Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Charles Dickens -- A Tale of Two Cities

Have you ever heard it said that with books, you can travel anywhere, be anyone and experience anything? It's true.

Reading is one of the most important things in my life. I think it might have something to do with my mother being a lover of books. :-) Some of my earliest memories are of her reading while my sister Hannah and I played on the floor with our dolls and Legos. And some of my best memories from my childhood are of her reading out loud to us. We would sit very quietly as she read “Little House on the Prairie”, “Daniel Boone”, Susanna of the Yukon”, “No Children; No Pets”, “The Lonely Sentinel”, etc, etc.

I can still remember reading my first book. I think I was about seven years old. It was Sugar Creek Gang mystery (which may explain my love for mysteries to this day) and it took me all of three days (I think) to finish it. Mom bragged on me so much for that accomplishment that even though some of the words were still a struggle, I kept right on... reading my way through many other children's books.

That being said, my parents never encouraged me to read many classics. Oh yes, we read “Little Women”, “Heidi”, “Hans Brinker & The Silver Skates”, etc. But while other homeschoolers were talking about Dickens and Hawthorne, we were talking of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott. I don't regret that. In fact, I really hope those authors are what my children cut their literary teeth on!

But now, in my old age, I really would like to be well read. And if that includes Dickens and Hawthorne and Austen, so be it. ;-)

So. I am reading “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. I am on the chapter entitled, “A Disappointment”. Mr. Manette and his daughter have been reunited and brought back to London by Mr. Lorry... and are now seated in a court room, awaiting with horror for the trial of the Treason case to be done and over with. And we have been introduced to Jerry, Tellson Bank's odd-job-man who wakes up in the morning and throws boots at his meek and quiet wife who is, in his own words, “Prayin' agin' me!”

My opinion in one word? Dry. I cannot seem to connect with the author at all. He is way above my head. I'm not sure if it's just a lack of knowledge on my part that makes it so. Or, if it's the style he writes in. But I am hardly into the book,and since I'm not taking myself seriously, please follow suit. :-)
However dry as it may be, I have found several interesting quotes that I wanted to share with my blog readers. Please feel free to share your opinions and thoughts... I appreciate any input you may have.

* * * *
I love the beginning paragraph of chapter 3. It lends much food to my thoughts... after I read it yesterday, I can't stop thinking of it. “...every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. ....every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!... In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?” I wish I could understand what he is saying more thoroughly. :-) I catch glimpses of it... I see the raw truth of it... and yet, the full meaning is still beyond my comprehension.

I find that many of the “classic” authors are very dramatic. Perhaps overly so. Louisa May Alcott was probably the best (especially thinking of “Little Women”; “Eight Cousins”) of the 19th century authors because she used everyday language... even some slang. Am I just too used to using slang terms or did they actually talk this way two hundred thirty-four years ago?

“But this time, she trembled under such strong emotion, and her face expressed such deep anxiety, and, above all, such dread and terror, that Mr. Lorry felt it incumbent on him to speak a word or two or reassurance.
'Courage, dear Miss! Courage! Business! The worst will be over in a moment; it is but passing the room door, and the worst is over. Then, all the good you bring to him, all the happiness you bring to him, begin....' ” (Chapter 4: The Preparation)

When Miss Manette is first told that her father still lives and has been released from prison, she... “said in a low distinct, awe-stricken voice, as if she were saying it in a dream, “I am going to see his Ghost! It will be his Ghost – not him!'”

And this part made me laugh because the description fits my sister Hannah so well. Not the red hair, but the strength... the protectiveness, the 'wild-looking', hasty, forceful description! I love this. :-)

Miss Manette faints... and Mr. Lorry says, “'But what is the matter! She doesn't notice a word! Miss Manette!' Perfectly still and silent, and not even fallen back in her chair, she sat under his hand, utterly insensible, with her eyes open and fixed upon him, and with that last expression looking as if it were carved or branded into her forehead....” Mr. Lorry calls for help and ... 'A wild-looking woman, whom, even in his agitation, Mr. Lorry observed to be all of a red color, and to have red hair,... came running into the room... and soon settled the question of his detachment from the poor young lady, by laying a brawny hand upon his chest, and sending him flying back against the nearest wall.
(“ 'I really think this must be a man!' was Mr. L's breathless reflection, simultaneously with his coming against the wall.)
“'Why look at you all!' bawled this figure...” (Chapter four; The Preparation)

“The faintness of the voice was pitiable and dreadful. It was not the faintness of physical weakness, though confinement and hard fare no doubt had their part in it. Its deplorable peculiarity was, that it was the faintness of solitude and disuse. It was like the last feeble echo of a sound made long and long ago. So entirely had it lost the life and resonance of the human voice, that it affected the senses like a once beautiful color faded away into a poor weak stain....”

