Critical Reception of a Tale of Two Cities in Regard to Psychology

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Literature and Psychology

Critics’ views of the ending of A Tale of Two Cities.

Though A Tale of Two Cities was immensely popular with general readers, many of Dickens's contemporary critics found fault with the novel. These critical attacks essentially focused on three fronts: that the novel is flawed as history, mechanical and unrealistic in its construction, and uncharacteristic of Dickens. It is perhaps upon this last point that most critics choose to base their criticisms; many argue that the novel lacks the characteristic humor usually present in Dickens's work, and that the events with which it concerns itself are too far removed from the Victorian issues that Dickens typically chose to address. Rather than examine the novel on its own merits, these critics often fall into comparisons of A Tale of Two Cities with Dickens's other works. (The Victorian Web)

Sir James F. Stephen's review of A Tale of Two Cities, which appeared in 1859: It would perhaps be hard to imagine a clumsier or more disjointed framework for the display of the tawdry wares which form Mr. Dickens's stock-in-trade. The broken-back way in which the story maunders along from 1775 to 1792 and back again to 1760 or thereabouts, is an excellent instance of the complete disregard of the rules of literary composition which have marked the whole of Mr. Dickens's career as an author. No portion of his popularity is due to intellectual excellence. The two main sources of his popularity are his power of working upon the feelings by the coarsest stimulants, and his power of setting common occurrences in a grotesque and unexpected light.

Henry James criticised Dickens for lacking the philosophical breadth of vision necessary to treat historical subjects: "Mr. Dickens is an honest, an admirable artist . . . . Mr. Dickens is a great observer and a great humourist, but he is nothing of a philosopher".

Aldous Huxley:
It is vulgar, in literature, to make a display of emotions which you do...
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