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A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

*Warning:  This post likely contains spoilers!  Beware if you’ve never read this book!*

I did it!  I finally finished A Tale of Two Cities!  This book has been on my “need to read” list since I was in high school.  Somehow I missed the class in which it was required reading, so I never read it.  I’m making up for lost time.  I have two regrets about this book: 

  1. that I didn’t read it sooner.
  2. that I didn’t read it faster. 

First, I took a whole semester of French Revolution/Napoleonic period history in college, and much of this novel would’ve made even more sense to me then.  Of course, I had other books to read then, so I never even thought about it.  Second, if I had only managed to read this one in a week instead of several weeks, I wouldn’t have forgotten the identity of some of the minor (but major in their contributions to the plot) characters.  Such is life.  I feel like I slogged through the first two-thirds of the book, and then, when most of the major characters are once again in Paris, I picked up speed.  It got good then. 

Ah, Sydney Carton.  Sydney Carton.  Sydney Carton.  He surprised me.  Way back when I posted these quotes from the novel, I had nothing more than a mere inkling of an idea of how it would all work out.  I have to say that this novel has one of the most satisfying (‘though heart-wrenching) conclusions I’ve read.  What better theme than redemption?  This exchange got me:

‘Are you dying for them?  she whispered.

‘And his wife and child.  Hush!  Yes.’

‘Oh, you will let me hold your brave hand, stranger?’

‘Hush!  Yes, my poor sister; to the last.’

I’ve never written much about the name of my blog before, but Victor Hugo wrote somewhere in Les Miserables (another classic I’ve yet to complete) that “hope is the word God has written on the brow of every man.”  I love the idea that as long as we have hope (and we do), we have no reason to despair.  I like to see the theme of hope played out in literature, and if Sydney Carton is not a seemingly hopeless character who ultimately provides the greatest gift to his friends, I don’t know who is. 

Strangely, I thought of To Kill a Mockingbird while I was reading of Sydney Carton’s sacrifice, and it wasn’t Atticus Finch or Tom Robinson who came to mind.  It was Ms. Dubose.  I always loved that little vignette–how Atticus makes Jem go and read to her, a very crochety old lady.  Later, Jem finds out the reason for his father’s insistence that he help her.  In my opinion, she is a noble character because of her steely determination to die a free woman, even in the midst of her pain.  (I don’t want to provide too many details–I don’t want to turn this into a post which provides spoilers for two books.  If you haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird, please do yourself a favor and read it.  Thank you.)  Sydney Carton’s decision to finally do this one thing right reminds me of her.

Of course, there’s the other part of A Tale of Two Cities that I love so much:  the humor.  Jerry Cruncher and Miss Pross provide just the comic relief needed in a heartbreaking story.  I’ve quoted the novel extensively in my Week in Words posts, and most of the quotes pertain to these two characters.  For a sampling of Dickens’ humor, you can read these posts here and here and here.   

I love this book, and I’m really glad I finally read it.  Now I want to watch a screen version.  Does anyone have any recommendations?  Any to avoid?

Classics Bookclub::2010 Goals

Some might think it pure foolishness for me, a person who failed in 2009 to complete not one but two classic novels I really, really, really wanted to read, to commit myself to a revamped Classics Bookclub over at 5 Minutes for Books.  True, I’ve learned after a couple of years of book blogging the futility of setting too many reading goals.  However, the mere fact that I cracked open Les Miserables (the unabridged version!!!) and actually read the first two books this year is testimony enough to the power of commitment.  While I didn’t get quite as far in A Tale of Two Cities (it is a shorter book, after all), I care enough about the characters to want to finish it.  And so, for this revised version of the Classics Bookclub in which we will read a classic novel of our own choosing and report on it quarterly, I propose to

  • finish Les Miserables (read my thoughts on book one here and on book two here) (and this time I PROMISE to borrow the abridged version from the library!)
  • finish A Tale of Two Cities
  • continue with the French Revolution theme and read The Scarlet Pimpernel if I’m so inclined; otherwise, another book of my choosing
  • re-read one of my favorite books of all time, Jane Eyre

I think I’ll make myself tackle the first two books first.  With a new baby coming this summer, I think I’ll probably need to save the “lighter” reads for the post-partum period.  Since I’ve already tried and failed at the first two, I consider that as a mark against them (or me?!?!), at least in my mind.

We shall see.  🙂

Classics Book Club–Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

classics-bookclub

I have a distinct memory of the first time I read Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca–I was lying on a float in the middle of my aunt’s pool, the thick paperback novel shading my face from the sun and the realization that I was in the VERY hot and humid South, not a beautiful-but-foreboding English estate.  (Of course, this was Before Children when I actually took reading material to the pool with the expectation that I would actually read it, not just get it wet.)  Rebecca made quite an impression on me then.  Making an impression is what this book does.  Honestly, I had forgotten most of the details.  Due to the fact that we have a lot going on here at the House of Hope right now, I have not made as much progress on the novel this time as I had hoped.  I am just about half way through it this second time.  However, I wanted to share a few of my observations and thoughts about it so far for August’s Classics Bookclub over at 5 Minutes for Books, thus making this another one of my “Reflections in Progress” posts, as well.  I love it when all this bloggy stuff coincides.  🙂

Lisa has posted all kinds of good discussion questions in anticipation of this month’s Classics Bookclub, but I’m not even going to attempt to answer most of them.  Instead, I’m going to spring board off a couple of them because they really feed into what has been going through my mind as I’ve read the novel this time around.   Lisa asks the following: 

Why do you think the heroine remains nameless? (did you notice she was never referred to by name?) Don’t you find it interesting that the novel is titled “Rebecca” yet our narrator is nameless? Why the contrast, do you think? Do you see her anonymity as indicative of some deeper meaning?

Did you like Maxim at first? Did you trust him? Why do you think the narrator was so unsure of his affection? Did you share her doubt? What gave her confidence in his love–or did she remain insecure? Did you alter your opinion of either Maxim or the narrator in the course of the novel? What made you change your mind?

I’ve been thinking mostly about the narrator during the first half of the novel.  The narrator reminds me of the insecurity inherent in all relationships.  I think the narrator really reminds me of myself.  However, sometimes when she takes her little flights of fancy, her imagination running at breakneck speed ahead of what is actually occuring in the situation, I want to yell to her, “STOP!  You have no idea what that person is actually thinking!”  Perhaps DuMaurier meant for this to show her naivete, her innocence.  I don’t know.  I really don’t remember even noticing it the first time I read Rebecca, so maybe it shows that I’ve matured a little bit as well. 

The issue of the narrator being unnamed is another thing I noticed more this time. Actually, it is not that she is unnamed, but rather that she is not given the honor of her married title, that bothers me.  I know that this is the point–that the first Mrs. deWinter would never be replaced at Manderley.  However, early on, when the narrator answers the house phone and says in response Mrs. Danvers calling her by her married title, ” ‘I’m afraid you have made a mistake. [. . .]Mrs. deWinter has been dead for over a year'”, I wanted to shake her.  Of course, this just adds to the atmosphere, and atmosphere is what this novel postively drips with. 

I’ve enjoyed this read immensely thus far.  It has been a great break from all of the nonfiction I’ve been reading lately.  I’ll try to follow up this post with more thoughts when I actually finish the novel.  Until then, hop over to 5 Minutes for Books to read what others think about this masterpiece of gothic romance.