A Tale of Two Cities - December Group Read - Part One
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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
#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.
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.
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.
And welcome to Valerie, Pat, Kerry, Sandragon, Cushla, Lilkim, Kerry, wilkiec, Lynda and Karen :-)
It's been a while since I read this. Perhaps because I had to do it at school. :)
Part Two Here
I've finished my own read now but I'm looking forward to everyone else reading it.
Going to start the book tomorrow.
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.
#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.
#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.
#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...
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?
#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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
#49 Thanks Liz!
#50 Glad to hear that.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.