk and denials of emotion clearly meant to indicate emotion. Short version:

pg. 34: "But he has been–been found. He is alive. Greatly changed, it is too probable; almost a wreck, it is possible, though we will hope the best. Still, alive. Your father has been taken to the house of an old servant in Paris, and we are going there: I , to identify him if I can: you, to restore him to life, love, duty, rest, comfort."

So, y'know, no pressure.

Miss Manette responds to this news by going catatonic. Mr. Lorry is quite at a loss for what to do in this situation. Fortunately, help breaks down the door.

pg. 35: A wild-looking woman [...] came running into the room in advance of the in servants, and soon settled the question of his detachment from the poor young lady, by laying a brawny hand upon his chest, and sending him flying back against the nearest wall.

This woman is Miss Pross, Miss Manette's servant, and she too will be going to Paris.

pg. 35: ("I really think this must be a man!" was Mr. Lorry's breathless reflection, simultaneously with his coming against the wall.)

Let's just take that last sentence and quietly excise it from its context, shall we?


ambrmerlinus: Portrait of a young white man with a flowing blond mohawk, in profile. (Default)

February 2012

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