I finally decided to start reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I have had it on my TBR list forever. I didn't go to a normal school so I didn't read the classics like most people did. I have noticed a lot of things I didn't learn. Some things, like government and economics, was my fault because I wasn't interested in that at the time. However, other things like Science and English were things I was interested in and finished early and I'm finding so many things I just wasn't taught or were skimmed over so I didn't really learn it well. Of course, some things I've just forgotten.
I started reading and got stuck right away on the first sentence.
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.
|synonyms:||excellent, magnificent, wonderful, marvelous, supreme, consummate, outstanding, remarkable, fine, choice, first-rate, first-class, premier, prime, unsurpassed, unequaled, unparalleled, unrivaled, preeminent;
informalcrack, ace, wicked, brilliant
"a superlative photographer"
I found someone else who had the same problem I did with understanding the last part of that sentence. Here is the best answer they were given on Stack Exchange.
"Basically, what he had just finished saying. That people of the day were not ambivalent about their opinion of the times. They loved it or they hated it. There was no middle ground.
By "superlative degree of comparison" he means using the extreme form of the adjective, typically using the -est (fastest) or pairing with the word most (most expensive).
So when he says, "for good or for evil" he means people would only have used these extreme forms to describe the period. But that some would have thought things the best they could be and others would have thought the complete opposite."
I also found this on Cliffnotes.
"The year is 1775, and life in England and France seems paradoxically the best and the worst that it can be. The rulers and ruling classes of both countries may have the best of life, but they are out of touch with the common people and believe that the status quo will continue forever."
I have a feeling this is going to be a slow read as I look up every line trying to understand it.
I just found this site which explains a lot about the history of the period and helps to explain the text in a way I can better understand. It is VERY helpful and I really like the pictures of the kings and queens.
I read A Tale of Two Cities in high school and remembered only a few major characters, the setting, and of course, the knitting. Rereading it after decades of immersion in more recent fiction, I was intrigued by things I never questioned or noticed as a high school junior.
The omniscient narrator sometimes has a cinematic perspective. The opening chapters are remarkably like the opening scenes of a movie, especially where the poor people of Paris drink the spilled red wine.
The awareness of privacy and interiority was to some extent still new. Dickens digresses in a fascinating observation of the individual minds and lives within each home, behind each window, each unknowable to the others. In the Pulitzer prize winning The Transformation of Virginia, 1740 -1790, historian Rhys Isaac connected the rise of literacy and solitary reading with this new sense of privacy, a new phenomenon in a largely public society where most people (other than the wealthy) shared sleeping spaces, even in taverns when traveling, and the wealthy were surrounded by servants. The book is set in the late 18th century when the sense of individual self and individual rights arose, and this of course, is part of the plot. So was that rumination on all those unique, unknowable souls really a digression? Yes and no. With private reflection and self-awareness come questions such as Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton ask themselves about their lives. Questions revolutionaries may also have asked themselves, before they lost their self-awareness to the Terror.
Dickens’ linguistic virtuosity is enjoyable in the same way as hearing a great singer hit a note and sustain it or seeing a dancer spin an impossible series of turns. No one told him not to use –ly adverbs. I found three in one sentence, but that line worked. Semicolons were more like pauses for air than the kind of punctuation we now use. His shift from third person omniscient point of view, past tense, into first person plural, present tense, for one suspenseful scene was unexpected yet effective, moving the reader’s consciousness directly into the shared tension and hope of a group of desperate travelers. He wrote at a time when authors were less constrained by an expected word count than they are now, and he clearly luxuriated in language and in scenes that fully develop a setting, character, or relationship. The plot would move along without his humorous and detailed portrait of Tellson’s Bank, but the pleasure in reading the book would be diminished. The plot would move without the full length of the scenes revealing the lives of the French poor and aristocracy who oppress them, but the emotional impact would be less.
Making no attempt to be impartial, Dickens the social reformer is fully present in the narrative.
Most characters are three-dimensional and complex, but the French aristocrats have few traits, serving as representatives of their caste. Of the major characters, Lucie is the most limited, seen through the eyes of men who idolize her—other characters and the author. (I confess I tired of her expressive forehead.) She struck me as an idealized Domestic Female, set in contrast to Madame Defarge and the Vengeance.
