Happy month before your 200th birthday, Charles Dickens!
Jillian at Room of One’s Own, a terrific classics blog (and Jillian regularly reads and comments on my blog – thanks!) alerted me to not just the Ten Books for 2012 challenge but also a Charles Dickens challenge at Fig and Thistle in honor of Charles Dickens’ upcoming 200th birthday on February 7th (Amanda at F&T started out asking people to read and blog about reading Dickens on Tuesdays, but has shifted to, just blog something by February 2nd). And Jillian has a lovely post about reading Dickens’ short Christmas stories with her mom.
This sounded like fun – I haven’t read A LOT of Dickens and, given how Trollope made fun of him in The Warden as I discussed in my post (probably out of both jealousy and Dickens’ sometimes crude habit of drawing people in caricature), it only seemed fair to read a little Dickens. (I look forward to 2015 – Trollope’s 200th birthday and 2019 – George Eliot’s 200th birthday)
So, I went to my shelves and picked out the thinnest Dickens and also one where I didn’t already know the basic story (I watched the terrific British production of Little Dorrit [900 pages] recently, know the Oliver [500 pages] story, and David Copperfield is about 900 pages, Pickwick Papers about 900 pages…I definitely want to read this books, but not this month, too many other things on my TBR pile) – this left A Tale of Two Cities which is about 350 pages (#151, hard copy).
So, I got in a couple chapters after taking the dogs for hikes in the (very) cold, but pretty, clear, and colorful sunset tonight.
Of course, Tale does start with the famous line: “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 epock 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 directly 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.” I thought it worth writing out the whole line (which is also a whole paragraph) because I know I had not often heard anything beyond the first couple clauses… He was writing the book in the late 1850’s (it was published the same year as The Mill on the Floss – 1859) and he set Tale in 1775 in Paris and London.
Susan Wise Bauer says don’t read introductions or prefaces unless they are written by the author, so I note that this book has a little preface written by Dickens which says he got the idea for the book while acting in Wilkie Colline’s The Frozen Deep which was a play (for amateurs) that Dickens and Collins worked up together (acc to Wikipedia). It is about a lost Arctic expedition. I’m not yet sure what the connection was, but Dickens said that he wanted to enhance popular understanding of the French Revolution (I’m guessing that Dickens, being a populist, might have been sympathetic?).
The first chapter sets the tone for the book (and it is a bit hard to parse – there are dated references with which I’m unfamiliar) but he introduces an allegory (?) of the Norwegian “Woodsman” (Fate) and a French “Farmer” (Death) growing the trees and starting to set aside farm tumbrils (carts that dump backwards – apparently especially for executed bodies) – the trees will be used to construct the guillotines and the tumbrils to catch and dispose of the bodies. He also talks about the horrors of travel in England during this error when highwaymen were rampant, stealing and killing people on the roads, and when people who traveled were advised to stash their furniture in a warehouse for safe keeping. The next chapter takes us to Dover where the mail is late and the mail carriage is moving slowly in the rain guarded by a heavily armed guard. One of the passengers is chased down with a message – “Wait at Dover for Mam’selle” to which he responds with a return, but puzzling message, “Recalled to LIFE.”
So, the book starts with history and phrases that require a bit of work to make out and also a puzzle – I’m sure some of you have read it and understand the references – I’m eager to learn where this book takes me…
Happy Reading, Ruby