10 Great Books: Charles Dickens,
A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

10 Great Books continues its online delivery in June, with Professor Peter McPhee presenting on Charles Dickens’ classic, A Tale of Two Cities.

Associate Professor Tim Lynch, convener of 10 Great Books, will introduce you to our speakers each month and facilitate audience questions following their presentation.

Professor Peter McPhee's presentation on Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities
Q&A with Professor Peter McPhee and Associate Professor Tim Lynch

A profoundly moving story of good and evil

A Tale of Two Cities is a great and famous book, often referred to as one of the best-selling books of all time.

It is on one level a profoundly moving story of good and evil, of emotional loyalties and hatreds played out against the menacing background of the injustices of eighteenth-century England and France and the violent conflicts of the French Revolution. On another level it is also redolent of Dickens' celebrated capacity as a writer of gripping prose and of his values and principles, perhaps of his private life.

It has had an extraordinary impact on the way the Anglophone world has understood the French Revolution, often replicated in other cultural forms which have drawn on the book, such as the 2012 movie The Dark Knight Rises. It is also a controversial book because of what some historians see as its jaundiced depiction of the French Revolution and revolution generally, a reflection of the context within which it was written.

Extra resources

  • Miriam Margolyes on Dickens

    Actress Miriam Margolyes discusses the women in Dickens’ life and work, and why he remains an important literary figure.

  • Claire Tomalin presents on Dickens as a reporter, a reformist, and a poet

    Claire Tomalin talks about the amazing diversity in Dickens's works, from comedies and tragedies, from thrillers and to historical narratives, from personal research of the child psychology to the panoramic observation of London’s life.

  • A literary legacy: at home with Charles Dickens by English Heritage

    To mark the 150th anniversary of the death of Charles Dickens, English Heritage’s senior historian for blue plaques, Howard Spencer, and Dr Cindy Sughrue, discuss the author’s life and literary accomplishments at his London home, 48 Doughty Street.

    Listen on Sound Cloud

  • Suggested biographies

    Those interested might look at one of the standard biographies, such as Dickens (1990) by Peter Ackroyd.

    The most recent – and very controversial – biography, The Mystery of Charles Dickens by AN Wilson, was published earlier this year.

    The story of Ellen Ternan, Dickens' mistress, is told in The Invisible Woman (2012) by Claire Tomalin.

Professor Peter McPhee
Professor Peter McPhee

About Professor Peter McPhee

Professor Peter McPhee was appointed to a Personal Chair in History at the University of Melbourne in 1993. He has published widely on the history of modern France, most recently Robespierre: a Revolutionary Life (Yale University Press, 2012); and Liberty or Death: the French Revolution (Yale University Press, 2016).

He was President of the Academic Board in 2002-03, then appointed to the position of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) in 2003 before becoming the University's first Provost in 2007-09, with responsibility for the design and implementation of the University's new curriculum structures, the ‘Melbourne Model’.

He chaired the Board of Melbourne University Publishing 2012-17. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities (1997) and the Academy of Social Sciences (2003). He was awarded a Centenary Medal for services to education in 2003 and became a Member of the Order of Australia in 2012. He continues to teach in the History program.

10 Great Books: a Melbourne Masterclass

The Faculty of Arts proudly presents the book club to end all book clubs: 10 Great Books, a Melbourne Masterclass. Each month, hear leading academics and experts give their take on a text that has shaped the way we see the world.

We ask the big questions about how our selected books captured the zeitgeist and shifted the culture. The ten diverse texts will become our window into politics, art, love, death, and everything in between. Now in its seventh year, 10 Great Books has traversed the broad history of the written word, exploring great novels, non-fiction, plays, poetry, pamphlets and more.

Visit the 10 Great Books website for this year's program and speaker information.

Learn more