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With A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations as the new Oprah book selection, we have two very different styles of Dickens. My preference is Great Expectations, although many love A Tale of Two Cities also, as it is often read in high school. A Tale of Two Cities lacks the comic relief that most of the Dickens novels have, and there aren't many "Dickens-like" characters within the story. Also, A Tale of Two Cities is pretty cut and dry within its characterization; good guys are clearly good guys, and bad guys are the villains, and there isn't any gray area to speak of. Still, there is power with the message of what revenge and war bring. Within Great Expectations there is much more depth and dimensionality to the characters, both good and bad. I think that any Dickens novel has merit, and should be read because of its moral, message, themes and social commentaries. Now, you get two in one book.
A Tale of Two Cities centers on the English/French revolutionary war. We have our heroes (Charles Darnay, Sydney Carton) and villains (Madame Defarge and her revolutionaries). A Tale of Two Cities is a little different than most Dickens' novels in that it is more action-based and has a bleak, bloody perspective, being that it bases much of its tale on the historical aspects of war. The restless, chaotic nature between the two sides lends its way to various modes of revenge from many characters. Maybe one question explored is "are there times when revenge is acceptable, or does it always destroy the individual?" Also, differences between classes are evidenced as some poor go without while others prosper and live luxurious lives. One superior aspect to A Tale of Two Cities is the character transformation of Sydney Carton, who goes from basically a drunk to one of the most relevant and important characters in the book. The woman who he has a fondness for, Lucie, seems to wake him up to this change; he wants to do all he can for her, even though she is Charles' wife. Instrumental in leading other characters to safety, he undergoes an awakening, and sacrifices.
Great Expectations tells the story of Pip, who is raised by his overbearing sister, learns through years of experience the meaning of wealth. A strange encounter with a criminal (Magwitch) early in the novel will have greater meaning for Pip's fate. As a youngster, Pip goes to the Satis House with his uncle, where Miss Havisham, a revenge-seeking old lady who was cheated at the altar, resides; Pip, while here, is enchanted by the beautiful, but proud and snobbish Estella. Being poor and fully self-conscious of this, Pip has visions of being a gentleman one day. Maybe then Estella would take a poor lad like him seriously? Pip is eventually given a sum of wealth by a mysterious benefactor, and now sets off to be "educated" on living the social life of a gentleman. Pip will come to learn though Dickens semi-autobiographical coming of age tale that richness does not necessarily make one's life complete. He also goes through the trials of trying to win over Estella. Monetary wealth has its pitfalls, and Pip's real education is learning that moral, loyal, spiritual wealth come from being true to oneself and those who are close to you.
What makes Great Expectations an exceptional novel is Dickens' memorable characters, multi-layered plot, and social commentary about the world. Many characters have depth to them, having faults and weaknesses along with strengths. Even one antagonist, Miss Havisham, who is quite despicable for much of the story, can be sympathized with when we know what she has experienced. She later has a change of heart, and feels a terrible amount of guilt about what she has done to Pip. Dickens also criticizes the state of the classes, with the rich getting richer and the poor being poorer, as well as the usage of class status to judge a person. A prevalent theme is the ills of ambition and wealth, and the loss of self when you "sell out" to become something or someone you are not. Great Expectations is just a wonderful story, also.
I'm so glad that Oprah chose Dickens as her choice. I was a little disappointed that there wasn't anything in the way of an introduction, but still, it is a fantastic deal for two solid classics. You can't go wrong there. For any Dickens fans, or anyone who wants to catch up on the classics, here is a nice buy for them. The font is also a decent size, which may seem to be a minute point, but many of Charles Dickens' novels are produced in microscopic font due to the length of many of his novels.
Excellent collection worth owning, especially for the Victorian Literature fan!