I have to admit that until my MA in Victorian Studies at the University of Leicester, I hadn’t read much Dickens (apart from Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol). I enjoyed exploring his melodramatic stories and loved many of his inventively-named characters but perhaps I was most interested in his social commentary. In joining this project, I am coming to A Tale of Two Cities for the first time, although it would be impossible not to have an awareness of the story and the famous quotes from it but somehow I’ve never even seen it on film or TV. I’m looking forward to reading weekly instalments in the 19th century way albeit via 21st century technology and learning much from the blogs as a kind of virtual book group.
My thoughts on the first instalment are that the first chapter conveys a sense of confusing times, of uncertainty, and of disconcerting undercurrents of fear rippling through various societies. Emphasis is placed upon it being the year One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy Five, presumably to establish for readers that it is an historical story that will unfold in the coming weeks but also maybe allowing readers to recall their own knowledge of that period to give some context. It all feels rather mysterious but Chapter II swiftly moves on with an atmospheric description of the misery, for both horses and people, of a mail coach journey in the mist and mud on the road to Dover which is suddenly interrupted by a stranger emerging from the mist. The suspense and questions are initially set up by the enigmatic message ‘Recalled to Life’. Messenger, coachmen and readers all want to know what that means. Finally in Chapter III, Dickens ensures that the mystery of who has been buried alive for almost eighteen years will have readers eager to read the next instalment, as I find I am.