I’m a fairly slow reader. So it isn’t often I read a book from cover to cover in a oner. But last week I was trapped at home waiting for a courier to deliver my passport and visa for an upcoming research fellowship to the US and, since I can’t work worth a damn from home, I figured I’d use the time to blast my way through a Victorian novel which has somehow managed to elude me for years: A Tale of Two Cities. And HOLY CRAP WAS I UNPREPARED FOR THE GUT-WRENCHING FIFTEEN-HOUR EMOTIONAL ROLLER-COASTER that ensued.

By the end of it I was a hollow-eyed wreck with eye strain, a persistent caffeine twitch, and still…after an entire day of waiting…no fucking passport. What I DID have, however – aside from an overwhelming impulse to guillotine the passport courier and the entire staff of the US Embassy – was a little series of rambling pencil notes in the margins which I’ve cobbled together here for your amusement. My notes aren’t plot summary as such (if you would like a summary then there’s a pretty solid one available from LitCharts: http://www.litcharts.com/lit/a-tale-of-two-cities/book-1-chapter-1) but I do talk about some important plot points, as well as serious courier rage, so please consider yourself swearing and spoiler warned.


Book The First – Recalled To Life

Chapter 1 – The Period: Ah, yes. I remember this opening. I – hang on – ‘King with large jaw’ and a ‘Queen with a plain face’ … which ones were those again? *Spends 35 minutes reading Wikipedia entries on British and French monarchs*

Chapter 2 – The Mail: Stop it, dammit, focus! — Crikey, getting the mail to Dover in 1775 sounds about as much fun as getting a Southern Rail train to London in 2016. Fewer highwaymen, but still.


Chapter 3 – The Night Shadows: Well, this is all spectral and hard to follow. Note to self: come back and read this chapter again once you have a better clue what is going on. Also feel an overwhelming need to re-read The Count of Monte Cristo.

Chapter 4 – The Preparation: Hmm, I thought that courier might have been here by now. Ooh, lots of funereal / buried alive imagery here. — Oh, here we go, Lucie is blonde-haired, blue-eyed and has an expression that is ‘not quite one of wonder, or alarm, or merely of a bright fixed attention’. The laws of Victorian literature dictate that the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, chaste-but-vacant, dead-behind-the-eyes maiden is going to be absolutely fine by the end of this. *Places bet now.* Kate Beaton of ‘Hark, a Vagrant’ gets it:


Dickens Hark a Vagrant
Copyright Kate Beaton. http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=268

Chapter 5 – The Wine-Shop: Ooh, wine imagery. I like it. Reminds me of Aeschylus’s Oresteia. I’m sure that’s deliberate. Madame Defarge is described as having ‘a watchful eye that seldom seemed to look at anything.’ OK, actual ‘dead-behind-the-eyes’ character already more interesting than Lucie. Ooh, lots of talk of sanitation and city streets. Oh Dickens, you do such good dirty talk.

Chapter 6 – The Shoemaker: Dr Manette has been in the Bastille for eighteen years and now he has gone crazy and makes shoes. Why shoes I wonder? Also, I’m amazed Primark have yet to tap into the manufacturing power of former French aristocrats. — I am more than a little unsettled at a Freudian level by Lucie’s greeting of her father.



OK, the left side of my butt has gone numb, and I need coffee. I wonder if I can track the delivery driver online?  … (Continue to part 2)