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A Tale of Two Cities (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)
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A Tale of Two Cities (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

4.1 532
by Charles Dickens, Gillen D'Arcy Wood (Introduction)

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A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:


A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” With these famous words, Charles Dickens plunges the reader into one of history’s most explosive eras—the French Revolution. From the storming of the Bastille to the relentless drop of the guillotine, Dickens vividly captures the terror and upheaval of that tumultuous period. At the center is the novel’s hero, Sydney Carton, a lazy, alcoholic attorney who, inspired by a woman, makes the supreme sacrifice on the bloodstained streets of Paris.

One of Dickens’s most exciting novels, A Tale of Two Cities is a stirring classic of love, revenge, and resurrection.

Gillen D’Arcy Wood received his Ph.D in English from Columbia University in 2000 and is currently an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of The Shock of the Real: Romanticism and Visual Culture, 1760–1860.

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4.13(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.12(d)

Read an Excerpt

From Gillen D'Arcy Wood's Introduction to A Tale of Two Cities

When Dickens expressed to A. H. Layard his fear of revolution in Britain in 1855, he only echoed many dozens of commentators over the preceding six decades, who wondered why mob violence could not simply cross the English Channel and turn the streets of London into a bloodbath of class retribution. The textbook historian's answer points to the bloodless coup of 1688, the so-called Glorious Revolution, which saw the tyrant James II forced into exile, and William and Mary inaugurate a form of managerial rule in Britain, a constitutional, "mixed" monarchy where many absolute powers of the Crown were ceded to Parliament. With the consolidation of that legislative body, however unrepresentative, Britain's nobility insured itself against the apocalyptic disaster that was to befall their French counterparts. The divergent tale of the two cities thus begins in 1688.

But as a novelist, Dickens, who loved Paris and traveled there often, offers more intuitive, closely observed reasons for the untranslatable quality of that city's Revolution. In an 1856 article for his weekly magazine, Household Words, he calls Paris "the Moon," and describes a culture of spectacle implicitly alien to his London readers. On the grand Parisian boulevards, Dickens watches the upper classes put on "a mighty show." Later, he takes coffee and a cigar at one of Paris's ubiquitous cafés, and participates in a kind of collective voyeurism unfamiliar to the English capital:

The place from which the shop front has been taken makes a gay proscenium; as I sit and smoke, the street becomes a stage, with an endless procession of lively actors crossing and re-crossing. Women with children, carts and coaches, men on horseback, soldiers, water-carriers with their pails, family groups, more soldiers, lounging exquisites, more family groups (coming past, flushed, a little late for the play). . . . We are all amused, sitting seeing the traffic in the street, and the traffic in the street is in its turn amused by seeing us ("Railway Dreaming," pp. 373-374). Paris is a society of spectacle, a glamorous outdoor "stage" where citizens are both actors and audience. Later in the article, however, Dickens describes a more sinister aspect of this culture of display when he is jostled by the crowds at the Paris morgue, whose "bodies lie on inclined planes within a great glass window, as though Holbein should represent Death, in his grim Dance, keeping a shop, and displaying his goods like a Regent Street or boulevard linen-draper" (p. 375). Dickens is unnerved here, as he was at Horsemonger Lane, by a society that places no restraints on visibility, even to preserve the solemnity of the dead.

It is a short step in Dickens's imagination from the peep-show atmosphere of the Paris morgue in 1856 to the ritual slaughter in the Place de la Révolution during Robespierre's "Reign of Terror" of 1793-1794. A Tale of Two Cities shows the dark side of urban theatricality, that a public appetite for glamorous "show" can rapidly degenerate into an insatiable hunger for "scenes of horror and demoralization." The essentially theatrical quality of Parisian social life produces a theatrical Revolution. At the revolutionary "trials" at the Hall of Examination, Madame Defarge, we are told, "clapped her hands as at a play." There is something uniquely Parisian, too, in the spectacle of the liberation of the Bastille (with only seven prisoners inside) and in the rituals of the Terror itself, as the tumbrils roll daily to the guillotine watched by knitting ladies, who take up seats in their favored spots each morning as if at a sideshow or circus. As Dickens describes it, even the victims of the Terror cannot escape the theatrical atmosphere of the proceedings. Among the condemned, "there are some so heedful of their looks that they cast upon the multitude such glances as they have seen in theatres, and in pictures." Contrast this with Charles Darnay, who, on trial for his life earlier in the novel, disdains "the play at the Old Bailey": He "neither flinched from the situation, nor assumed any theatrical air in it." Our hero disappoints us on occasion, but here, by resisting being converted into a spectacle, he defends the most important social principle of the novel: the dignity of the private citizen in the face of the howling mob.

