Waiter! There’s hardly any revolution in my soup.
Godammit Mr Dickens! I picked up ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ thinking it would be a revolutionary romp, lots of unwashed French people exclaiming ‘Mon dieu!’, spilling their wine, running about with flaming torches, and possibly a cameo from the Scarlet Pimpernel.
My edition is 436 pages, and for the first 250, none of this happens. In fact, very little happens at all in just over the first half of the book. Granted, having read it I better understood the non-stop action of the rest of the book, so un-put-downable I was late for work, but it really could have been skipped through. We have about 8 pages where the elderly doctor is discussing with a friend, his nervous habit of wanting to make shoes when times are hard, like he did when wrongfully imprisoned, and yet his daughter gives birth to a son, sees him grow into a lovely child, and then die, all within 2 pages. I know child mortality was off the charts in those days, but come on, at least give the lad a chapter!
The only thing that saves the first 250 pages is a brief mention of the ‘Resurrection Men’, as a grubby messenger is seen by his son to go a-grave robbing. But this is only so that later he can say the coffin was empty, and there is precious little else about grave robbing. No mention how some used wooden spades (as a metal cutting edge was too noisy) or how those pretty ironwork tomb coverings in old cemeteries are actually ‘mortsafes’, to stop people from digging up Auntie Betty. Or how ‘mort houses’ were built, like this one near me, to store bodies until they were really rotten (the smell, the smell!), so were useless for medical dissection.
I appear to have wandered off the subject of the French Revolution, but that’s okay, as Charles Dickens barely wandered onto it, so we’re even.