Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Iliad: Books 5-7

Book 5: Diomedes Fights the Gods

Well he wouldn't have, would he, if he wasn't egged on by Athena?
And she, well, she eggs on Ares too.

"Ares, Ares,
destroyer of men, reeking blood, stormer of ramparts,
why not let these mortals fight it out for themselves?
Yeah Athena, why dontcha?

Athena has done as Zeus the Trojan Pandarus to send the first arrow. He strikes Diomedes, but the goddess-fueled warrior treats it as but a scratch. Athena's not fighting fair, does this for Diomedes:
Look, I've lifted the mist from off your yes
that's blurred them up to now--
so you can tell a god from man on sight. ...
if Aphrodite daughter of Zeus slips into battle,
she's the one to stab with your sharp bronze spear! (147)
Before Diomedes wades back into battle, he instructs young Sthenelus to get Aeneas' horses. The horses man!
They are the very strain farseeing Zeus gave Tros (293)
Diomedes strikes a crippling blow with rock, but Aeneus is saved by....anybody? anybody?
...his mother Aphrodite
who bore him to Kind Anchises tending cattle once. (350)
And once upon a time all these relations would have been entirely transparent to the Homer, Bart, and Lisa are to me.

So Diomedes wounds Aphrodite...after all, Athena gave him the green light. But Apollo's got her back.
A piercing shriek--she reeled and dropped her son, But Phoebus Apollo plucked him up in his hands and swathed him round in a swirling dark mist... But Diomedes shouted after her, shattering war cries:
"Daughter of Zeus, give up the war, your lust for carnage!
So, it's not enough that you lure defenseless women
to their ruin? (393)
(While her wrist is wounded, Aphrodite's heart writhes in pain.)
Dione the light and loveliest of immortals (431) reminds Aphrodite "the man who fights the gods does not live long." (466) Athena taunts her in front of Father Zeus, who says, I paraphrase, "There there sweetie pie, keep the home fires burning and let Athena and Ares do the dirty work of war."
(is this a war between the Trojans and the Argives, or between Apollo and Athena?)
...Phoebus Apollo, lord of the golden sword, who ordered Ares to whip the Trojans' war lust once he spotted Athena veering off the lines, great Palla who'd rushed to back the Argives. (590)
All those video game sheroes, they must be based on Athena:
Then Athena, child of Zeus whose shield is thunder, letting fall her supple robe at the Father's threshold-- rich brocade, stitched with her own hands' labor-- donned the battle-shirt of the lord of lightning, buckled her breastplate geared for wrenching war and over her shoulders slung her shield, all tassels flaring terror-- (846)
Athena goads Diomedes for his waning fight. He blames her...she's said he couldn't fight the immortals but the one, yet clearly Ares was involved. So she says, Go for it! So even Ares is wounded and goes to complain to the Great Father. My, is Athena untouchable? Zeus scolds Ares,
"No more, you lying, two-faced... no more sidling up to me, whining here before me. You--I hate you most of all the Olympian gods. Always dear to your heart, strife, yes, and battles, the bloody grind of war. You have your mother's uncontrollable rage--incorrigible, that Hera--say what I will, I can hardly keep her down. Hera's urgings, I trust, have made you suffer this. (1035)
Book 6: Hector Returns to Troy

Menelaus (Helen's cuckolded husband) captures a man alive whose "horses snared themselves in tamarisk branches." (47) (I had to look that up. Photo by flickr user RobW) The man begs for his life, but the ever noble Agamemnon sneers at Menelaus for showing any concern for an enemy.

Diomedes gets snitty when Glaucus starts fighting in his territory. Glaucus, son of Hippolochus has the requisite blue blood though, so they become best buddies. Diomedes says,
"...The men must know our claim: we are sworn friends from our fathers' days till now!" Both agreed. Both fighters sprang from their chariots, clasped each other's hands and traded pacts of friendship. But the son of Cronus, Zeus, stole Glaucus' wits away. He traded his gold armor for bronze with Diomedes, the worth of a hundred oxen just for nine. (282)
And the Trojan women? All they get to do is pray. Which they do, to "Queen Athena--shield of our city--glory of goddesses! Now shatter the spear of Diomedes." (361) Heh. Good luck with that. Hasn't changed has it? Both sides praying to the same god? And each side thinks god likes them better?

I want to know more about Helen. She's bitter about Paris. She calls herself a whore, a bitch, vicious, scheming. (408) Did she willingly run away with Paris (albeit under the spells of Aphrodite) or did he steal her away against? Did the men of the time see no difference?

Hector's wife Andromache seems to have a good mind for strategy.
...Take your stand on the rampart here, before you orphan your son and make your wife a widow. Draw your armies up where the wild fig tree stands, there, where the city lies most open to assault, the walls lower, easily overrun. Three times they have tried that point, hoping to storm Troy... (516)
But Hector doesn't want to look cowardly. Even worse, he doesn't want to lose and have Andromache be enslaved.

