A Tale of Two Cities Read-Along Update #2: Two Mary Sues

 Having the worst of times figuring our what this is all about? See the master post!


I know a lot of us are struggling right now. Too many characters, too many storylines, too many WORDS (and this isn’t even a long book by Dickens standards!) Here are some resources:

  • The gold standard: Spark Notes. I do two things when I finish a chapter: read the end notes, and read the Spark Notes summary. Each chapter is summed up in about a paragraph, and there’s some analysis every couple of chapters. Plain language, no spoilers.
  • Reader-along Consumed by Ink wrote a great post just today that lists all the major storylines. She should write for Spark!
  • TOTC was an Oprah’s Book Club selection in 2010. There are a bunch of resources at the link, but my favourite is the super-succinct character list.

On to chapters 6 through 16, Book the Second, in which we meet even more new characters, but at least some of them die right away.

The Two Mary Sues
I know some of you are having a hard time connecting to the characters. I am too. I think it’s because the romantic leads (at this point, anyway) are such Mary Sues. Mary Sue comes from the world of fanfic (what? I have diverse interests) and means an idealized heroine. She’s beautiful, thoughtful, athletic, intelligent, resourceful, and boring as hell. Lucie is a total Mary Sue. She’s described as a doll a few times, and that’s how I feel about her: she’s just a shell. She’s the perfect daughter and every guy she meets falls in love with her.

Charles isn’t much better. He at least has some DEEP DARK secret, but he’s good looking, hard working, devoted, respectful. He’s a total Noel (WARNING link is a six-minute montage of Felicity and Noel moments and may cause nausea, dizziness, and extreme boredom.)

Hopefully Dickens won't try to make Charles interesting by having him go crazy and get a tattoo like a certain someone I know

Hopefully Dickens won’t try to make Charles interesting by having him go crazy and get a tattoo like a certain late-90s show did… ahem

I didn’t like how the courtship with Lucie is totally glossed over – we never find out how Lucie feels about Charles, because I guess it’s just obvious that she would love him? And her relationship with her father is a bit much. She’s always trembling and throwing herself on him and declaring her love. It’s kind of creepy.

There are some great, flawed, INTERESTING characters in this book and so far, when Lucie and Charles are on the scene, I just want to get back to them: Sydney and his alcoholism, Jerry and his grave-robbing, Stryver and his, well, striving.

Vive La Revolution
My favourite part of this section was the Marquis chapters. I usually don’t like it when a character is obviously there just for social commentary, and the Marquis is the embodiment of cruelty and excess of the aristocracy that lead to the revolution. But how can I resist a guy who requires four “lacqueys” to make his hot chocolate? And whose morning agenda appears to be sashaying around his palace? His cruelty is similarly exaggerated, and his offhand remark upon trampling a small child reminded me of Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada:

“It is extraordinary to me,” said he, “that you people cannot take care of yourselves and your children.”


I also really like Dickens’ use of repetition – of words, phrases, styles – to (I think) convey the grinding povery and hunger and injustice that just never ends.

Madame Defarge: Just Keep Knitting
Mme. D. is my favourite character so far. In this section, she is described as having “the steadfastness of Fate” and as seeing and hearing “something inaudible and invisible” so I’m pretty sure she’s got super powers.

The Best of Blogs

Check out these posts from the #1Tale2Cities readers-along:

If you write an update post this week, link it in the comments and I’ll update here in the main post.

Tales Heard Round the Internet

Tune in next Monday for Book the Second chapters 7-24 and Book the Third chapters 1-3. 

What did you think? Who are your favourite characters so far?


  1. Pingback: A Tale of Two Cities Read-Along: Master Post | Reading in Bed
  2. Naomi

    I had no idea about the Spark Notes, so thanks! Good to know! Now I know what Mme. Defarge is knitting!

    I agree that Lucie’s behavior with her Dad is creepy. Is Dickens exaggerating her character on purpose, or does he think good daughters really act this way?

    I also missed that it was Cly’s body that Jerry was digging up, until I read the Spark Notes. Duh. Although, I still don’t really know how that affects things.

    I’m very curious about Sydney Carton’s story. He’s much more interesting than Darnay. And I like the Defarge storyline. I still don’t know where all this is heading!

  3. chiggins82

    Tony has been keeping a character map nearby when he reads. It caused me a couple spoilers, but so helpful with the characters!

    The Defarge’s are the best characters because the seem to up to something… and that they know something you don’t. At least that is what I am seeing. I get interested because I am hoping that they will let the reader in, but they don’t… Or I don’t understand! 🙂

    Nice Noel reference!

  4. Melanie Kerr

    I would love to read along, but I just could not force my way through this book. I didn’t have that problem with some of his other novels. I found Great Expectations to be quite a page-turner, for example. I usually find his characters kind of flat and charicatured, and his preoccupation more on how awful Victorian England was than on a subtle examination of the human condition. But since he was writing pulp fiction for the masses, he had to keep people interested. I think this book is a victim of the serial format, making it more like an endless, twisting soap than a well-constructed piece of art, but don’t trust anything I say because I never got more than a third of the way into it. I am also told that he got paid by the word, and that that is why his books are so long, but I don’t know if that’s true.

  5. ebookclassics

    I agree that the Defarges are the most interesting characters so far. I feel like they have some kind of underground resistance going on. I really hope that knitted scarf or shroud or woolen book of enemies comes into play in a big way somewhere in the story.

  6. DoingDewey

    The repetition is one of my favorite parts of the writing too! I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a trick to get more words since he was paid by the line, but I find his method of doing this far less annoying than Dumas in The Count of Monte Cristo. It just feels more natural to me!

    I like Charles pretty well, but I don’t feel like we even know Lucie. We don’t know anything about her except that she’s devoted to her father and so far I don’t know that we’ve gotten her perspective at all, just other’s opinions of her. Mme. Defarge creeps me out a bit, but I like her too 🙂

  7. 1tonyrex

    How can everyone here NOT say that the Marquis is their favorite character? Maybe it is because the introduction to him was my first chapter that I truly understood as I was reading it. But to say he isn’t the most fun character is suspect to me. You have to love a man that is told that he ran over a child, and simply throws a piece of gold at it. I think we need to go back to a class system like this.

  8. Pingback: A Tales of Two Cities Read-Along – Update #2 | ebookclassics
  9. jaynesbooks

    I liked the Marquis chapters as well, not if to show the contrast between the Marquis and Charles. Still loving the book; did I mention that Dickens is my literary boyfriend?

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