A Tale of Two Cities - December Group Read - Part One

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A Tale of Two Cities - December Group Read - Part One

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Redigerat: dec 6, 2012, 2:46 am

Set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution, this classic tale by Charles Dickens is not only one of his all time best-sellers, but with well over 200 million copies sold, it also ranks among the all-time top best sellers of fictional literature.

Our Group Read is scheduled to start in December, but if anyone wants to get a head start, please feel free to do so.

Whichever copy you are planning on reading, please come and join us.
This thread will cover Part One - Recalled To Life.
If you have any questions concerning Part One, please post them here as our resident expert, Heather (SouloftheRose) will be here to help.

In order to avoid any major spoilers, I will set up further threads for Part Two and Part Three.

Part Two - The Golden Thread

Part Three - The Track of a Storm

nov 21, 2012, 5:25 pm

Judy, I am very tempted to join you guys on this GR since it is always more motivating for me to read a classic if I know other people are doing it at the same. And, Charles Dickens is not my favourite so it will be nice to see what other people's reactions are and maybe get some clarification! I'll have to find my copy on my TBR shelf. :)

nov 21, 2012, 7:07 pm

I hope you are able to join us Valerie, and as an added bonus, we will have Heather to tutor us in any questions we may care to ask.

nov 21, 2012, 7:44 pm

Thanks for setting up the thread, Judy. I love the opening graphic of the guillotine. I'm getting excited about doing my first tudored read.

nov 21, 2012, 10:34 pm

I'm sort of tempted too, I've had it sitting on my bedside table for a couple of months now, so it wants to be read.

nov 21, 2012, 11:14 pm

I read this one a couple of years ago.... not up to a re-read, but is it okay if I lurk for the discussion?

nov 21, 2012, 11:39 pm

I'm not actually part of this group; I heard about it from someone in the What Are You Reading Now group. But I've been planning to read ATOTC for years now. This may be just the jump start I need. Okay if I join in? How does the group read work?

nov 22, 2012, 12:12 am

Everyone is welcome here to join in or just to lurk. Please feel free to add any comments and join in any discussions.

#4 - Hi Pat, it's going to be fun to have Heather help us.

#5 - I hope you are able to join us, Kerry. I think most people are going to start in December, but anyone who prefers, can start immediately.

#6 - Hi Lori, please lurk away and join in to any discussion if you want.

#7 - Hi Sandragon, it would be great if you could join in the group read. The group read is pretty loose, everyone reads at their own speed. The threads are for discussion and questions. If you have any questions, we have Heather (SouloftheRose) to help us. This thread will be for Part One of the Book. I will set up additional threads for Part Two and Three, hopefully that way we will avoid any major spoilers.

nov 22, 2012, 2:49 am

Thanks for setting up the thread, Judy. I'm looking forward to getting going!

nov 22, 2012, 3:01 am

I think I might be in on this as well..I've been wanting to read this forever, I just have a hard time reading more than one book at once and I have a ton of books that need to be reviewed for my blog....hmmm...

nov 22, 2012, 4:47 am

I listened to an audio version, read by Anton Lesser, recently but I shall be following along with the group read and looking forward to the questions.

nov 22, 2012, 8:00 am

This book is on the shelf for ages now, I'd like to join you in this group if I may.

nov 22, 2012, 8:53 am

I'll be back December 1st! Thanks to Judy and Heather for organizing this GR. Really looking forward to it :0)

nov 22, 2012, 9:21 am

I'm in! I've got my copy coming to me at the library, and I hope to start reading before Dec. 1 (at least past the first page, which I've read so often that I probably have it memorized). Looking forward to reading this with you all.

Karen O.

nov 22, 2012, 12:12 pm

#8 - Thanks, DeltaQueen :o)
I'm looking forward to finally reading this, and I love the idea of a tutored group read. I already have a copy on the shelves so I'm all set to go, as soon as I finish off a couple other books first.

nov 22, 2012, 2:17 pm

I was just looking at my copy of ATOTC and Part One is only 57 pages! I will try to set up the thread for Part Two this weekend for the early starters.

