Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating! This week’s prompt is:
Tell Us ABout Your Favorite Charles Dickens Novel.
For a long time Bleak House was my favorite Charles Dickens novel. Like all his novels, it combines pointed social commentary with a good story, all the threads coming neatly together at the end. But over the years I have transitioned to considering A Tale of Two Cities my favorite Dickens story (though, of course, it’s very difficult to choose).
A Tale of Two Cities is, excuse my pun, classic Dickens. Compelling characters, richly drawn. Mystery. Political commentary. All of this is here, but in a concise, tight package. Every time I read the book, I am in awe over Dickens’s ability to write such a neat story. You can predict the end from the beginning, simply because the construction is so perfect.
And, oh the story. Dickens sets this one in France and in England, crossing the Channel to tell a sweeping saga of a family caught up in the French Revolution. It’s dramatic and heartbreaking, especially with its focus on protagonist Sydney Carton, a brilliant lawyer who is wasting his life through idleness and drink. He knows it, too, but cannot stop. Is there a greater tragedy than someone who wants to change and has a glimpse of how he might, and yet feels he can’t?
Sometimes the length of a Dickens novel scares potential readers away, but A Tale of Two Cities is unusually short, meaning that I can recommend it for its story and yet also feel that perhaps my recommendation will be taken up. There’s also a musical now, though some changes have been made, so I’m hoping that will inspire some more Dickens fans.