Dickens' second historical novel, which he considered "the best story I have written," provides a highly-charged examination of human suffering and human sacrifice. Private experience and public history paralled one another as the political activities and personal responsibilities of these fictional characters, during the French Revolution, draw them into the Paris of the Terror.
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About the Author
Andrew Sanders is a lecturer in English at Birkbeck College, London. He is Honorary Editor of The Dickensian, and editor of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackerary, and Sylvia's Lovers by Mrs Gaskell, both in The World's Classics series.
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
Education:Home-schooling; attended Dame School at Chatham briefly and Wellington
Read an Excerpt
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other wayin short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever.
It was the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Spiritual revelations were conceded to England at that favoured period, as at this. Mrs. Southcott had recently attained her five-and-twentieth blessed birthday, of whom a prophetic private in the Life Guards had heralded the sublime appearance by announcing that arrangements were made for the swallowing up of London and Westminster. Even the Cock Lane ghost had been laid only a round dozen of years, after rapping out its messages, as the spirits of this very year last past (supernaturally deficient in originality) rapped out theirs. Mere messages in the earthly order of events had lately come tothe English Crown and People, from a congress of British subjects in America: which, strange to relate, have proved more important to the human race than any communications yet received through any of the chickens of the Cock Lane brood.France, less favoured on the whole as to matters spiritual than her sister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeding smoothness down hill, making paper money and spending it. Under the guidance of her Christian pastors, she entertained herself, besides, with such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off, his tongue torn out with pincers, and his body burned alive, because he had not kneeled down in the rain to do honour to a dirty procession of monks which passed within his view, at a distance of some fifty or sixty yards. It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history. It is likely enough that in the rough outhouses of some tillers of the heavy lands adjacent to Paris, there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution. But that Woodman and that Farmer, though they work unceasingly, work silently, and no one heard them as they went about with muffled tread: the rather, forasmuch as to entertain any suspicion that they were awake, was to be atheistical and traitorous.
In England, there was scarcely an amount of order and protection to justify much national boasting. Daring burglaries by armed men, and highway robberies, took place in the capital itself every night; families were publicly cautioned not to go out of town without removing their furniture to upholsterers' warehouses for security; the highwayman in the dark was a City tradesman in the light, and, being recognised and challenged by his fellow tradesman whom he stopped in his character of 'the Captain,' gallantly shot him through the head and rode away; the mail was waylaid by seven robbers, and the guard shot three dead, and then got shot dead himself by the other four, 'in consequence of the failure of his ammunition'; after which the mail was robbed in peace; that magnificent potentate, the Lord Mayor of London, was made to stand and deliver on Turnham Green, by one highwayman, who despoiled the illustrious creature in sight of all his retinue; prisoners in London gaols fought battles with their turnkeys, and the majesty of the law fired blunderbusses in among them, loaded with rounds of shot and ball; thieves snipped off diamond crosses from the necks of noble lords at Court drawing rooms; musketeers went into St. Giles's, to search for contraband goods, and the mob fired on the musketeers, and the musketeers fired on the mob, and nobody thought any of these occurrences much out of the common way. In the midst of them, the hangman, ever busy and ever worse than useless, was in constant requisition; now, stringing up long rows of miscellaneous criminals; now, hanging a housebreaker on Saturday who had been taken on Tuesday; now, burning people in the hand at Newgate by the dozen, and now burning pamphlets at the door of Westminster Hall; today, taking the life of an atrocious murderer, and tomorrow of a wretched pilferer who had robbed a farmer's boy of sixpence.
All these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in and close upon the dear old year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Environed by them, while the Woodman and the Farmer worked unheeded, those two of the large jaws, and those other two of the plain and the fair faces, trod with stir enough, and carried their divine rights with a high hand.
