A Tale of Two Cities

by: Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities and The Historical Novel

Further study A Tale of Two Cities and The Historical Novel

The roots of the historical novel can be traced back to the early nineteenth-century. In 1814, Walter Scott published Waverley, or’ Tix Sixty Years Hence, which is usually considered the first example of the modern historical fiction. In this book and later works, Scott brought two key innovations to his representation of the past. Firstly, he focused on representing small details of everyday life, such as food, clothing, and architecture, in order to create an immersive experience for the reader. Secondly, he interwove the personal experiences of fictional characters with documented historical events. This combination of fact and fiction was very popular with audiences and authors in the nineteenth century. Major works of historical fiction from the period include George Eliot’s Romola (1863), the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850) and Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831).

A Tale of Two Cities is considered an example of the classic form of the historical novel during its golden age. Dickens incorporates factual events from the past, such as the storming of the Bastille, but he also creates a rich fictional world where the emotional experiences of specific characters intersect with historical events. Later in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, historical fiction would continue as a significant literary movement, with important examples including Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy or Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. Increasingly, authors use historical fiction to present perspectives of individuals whose voices were not included in the historical record. For example, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple tells the story of a poor, uneducated black girl living in the rural South in the early twentieth century. Sarah Waters has published several novels set in the Victorian era in which she focuses on the experience of LGTBQA characters.