Category Archives: Public Domain Works Online

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities: Spoiler-Free Synopsis

In Paris, about a decade before the French Revolution, a traumatized and physically broken Dr. Manette is released from the Bastille after being unjustly imprisoned for eighteen years. He is reunited with his daughter, Lucie, who was born in France but grew up in England believing she was an orphan. While taking her father back to England to live with her, Lucie meets the young French émigré Charles Darnay.

In London, Darnay, who has rejected his aristocratic family’s heritage and changed his name, is arrested and put on trial for his life, accused of being a spy. One of the attorneys defending him, Sydney Carton, who is brilliant but cynical and disreputable, so physically resembles Darnay that it is remarked upon in court. Darnay and Carton become friends, and both men fall deeply in love with Lucie Manette. Lucie comes to love both men in return, but she cares for Carton maternally rather than as a potential spouse.

After the French Revolution breaks out and the Reign of Terror begins, a former family servant begs Darnay for help. After returning to France, Darnay is arrested, imprisoned, and sentenced to death despite his rejection of his family’s abusive exploitation of peasants. One of the most vengeful revolutionaries, Madame Defarge, who hates all French noblemen and who also knows the reason for Dr. Manette’s 18-year imprisonment, is insistent that Darnay be executed. Further, Madame Defarge plans to denounce both Dr. Manette and Lucie as “traitors” so that they will also be executed.

Can Carton, spurred by his love of Lucie and his friendship with Darnay, save them all from the guillotine?

 

Dickens at his desk, 1858. Photo by Watkins.

Author Charles Dickens

Dickens’ father John, who constantly lived beyond his means, was confined in Marshalsea, a  debtors’ prison, and 12-year-old Charles, a voracious reader who was enjoying a private school education, was forced to quit school and go to work. At that time, there were no Child Labor laws nor even laws limiting any adult’s working hours. Dickens worked 10 hours a day at a blacking factory while paying for his own keep at a boarding house. Dickens later wrote (to his 1892 biographer) that he “wondered how I could have been so easily cast away at such an age.”  After his father received funds upon his own mother’s death and was released from debtors’ prison, Charles’  mother wanted him to remain at work, and Dickens later wrote of this: “I never afterwards forgot, I never shall forget, I never can forget.”

This early family grief, overwhelming adult responsibility at the age of 12, dreadful factory experience, and being forced to work to help support his mother and siblings because of his father’s profligate living were repeatedly portrayed in Dickens’ literary work.  His grim portrayals of crime, poverty, and unjust but all-powerful social institutions deftly revealed some of the horrors of life for the working class in Victorian England.

1859 cover of A Tale of Two Cities. Photo © Christie’s Auction House

Critical Reception of  A Tale of Two Cities

Beginning with the famous lines, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” A Tale of Two Cities is Dickens’ best-known historical novel, about the period before and after the French Revolution.  Many writers, like Tolstoy and George Orwell, praise Dickens’ writing as well as his social commentary, but some writers, such as Virginia Woolf and Henry James, bemoan the “lack of psychological depth and loose writing” in Dickens’ novels. Contemporaneous lawyer, judge, and critic James Fitzjames Stephen called the novel a “dish of puppy pie and stewed cat which is not disguised by the cooking.” Author Jorge Louis Borges quipped that Dickens was so much a British resident that, despite its title, A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens’ novel is really only about one city: London.

Despite the wide-ranging critical reactions, A Tale of Two Cities is considered the bestselling novel of all time, with an estimated 200 million copies sold worldwide. The novel has been adapted for film, television, stage, musicals, radio, and opera. The book was the acknowledged inspiration for the screenplay of the 2012 Batman story The Dark Knight Rises.

A Tale of Two Cities has become a classic, not only because of its complex characters but because the novel deals honestly and critically with social issues, especially those arising during times of great political upheaval and change.

Free Public Domain Versions of A Tale of Two Cities 

A Tale of Two Cities is available in its entirety free online because it is in the public domain (the work was not originally copyrighted, the registered copyright has expired, or the author has been dead for more than 100 years; like the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, the book is considered to belong to the public). Since it is not possible to copyright a work already in the public domain, some publishers provide a short author BIO, an Introduction, or footnotes to the work; publishers can then copyright that particular edition of the public domain work.

Gutenberg, Standard Ebooks, WikiSource, and the University of Adelaide (where you can search by author or title) are all dedicated to keeping public domain books completely free of charge and available to all readers: you can search these sites by author or title of the book.

You can read A Tale of Two Cities online or download a copy from the following sites:

• Standard Ebooks provides a quality edited version with an artwork cover, available in ePub, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Sony editions. Detailed instructions for which version to download and how to put the book on your portable e-reader are included.

• The University of Adelaide provides a short biography of Dickens and has the complete book available to download, read online,  or as ePub and Kindle books.

• Gutenberg.org provides HTML version  (which can be read online) as well as PDF, plain text, ePub, and Kindle versions, all of which can be downloaded.

• WikiSource provides the 1898 edition, also called the Gadshill Edition, with the original illustrations, available 0nline, for any device, while Wikipedia’s Tale of Two Cities has several of the book’s original illustrations along with the plot summary and character list.

• Amazon currently has a free Kindle ebook, but before clicking Buy, make sure the price is still $0.00 as Amazon, which is not a non-profit organization, has a tendency to charge for any public domain books that are being frequently downloaded.