Table of Contents
|Insights into Charles Dickens|
|Book 1||Recalled to Life|
|Chapter 1||The Period||16|
|Chapter 2||The Mail||20|
|Chapter 3||The Night Shadows (Summary)||27|
|Chapter 4||The Preparation||28|
|Chapter 5||The Wine-Shop||41|
|Chapter 6||The Shoemaker||53|
|Book 2||The Golden Thread|
|Chapter 1||Five Years Later (Summary)||67|
|Chapter 2||A Sight||69|
|Chapter 3||A Disappointment||77|
|Chapter 4||Congratulatory (Summary)||92|
|Chapter 5||The Jackal||94|
|Chapter 6||Hundreds of People (Summary)||101|
|Chapter 7||Monseigneur in Town (Summary)||103|
|Chapter 8||Monseigneur in the Country (Summary)||104|
|Chapter 9||The Gorgon's Head||105|
|Chapter 10||Two Promises||119|
|Chapter 11||A Companion Picture (Summary)||127|
|Chapter 12||The Fellow of Delicacy (Summary)||128|
|Chapter 13||The Fellow of No Delicacy||129|
|Chapter 14||The Honest Tradesman||134|
|Chapter 16||Still Knitting||157|
|Chapter 17||One Night (Summary)||169|
|Chapter 18||Nine Days||170|
|Chapter 19||An Opinion||177|
|Chapter 20||A Plea (Summary)||185|
|Chapter 21||Echoing Footsteps||186|
|Chapter 22||The Sea Still Rises||199|
|Chapter 23||Fire Rises (Summary)||205|
|Chapter 24||Drawn to the Loadstone Rock||207|
|Book 3||The Track of A Storm|
|Chapter 1||In Secret||221|
|Chapter 2||The Grindstone (Summary)||234|
|Chapter 3||The Shadow||236|
|Chapter 4||Calm in Storm (Summary)||242|
|Chapter 5||The Wood-Sawyer (Summary)||244|
|Chapter 7||A Knock at the Door (Summary)||254|
|Chapter 8||A Hand at Cards||255|
|Chapter 9||The Game Made||268|
|Chapter 10||The Substance of the Shadow||283|
|Chapter 11||Dusk (Summary)||298|
|Chapter 14||The Knitting Done||321|
|Chapter 15||The Footsteps Die Out Forever||334|
What People are Saying About This
"Charles Dickens's classic of the French Revolution is expertly dramatized by Simon Vance." -AudioFile
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for An Atlas of Impossible Longing includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In this reimagining of Charles Dickens’s classic, Great Expectations, Pip is an orphaned young werewolf living with his ill-tempered sister and her gentle husband, the blacksmith Joe Gargery. One fateful night, visiting his parents’ grave under the full moon, Pip encounters a frightening stranger—another werewolf and a convict no less. Too afraid to do anything other than obey the stranger’s instruction, Pip helps this convict and sets in motion of chain of events that will forever change the course of his life. Pip is sent to reside with Miss Havisham, a vampire who was sired and left on her wedding day by the one she loved. She has adopted Estella and raised her as a vampire slayer, to seek revenge on the supernatural creatures that she blames for her ruin. Pip, in awe of Estella’s beauty, falls instantly in love with her despite the fact that she has been trained to hate all “Scapegraces.” When an anonymous benefactor sends Pip to London to become a gentleman, he believes it is his chance to win Estella’s hand. The question that lies ahead is whether Pip will be able to overcome his wolfish ways and turn his once grave expectations for himself into great ones.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. In Pip’s world, the term “Scapegraces” is used to define “those of a supernatural sort” (p. 11). What do you think this term implies about the way that creatures like werewolves and vampires were viewed in this society?
2. On page 12, Pip wonders, “Was it a crime to merely be different?” While being a werewolf is simply a condition inherited at birth, vampires prey on the living to increase their population, and yet are “considered civilized and welcome to mix in society.” Is one creature more monstrous than the other? Do both werewolves and vampires have the capacity for good and evil?
3. After being invited to Miss Havisham’s and then later learning of his anonymous benefactor, Pip often feels ashamed of his roots, and of Joe’s commonness even more so than his own Scapegrace status. Yet Joe never seems to exhibit any embarrassment over Pip’s wolfishness. What does this say about each of their characters? What influences the focus of Pip’s shame?
4. When Mrs. Joe dies (the first time), Pip finds what he knows to be evidence of Magwitch’s crime, but he still does not accuse him. Why do you think Pip believes that Magwitch is innocent of this crime when the main piece of evidence points directly to him?
5. Throughout most of the story, Estella is cold-hearted and shows no affection for Pip despite his unwavering love for her. Why should he love someone who could possibly end up killing him in her crusade against Scapegraces? What makes him fall in love with her in the first place? Why do you think Pip continues to pursue someone who will never return his feelings?
6. Pip and Herbert have a very special friendship. Do you think this brotherly love grew out of the wolfish need to be part of a pack? Or something more human?
