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You are watching: First sentence of a tale of two cities


The very first line of Charles Dickens’s 1859 novel A story of two Cities is quoted often. Or at least the very first part is (it’s a an extremely long sentence). Yet what go it in reality mean? join me together I put on my official “I was an English major” T-shirt and get under to some close analysis of the top A tale of two Cities very first line.

First, a refresher on what this very first paragraph in reality says:

It was the ideal of times, it to be the worst that times, it was the period of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it to be the epoch of belief, it to be the date of incredulity, it was the season that Light, it was the season that Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter that despair, we had everything before us, we had actually nothing before us, we were every going straight to Heaven, us were all going straight the various other way—in short, the duration was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted top top its gift received, for good or for evil, in the superlative level of to compare only.


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Maybe you’ve never read A story of 2 Cities, however you space probably acquainted with the phrase “it to be the finest of times, it was the worst of times,” due to the fact that it’s come to be a famous idiom. Here’s a quick summary of the novel prior to we acquire into that. Collection around the time of the French Revolution, moving in between London and also Paris, the novel adheres to a French medical professional who was imprisoned for years in the Bastille. As soon as he’s released, he move to England to be with his daughter, Lucie—whom he’s never also met. Two different men loss in love with Lucie, and this triangle has actually long-lasting consequences as politics intrigue spirals the end of manage in France, leading to a transformation that captures our personalities in its grip.

Dickens and Historical Fiction

Like every Dickens novels,A story of 2 Citiesexplores the societal conditions that result in collapse, immorality, and ruin, and the people struggling versus forces bigger than themselves. Yet A tale of two Citiesis among his only works of historical fiction, and also that awareness certainly informs the novel’s an initial sentence. Looking ago on a unstable era that history, Dickens is conscious that we all often tend to claim our existing era is the many difficult, the most unsettled, the most interesting. But, this sentence clues out, his contemporary Victorian reader aren’t the first to think the way. Why, not so lengthy ago, in the 1780s, look in ~ how civilization thought the the times they live in, this sentence appears to suggest. This is one method Dickens provides to create a parallel in between his readers and these figures of the past. In ~ the end of this very long sentence, he even says the explicitly: “the period was so much like the current period” in this regard.


That’s one reason why this line holds increase so well: every new generation thinks their struggles are uniquely difficult. Ours current case is the perfect example. We space living with what many speak to unprecedented times—and without minimizing our present circumstances, we deserve to acknowledge that there have actually been pandemics before, and also wars before, and also political vary before. It’s one point to read around these occasions in background books, yet when you’re living v them, they are, the course, deep unsettling and also overwhelming, and also naturally lead world to explain we space in the worst era in history.

Close reading the A tale of 2 Cities an initial Line

Now that we have actually that background, let’s dig in a little deeper. TheA story of two Citiesfirst paragraph provides use of a literary technique called antithesis. In A navard of literary Terms, M.H. Abrams specifies antithesis together “contrast or opposition in the interpretations of contiguous paragraph of clauses.” This is a fancy means of saying the in antithesis, indigenous or phrases through opposite meanings are used carefully together, usually through the same basic sentence structure, and are intentionally contrasted with each other.


Look earlier at the A tale of 2 Citiesfirst line. It’s all composed in 2 very certain patterns until the really end: “It to be the _____ that _____” and “We had ______” or “We to be _____.” This repetitive structure establishes that the terms in every pair room equal. It’s no “It was the ideal of times, yet some human being said it to be the worst times.” It’s both “best” and also “worst” in ~ once, and they have equal prestige in the sentence.

These space confident, declarative sentences. Yet how deserve to all these things be true in ~ once? that can’t it is in both the best and also worst the times. This is a common technique Dickens offers to establish humor: basic exaggeration. And at the finish of the paragraph, he argues that over there is something about this era which makes human being discuss that in “superlative” state only. Or, in his words: “some of its noisiest authorities insisted ~ above its gift received, for good or for evil, in the superlative level of compare only.” by juxtaposing every one of these the contrary concepts, Dickens reflects the absurdity of declaring that one details thing is true for whole generation. To run them all with each other in one lengthy sentence additional makes all of these concepts feel simply a little bit over the top. Whereby does the end? we could think as we read. Due to the fact that the novel is historic fiction, and Dickens clearly mentions the “present period” in this paragraph, he’s additionally implying that it’s human nature to carry out this no matter when we live, and also it’s not distinctive to any details time period.

From the title, and this opening sentence filled through so many opposite pairs, we likewise get a sense that this novel is preoccupied through duality. It’s a story of 2 cities, and also as readers will certainly soon uncover out, two men in love through Lucie and also two characters who look an extremely much alike.

Other Dickens first Lines

TheA tale of two Citiesfirst heat isn’t Dickens’s only banger. There’s this standard opening to A Christmas Carol: “Marley was dead: to begin with.” That’s complied with by number of sentences about just how dead Marley was, favor the writer is protesting a tiny bit too much (and the course, Marley’s ghost soon mirrors up, so he can’t have been the dead). The an initial sentence ofDavid Copperfield is equally famous: “Whether i shall rotate out to be the hero of my very own life, or whether that station will be hosted by anybody else, this pages should show.” whatever you think of Dickens together a writer, the knew exactly how to develop a mood immediately.

Let us end by acknowledging the the old joke the Dickens to be paid by the word has a little bit of fact to it. Numerous of his novels were first published as serialized installments in newspapers and magazines. Dickens definitely mastered this an approach of publishing by finishing chapters on cliffhangers and also crafting long, meandering explorations of character. Analysis was exploding in popularity throughout the victorian era and also Dickens was a grasp at providing his readers sufficient to fulfill them. So no, he wasn’t payment by the word, however we can compare 19th century serialized publication to how TV supplied to be: must-see episodes released as soon as a week. And the variety of episodes we watched only raised our desire to understand what would occur next.

Books prefer A tale of 2 Citiesmay it seems to be ~ impenetrable to modern readers, but there’s yes, really a lot right here we deserve to relate to. Choose Dickens’s characters, we’re life through an occasion that will have long-lasting consequences. And also even if the doesn’t draw you in, Dickens is an experienced melodramatist. Come because that the dissection the society’s ills, continue to be for the love triangles and also dramatic deaths.

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Looking for an ext analysis the great very first lines? inspect out this short article on the very first line that Moby-Dick and this look in ~ the start of Anna Karenina. And if you simply want much more Dickens, here’s a list of several of his finest quotes.