Redigerat: nov 24, 2012, 9:50 am

If you have any questions concerning Part One, please post them here as our resident expert, Heather (SouloftheRose) will be here to help.

Uh oh, what have I signed myself up for?!? :-)

I'm rereading the book ahead of the group read so that I can answer questions and let's just say there are at least a couple of questions that I hope no-one thinks to ask because I've realised I don't know the answers!

Dickens and A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities (AToTC) was Dickens' 12th full-length novel, initially published as a weekly serial to launch Dickens' new twopenny periodical, All the Year Round in April 1859. Although Dickens had written weekly serials before, this was his first return to the form since the publication of Hard Times in 1854 and Dickens found it a struggle to fit his material into short weekly episodes. He wrote to a friend that: 'Nothing but the interest of the subject, and the pleasure of striving with the difficulty of the form of treatment - nothing in the way of mere money, I mean - could else repay the time and trouble of this incessant condensation.'

Dickens' main source for AToTC was Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution: A History first published in 1837, which Dickens had read and reread several times. (As a good tutor I probably should have read this but I haven't).

Britain and France in the Eighteenth Century

Now history is definitely not my strong point but there are a couple of things I want to mention which I think help to explain the strained relations between Britain and France within A Tale of Two Cities.

1. The Seven Years War: 1756-1763 - A war between most of the great powers of the time. I think the important point to remember for AToTC is that Britain beat France and France had to sign a treaty which gave great concessions to the British. French pride was wounded and the French government was left with massive debts which it spent most of the rest of the 18th century trying to repay.

2. France in the American Revolutionary War: 1775–1783 - France formed a military alliance with the United States in the American Revolutionary War in 1778, partly in order to give themselves another chance of fighting Britain. This time Britain lost so I suppose you could say France won, but France was left in even more debt than after The Seven Years War.

In Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Simon Schama identifies the high debts incurred by France in both these wars as one of the main causes of the French Revolution.

The French Revolution

In AToTC Dickens focuses on a few of the more well-known events or crises in the French Revolution. I've listed below the main events Dickens either describes or references at various points but I don't think you need to know much about the French Revolution to appreciate AToTC.

1. The Storming of the Bastille: 14 July 1789 - The Bastille was a mediaeval fortress/prison in Paris. While the prison only contained seven inmates at the time of its storming, its fall was the flashpoint of the French Revolution.

2. King Louis XVI dethroned: 10 August 1792 - Popular pressure was building to dethrone the king. On 10 August the Tuileries palace where the royal family were housed was attacked. The king and family took refuge with the National or Legislative Assembly who voted to suspend the monarchy. Soon after the royal family became prisoners in the Temple, an ancient fortress in Paris that was used as a prison.

3. The September Massacres: 2-6 September 1792 - Following on from the events of 10 August 1792, there was no one individual or ruling body who could claim sovereignty in France. In this power vacuum a wave of mob violence meant that over 1,000 prisoners in Paris were massacred for being deemed to be counter-revolutionaries.

If you have a question then please post away but it would be helpful if you could list the chapter first so that I can get my bearings and so that people who may not be quite that far ahead can avert their eyes if they want to.

nov 22, 2012, 2:44 pm

Thanks for setting it all up Judy!

And welcome to Valerie, Pat, Kerry, Sandragon, Cushla, Lilkim, Kerry, wilkiec, Lynda and Karen :-)

nov 23, 2012, 11:19 am

Thanks for the welcome, Heather, and for being our tutor. I've tried this book a few times over the years but have never managed to get past the first part. It's a book I really want to like so I keep trying. I know the story, even how it ends; we watched the movie in social studies in high school and I was wowed. I keep hoping the book will do the same for me. Maybe this time will be the charm.

nov 23, 2012, 11:32 am

Hello everyone, I think I will join you in this group read as I wanted to start to read Dickens next year anyway. So, I am just going to start a month early. :)

nov 27, 2012, 9:37 pm

I'm planning on starting on or by the weekend and I'm looking forward to this group.

nov 27, 2012, 10:18 pm

Picked up my library copy today.

