Re-Reading Tale of 2 Cities

A gorgeous essay on The Great Gatsby – by Jonathan Yardley. I love every word.

Here’s a post I wrote a couple years ago about revisiting Great Gatsby for the first time since high school and what that was like. (Elegant Variation is re-reading Gatsby right now as well )

I loved reading Yardley’s piece because of his passion, the sense that he got swept away … and also – there’s something about Yardley’s writing that makes me want to read whatever he’s reading. I think: Oh yes, THAT’S why Gatsby is so … I don’t even know what to say. Singular?

I’m also interested right now in the whole re-reading thing – or, more, the re-VISITING thing – because I am about 20 pages away from finishing A Tale of Two Cities – a book I last read when I was 15 years old.

I can’t even talk about it yet. I’ll write more when I get my head together but right now – it’s just a whirl of hot emotion, and a love for Sydney Carton that just pierces my heart. It’s killing me. The book is killing me.

Unlike some other books I was forced to read in high school – and despised – (Moby Dick – although I have now completely changed my tune on that score, but the first time around I was PISSED that I was being forced to read such a long and boring book) Tale of 2 Cities really appealed to me in high school. It’s a page-turner, first of all. There aren’t endless chapters about whale blubber and spermaceti. Tale of 2 Cities has a serious PLOT and each chapter moves you forward. There’s never a dull moment. So that helped. And I guess I remember from my initial reading it on a summer reading list is that there was just something about Madame Defarge that totally got under my surface. My friend J. and I would sit around and talk about Madame Defarge, and we would kind of laugh about her, she struck us both the same way – as a delightfully evil caricature – and do our imitations of what she must look like, knitting all the time, knitting names of enemies of the State into her woolen scarves … we found her to be so funny. Also horrifying, of course … but there was something in the characterization that really pleased us. She’s so memorable. Somehow J. and I picked up on the great-ness of that character, even in the midst of high school, and HAVING to read the book. We “got it”.

But I’m seeing so much more right now – in the same way that when I read Gatsby as an adult, I suddenly saw the whole thing through Gatsby’s eyes – something that would have been impossible as a teenager.

Sydney Carton. Sydney Carton. Sharon will know what I’m talking about. As she so often does.

His journey, and his character, did not really make an impression on me as a teenager – although that last scene blew me away, and all that. Or – he made an impression, but not like Madame Defarge did. J. and I were big diary keepers, and we would make jokes about the two of us being Madame Defarges. Like, we were always writing in our notebooks, any free moment when we were alone, out would come the diaries and we’d start scribbling away. The joke became, though, that we were evilly scribbling down the names of our enemies, keeping them in mind, scowling over at the popular table in the cafeteria, and grimly making lists. We found this very funny. But what Sydney Carton DID and who Sydney Carton IS didn’t really get in there into my consciousness at the time.

But now … as a grown-up … I suddenly feel like I have never loved a fictional character as much as I love Sydney Carton. It actually hurts. There’s one scene with Mr. Lorry near the end of the book that … Bah, I have to think more on it – I just got to that scene this morning and I suddenly found myself weeping.

Good lord. It’s like a whole new book to me.

I have a lot more I want to say and I know that this is all just babbling right now … but it’s really been on my mind.

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10 Responses to Re-Reading Tale of 2 Cities

  1. D says:

    Kind of on topic here, I had to read Huckleberry Finn in grade 10 and absolutely hated it. In grade 12 I had to read it again and completely enveloped myself in it. It remains an all time favourite. What a difference the class, instructor and a couple of years can make.

  2. Dave J says:

    I absolutely adored A Tale of Two Cities in high school, but just like you, haven’t read it since. Now I plan on it ASAP: thanks, Sheila!

  3. *YES!* Pierces right through doesnt it?

    I remember scribbling in my notes about TOTC – “Lucy. She wants him. BAD.”

    I dont think there is any actor that can quite capture him.

    Well, probably Russell Crowe.

    (You know I had to get that in there!)

    But DAMN. The critics of Dickens who sneer over TOTC always baffle me.

    I am putting The Great Gatsby on my re-read list for the year. Its been a VERY long time since I revisited that book.

  4. BTW – thanks for the linkage!!

  5. red says:

    Sharon – Oh, I was so hoping you would show up!!

    Maybe Clive Owen as Carton?? Do you scorn that? There needs to be a melancholy there …

    God, what a great great character.

    And I’m sure you know the scene I’m talking about – with Mr. Lorry – right at the very end, as they sit looking at the fire, talking – and Carton obviously knows his plan, but Lorry doesn’t … and they converse about death and mortality?

    Sharon – that scene KILLED ME! I read it with tears streaming down my face.

    Just amazing. And the showdown between Madame Defarge and Miss Pross is genius. I wanted to shout GO MISS PROSS as I read it.

  6. red says:

    And please. ‘A life you love’?? Whispered in her ear? I just cannot take it.

  7. I KNOW I KNOW!!

    Lessee…how shall I put this – okay – I would NOT kick Clive Owen out of my bed for eating crackers. Yes, you are right. The melancholy is a DEFINITE requisite…is he too old for the part?

    But then, I am still in love with James Wilby as Sydney – I really didnt like the script they gave the actors in the Masterpiece Theatre version, but Wilby pulled it off so well!

  8. That scene with Mr. Lorry IS indeed one of my FAVORITES. Makes you wonder what Lorry would do if he had had a clue?


    Why do the critics hate that book so much though? I guess back in the day, there were too many female readers who were getting all fangirly about Carton and the male readers were jealous. THEY COULD NEVER MEASURE UP!!

  9. 2007 Books Read

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