The 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens will be on February 7, 2012. Dickens has been a very important part of my reading life. About fifteen years ago I read all of his novels in order of publication. I read pretty much only Dickens during this period. Shortly after I completed this project I went to London and made a pilgrimage to the Dickens House Museum. Since then I have read only one Dickens novel, Oliver Twist, for a read-along event.
I wanted in some small way to do what I could honor Dickens so I decided I would try to reread two of his highest regarded works by his 200th birthday.
I choose to start with A Tale of Two Cities in part because of the many posts by book bloggers lauding the work. Some consider it his best novel though most do give that honor to Bleak House.
The novel takes place during the French Revolution, 1775. I do not see a need to recap the plot. I will basically say a bit about what I liked most about this work. The two cities are London and Paris. It its history the book has sold over 200 million copies.
The opening chapter is perfect. I cannot really recall many better ones. If I had been a subscriber to All Year Round, a literary magazine owned by Dickens, I would have been very eager to read the next installments.
Dickens is at his very best when he is describing the injustices of life in France. The scene where we learn that peasants on the estates of wealthy nobles were sometimes made to stay awake on the grounds outside the big house just to keep the frogs quiet so the nobles could get a good night sleep was just such a brilliant conveyance of a whole system of injustice in one sentence.
The scenes set in Paris during the worst excesses of the French Revolution are to me the most exciting parts of the book.
There is melodrama in this book and sentimentality and perhaps the book might be a bit "anti-French", a sure way to sell magazines is my guess!
This is among the most serious, humor free of the novels of Dickens. You can feel the passion of Dickens for the poor of France.
I know this will seem a bit much, but as to reading suggestions for Dickens, I would say start with his first novel and read through to the last one.
I think I am going to start Great Expectations soon followed by Bleak House.
In observation of Dickens 200th Birthday, Fig and Thisle is hosting an event culminating on Dickens 200 Day which will enable those observing the event to share their posts on Dickens.