Sydney Carton is the most layered and interesting character. He's witty as he spars with the lawyer he works with, Mr. Stryver, but melodramatic with Lucie, and both aspects of his personality are believable. I also liked Miss Pross, though I’m undecided how I feel about her scene with Madame Defarge. It’s satisfying, but I’m not sure it’s plausible. It’s one part of the story that I completely forgot in the decades since I last read it.
If you also read this in high school and don’t remember much except the first and last lines and three or four characters, you may be impressed with it a second time around.
Nicholas Nickleby is thrown into increasing debt on the death of his father. With a sister and a widowed mother to take care of, he travels to London and seek the help of his uncle. The only problem is, uncle Ralph is a miserable and miserly money-lender with who wouldn’t spit on Nicholas if he was on fire. Grudgingly, he packs Nick off to Yorkshire, and so his adventures to find his own fortune begin.
Nick arrives at an appalling boys school called Dotheboys Hall, run by a one-eyed child-hating Wackford Squeers. It’s tense as to how long Nick will keep his easily-lost temper with all the casual cruelty going on (If only it had been merely fictional…). It’s a delight when he finally snaps and metes some punishment to the Squeers family. I practically cheered.
Nick leaves Yorkshire in a hurry after that, and the book starts to ramble a little. He finds himself in London (briefly, to argue with his uncle), then on the road again and heading to the coast to become a sailor…but he’s diverted into becoming an actor instead. You can tell Dickens is having fun at the expense of actors and theatres in general through that section – he acted often, and the odd characters Nick meets seem like they were people Dickens would have met.
Determined to carve a living for himself, Nick eventually finds some good friends in the Cheerbyle brothers and their bottomless goodwill and endless philanthropy.
Nick’s good fortune - and more importantly, his good friends and family – are contrasted with Uncle Ralph, who lives alone, unloved and uncared for in a cold and draughty home with a single housekeeper (he’s rich and could afford to warm it; he’s just too tight with money). He looms in the background of Nick’s life throughout the book. Nick would be quite happy to ignore him, but Ralph has made it his mission to break him. It ultimately ends up breaking Ralph, instead though…this is Dickens, after all, and happy endings are guaranteed.
This was the third of Dickens novels, written in monthly instalments between 1838 and ’39. It starts off strongly enough, with the backstory of how Ralph and Nick’s father came be estranged, and the collapse of the Nickleby estate and the journey to London. But then it starts to ramble – there are two chapters which are nothing more than travellers relating to Nick some folk tales about York on his way there. I skipped them, and I know for a fact I didn’t miss a thing.
In fact the book doesn’t really settle into a rhythm until Nick finds himself back in London again, about halfway through. Even then, there’s almost a chapter dedicated to a dinner party for characters who live downstairs from Nick. They play a very peripheral part in the book, and I skimmed it until I saw the word “Nicholas” again. They turn up towards the climax for a single chapter to tie up their storyline.
The ending almost feels like an anti-climax, even though it’s obviously well developed and planned. I can see Dickens practically ticking boxes labelled “Loose ends” as he works through the epilogue. With the death of Ralph, it felt like the book ran out of steam immediately.
Villains really do get the best parts of a story.
Well, well -- nothing like ringing in the New Year (albeit a day early) with Charles Dickens: What he did for Christmas in the story about the old miser Scrooge, he did again a year later for New Year's Eve with this story; which is, however, quite a bit darker than A Christmas Carol. Once again, a man is swept away to see the future; this time, however, it's not a miserly rich man but a member of the working classes, a porter named Toby (nicknamed Trotty) Veck eeking out a living near a church whose migihty bells ring out the rhythm of his life -- as if Dickens had wanted to remind his audience that the moral of A Christmas Carol doesn't only apply to the rich but, indeed, to everyone. Along the way, the high, mighty and greedy are duly pilloried -- in this, The Chimes is decidedly closer to Hard Times, Our Mutual Friend, A Tale of Two Cities, and Bleak House than it is to A Christmas Carol -- and there are more than a minor number of anxious moments to be had before we're reaching the story's conclusion (which, in turn, however, sweeps in like a cross breed of those of Oliver Twist and Oscar Wilde's Importance of Being Earnest).
Richard Armitage's reading is phantastic: at times, there are overtones of John Thornton from the TV adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, (or in fact, both John Thornton and Nicholas Higgins) which matches the spirit of the story very well, however, since workers' rights and exploitation are explicitly addressed here, too, even if this story is ostensibly set in London, not in Manchester.
In the context of the 16 Festive Tasks, The Chimes is an obvious choice for the New Year's Eve holiday book joker, so that it is going to be.