Andromache is sure he's made the wrong decision. Hector leaves again for battle.
And his loving wife went home, turning, glancing back again and again and weeping live warm tears. She quickly reached the sturdy house of Hector, man-killing Hector, and found her women gathered there inside and stirred them all to a high pitch of mourning. So in his house they raised the dirges for the dead, for Hector still alive, his people were so convinced that never again would he come home from battle, never escape the Argives' rage and bloody hands. (600)
That can't be good. I bet the Fates are just giggling maniacally.

Book 7: Ajax Duels with Hector

Paris suits up, keeps pace with Hector. Who knew?

OK, first they arranged the Paris vs Menelaus duel...that didn't work. Now Apollo and Athena arrange another duel, Hector vs whomever. Isn't that doomed to failure too? Are they just trying to make the game interesting? So Hector obliges, issues the challenge. You could hear the crickets chirp..."a hushed silence went through the Achaean ranks, ashamed to refuse, afraid to take his challenge...." (107)

They do the Ancient Greek equivalent of drawing straws. Internal monologues whisper, let it be Ajax let it be Ajax. And it's Ajax! Who acts like that's what he wanted. So why didn't he just step forward in the first place? Was it so Menelaus could act as though he'd do it? Agamemnon nobly holds him back, not without getting a dig in at Achilles, "Even Achilles dreads to pit himself against him." (130) as if Aggie has nothing to do with Achilles' absence. Old Nestor goads nine men into volunteering, thus the decision by lot. Is that the role of the old men, to taunt the younger ones to battle?

More battle description yada yada. Ajax knocks Hector flat. But wait for it...wait for it..."But Apollo quickly pulled him up." (316)

More strategizing. Nestor says to dig trenches. Among the Trojans, Antenor says to give Helen back. "We broke our sworn truce. We fight as outlaws." (404) Paris won't. He'll give the treasures back and more but not Helen. (He likes to be dominated...I guess no one can do it like Helen can.) The Achaeans do not accept...Diomedes thinks they've got it in the bag. So each side retrieved their dead, burned them, made their offerings to the gods, and feasted, ready to fight another day.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Iliad: Books 1-4

Book 1: The Rage of Achilles
Selfish Agamemnon. He wouldn't give the priest his daughter back, so the god is angered. Achilles tells him to take back the portioned plunder from the rank and file would be a disgrace.

So return the girl to the god, at least for now.
We Achaeans will pay you back, three, four times over (150
Aggie orders that one of the captains should return the girl and offer the animal sacrifices. Achilles has had enough. Dear Aggie says well so what? Go then. I don't need you. I'll take yours though.
But I, I will be there in person at your tents
to take Briseis in all her beauty, your own prize--
so you can learn just how much greater I am than you... (219)
Achilles is hopping mad...but Pallas Athena comes down from the heavens to bid him hold back. Even so, Achilles has some choice words for Agamemnon. Nestor oozes diplomacy. (And these are supposed to be on the same side.) Achilles stalks off to his ship with good friend Patroclus; Odysseus is captain to Agamemnon as they return Chryseis to the priest. But still Aggie sends two heralds to do his dirty work to commandeer the lovely Briseis from Achilles. To him, she is spoils of war, and he should have him some, being king and all. But I suspect Achilles has more feeling for her than that.

Side note: I read this 23 years ago,
Lattimore translation. It was my very first reading of my college experience at St. John's. My tutor (Johnny-speak for professor) would read this and other Greek readings translating into English directly from the Greek. I seem to recall I re-read it a few summers later and liked it much more because I was more skilled as a reader. I am really liking this Fagles translation. Still, that long ago, I do not remember whether these he-men liked their women, or like liked their women.

Achilles nurses his anger. He is steamed.
But he raged on, grimly camped by his fast fleet, the royal son of Peleus, the swift runner Achilles. now he no longer haunted the meeting grounds where men win glory, now he no longer went to war but day after day he ground his heart out, waiting there, yearning, always yearning for battle cries and combat. (586)
Meanwhile, much politicking among the gods. Zeus and Hera spat. You know she's mad when she says son of Cronos. (I think.) Thetis, daughter of Poseidon, clasps Zeus by the knees and pouts to get her way. While Zeus is annoyed that succumbing to Thetis will bring more battle with Hera, he still does it. Why does Thetis care? Achilles is her son, so she wants Aggie to get his, even if then it appears Zeus takes the side of the Trojans, which bugs Hera to pieces. Why doesn't she get to win sometimes? (Boy, gods are spoiled brats.)

Book 2: The Great Gathering of Armies

Parade after parade of commanders and their troops. My eyes cross as the next and the next and the next are listed. Can't leave anyone out, can you Homer (Fox news of ancient times)? Gotta keep the rank and file lining up to be heroes...keep the lists of names, and they'll keep coming to make more wars.