That is a beautiful and painful description... Dickens doesn't mince words. He leaves no room for doubt as to exactly what he means. I appreciate that. Other authors I have read are very hard to follow because you have no idea where they are going.

“Only one soul was to be seen, and that was Madame Defarge – who leaned against the doorpost, knitting, and saw nothing.”

I love how he repeats this observation three times about Madame Defarge. Does anyone else use triplets while writing? If so, why? I do it a lot, especially when I am not thinking about what I'm writing.

“Tellson's Bank by Temple-bar was an old-fashioned place... It was very small, very dark, very ugly, very incommodious. It was an old-fashioned place, moreover, in the moral attribute that the partners in the House were proud of its smallness, proud of its darkness, proud of its ugliness, proud of its incommodiousness. They were even boastful of its eminence in those particulars, and were fired by an express conviction that, if it were less objectionable, it would be less respectable. This was no passive belief but an active one which they flashed at more convenient places of business.” (chapter 1: Five Years Later)
This reminds me of some people I know... The pharisees in Jesus' time and some of the more “conservative” Christians of this day. Their thought is that if they don't have a good number of enemies, they must doing something wrong. If people do not feel belittled, shunned or convicted around them, they aren't being the salt (in the eyes :-P) that Jesus expects them to be. My opinion is that such a belief begins and ends with pride.

“Death is Nature's remedy for all things, and why not Legislation's? Accordingly the forger was put to Death; the utterer of a bad note was put to Death; the unlawful opener of a letter was put to Death... the holder of a horse at Tellson's door, who made off with it, was put to Death...; the sounders of three-fourths of the notes in the whole gamut of Crime, were put to death. Not that it did the least good in the way of prevention – it might almost have been worth remarking that the fact was exactly the reverse – but it cleared off (as to this world) the trouble of each particular case, and left nothing else connected with it to be looked after.”

Interesting... especially with the mindset I have been raised with. Food for thought.

“Mr. Cruncher's eyes seemed to get a little closer to one another, and to interchange the inquiry, “What do you think of this?”

I love that. Pure foolishness mixed in with heavy, heavy material. It makes a person not want to miss a single word in case one was to miss some of Dickens lovely humor. :-)

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And that is the end of my observations. So far. :-) Again, please feel free to post any or all of your opinions regarding books, authors, styles, etc. I welcome them. :-) Classical or otherwise, what are some of your favorite authors and books? Why do you enjoy them? Are there some you can recommend to me? I try to have a fairly open mind so don't mince for my sake. :-)

Has anyone ever read Louisa May Alcott's “A Long Fatal Love Chase”? I recently read it and I can't forget it. I found it dark and evil... and in the end, the evil overcame the good. It was so strange. I don't think I can recommend it to anyone except for someone who is looking for good style, because Louisa May Alcott invariably wrote with good style.


Melinda said...

I am not a big fan of Charles Dickens...although I've only read one of his books. I read "Great Expectations". I keep thinking I should try another one of his books...perhaps I would enjoy a different book better.
One of my sisters though really loves Charles Dicken's writing.

~ Melinda ~

Cheri said...

Oooo, fun post! I've always been "the reader" in the family, but have read no where near the amount you've read (or so I would presume) and many others.

I started The Pickwick Papers by Dickens, and the first 3 or so chapters I had a hard time understanding the direction of the chapter and as you said, feeling a lack of connection with the author. However the more I've read, the more I've learned to understand his way of writing this particular book. The chapter that I just finished (forgive me; I don't remember which!) was absolutely hilarious and found myself laughing out loud a couple of times.

And I've never read that opening quote you posted: "...with books, you can travel anywhere, be anyone and experience anything." I love that. And yes. It's true!

Naomi K said...

I've never read Dickens either, but I do find with some older books I have to read them a couple times before I really start to enjoy them. But there are some that have enough evil in them in it makes you wonder how they ever got to be a "classic". Louisa May Alcott is one of my favoite authors ever! - a couple times I've happened to use a "slang" word from her books and them my family looks at me funny...but they understand - I better not do that in public or they may not understand that I "hang out" with people from 100 years ago :)

Naomi K said...

