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The Companion to A Tale of Two Cities by Andrew Sanders

New Paperback edition Summer 2002, 192pp £12.50 [Purchase Online]

A Tale of Two Cities was serialized in 1859 in Dickens’s new weekly venture, All the Year Round, and was published in book form in the same year. It has remained one of his most consistently popular works, admired as much for its succinct plot as for its vivid setting. Although Dickens himself thought it the best story he had written, it has often been unjustly disparaged by critics.
   This Companion to A Tale of Two Cities reveals the great care Dickens took with the planning and preparation of his story and clearly indicates its roots in the work of the most influential thinker of the Victorian age, Thomas Carlyle. It also explores the aspects of Dickens’s life, especially his interest in private theatricals, which contributed to the genesis of the novel.

A Tale of Two Citites

   For the first time the historical sources for the very individual account of the French Revolution presented in A Tale of Two Cities are examined, and Professor Sanders investigates the novelist’s debt to French and English eyewitnesses of what Dickens calls "that terrible time".
   The Companion to ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ identifies the multitude of allusions to what Dickens often regarded as the whims of eighteenth-century justice, religion, philosophy, fashion and society. It provides the modern scholar, the student and the general reader with both fundamental sources of information and a fascinating account of the creation of a complex historical novel, the importance of which was reassessed during the bicentenary of the French Revolution.
   Andrew Sanders teaches in the Department of English at Durham University and has written extensively on Victorian literature.

About Volume 4: The Companion to ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, by Andrew Sanders ‘Le travail d’Andrew Sanders sur A Tale of Two Cities maintient...le niveau élevé d’intelligence et de savoir qui avait été établi dans les trois premiers volumes. Sanders connait à fond le livre qu’il annote, ainsi qu’une grande partie des études qui lui ont été consacrées... Sanders enrichit, par l’énorme masse de documents et d’informations qu’il apporte, notre connaissance de l’oeuvre de Dickens, de sa genèse, de ses sources, de son arrière-plan. ... ‘[L]e volume est d’ores et déjà solides et parfois brilliant.’ Sylvère Monod, Études Anglaises, 43 (July–Sept 1990), 349–50

Sanders shows in detail how soaked the novel is in Carlyle’s The French Revolution ("that wonderful book" Dickens claimed to have read "five hundred times"); but he also fully annotates other sources—in particular, Louis Sébastien Mercier, Rousseau and Arthur Young; and he gives Dickens more credit for an understanding of both France and the workings of history than many critics have done. His time-scheme for the novel, setting fictional against historical events, is especially helpful. By expanding Dickens’s own reference in the preface to acting in Wilkie Collins’s melodrama The Frozen Deep, two years earlier (he played Richard Wardour, the frustrated and ultimately self-sacrificing lover), Sanders shows convincingly how personal a novel A Tale is, too. Graham Storey, TLS, 17 February 1989, p. 173

What Andrew Sanders offers is, to quote his general editors, a "factual rather than critical" annotation of the complete novel. …A Tale of Two Cities responds particularly well to such treatment and the job is meticulously done. The story of Carlyle sending cart-loads of books on the French Revolution round to Dickens is well-known. What Dr Sanders’s work brings out is how carefully he studied them when he got them and how much care he took in making the details and the chronology of his novel as accurate as possible. It is also revealing to see how closely he drew on records such as Mercier’s Le Tableau de Paris (all twelve volumes of it) and Arthur Young’s Travels in France. Dickens emerges from these notes as a much more serious historian and much less of a "romantic" storyteller than the popular image of him would have us believe. Dr Sanders also makes clear how serious was his interest in all things French … The Companion also has a useful "factual" introduction, mainly about the novel’s inception. … the Dickens Companions are clearly indispensable to the scholar. David Gervais, Modern Language Review, 86:1, 1991, p.182

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