I came to Charles Dickens very late in life. Too late. It was for the usual reason, poorly taught English at school where we painfully ploughed through the text, each of us, no matter how monotone or difficult we found it, was forced to read aloud. Whenever I taught English I made darn sure this torture for everyone was avoided.
Because my French teachers were the total opposite I was drawn to Guy de Maupassant by Adge Brown, to Colette by Trudy Morrissey and her subversive teaching of Sartre and Camus sealed the deal. I was, and am in love with French writers. Then came Russia via a bet with the old man, which netted me a monumental £25 (in 1984) for completing War and Peace. Then came Shokolov’s And Quiet Flows the Don, and then the piece de resistance; the incomparable and wonderful Crime and Punishment. Only Orwell has been the English writer that really gets me going from the older generation. We are blessed with brilliant authors in this sceptred isle at the moment. Especially Iziguro, Ian McKewan, and David Peace to name just three.
So to Dickens. I read a review of GB84, the modern masterpiece of “righteous anger” about the Miners Strike, penned by Peace and it compared the Yorkshire writer to a modern Dickens. Great Expectations came first and what a fantastic masterpiece this is. Dickens’ portrayal of class and gender issues is a total revelation and gives us a huge insight into how the UK evolved into the Society it is today.
A Tale of Two Cities follows these themes as we get to see the daily derogations faced by the poor in England and France as the French Revolution sends shockwaves across Europe. Reading it now makes you realise just what a massive job real Social Justice is going to be, and that New Labour, for all it’s good intentions failed miserably to address the underlying causes of why the underclass exists, and why the interests of such a minuscule part of the population facilitate such terrible injustices.
The opening of A Tale is well known and iconic; “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. More relevant a phrase you would be hard pressed to find. As I lay in bed plugged into an incredible feat of technology, which allows me to continue living, I listened as a migrant worker described to me the horrendous brutality of the regime in the Philippines where politically motivated murder of Trade Unionists is a casual occurrence, and the circumstances of your birth will determine whether you fight to live day to day, or get a privileged, gated lifestyle with not a care in the world at all.