The Book Club Pune met on Sunday, 1st November to discuss ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens.
Read on to know what Mohini Khot thought of the presentation by Dr.Prashant Sinha.
Dr Sinha had chosen a book that most of the members present had read in their schooldays. Interest had further been piqued by the Quiz on Dickens during the week running up to the presentation. The mood was nostalgic and eager.
The presentation was very comprehensive, dealing with the historicity of the depiction and every aspect of the novel. Dr Sinha guided us through the plot, theme and characters before opening the session to questions. The greatest interest clearly lay in the historical veracity of Dickens’s picture of the excesses of the French Revolution. To the question posed by Satish Khot, Dr Sinha pointed to Thomas Carlyle’s account of the revolution as the source used by Dickens. Some participants led the discussion into the idealistic philosophy behind the revolution and the contrasting violent reality of it. Peter Masilamani, based in Geneva, reminded us that the slogan of the French Revolution had been, in its entirety, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity … or Death”. Those were desperate times indeed.
Kaushik evinced an interest in the reception to the novel on both sides of the Atlantic and also the attitude of Englishmen to the French Revolution. Dr Sinha pointed to the clear juxtaposition and comparison of London and Paris in the novel. The title itself invites the comparison. The conditions in England and France were, in fact, comparable. Writing retrospectively about the reign of terror, Dickens must have been conscious of how fortunate England had been to manage to evade a fate similar to that of France.
There was quite a bit of discussion on Dickens’s characterization. Mohini Khot lamented his tendency towards caricature but admitted that it made for very entertaining reading. She admired, however, the energy and passion that went into the creation of each character of his. Other issues taken up were the serialization of his novels in journals, his immense popularity, his excellent readings from his books and his interest in theatre. His personal life and separation from his wife were mentioned too.
Indu Kulkarni called him “a great humanitarian novelist” who was a master at creating atmosphere. She cited the instance of Madame Defarge handing out toy guillotines to children on the streets.
Dr Sinha defended the novel against Gautam Idnani’s denouncement of the novel as a Bollywood potboiler, saying Dickens was no Agatha Christie but a far better novelist than that.
In response to the observations made by Freny Daruwala, Dr Sinha agreed that Dickens is wonderful with suspense, incorporating many “mini climaxes” within his novels.
As Satish Khot mentioned, Dickens himself considered “A Tale of Two Cities” as the best story he had ever written.