Meet the Author

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is probably the greatest novelist England has ever produced, the author of such well-known classics as A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, David Copperfield and Oliver Twist. His innate comic genius and shrewd depictions of Victorian life — along with his indelible characters — have made his books beloved by readers the world over.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
February 7, 1812
Date of Death:
June 18, 1870
Place of Birth:
Portsmouth, England
Place of Death:
Gad's Hill, Kent, England
Home-schooling; attended Dame School at Chatham briefly and Wellington

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A Tale of Two Cities Barnes & Noble Classics Series) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 532 reviews.
Author_DB_Pacini More than 1 year ago
I first read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens in 1969. My friend Bucky, a French-Canadian, gave me the book as a birthday present with a bouquet of daises, a blue balloon, and a wooden crate of oranges. We sat on the beach eating oranges from morning until sunset, reading A Tale of Two Cities to one another. It was one of my favorite birthdays. It is still one of my favorite books. It is probably the reason oranges are my favorite fruit.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is quite possibly the best book that Dickens wrote. 'A Tale of Two Cities' has everything a reader could ask, a complex and interesting plot, realistic characters, excellent character development, and overarching social and political messages. In addition to being an exemplary work of fiction, any serious student of post-Renaissance European history should examine this text for its historiographical value. Despite the destitute situation of the French people before the French Revolution, their lives were not aided in most ways that the contemporary advocates of the revolution purported.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love it! I could not put the book down!!!!!!! Maddie Toaso
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A Tale of Two Cities is a true literary classic. It superbly combines the key topics of history, politics, tragedy, love, and war all into one fantastic work. The entirety of the book is split between the two cities of London, England and Paris, France. It chronicles the course of events that took place in these two cities in the time just before and during the French Revolution. This piece of writing excellence has truly made me thankful for the time and place in which I live. The squalor and repression the majority of the populations of both England and France survived in during this period to be absolutely repulsive! I find it remarkable that Dickens was able to capture and project the true feelings of want and need expressed throughout the book onto the reader. At times I felt as if I myself was sitting in a back room of the Paris, France branch of Tellson's bank with Mr. Lorry while the citizens of Paris are actively mobbing outside. Only a select few books have ever made me feel quite this connected to their plot, something this book does superbly. Now, while I have been raving about A Tale of Two Cities, I must say that the first 200 pages were quite dull and arduous. I almost put the book down several times because of it. But, once you clear the dull beginning, this classic really heats up and becomes a very exciting, fast-paced read. One reservation I had with the book was its' enormous glorification of the horrible killing machine the Guillotine. This machine was referred to as a tall, beautiful and deadly woman and the blood of the thousands executed upon it was referred to as her wine. I found the amount of detail Dickens used to describe the repression of the common people by the nobles to be fascinating, especially given the time period in which this book was first published. One of my favorite aspects of A Tale of Two Cities was how it so fluidly it intertwined the two halves of the story. Though the French side of the story was so very far removed from the English side of the story (that is until "Book The Third" begins) it still feels to the reader like one fluid, complete story. Even while managing to floridly intertwine to separate stories, Mr. Dickens managed to hide the true personalities of two of the main characters until the perfect moment to reveal them. This, along with the truly fantastic traits of the other characters allows this book to all but jump of the pages and into reality! The Characters of Charles Dickens seemed to me as real and human as if they were standing right in front of me! My one complaint about this magnificent work is that the beginning seemingly drags on forever. I am a reader who likes books that get right into the plot and don't drag on too much. Because of this A Tale of Two Cities discouraged me early on, but I urge you not to get discouraged and give up on the book! If you persevere, the ending will reward you beyond measure!
bookwormmom4 More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite of all the classics out there. Wonderful story of self sacrafice and love. Read it you will love it.
BenIves More than 1 year ago
My absolute favorite work of fiction. Amazing! RapidVisa
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love to read and I have read mountains of books and this remains my all time favorite. I would recommend this book to anyone.
RasSmiling More than 1 year ago
