Read With Me: A Tale of Two Cities, Chapters I-III.

Previously: Announcement| Coming Soon: Chapter IV

Welcome to the first week of reading A Tale of Two Cities!

If you missed the announcement for this new series, then I am re-reading A Tale of Two Cities to mirror the way it was originally released. Chapters I-III was first released in a magazine called All the Year Round on Saturday, April 30th 1859. I will be reading on Thursday and posting on Saturday. The next few weeks’ worths of dates are at the bottom of the post should you wish to join in.


It seems impossible to talk of A Tale of Two Cities without taking a look at that iconic first line:

‘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 way— in 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.’

Chapter I, p.1.

I like this line because of two reasons. The first is that it applies to our current time, or any current time for the reader, which immediately pulls you into the story. It’s also a reminder that no matter how dark you think times are there’s always light, and vice-versa. No time is perfect, but neither does it have to be perfect as perfection an imperfection can exist side by side. The second reason is that it reminds me that Dickens was paid by instalment, and so it makes sense to have as many instalments as possible. Do we need this chapter, probably not but if you were getting paid by chapter then I’m sure you’d keep it too?

I haven’t read all of Dickens’ work. I’ve probably only really read a handful of his work, so you may want to take the next point with a grain of salt. A Tale of Two Cities is set in 1775, 84 years before it being written. I believe this is unusual for Dickens or at least unusual for our perception of Dickens. I think of the author as being quintessentially Victorian, and this, one of his most famous books is set under the reign of George III.

The narrative launches then into comparing Paris and London, the two cities of the title. Both cities are plagued with crime, which makes for a busy hangman, and plenty of other problems. This description makes it apparent that the author does not intend to idealising the past.

While the first chapter talks about this period in general terms, focusing more on the rulers, Chapter II is a lot more specific. This can be seen through the use of dialogue, as opposed to pure narrative voice. We also meet specific characters, some of which will become reoccurring.

Chapter II also sees one of the character’s (Mr Jarvis Lorry, the businessman who works for Tellson’s bank) reply to a message. The first book is named after this reply, ‘Recalled to life’, a mysterious reply which is evidenced by how it is commented on. The following chapter speaks more about this idea of resurrection though it is still not wholly clear by the conclusion of the section.

While we may not consider Dickens to write mysteries there is often a mysterious element to the plot of his books. He even draws our attention to his use of mystery through the first sentence of Chapter III:

‘A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret mystery to every other.’

Chapter III, p.15.

The concept of never knowing another man’s mind is a theme which permeates the entirety of the book, and we will revisit this quote at the conclusion. This perhaps acts as a reminder to the reader that the world is full of the unknown, and if we cannot know another person can we then judge them?


What about you… Are you reading along with A Tale of Two Cities, and if so, what did you think of this section?

Dates for your diary:
Chapter IV on the 7th of May (Post: 9th of May)
Chapter V on the 14th of May (Post: 16th of May)
Chapter VI on the 21st of May (Post: 23rd of May)

Edition: A Tale of Two Cities- Winter Edition.

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