Oliver Twist, bumps into A Tale of Two Cities…

I’ve just been through a Dickenisation, after reading two of Charles Dickens classic tales – Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities. Both very good novels, very good stories, sometimes clouded with long and rambling descriptive prose but I would have to say both these stories are must reads.

Oliver Twist (1838) has been retold hundreds of times since its publication in, in many ways, from radio plays to films. I had never read, seen or heard the story before, so reading the original story first was probably the best introduction. I had seen the classic clip of one of the black and white films where Oliver asks for more but hadn’t appreciated the depth to the story, or the range involved.

This is a roaming adventure, set over many years. The long descriptions can at times be slightly hard work, but the scenes which Dickens sets are vivid and interesting, always with the undertone of dark events just around the corner. The atmosphere of Victorian squalor is amazing and the sheer drudgery of life then for 99% of people must have been incredible.

I’m really drawn to the classics as a way to find out about 18th and 19th century history and particularly what the living conditions were like. The Sherlock Holmes stories were great and this was another layer.

A Tale of Two Cities (1859) was a more complex tale, set over a wider area, including more characters and a lot more historic complexities. There is an incredible attention to detail, character development and a central female character which represents purity and light, against which many of the other characters are set against. This contrast brings the story to life, alongside the events of the French Revolution, which provides a very real and dangerous setting.

“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.” (First line)

“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.” (Final line of novel)

An incredible book and one which I really wouldn’t have appreciated or enjoyed had I been much younger and not had a sense of history or an interest in it. Certainly one of the classics and another ‘free’ books on the Kindle.

Roll on Les Miserables!