“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”
-Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
So begins Charles Dickens’s (and possibly one of the world’s) most famous historical fiction novels. Charles Dickens’s opus is not only a historical fiction novel, though; it is a potent allegory of transformation in individuals. Dickens entertains the possibility that metamorphosis in individuals is ever-so present. In fact, I found the setting of the French Revolution to be considerably beneficial in comprehending this allegory. Albeit calling A Tale of Two Cities “an account of the French Revolution” is not wholly bogus, exclusively deeming it as that and disregarding the aforementioned allegory is bogus.
The story begins with the release of Alexandre Manette from the Bastille in France. He is reunited with his daughter, Lucie, and safely emigrates to England. However, they are called anon to testify against French aristocrat Charles Darnay. It is this man, along with English lawyer Sydney Carton, who falls in love with Lucie. Unexpectedly drawn to Paris, Darnay and Carton encounter their ultimate destinies amid the carnage and anarchy of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.
I will now return to the afore- and often-mentioned allegory I speak of. This allegory of self-metamorphosis is depicted using Carton. His dramatic and evocative transformation from an abject and pitiful drunkard to a noble and commendable soul made me emotional. This shows that such transformations are very much possible within ourselves. Dickens’s choice of portraying this metamorphosis during the bloodshed of the French Revolution adds emphatic meaning and understanding to this allegory. So, in addition to vivid history, you get a beautiful metaphor for change and transformation within ourselves.
I would recommend this book to people who like history, British literature, general reading, and exquisite allegories. A Tale of Two Cities is, along with A Christmas Carol, a wonderful introduction to Dickens. The edition I read was published by Oxford World’s Classics, which contains comprehensive footnotes to clarify historical allusions to the French Revolution, provides an amazing appendix containing a parallel timeline of historical and fictional events that occurs in the story, and a marvelous introduction about Dickens’s motives for writing A Tale of Two Cities, the state-of-affairs during the 18th-century in England and France, and an analysis of the major characters in the story. All in all, this is a solid edition of one of English literature’s most famous novels.