"The Best of Times, the Worst of Times"

June 29, 2020


Friends of the Dickens Project President and former Dickens Project Assistant Director, JoAnna Rottke, discusses how the opening paragraph in the first novel she read after joining the Dickens Project remains relevant today.



Hi, my name is JoAnna Rottke. I'm the former Assistant Director of the Dickens Project and currently President of the Friends of the Dickens Project, and for my selection for Dickens-to-Go, I'd like to read the first paragraph of chapter one, The Period from Book the First Recalled to Life from A Tale of Two Cities.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

So, I chose this because it just seems like it really applies to the time that we're going through now. It seems so applicable and is used so often by so many people, but it is certainly the best of times and worst of times. A Tale of Two Cities was the first Dickens book I read when I came to the Dickens Project in 1995. And I think I chose it because I'm a bit of a Francophile and a bit of a revolutionary, and also because it was short! But I enjoyed it enough that I went on and I read many more and I have many, many more [Dickens novels] to read.

So, I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you'll check in again for another installment of Dickens-to-Go. Goodbye.


JoAnna Rottke with her three dogsJoAnna Rottke is the President of the Friends of the Dickens Project and served as the Assistant Director of the Dickens Project from 1997-2016. She has researched Dickens extensively, contributing to a quiz show that requested Dickens Project’s expertise. Her favorite Dickens novels are Dombey and Son (“because Edith Dombey is so wonderful”) and Our Mutual Friend. When she’s not reading Dickens novels, JoAnna spends her time with her own dogs and fostering for Santa Cruz SPCA, as well as researching her family history.



Dickens-to-Go is a weekly program of short videos designed to whet the viewers' appetite for "more" of their favorite author. You can join Dickens Project faculty, friends, and students as they share a favorite passage from Dickens and say a few words about why they selected it.

What are your favorite passages? We hope you will make a video too! Email Courtney Mahaney for video submission guidelines.