Oh, and I forgot one other thing I wanted to say...My mom made it her goal to make sure all of us kids liked to read - I was also about 7...it took a couple of the boys until they were like 10 - but now all of us love reading! even my "tough" brother :)

bekah said...

I have hardly read any Dickins, but I plan on trying to be well read like you, so I am attempting to read books by older authors. Here's a list of some books I really enjoyed that you might want to check out if you haven't already read them (old and otherwise). :)
1. Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery:)
2. The Shenandoah Sisters series by Michael Phillips
3.Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
4. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
5. Christie's Christmas by Isabella Alden
6. The Journals of Corrie Belle Hollister by Michael Phillips
7. The Centurion's Wife by Janette Oke
8. Mountain Breezes by Amy Carmichael
9. Sarah's Journey (can't reme,ber the author- for yunger kids, but I liked them:))
10. poems by Emily Dickinson
There's a few to start with. :) I could go on forever. :)
Sent letters your way a couple days ago.;)

Anonymous said...

I admit I didn't read the entire post....

I have always loved Little House and LMA is a fav. too.

"But now, in my old age, I really would like to be well read." ME TOO!

I have on my list to read a Charles Dickens.. Our Mutual Friend. Should keep me busy all winter! Have you read any books by Bronte sisters? Jane Eyre is one I liked alright.
I read North and South recently and admit it took some doing to get through it but I enjoyed the story line.
A lot of those classics do use language that I find hard to get through and yes, dry at times.

Naomi said...

Wow... I'm going to copy and paste all of these comments. :-D Thanks so much for taking the time. I'll try to reply later when I have more time. :-)

Naomi said...

Melinda – A friend of mine told me that he liked “Great Expectations” much better than “Two Cities”. I haven't been able to find any other works of Dickens, as of yet. They seem to be out of style. :-P The same with Jane Austen. I was only able to find “Emma” (which I intend to read next). I am thinking about trying to get it on my computer by download. My sister does that a lot.

Cheri – I've heard that Pickwick Papers is hilarious. In fact, along with wanting to be well read, what made me consider Dickens work was how much he and “The Pickwick Papers” were mentioned in “Little Women”. I hope you find you enjoy it more as you go along. :-) Ah... your point about learning to understand Dickens' style is a good one. I have read many books but I don't know how many you've read. You always seemed very 'literal' minded in your writing style.

Naomi K. -- I know exactly what you mean about talking 'old'. One time, I telling a story and I summed it up with, “That girl had a lot of pluck!” Everyone but my present siblings looked at me strangely. They had never heard that word before. Ever. LOL! I haven't used it since except in small, close circles. ;-) I agree about some of the classics having evil in them. I find that, too. I'm not sure why that is. Good for your Mom making sure that all of you love reading. I think it's such an important thing. :-) Had to smile over your book loving tough bro.

Bekah – Thanks so much for the list! I have read series 1 & 6. In fact, I have read everything by Maud Montgomery that the libraries (that I have been involved with, I mean) have to offer. I love her style, her way of telling a story, her descriptions of nature and how varied her characters are. She was an artist with words. I would especially like to read more by Jane Austen, Amy Carmichael and Emily Dickinson. But I will try to check out those other authors that you mentioned. Some of Michael Phillips is nice but I'm afraid I'm not crazy about his style. I enjoyed the Stonewyke (sp?) series very much, however.
We got your letters. :-) Thank you.

Jaclynn – You aren't entitled to read the entire post. ;-) I hope I'm not the only one who speed reads! LOL! It's good to find another LMA fan. She and L.M. Montgomery are at the top of my list of favorite authors. Typical, I know but hey! I can't help it. LOL! I've read Jane Eyre... I think. Is that the one about the girl who is going to get married, then finds out the guy is already married to an insane woman? I found it a bit dark but riveting, none the less. I'll have to look up North and South. Is that also by the Bronte sisters? Forgive my ignorance.

Singing Pilgrim said...

By now you may have read it, but Great Expectations is a better Dickens, I think. And Jane Austen is awesome.

You should read George MacDonald if you haven't already. His children's books are awesome, his adult novels are even better, and his Christian nonfiction is very thought provoking. C. S. Lewis considered George MacDonald his master.