Charles Dickens

James Mason reads Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities." The two cities are London and Paris just before the French Revolution. Dickens used the traditional Victorian novel as a medium for social protest, describing the oppression of the lower classes and the justifiable unrest that led to the excesses of the French Revolution.

Dickens, a product of the working classes himself, empathized with the oppressed workers and children of his day. All of his novels are social commentaries, and "A Tale of Two Cities" describes the tribulations suffered by the French lower classes under the reign of Louis XVI. Dickens makes the French Revolution seem inevitable, and paints sympathetic pictures of those who plotted it. The precipitating event of the Revolution occurred on July 14, 1789, when a mob stormed the hated Bastille prison and liberated the political prisoners it contained.

This novel, first published in 1859, is set during the French Revolution and includes some of the authors' best-known characters. Madame Defarge, wife of a wine-shop keeper, hates the aristocracy. She knits constantly, encoding the names of aristocrats and enemies of the revolution into her work. Dickens takes this detail from Thomas Carlyle's book on the French Revolution, which described women knitting as they watched the guillotine do its work.

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