Critical Reception of a Tale of Two Cities in Regard to Psychology

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Though A Tale of Two Cities was immensely popular with general readers, many of Dickens’s contemporary critics found fault with the novel. These critical attacks essentially focused on three fronts: that the novel is flawed as history, mechanical and unrealistic in its construction, and uncharacteristic of Dickens. It is perhaps upon this last point that most critics choose to base their criticisms; many argue that the novel lacks the characteristic humor usually present in Dickens’s work, and that the events with which it concerns itself are too far removed from the Victorian issues that Dickens typically chose to address.

Rather than examine the novel on its own merits, these critics often fall into comparisons of A Tale of Two Cities with Dickens’s other works. (The Victorian Web) Sir James F. Stephen’s review of A Tale of Two Cities, which appeared in 1859: It would perhaps be hard to imagine a clumsier or more disjointed framework for the display of the tawdry wares which form Mr. Dickens’s stock-in-trade. The broken-back way in which the story maunders along from 1775 to 1792 and back again to 1760 or thereabouts, is an excellent instance of the complete disregard of the rules of literary composition which have marked the whole of Mr.

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Dickens’s career as an author. No portion of his popularity is due to intellectual excellence. The two main sources of his popularity are his power of working upon the feelings by the coarsest stimulants, and his power of setting common occurrences in a grotesque and unexpected light. Henry James criticised Dickens for lacking the philosophical breadth of vision necessary to treat historical subjects: “Mr. Dickens is an honest, an admirable artist . . . .

Mr. Dickens is a great observer and a great humourist, but he is nothing of a philosopher”. Aldous Huxley: It is vulgar, in literature, to make a display of emotions which you do not naturally have, but think you ought to have, because all the best people do have them. It is so vulgar(and this is the more common case) to have emotions, but to express them so badly, with so many protestings, that you seem to have no natural feelings, but to be merely fabricating emotions by a process of literary forgery.

Sincerity in art, as I have pointed out elsewhere, is mainly a matter of talent . . . . Humphry House, The Dickens World (1976): But though he had little historic sense, he had a very acute sense of time; he liked to give his books a surface of tidiness and punctuality; he went out of his way to indicate precise dates and seasons of the year, and sometimes even used known historical facts to enforce the actuality of a moment. Louis Cazamian: His faults in taste and in style, the failings of his intuitive verve, are obvious; his literary individuality lacks polish. He sacrifices balance for the sake of intense effects; his expression obeys monotonous habits; he repeats himself to excess. His pathos is cheap or exaggerated; his imagination in its continual effort to emphasize the character of things tends rather to distort them; his vision, fond of agitated outlines, is apt to lose the very sense of repose.

At every turn in his stories, we come upon the favourable or unfavourable opinions of the author, a kind of sentimental commentary on his own work; and these instances of bias, intensified by polemical preferences and arguments, too often bore or annoy the reader. Appreciations and Criticisms by G. K Chesterton Yet Dickens has in this book given a perfect and final touch to this whole conception of mere rebellion and mere human nature. Carlyle had written the story of the French Revolution and had made the story a mere tragedy.

Dickens writes the story about the French Revolution, and does not make the Revolution itself the tragedy at all. Dickens knows that an outbreak is seldom a tragedy; generally it is the avoidance of a tragedy. All the real tragedies are silent. Men fight each other with furious cries, because men fight each other with chivalry and an unchangeable sense of brotherhood. But trees fight each other in utter stillness; because they fight each other cruelly and without quarter. In this book, as in history, the guillotine is not the calamity, but rather the solution of the calamity.

The sin of Sydney Carton is a sin of habit, not of revolution. His gloom is the gloom of London, not the gloom of Paris. The Life of Charles Dickens (1872-4) by John Forster: there was probably never a book by a great humourist, and an artist so prolific in the conception of character, with so little humour and so few rememberable figures subtlety with which a private history is associated with a most vivid expression of the spirit of the days of the great French Revolution. But in his broadest colouring of revolutionary scenes, while he gives life to large truths in the story of a nation, he is working out closely and thoroughly the skilfully designed tale of a household. Anonymous reviewer: ‘a dish of puppy-pie and stewed cat. ‘ Wilkie Collins: ‘the most perfect work of constructive art that has ever proceeded from his pen. ‘ Ruth Glancy: ‘most of the critics writing in the intellectual and literary journals of the day considered popular success a good reason to condemn a work. ‘

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