7. While Miss Havisham is herself a vampire, she has trained Estella in the ways of vampire slaying. Pip wonders “if Miss Havisham weren’t really wishing to be staked by Estella one day in raising her to such an art” (p. 235). Do you agree? Do you think Miss Havisham’s eventual outcome either supports or refutes this opinion? Why does Estella never stake her, if indeed her mission is to kill vampires?
8. Pip is horrified when he finds out the Magwitch has been his anonymous benefactor all along. Why do you think this revelation is so abhorrent to Pip, when he seems so willing to not only protect Magwitch and keep him safe, but to also protect his feelings by not revealing his disappointment?
9. On page 284, Pip explains to Miss Havisham that there are certain Scapegraces who “showed more humanity than the humans.” Discuss which of the Scapegraces behave with the utmost humanity, and which of the human characters exhibit what could be categorized as monstrous behavior?
10. How does the discovery of Estella’s parentage change things for Pip? Does it change your opinion of her?
11. Why is it so easy for Joe and Biddy to forgive Pip after he had neglected them for so many years? Should Joe have been angry that Pip spent so much time visiting Magwitch after he was captured, when he never kept up his visits to Joe like he had promised?
12. Though Estella is able to eventually see the goodness in werewolves, she never changes her opinion of vampires. Why do you think she can pardon and accept most Scapegraces and still seek vengeance against vampires?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. Grave Expectations is a reimagining of Charles Dickens’s classic Great Expectations. Have you read Great Expectations before? If so, how did the supernatural version compare to the classic? What remained the same in this new version of the story? What changed? If not, choose Great Expectations for your next book club pick.
2. Grave Expectations is a literary mash-up—where a fictional classic is retold in present day or with mythical substitutions. Examples include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or the movie Clueless, which was essentially Jane Austen’s Emma set in Beverly Hills during the 1990s. Try creating a literary mash-up of your own with your book club. Pick a favorite classic and retell the story as though it took place in the present day or with some supernatural characters. The more imaginative, the better!
3. Legends of werewolves and vampires have been carried down through the centuries. How does their depiction in this work compare with your preconceived notions of such supernatural creatures?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
You get what you pay for! This is a very crude version of the text, straight from a scan via OCR with no proofreading whatsoever. Spend the few bucks to get a version of this great book that you can actually read!
The Tale of Two Cities is a very good book about the 1700's. The author uses fake characters to describe the life abd times there. This is an excellent book for those who want history but a little fun too. All in all, I would recommend this book.
This is my favorite book of all time, I absolutely loved it from beginning to end. It made me cry and laugh out loud in class--even though I was supposed to be watching a movie or doing an assignment and got in trouble for reading. The plot was amazing, the characters were captivating and the narrative was entertaining. I love strong female characters and Madame Defarge was simply brilliant. But as awesome as she was, Sydney Carton was my favorite. Those last few chapters, I could not stop crying. My only complaint about this book is that there should have been more about him.
This is one of the best books I have ever read. The Penguin Classics edition offers detailed end-notes, as always. The only complaint I have with this edition, though, is that some of the end-notes revealed a bit of the plot. The story was not completely ruined, so it is not really a big deal. Overall, an excellent book.
Glad i finally grew up and started reading
Harvard College Library copy, scanned as part of the Google project, has OCR text recognition issues. This is a fair copy of a great work, flawed by the OCR flaws. Wish Google had taken the time to edit it correctly.
There are too many spelling errors in this book to even get past the 1st page, its not worth the space on your nook
I am sure that a tale of two cities is a great book, but this version only has the first 48 pages! If you are the person who put this up, quit trying to make people pay their money for something unfinished and dumb. Fix this book or take it back. I want a refund.
The first part was a little slow, but in the end, it was fabulous! A wonderful read, well written, perfect! A book defidently worth reading!
This book is extremely good BUT this is mainly for people who love literature. Once you get interested in this book and get passed the first few chapters you will want to read this over and over again to see what you missed. I hope if you buy this you are dedicated because it will hook you. Enjoy!!!
This is my first novel on CD and I have been thoroughly enjoying the experience. Of course, it helps that it is also my first Dickens novel. Every character comes to life in the descriptions and every scene is painted in my mind's eye as Dickens unfolds the story. The narator also does a wonderful job. Fantastic!