It's been a while since I read this. Perhaps because I had to do it at school. :)

nov 27, 2012, 11:58 pm

#17 Thanks for that great background information, Heather! I was very surprised that the Bastille only had 7 prisoners in it at the time it was stormed. You've already added alot to my enjoyment of this book and I haven't even started it yet.

nov 28, 2012, 12:34 am

I have set up Part Two of the Group Read and it can be found:

Part Two Here

nov 28, 2012, 7:15 am

Thanks for the much needed refresher course in French History, Heather. It's a good way to feel grounded in a story.

Redigerat: nov 28, 2012, 3:20 pm

#23 & 25 You're welcome :-)

I've finished my own read now but I'm looking forward to everyone else reading it.

nov 30, 2012, 1:49 am

For anyone who does the TIOLI Challenges, I've placed A Tale of Two Cities under Challenge 1.

Going to start the book tomorrow.

nov 30, 2012, 5:12 am

I was going to start in the morning but have just picked up my copy and discovered that it's an abridged edition. Will hunt down a full edition and make a start next week.

nov 30, 2012, 6:30 pm

The ghost of Cock Lane mentioned in chapter 1 is a reference to a fairly notorious case that actually took place. Does anyone know if Mrs Southcott is a reference to an actual person also?

Redigerat: nov 30, 2012, 6:50 pm

Old habits die hard... I automatically started to answer that, then remembered that's not my job here!

Heather? :)

dec 1, 2012, 2:54 am

Heather, thanks for the background - I have Citizens here (unread of course!!). Haven't started yet because I am still going on Team of Rivals and have a big essay due Tuesday.

I remember doing a bit of work on the French debts when I was doing an economic history course at grad school - it was one of my favourite parts of an excellent course. I think they were called tontines and in 1994 I found them really interesting but 18 years later I can't remember anything more than that.

dec 1, 2012, 4:48 am

And we're off!

Chapter 1

#29 Yes, Mrs Southcott, born in 1750 (and therefore twenty-five in 1775), was a farmer's daughter who became a Methodist in 1791 and became a self-declared religious prophetess shortly afterwards.

For those who haven't heard of it before, the Cock Lane ghost mentioned was thought to be the ghost of a murder victim which was supposed to manifest itself at a house in Cock Lane in London. It attracted a lot of public attention but it was later exposed as a fraud.

There were also a lot of spiritual hoaxes of a similar type in the 1850s when Dickens was writing (which is what his reference to 'spirits of this very year last past' refers to.

I think Dickens is setting the scene here for the next few chapters which take place in 1775 but visions/prophecies are a sort-of mini-theme of aToTC which will hopefully become clearer as you read on.

dec 1, 2012, 4:51 am

#30 Hee hee! Well, if you get itchy fingers and think I've missed anything feel free to chip in :-)

#31 Cushla, I have to confess I feel a little bit out of my depth with Citizens. It's enormous and so detailed - I'm 200 pages in and only up to 1785 so far. I don't know how long it's going to take me to get to 1789! It's interesting, but has to be read in small doses.

dec 2, 2012, 11:51 am

I just finished Part One. I don't remember the book starting off this way, but then again that was 37 years ago. EEK! At my age, it's not surprising :0}

dec 2, 2012, 12:44 pm

>31 cushlareads: Tontines are a type of group investment scheme. All the members of a group pay a regular amount into a fund which is invested on their behalf. They get a dividend. If a member of the group dies, the dividends are divided among the remaining members until essentially there is no one left. They were incredibly popular in France and used extensively by the government but they miscalculated how long people would live so ended up in trouble because the funds couldn't keep paying out. How do I know this? It was a plot device in an Agatha Christie novel! Who says detective fiction isn't educational??

dec 2, 2012, 1:50 pm

I have finished Part One as well. I am listening to audio and following along in my book as well. The narrator is Simon Vance and he is doing an excellent job, really holding my attention. I have to admit, even though the writing is a little too sentimental at times, I had to wipe a tear or two away.

dec 2, 2012, 2:07 pm

#34 Lynda, I was surprised how much of the first part I'd forgotten on my reread too.