Related Posts

Looking for other classic poems, stories, novellas,
novels, or nonfiction books in the public domain?
See my Free Classics page

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• Photo of Charles Dickens at desk, 1858, by Watkins. Photo @ Wikipedia

• Cover of 1859 edition of A Tale of Two Cities, published by Chapman & Hall.
Photo ©  Christie’s Auction House; Reproduction of Photo @ Wikipedia

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Filed under Authors, Books, Classics, Classics in the Public Domain, E-books, Free, Free Books, Free Classics Available Online, Free Classics in the Public Domain, Free Stories Available Online, Free Stories in the Public Domain, Public Domain Classics, Public Domain Works Online

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë

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Cover of Standard Ebook's Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre: Spoiler-Free Synopsis

Unhappy with her deceased uncle’s family, orphaned, ten-year-old Jane Eyre wants to be sent away to boarding school. At Lowood Institution, however, Jane finds more injustice and cruelty. Still, Jane loves reading and learning, so she eventually becomes a teacher at Lowood.

After her best friend — a fellow teacher —  marries and leaves Lowood, Jane realizes that she is restless and vaguely unhappy. Longing for adventure of any kind, she applies for a position as a private governess. Hired  to be a private governess to the orphaned Adele, Jane finds herself in the employ of the frequently absent Mr. Edward Rochester. When Edward Rochester returns and begins to pay Jane more and more attention, she begins to hope that she has at last found all the happiness.

But Edward Rochester has some dark secrets of his own. Secrets that could destroy Jane’s happiness forever.

Portrait of Charlotte Brontë by J. H. Thompson, from Brontë Parsonage Museum

Portrait of Charlotte Brontë, by J. H. Thompson, from Brontë Parsonage Museum

Author Charlotte Brontë

The eldest of the famous Brontë sisters, all authors, Charlotte was educated at a boarding school and served as a governess. She disliked being a governess, stating  that employers treated her almost like a slave. Charlotte experienced the early death of all her siblings:  brother Branwell, and sisters Anne and Emily. Charlotte married in 1854, but  died less than a year after her marriage, possibly from complications of her pregnancy.

1847 edition title of Jane Eyre with author’s pseudonym Currer Bell

Critical Reception of  Jane Eyre

Considered primarily a coming-of-age story, wherein we learn of the protagonist’s protagonist’s journey from child to adult through many physical, emotional, or spiritual trials, Jane Eyre features a strong, independent, female protagonist. The full title when originally published was Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. Brontë published it under the name of Currer Bell. Of her decision to publish under a gender-ambiguous pseudonym, Brontë wrote, in a later edition, that she and her sisters, Anne and Emily, “Averse to personal publicity” when they earlier published a volume of their collected poems,

we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because — without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called “feminine” — we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality, and for their reward, a flattery, which is not true praise.

The novel “revolutionized fiction” with its  female or feminine sensibility. Some of the novel’s contemporaneous critics might have considered the novel to be “pre-eminently anti-Christian” or to be leading its readers astray by making  them “too uncritically accepting of [Jane’s] worldview,” but Jane Eyre has become one of the recognized classics. Charlotte Brontë, with her intense portrayal of her protagonist Jane’s complete emotional and spiritual development, is now considered the “first historian of the private consciousness” while Jane Eyre has been called the “literary ancestor” of the famous, stream-of-consciousness novels by James Joyce and Marcel Proust. Jane Eyre has become a classic, not only because of its female perspective and its First Person point of view, but because the novel deals honestly and critically with social issues, especially those concerning women and children.

Cover of Standard Ebooks version of Jane Eyre

Free Public Domain Versions of Jane Eyre 

Jane Eyre is available free online because it is in the public domain (the work was not originally copyrighted, the registered copyright has expired, or the author has been dead for more than 100 years; like the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, the book is considered to belong to the public). Since it is not possible to copyright a work already in the public domain,  some publishers provide a short author BIO, an Introduction, or footnotes to the work; publishers  can then copyright that particular edition of the public domain work.

Gutenberg, Standard Ebooks, WikiSource, and the University of Adelaide (where you can search by author or title) are all dedicated to keeping public domain books completely free of charge and available to all readers: you can search these sites by author or title of the book.

You can read Jane Eyre online or download a copy from the following sites:

• Standard Ebooks provides a quality edited version with an artwork cover, available in ePub, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Sony editions. Detailed instructions for which version to download and how to put the book on your portable e-reader are included.

• The University of Adelaide provides a short biography of Brontë and has the complete book available to download, read online,  or as ePub and Kindle books.

• Gutenberg.org provides an HTML version  (which can be read online) as well as PDF, plain text, ePub, and Kindle versions, all of which can be downloaded.

• WikiSource provides a 3-volume version of the 1847 first edition  and the one-volume 1900 edition (both available 0nline, for any device), and Wikipedia’s Jane Eyre has some of the original illustrations as well as an synopsis of the plot.

• Amazon has an Amazon Classics ebook version (with a very brief, 2-paragraph biography of the author), but this public domain version is free only to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.


Related Posts

Looking for other classic poems, stories, novellas,
novels, or nonfiction books in the public domain?
See my Free Classics page

 


• Portrait of Charlotte Brontë, by J. H. Thompson, from Brontë Parsonage Museum. Photo @ Wikipedia

• 1847 (first edition) title page of Jane Eyre: An Autobiography with Brontë’s pseudonym “Currer Bell.” Published by Smith, Elder, & Co. Photo @ Wikipedia

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Filed under Books, Classics, Classics in the Public Domain, E-books, Free, Free Books, Public Domain Classics, Public Domain Works Online