A Tale of Two Cities

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
A Tale of Two Cities Book Poster Image
Immortal romance is set against violent French Revolution.

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Kids say

age 14+
Based on 8 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Dickens' 1859 masterpiece sets a sweet romance against the backdrop of the French Revolution. Readers will learn about the class inequality, perpetuated by aristocrats, that kept many French people in fear and abject poverty, and incited the citizens to condemn the monarchy. The novel also depicts machinations of the English legal system in the late 18th century, and shows the ways of household life, travel, and business on each side of the English Channel.

Positive Messages

Personal love and devotion are the greatest virtues in A Tale of Two Cities, despite the tidal power of the political revolution. The love between father and daughter, between husband and wife, and the selfless devotion of friends become increasingly precious as they are threatened by blind vengeance. Also, though Christianity is misused by aristocrats to support their superior status, true faith is the greatest comfort in one character's darkest hour.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Each of the central characters in A Tale of Two Cities -- the Manette/Darnay family and their friends -- is more pure and examplary than the last. Dr. Manette is a loving father and caring physician. Lucie Manette is a devoted daughter, wife, and mother. Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross are reliable protectors. Charles Darnay gives up wealth and station out of his own sense of fairness. And Sydney Carton is the soul of loving sacrifice.

Violence

Most of the violence in A Tale of Two Cities is portrayed quite lyrically, but there is quite a bit of it. Numerous people are beheaded on the guillotine. A woman is shot and killed. Dr. Manette is called to treat a brother who has been fatally wounded, and whose sister has been impregnated and driven mad by rape and abuse.

Sex

A letter written by Dr. Manette relates the story of his being called to treat a young woman who has been raped and impregnated by an abusive aristocrat. Other than that, married couples occasionally kiss and embrace.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In an early scene in the book, in the Parisian suburb of Saint Antoine, a wine barrel has fallen off of a truck and broken, and villagers partake of the spillage. The Defarges own a wine shop there, where wine and brandy are consumed. In England, men drink ale and spirits, and one important character is an alcoholic who considers himself beyond help.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Charles Dickens' masterpiece, A Tale of Two Cities, sets a riveting story of romantic and familial love against the violent drama of the French Revolution. The personal and the political are deeply connected, and complicated, and additional historical background regarding the French monarchy, feudal system, and French Revolution will help young readers appreciate the novel. It's also worth noting that though this is one of Dickens' best-loved works, it is atypical of the author in some ways. A Tale of Two Cities has fewer humorous, colorful characters than others of his most-read books (other than the Crunchers), and the plot is more grand and far-reaching.

User Reviews

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Teen, 17 years old Written byLittle Cupcake July 14, 2013

Beautiful Tale of Love, Revenge, and Chaos is as Stirring as it is Brilliant

This great novel is beautiful in so many ways. From its gorgeous language (Dickens never fails us in that area) to its lovable main character Sydney Carton, thi... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byCarlee C August 13, 2014

Classic masterpiece for more mature readers

Honestly, This book was slow-going for me and a bit rocky in places, yet the story is timeless and calls for patience!!! Definitely better loved and appreciated... Continue reading

What's the story?

At the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities, Dr. Alexandre Manette has been released after many years of wrongful imprisonment in France. He is reunited with his beautiful, pure-hearted daughter, Lucie, who tenderly cares for him and takes him with her to England to live. During the journey across the channel, Lucie meets Charles Darnay, a French instructor who becomes part of the Manettes' family circle. A secret about Charles' background eventually causes him, the Manettes, and some of their friends to return to France, where mob rule now drives the revolution and threatens to destroy them all.

Is it any good?

A TALE OF TWO CITIES masterfully interweaves political and personal events. It reveals much about the injustice that incited the French Revolution, the gray areas between the populist ideals and blind vengeance, and the toll the rebellion took on individuals. This is one of Charles Dickens' best-loved novels, with good reason. The plot is suspenseful, the scope is far-reaching, and the characters are as rich and affecting as can be. No love was ever sweeter than Lucie and Charles', no father and daughter were ever more deeply attached than the Manettes, and no character in English literature ever had a greater purpose, or better lines, than Sydney Carton.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what Dickens intends for readers to feel and understand about the French Revolution. What is right and wrong?

  • Why does Sydney Carton do what he does?

  • What does Dickens seem to be suggesting is similar and/or different about his two cities?

  • Think about the Defarges' cohorts, Vengeance and the three Jacques. What do these characters represent?

  • A Tale of Two Cities is considered a classic and is often required reading in school. Why do you think that is?

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