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”- Dickens’ opening has become one of the most popular throughout literature. Charles Dickens usual writing style of humor is absent as he turns to the somber subject of the French Revolution. His historical context of the novel encompasses the themes of love, loss, secrets, sacrifice, resurrection, vengeance, and the darkness of the people that suffered through the oppression that evolved into the French Revolution. Dickens keeps his audience enchanted and coming back for the next book in the novel by enticing them with a captivating story-line, complex characters, complimentary and contrasting aspects within the characters and the setting, and brilliant descriptions that create a powerful mood and an array of tones. He weaves symbolism, imagery, and understatements into his text to make it beautifully rich, especially for a careful reader. One of Dickens’ main themes of the book, as seen in the opening, is contractions. Within this theme, Dickens uses several other themes to show the difference between characters and to enhance the relationships between those characters. For example, though they may look very similar, Charles Darnay is the“good guy” and Sydney Carton is the contraction to all that is good in Charles Darnay. He is the sinner-savior archetype, making him the ultimate savior of the story, yet Charles Darnay steals Lucie Manette from him. However, Dickens comparisons also expand to the settings in the book, such as, the utopian society, i.e. England, and the dystopian society, i.e. France. Dickens then ties all these comparisons and similarities together in a nice bow by connecting the past with the present and showing how these ties affect the future of the characters and those that are to come. The change produced within the characters and the storyline all come to a climax as the events that he had been foreshadowing take place and change the lives of each character. Another one of Dickens’ themes is that of darkness. Madame Defarge embodies everything that is darkness: deceit, secrets, and death. Her plans and memories fester within the darkness of the French Revolution, coming to a climax when she has Charles Darnay in her clutches and the guillotine waiting for her instructions. The ominous echo of the guillotine can be heard throughout Paris, but in the darkness, there is a light, a glimmer of hope. Lucie encompasses that light, spreading goodness everywhere she goes. She frees her father from his bondages, makes Charles Darnay a better man, and saves Sydney Carton from himself. However, the setting also looks at this hope. The scenery and lighting of England is optimistic and a safe haven to escape to, yet when you get across the sea to France, doom and gloom encloses around you, and all hope is lost. These complex compliments and contractions of each other have made his images and characterizations so well known. Dickens uses several literary styles, including satirical, realistic, gothic, and naturalistic to encompass the different themes, characterizations, and settings presented in the book. Along with those previously stated, he also uses Biblical motifs to describe his characters and settings. For example, when describing the French government, he uses Biblical ideas from the Old Testament, such as, judgment, guilt, condemnation, punishment for wrongdoings, and blood sacrifices to cover the sins of those that had oppressed them. Yet, when he described the English government, he used New Testament ideas like grace, forgiveness, compassion, enlightened, and saying that it is at a state of restoration. Dickens also went on to categorize certain characters into either Old or New Testament. Charles Darnay, for example was described by his sins and being guilty, like in the Old Testament, whereas Lucie Manette and her father were described as graceful and compassionate, like several New Testament ideals. An interesting occurrence happens however, when the characters and settings begin changing and the life for one character becomes clearer and more purposeful, switching from Old Testament to New Testament. For that man, “‘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 I have ever known’” (Dickens 358).
This classic is deserving of the status. I would suggest reading along with notes, as the language can be a bit difficult to follow. I will read this again. Amazing.
Should read very good book
Waasn't really the best or the worst thing that i have ever read, but it gets kinda boring and you lose track of what is really going on, however some people could really like the direction the book takes, but i personally was not a fan of it
This book does not really have a good plot and its action and suspense is outdated when compared with some of the books that we have now. The main reason that this books gets any stars at all is because of the mad skill that Dickens has with writing. The depth of the symbolism was one of the few things that anstonished me in this book.
I know I'm going against the grain on this one, but I hate this book more than words can express. Now, don't think I'm saying this without some support, giving a classic novel like this one star is not very popular. I just can't bring myself to enjoy reading anything by Charles Dickens. This may not mean much from someone who likes to read Camus, Salinger, and Kesey like myself, but I just don't know how people can get into Dickens' novels, especially this one. I was unfortunately assigned to read this book twice in high school and have read it a total of three times (I read it in eighth grade for leisure). I really regret wasting the time and energy. There is not one character in this book that I can really care for, which is a big turn off for me. And Lucie...ugh! I never thought an author could make one of his characters over act in a book. Well, Dickens pulled it off. I love reading and I can find enjoyment in almost every piece of literature I can get my hands on. Except, of course, for a waste of print like this.