#35 Thanks Karen! I'm desperately trying to recall which Agatha Christie novel used them now (I thought I'd read them all...)

#36 Judy, you may need tissues for the end of the book too...

dec 3, 2012, 10:42 am

Is it OK for me to ask questions about a couple of the phrases in this section? If, so I'll post them tonight.

dec 3, 2012, 11:37 am

#38 Yes, please do Janet. Any and all questions welcome from anyone :-)

dec 3, 2012, 12:27 pm

I also finished part 1 now. I had some difficulty getting into the book, had to read every sentence of the first chapter twice. But now that we are on 'people-level' I feel at home again.

dec 3, 2012, 5:31 pm

I haven't quite finished Book 1 yet, but so far I find I'm enjoying AToTC more than the last couple times I tried to read it and failed. I find I have more patience with the old fashioned phrasings, vocabulary and long sentence structures.

Dickens is doing a great job of setting the time and the mood. For some reason, I hadn't clued in during my last attempts to the fact that Dickens wrote this in the 1850s as a historical novel of the 1770s, even though he makes reference to this several times in the first Book. Maybe I'm easily amused, but I think this quite neat, like it's a historical novel twice over since Dickens is a historical figure for us. I guess I don't read enough old classics :o)

Heather, one part I still don't understand is with DeFarge and the three other Jacques in his wine-shop. Were they really all Jacques, and what did it matter if they were? What did this have to do with DeFarge showing Monsieur Manette like a side-show attraction? And why would Manette have been such an attraction? Were people paying to see him?

dec 3, 2012, 5:33 pm

Oh, and I meant to thank you as well, Heather, for the back ground information in post #17. This helps to set the time and mood as well :o)

dec 4, 2012, 4:17 am

#40 Nathalie, I thought the first chapter was quite difficult to get into as well - there's quite a lot of information and references to digest if you're not familiar with the period (which I'm not).

#41 Glad to hear you're enjoying it more this time sanddragon!

A Jacquerie is a peasant uprising - it refers to a specific uprising that took place in 1358 in France, however the word then came to mean any peasant uprising. The name came from the term the nobles used in 1358 as a derogatory name for the peasants. A jacque is a padded surplice (a kind of sleeveless overcoat I think) the peasants wore at that time.

I think there may a few reasons why Dickens uses the term here. His readers would have known there was shortly to be a peasant uprising in the French Revolution so the term would call that to mind and I think it gives a feeling of anonymity to the peasants and allows Dickens to use a few Jacques to represent all the poor of the time rather than having to introduce a whole cast of characters. He uses Jacques as a kind of everyman term later on. (I don't know if I'm explaining this very well).

The Jacques in aToTC also seem to use the word as a password to identify themselves as part of the uprising and it would confuse any spies and make it more difficult for them to single out one particular Jacques for arrest. I think the Jacques would have had real names but we never find out what they are in aToTC.

Manette has been a prisoner in the Bastille until recently (we find out why later) and DeFarge is allowing the Jacques to go up and look at Manette to show the injustice of Manette's situation and how badly he has been affected by his imprisonment. I think this is meant to inspire the Jacques to more fervour in the upcoming rebellion and that this is what DeFarge means when he says "I choose them as real men, of my name—Jacques is my name—to whom the sight is likely to do good." DeFarge wasn't showing Manette for money.

dec 4, 2012, 4:23 am

#42 You're welcome :-)

As people seem to be moving towards the end of the first book I'm going to go through the notes I made and see if there was anything else that struck me that hasn't been mentioned so far.

dec 4, 2012, 5:16 am

I wanted to add a couple of points about Ch 2: The Mail.