Charles Dickens has a unique story telling style that evokes the days of sitting by the fire listening to an artful story teller spin a yarn. He manages to weave political commentary, historical fact and a group of fictional characters into a gripping tale of love, deceit, and true international intrigue. It is easy to see why this book is considered a classic. Forget your high school bias that Classic Novels are boring. Read this book with an open mind and you will soon get lost in a far away time and form a lasting bond with the characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Some of the most beautiful writing I have ever read. I felt the beginning of the story was a litle slow but gradually the plot becomes quicker and quicker. The ending was absolutely perfect. This book makes you feel the tension, anger, sorrow, fear and bravory of the people during the French revolution. Absolute must-read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read this book; I've taught this book; I love this book. Ok, so Lucy's fainting fits and "angel of the hearth" Victorian perfection grate on my nerves a little, but the story is so well done, that Lucy's one-dimensional character is forgivable. It really would be a shame not to read this classic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While A Tale of Two Cities is a great book, some of Gillen D'Arcy Wood's notes are very bad. One note, in Chapter 4 of book two tells the reader that something is foreshadowing a certain character's death, thus ruining any surprise. This is unacceptable
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is an overall well written book. I don&rsquo;t think that it was my favorite novel, but I do think that it was a good story and I am glad that I read it.  This book is a classic that is loved by many people all across the world.  There are only a few reasons why the only things that make me say that I didn&rsquo;t absolutely love the book.  The primary reason is that it was difficult to follow at times.  I wasn&rsquo;t quite sure what was going on during certain parts of the book.  However, the faster you know which character is which, then the easier the book will be to read.  It is very difficult if you don&rsquo;t know the characters very well.  That makes this book a difficult book to start reading.  The beginning is very slow and the story doesn&rsquo;t seem to pick up its pace until later on in the book.  There were some chapters that I had to read multiple times just to understand what was going on.  When you are reading this book, you need to limit your distractions, in order to focus on the story.  When the story speeds up, however, it is a very good book and well worth the read.  It starts to get very suspenseful, especially later on in the book.   For example, in part three, I just wanted to read through the whole book to find out what would happen.  I would recommend this book to any and all readers who can read high level books and enjoy history.  I actually learned a lot just from reading this book.  I wouldn&rsquo;t recommend this book to anyone who is going to lose interest in the book before the first one hundred pages, however.  If you are looking for an action packed novel that is easy to read then keep looking.  A Tale of Two Cities is a slower paced, sometimes confusing book that has an interesting and suspenseful story, and is well worth reading.  If you are looking for challenge, and you don&rsquo;t lose interest too easily, then I highly suggest picking up A Tale of Two Cities.  Find yourself a quiet corner and dive in.  You will be glad that you read it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was suppose to read this in school, I didn't. Now that i'm 72 I am reading the classics and enjoying them. I still have no use for algebra!
BondSu More than 1 year ago
A wonderful way to reread a classic. Having the dictionary available and the footnotes readily available were a added plus to Dickens' great writing skills.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very good book, but its also free and I think though it could be more deitailed
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The footnotes were both good and bad. I enjoyed having the extra facts readily available, but some of the footnotes were spoilers that ruined the story. On the whole, I was very happy to have the footnotes, especially while reading on nook.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was given this book as an assignment when i was in highschool. I wasnt interested in reading it then. Now 15 years later, i regret not reading it when i was supposed to. I adore Charles Dickens. This is def one of his best.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a thrilling story with everything you need to have an all around good nail biting suspensful book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Paris and london during the French revolution. Great escape drama.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is so bad that i would rather read dora.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an awesome book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is amazing in so many ways: literary, the story, and the ending. I was so afraid the ending would be unsatisfying, but that is the last word I would use to describe the wonderfulness of ut. I wanted to cry!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A Tale of Two Cities was set in the French Revolution. I would say that this is Charles Dickens' second best book (the best being A Christmas Carol). A challenging read, but highly reccommended.
Haley_Williams More than 1 year ago
Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is a classic literature book set in the time of the French revolution. If I had to describe the book in a couple words I would label it as an &ldquo;old-English soap-opera&rdquo;. I enjoyed the book very much but I feel unless you are a strong reader or good with old English the book would be boring and difficult to understand. Personally, I sometimes had to look up what was going on in the book online to follow along. There are a couple main and supporting main characters and the book switches between the point of view of the various characters telling the story from all sides. The book is known for its famous opening line &ldquo;It was the best of times. It was the worst of times&hellip;&rdquo; That line and the couple after hint to the plot/theme of the story. In the opening pages a mood is set, Dickens writes of a damp, dreary, cold, dark, night. Dickens writes in a very, how would you say, hinting way. If you look closely and pay attention you can catch little details that clue you into something that will be revealed later on. All in all the book was a good read, it was slow to start but picks up as you get father into the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Was an excellent depiction of the french revolution, i am just not a fan of Dickens writing style.