Charles Dickens' classic novel of the French Revolution is as gripping today as it was when it was published serially in 1859. Told in Dickens' masterful prose, the story explores the atrocious abuse suffered by the lower classes in France in the centuries leading up to the wild events of the Revolution. And yet Dickens also shows how victims can be as unjust and cruel as their oppressors; the tyranny of the masses is horribly evident in the tribunals and the delight the people take in their "national barber," the guillotine. And yet it is the age-old cruelty of the aristocracy that has made the peasantry so violent-so who is ultimately responsible? Dickens doesn't really answer the question. The two cities of the title are London and Paris. Dr. Manette, a French physician, had been wrongly imprisoned for eighteen years in the Bastille when he is quietly set free, "recalled to life" (the name of the first book). Though he is a broken man, his reason and health are slowly restored by the loving ministrations of his beautiful daughter Lucie. With the help of the family lawyer, Jarvis Lorry, they escape France and make their home in London, where they become friends with a fellow exile from France, Charles Darnay. Darnay and Lucie eventually marry, but there is a dark secret in Darnay's family... a secret related to Dr. Manette's imprisonment, and a dangerous one to have during the violence and passion of the Revolution. This is one of Dickens' least comical stories-and it is indeed hard to imagine a heavily comic take on the gruesome events of the French Revolution. And yet Dickens does infuse some humor into the story; Jerry Cruncher and Miss Pross have some golden moments (especially as regards Mrs. Cruncher's "flopping"). And the confrontation between Madame Defarge and Miss Pross, though a suspenseful fight to the death, also has its funny side. Wrongful, lengthy imprisonment is a theme common to three of my favorite stories set in France. Alexandre Dumas treats it as a training period of sorts in The Count of Monte Cristo (1844); Dickens likens it to being buried alive in A Tale of Two Cities (1859); and Victor Hugo uses it to demonstrate the brutalizing effect of France's legal system in Les Misérables (1862). It serves a unique purpose within each plot and the characters who suffer it are all very different from one another. But all three authors are fascinated by the psychological effects of such confinement. Imprisonment viewed as training produces the Count's terrible oath to wreak vengeance on his enemies. Hugo shows long imprisonment as creating something subhuman, and contrasts its dehumanizing effects with the humanity of his Bishop. Of the three, Dr. Manette is probably the most scrutinized from a psychological perspective. His relapses are heartbreaking, to say the least. I listened to this on audiobook, read by John Lee, and it was superb. Lee does the characters' accents perfectly. The best narrators contrive to give me a mental image of the characters, and I will always think of these as he voices them. A Tale of Two Cities is one of Dickens' best-known novels, and contains what are arguably the most famous opening and closing lines in 19th century English literature. And like the best and worst of times that it portrays, we also see the best and worst of humanity here. Sydney Carton, that disreputable and strangely attractive character, is this tension in microcosm. Chronically lazy, selfish, and unmotivated, he is yet capable of one great thing-and this great thing is the powerful theme of substitution that goes beyond mere poignancy... greater love hath no man than this. The novel ends with his final thoughts: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known." What more is there to say? Utterly satisfying.