Sir Walter Scott was considered the writer of historical fiction in the 19th century. He wrote historical novels such as Ivanhoe between 1814 and 1832 which were very popular and according to the notes in my edition he 'defined historical fiction' for the Victorians. Scott's historical novels often opened with a coach scene and I think Dickens' opening here would have reminded contemporary readers of Scott's novels. Carriages and other vehicles are often mentioned throughout aToTC and are used as a metaphor for the progress of history and then specifically for the Revolution throughout the book.

Having mentioned Sir Walter Scott, I also wanted to mention historical fiction by Victorian authors in general. Most of Victorian authors we read today tried their hand at writing at least one work of historical fiction, yet, for the most part, their historical novels are not the ones we remember them for: George Eliot's Romola, Anthony Trollope's La Vendee, Wilkie Collins' Antonina, Elizabeth Gaskell's Sylvia's Lovers and even Dickens' other historical novel, Barnaby Rudge tend to be read less often and are often less well loved than other works by these authors. So why is A Tale of Two Cities still so popular today? I don't know the answer to that question but I thought it might be something to think about as you're reading.

(I haven't read any of the other novels I've mentioned here but they're on my mental reading list.)

dec 4, 2012, 6:17 am

Thanks sandragon for bringing up the Jacques and Heather for explaining it so well!
So if I understand this correctly, Defarge used Manette to incite people such as the Jacques, to give them further cause to rebel. Yes?

I very much enjoyed Chapter 2. Dicken's prose drew a very visable picture in my mind. Very atmospheric. Interesting to learn of the distrust among the passengers and, in general, among all people, strangers or not.

Redigerat: dec 4, 2012, 2:43 pm

#46 So if I understand this correctly, Defarge used Manette to incite people such as the Jacques, to give them further cause to rebel.

Yes, I think that's right.

Another thing I forgot to mention above was that wine-sellers apparently took the lead in the storming of the Bastille in the French Revolution. I don't think any of them were named Defarge but I think that by including a wine shop and a wine seller here, Dickens' contemporary readers would have been reminded of this.

Interesting to learn of the distrust among the passengers and, in general, among all people, strangers or not.

Yes, and this theme of the roads not being safe to travel was also one Dickens touched on in his other historical novel, Barnaby Rudge which was also set in the 1770s/1780s. I don't know enough about the 18th century to know if travel was really as dangerous as Dickens thought it was but Samuel Richardson's Clarissa (published in 1747) mentions the danger of robbery on the roads a couple of times.

Redigerat: dec 4, 2012, 10:02 am

Heather, I've just started the book and have only gotten through the first three chapters but I wanted to thank you for all this background information. I'm finding it a little hard to get into--the language and the lack of historical reference since I don't usually read from time period--and your comments are very helpful in giving me a better understanding of what is going on. I honestly don't think I'd continue without this group read and your tutoring but I have high hopes that I will end up liking the book and loving this experience.

I will probably be lagging behind most of the other readers. I actually just got renewed interest in finishing Team of Rivals after seeing the movie this weekend so that will be competing with my time for A Tale of Two Cities.

dec 4, 2012, 2:35 pm

Just to say that, yes, in the 18th century and into the 19th, travellers were at great danger of armed robbery. There were no street lights anywhere outside of the towns, and very little by way of a police force. People who could afford it hired armed guards ('outriders') to accompany them on their journeys, everyone else had to take their chances. The public carriages would have the driver and the guard armed, but often they would be outnumbered.

Gangs sometimes had an 'inside man' who rode with the passengers to try and glean information about who they were and what they might have worth stealing, and to spring an extra, surprise attack; this is why our three travellers are so suspicious of one another, and why no-one's talking.

There were stretches of road where the terrain lent itself to secret attack and concealment that were 'hot-spots' for highway-robbers. Hounslow Heath immediately outside London was one of the most notorious.

dec 4, 2012, 2:48 pm

43 - Thanks, Heather. This chapter (The Wine-Shop) makes more sense now.

dec 4, 2012, 2:51 pm

#48 I'm glad it's helping so far Pat. Please don't worry about getting behind - there's no schedule and I'll keep checking these threads regularly for questions.

#49 Thanks Liz!

