It's a tough read, for sure, and there are some rather unbelievable characters (no one is as perfect as Lucie or as noble as Charles) ; however, A Tale of Two Cities is a powerful picture of human nature, redemption, and historical/political perspectives. It spans time and place to offer a picture of the very best and worst man is capable of. For me, it is by far the most relevant novel Dickens wrote.
I really enjoyed A Tale of Two Cities, and it was one of my first exposures to Dickens. It may not measure up in some ways in terms of complications and the text beneath the text, but I think it can be a great introduction to Dickens for students. It is interesting, and has the kind of plot where simply, you want to know how it turns out!
I have found that with my students, getting past the first book is the hard part. I tell my students to think of the first book as an introduction. While a few important things happen there, it mostly serves to introduce the characters and setting and get the plot rolling. It's exposition. It's kind of like a prologue. Most students will look at chapter 1 and say they have no idea what it says. I break it down with them, and any person could really do the same thing by reading a summary.
Once you get into the actual story, this book is funny and interesting. It moves along quite nicely. I admit, it is my favorite Dickens book and also just my favorite book. That is a subjective assessment, of course! My adice to those who are confused is to be patient with the first book. Once you get to book 2, it's magical.
I too struggled with this novel the first time I read it. However, as mwestwood pointed out, it does bear reading again--and again. While there are some weak areas, for the whole it is a book that bears up (as mentioned earlier) to multiple readings, and there is also something to be said that it is still used in English classrooms today. I would say that this proves it does indeed measure up.
Critics have long pointed to many weak points in A Tale of Two Cities, among them the lack of character development of nearly every character. The technique of character doubles has also met with negative criticism. Lucie as the typical contrived Victorian heroine is a flaw that is always mentioned. (My students have often wondered why either Darnay or Carton love her!)
Yet, there is something so wonderful and poignant about the narrative that readers forgive Dickens all his flaws. Perhaps it is the sublime idea that a man actually fulfills the words of Jesus that there is no greater love that a man have than that he lay down his life for another. What reader can get through this novel without a tear!
One year that students were assigned this novel, so many grumbled and complained and refused the plea to keep reading, for after 100 pages the novel is absolutely wonderful. Then, there was an ice storm that knocked down power lines. For two days the electricity was off in town and school was out. When classes resumed, one particularly recalcitrant student stood in the classroom doorway declaring loudly, "This is the BEST book!!" Uncertainly, I asked him which book he meant. "Why, A Tale of Two Cities. My grandparents got their power before we did, and so we went to their house. Grandma had a copy of the novel, and I had nothing better to do, so I read it. It was great!"
Since this student thought the novel was great, the others who had read, too, finished theirs. And those who had not, began that night. Students loved the ending, of course, but they also delighted in the humorous character of Jerry Cruncher and that of Miss Pross along with her laconic British remarks that are unintentionally humorous in her interaction with Mr. Lorry. The satire of the descriptions of Mr. Stryver who "shoulders his way" through life and love, is priceless.
A Tale of Two Cities is a novel that one can read over and over and still enjoy. On the second reading the first one hundred pages are not bad at all, either, for one better understands the purpose of Dickens. (It has been used by history teachers and French teachers in our high school, for students learn of the French Revolution with this narrative.)
Shame on you, amy-lepore! I must admit, however, that I did find this Dickensian classic hard work the first time I read it. However, I taught it for the first time last semester to my Grade 12s and on the whole they really enjoyed it. I do think the presentation of Lucie Manette is a bit weak, and Charles Darnay is likewise rather unconvincing, but the other characters are great. I still feel that the best novel of Dickens is Great Expectations, but I do like this one immensely.
I have to admit that this is the Dickens work I have never been able to read. I've tried at least a dozen times to read it, but it bores me so that I can't get past the fourth chapter. I've read the Cliff's notes (way before eNotes was ever around) and seen several film and stage adaptations. However, I can not make myself finish that book.
Does that mean it's not good? No. It just means it doesn't make my boat float, and I believe that life is too short to wade painfully through a book that I can't enjoy. This may be true for many about books we call the "classics". I do love Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, and other Dickens' works. Maybe my dislike of this particular work says more about me than it does the book.