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A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
Amazon.com Top 100 Books of the Millenium (50)
It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have
ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than
The passage above and the opening of the novel--It was the best of times, it was the worst of times--are among the most often quoted lines from any of Dickens' works, both because they are memorable and because somehow this is the one work of his that we all get assigned in school. I assume this one is chosen because, while it is still great, it is one of his shorter efforts.
The story should be familiar, Dr. Alexander Manette is freed from his unjust imprisonment in the Bastille and is reunited with his long lost daughter, Lucie, in England. They are called as witnesses at the treason trial of Charles Darnay, a dashing young Frenchman. Darnay too is falsely accused, but he is saved, in part by his resemblance to a law clerk named Sydney Carton. Darnay and Lucie eventually marry, though not before the wastrel Carton declares his love for her and his unworthiness of her. He pledges that one day he will prove himself worthy by doing her a service. That opportunity comes when Darnay is condemned to death by a French tribunal and sentenced to the guillotine.
This has been one of my favorite books since the 8th Grade. There is no more thrilling moment in literature then when Carton takes Darnay's place and bravely faces certain death. It is a moment of redemption that reminds us that great literature serves human purposes; we may never have such a moment in our own lives, but the example instructs us in how we should face such a situation if the time comes. We can ask no more of ourselves than the courage and sense of honor to do that "far, far better thing."
-REVIEW : of 'Savage Reprisals: Bleak House, Madame Bovary, Buddenbrooks' by Peter Gay (Lorraine Adams, Washington Post)
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-REVIEW: Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens (S E P T E M B E R 1 8 6 1, The Atlantic)
-REVIEW : of The Master's Voice: Dickens' Journalism Volume IV: The Uncommercial Traveller and Other Papers, 1859-70 Michael Slater and John Drew ed (Dan Jacobson, booksonline uk)