#50 Glad to hear that.

Redigerat: dec 4, 2012, 4:47 pm

>49 lyzard: Just to say that, yes, in the 18th century and into the 19th, travellers were at great danger of armed robbery

I loved this opening to Chapter IV:

"When the mail got successfully to Dover, in the course of the forenoon, the head drawer at the Royal George Hotel opened the coach door as his custom was. He did it with some flourish of ceremony, for a mail journey from London in winter was an achievement to congratulate an adventurous traveller upon."

I had to laugh out loud at that.

dec 5, 2012, 4:41 pm

I am so weak. I started reading this thread out of curiosity...and all of a sudden I have the book in my hands and have reached the end of Part One!

I really liked the explanation for all the Jacques names. The background information was also very helpful. Thanks, Heather. Is this the first tutored group read on LT? I love being able to ask questions and get speedy and thoughtful answers. It's been a loooong time since I read this in high school!

dec 5, 2012, 6:03 pm

I just finished Part One, too. And I'd like to add my thanks for the background information.

I'm reading a large-type version, so I'm flipping pages pretty quickly! It's a nice change of pace for my old eyes, that's for sure.

Karen O.

Redigerat: dec 5, 2012, 8:01 pm

I found your Hounslow Heath information very interesting, Liz. I Google Earthed it to discover that it once was as large as 4,200 acres. What remains is still very dense and I could see where robbers would find this a good place to prey on travelers.

dec 6, 2012, 10:25 am

Sorry I haven't made it back with my questions. Looks like they've been well asked and answered by others. :-) A family emergency has kept me away, so I'll probably be in lurk mode--but I'll be here.

dec 6, 2012, 11:50 am

>56 streamsong: take care with your family emergency. Sending positive thoughts your way.

dec 6, 2012, 2:15 pm

#56 Janet, sorry to hear about your family emergency. Please feel free to add any questions you might have later on if things ease up for you - there's no end date to a tutored read.

dec 9, 2012, 1:31 pm

I finished my last book last night and am getting into ATOTC. I am in Chapter 4 and Manette has just come to the hotel. The comments here have already helped me - I'm guessing she was born during the 7 years war... Without this thread I would have no clue it existed. Am thoroughly enjoying it so far but had to re-read quite a few lines at first.

I'll stay over here till I've caught up with all of you - I feel a bit like one of the passengers running next to the coach in Chapter 1!

dec 9, 2012, 5:01 pm

I feel a bit like one of the passengers running next to the coach in Chapter 1!

Cushla, you are too funny! I am right there beside you for now although I'll probably fall behind again while I'm still reading Team of Rivals.

dec 10, 2012, 4:46 pm

#59 I'm guessing she was born during the 7 years war

Yes, that's right. I did a quick skim through the book to see if we were told the exact year and I couldn't find it but we find out later that Dr Manette was imprisoned in 1757 and Lucie must have been born shortly afterwards (the seven years war started in 1756).

#59 & 60 I feel a bit like one of the passengers running next to the coach in Chapter 1 Don't worry ladies, the tutored read coach is not leaving without anyone!

dec 10, 2012, 8:36 pm

Just finished Part One now and really enjoying it.

dec 21, 2012, 8:55 pm

17 - Heather, I came by to refresh my memory of the dates of certain events in your history summary. Regarding the September massacres, can you clarify for me please who was doing the massacring and who were the victims?

dec 23, 2012, 1:09 pm

#63 The September massacres were massacres carried out by the revolutionaries (supporters of the revolution) against the prisoners they had taken. This was after the overthrow of the French government and the King so, from what I understand, no-one was really in charge. The people turned into a mob and attacked and killed prisoners held in the various prisoners. They estimate over 1,000 were killed.

The notes in my edition say the reasons for the massacres are still debated. A Prussian army was marching on Paris and there were rumours that the revolution would fail and that there were many secret supporters of the Prussians in Paris (counter-revolutionaries). One of the theories is that the people panicked due to the rumours and killed the prisoners so that they couldn't assist the army when it arrived.