Profound & immensely satisfying how everything ties together. Gives you faith in humanity, despite the frenzied insanity, brutality & chaos of the French Revolution. My favorite Dickens novel and one of my all-time favorite stories--I get goosebumps just thinking about ending lines...
I am currently struggling my way through Great Expectations due to a combination of, in my view, unlikeable characters and the occasional waffle. This did not give me the best first impression of Dickens. However after powering through A Tale of Two Cities I might just give him another chance. Although at times the way the plot was turning was clear, that did not take away any enjoyment. I did on occasion find the French revolutionaries slightly one dimensional and I agree with others that perhaps a contrast between the bloodthirsty revolution and the desire for a new enlightened government and culture would have made a good book better.Overall I found this an enjoyable and easy read. The characters are interesting, although can tend slightly to charicatures of good and evil and the plot, though simple, is beautifully conveyed.
Like many other reviewers, I was required to read this during my secondary school days. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and how readable I found Dickens compared to other British authors of "great books" (I'm looking at you, Jane Austen). With my fondness for this classic in mind, I recently reread the book again, and while I still found it enjoyable, I thought the story suffered from the characterization of Lucie Manette. Almost every scene involving the good doctor's daughter has one of her male comrades or family members remarking on her goodness, her beauty, her strength of character, etc. when we almost never actually SEE this goodness and strength--they're just asserted through other characters' thoughts and actions.These traits contrast starkly with those of the dastardly Madame Defarge, but to me the two characters are ironically similar in that just as Madame Defarge is unlikeable for her total cruelty, Lucie is also unlikeable for her total goodness, which is a reader response I'm sure Dickens did not intend to provoke. Sydney Carton was my favorite character when I first read this in high school, and four years later, I'm better able to articulate why: unlike Lucie and Madame Defarge, he is a mix of vice and virtue. He's complex and morally grey. Unlike the other two, he's an actual person.Apart from Lucie's role as a Mary Sue, however, A Tale of Two Cities is a good read. As others have noted, it's rather slow in the beginning, but the thrill and suspense woven into the last quarter of the book makes waiting out the slow build worth it.
The thing is, Dickens waffles on such a lot and in such flowery language that it's quite hard to concentrate when I'm used to sparse sentences Graham Greene style. The story was enjoyable, Lucie's character annoyed me a bit by being so angelic and innocent, but when the story picked up in Paris I couldn't put the book down, seriously.
It was a good book and I'm glad I did read it. The only issues I had with the book were that I found it very difficult to pick up and read and I wasn't emotionally involved with any of the characters. While I really enjoyed reading the story when I had the pages open it again was not something I just felt I couldn't put down. Thus the reason it took me quite an amount of time to finish this book, it was slow going for me. The first half of the book was the worst, the second half and toward the end really started to pick up and I found the end of it to be quite interesting and probably rushed through the last 100 - 150 pages in two days where it took me several days to get to that point. Overall, a good book.
I don't do abridged. I cordially despise abridgements. Reader's Digest Condensed versions? Abominations. But this particular abridgement is an audiobook read by Tom Baker. I will listen to a calendar read by Tom Baker. I think I would even listen to Sarah Palin's autobiography read by Tom Baker. (Maybe.) Tom Baker is magnificent. He's Tom Baker. His voice is deep and rich and pleasurable as the center of a dark chocolate truffle. When Dickens' humor comes out in the text, Baker's amused tone deepens it. In more dramatic moments, the passion in his voice is tangible. His characters are beautiful. Truly, I don't think he put a foot wrong in the whole lamentably short reading. Oh, and Dickens is pretty fantastic too. One of many reasons I curse the school system is that it made me hate Dickens for a while there. I resent that. This is a gorgeous story ¿ and yes, I will be reading the unbutchered version before long. As I've said so often this year about so many books, I read A Tale of Two Cities a very long time ago, and had forgotten quite a bit. As these things go, I think this audiobook ¿ from Audible ¿ was a very good abridgement. Quite a lot of dialogue and a fair amount of character development was retained (though not the revelations about Madame DeFarge's knitting); I wouldn't want to sit listening to this with the book in hand, but whatever reason there was to cut the book down, at least they did it rather well. But I'd pay good money (if I had it) to hear the whole 400-500 page novel read by Tom Baker. Or, you know, the phone book.