Book 3: Helen Reviews the Champions

Paris has an eye for the ladies, but not really for actual combat.
But soon as magnificent Paris marked Atrides shining among the champions, Paris' spirit shook. Backing into his friendly ranks, he cringed from death as one who trips on a snake in a hilltop hollow recoils, suddenly, trembling grips his knees and pallor takes his cheeks and back he shrinks. (39)
Somehow I suspect this image will be significant:
And Iris came on Helen in her rooms... weaving a growing web, a dark red folding robe, working into the weft the endless bloody struggles stallion-breaking Trojans and Argives armed in bronze had suffered all for her at the god of battle's hands. (154)
Helen shows old Priam of Troy who all the champions are. Ha! Odysseus: "The man keeps ranging the ranks of fighters like a ram--yes, he looks to me like a thick-fleeced bellwether ram making his way through a big mass of sheep-flocks, shining silver-gray." (239)

Paris and Menelaus cut a deal. Truce if the two fight it out and to the winner goes "Helen and all her treasures." (304) Paris=wimpy. Menelaus=manly. Paris' spear gets bent, Menelaus' spear goes clear through the shield. Still, Aphrodite luuuuuvs Paris, and interferes: Paris' helmet strap snaps allowing him to escape; a mist arises and he lands back in his romantically scented bedroom. Methinks Aphrodite wants a little show...she sends Helen, herself a tad annoyed at the effects of the Goddess of Love. Helen tries to resist, "Not I, I'll never go back again. it would be wrong, disgraceful to share that coward's bed once more." (476)

Helen may be sat down by the goddess herself, but she has nothing but scorn for Paris. That just turns him on. Does he like a little pain, I wonder. ;-) ...fade to black.

Book 4: The Truce Erupts in War

Uh-oh. Godly domestic dispute spills down to the humans. Zeus, Hera, get a room! Learn to understand the jealousy! Something!

Hera wins. Zeus has to send Athena to make the Trojans break the truce first. Ever hear that little voice in your head, urging you to do the daring thing, the somewhat reckless thing, the glorious yet most likely doomed thing? That must be the wildly dark and impish Athena urging that wildish warrior spirit alive in you. So she does with Pandarus, son of Lycaon...."But swear to Apollo, Wolf-god, glorious Archer, you'll slaughter splendid victims, newborn lambs when you march home to Zelea's sacred city." So Athena fired the fool's heart inside him. (120)

Boy, Aggie just has no tact, does he. Even "the great tactician Odysseus gave him a dark glance."(405)

Or does he? Maybe he's just being a Commander-in-Chief getting his men riled up for war. The Achaeans are discliplined. The Trojans...not.
...their tongues mixed and clashed,
their men hailed from so many far-flung countries.
Ares drove them, fiery-eyed Athena drove the Argives,
and Terror and Rout and relentless Strife stormed too,
sister of manslaughtering Ares, Ares' comrade-in-arms--
Strife, only a slight thing when she first rears her head
but her head soon hits the sky as she strides across the earth.
Now Strife hurled down the leveler Hate amidst both sides,
wading into the onslaught, flooding men with pain. (516)

Reading the Iliad

The Iliad (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) OK, along with A Tale of Two Cities, the schedule for which I am struggling to keep up with, I am now reading The Iliad. I have 10 days to read it before the discussion group on October 5. I am being so willfully stubborn and not giving this up even though I am overwhelmed...this Classics series is SO popular that the facilitators are closing registration as soon as the waitlist is as long as the number of registrants allowed. (I hope you remember I whispered in the right ear to get this discussion series started.)

So, if there's anybody out there who wants to read along with me, here's my schedule. I've always meant to read the Fagles translation, and now here's a good reason. I may blog a few notes as I read, just so I remember what went on in my head when I get to the real live discussion group (that I hope really is a discussion group and not all lecture).

By the end of _____ I will (errr, hope to) read to the end of________:

Friday, Sept. 26: Book 5: Diomedes Fights the Gods
Saturday: Book 7: Ajax Duels With Hector
Sunday: Book 10: Marauding Through the Night
Monday: Book 13: Battling for the Ships
Tuesday: Book 16: Patroclus Fights and Dies
Wednesday, Oct. 1: Book 18: The Shield of Achilles
Thursday: Book 21: Achilles Fights the River
Friday: Book 23: Funeral Games for Patroclus
Saturday: Book 24, The End

Sunday, October 5, afternoon....discuss!

(The Butler translation is available at DailyLit. That and several other older translations are available at Project Gutenberg.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thanks on Thursday

A lot of bloggers do a Gratitude Tuesday, but I don't know who they are and am not part of that circle. In my American Buddhist Zen Center, we revere Thanksgiving. Of all the nationally recognized holidays, we can recognize in this one a Buddhist flavor of gratitude. So I thought I'd try to give thanks regularly on Thursdays.

Today I am especially thankful for massage therapists. I got a 90 minute massage today, something I've long needed. This week my upper back and shoulder muscles have been so tight a nerve was pinched and I had no strength in my right arm. At the moment I feel like someone pummeled my back, but I have mobility in my neck and arm again. Need I say the little bit of masochist in me likes the pain when the masseuse digs deep?

I am thankful also to my friend Lisa Mann, who recommended this massage therapist with nearly 20 years experience, Leah Hinchcliff. I go back on Tuesday. Leah is also a bass player, and that's how they know each other. Leah uses hot rocks. No, not like you see in the feel-good commercials where they lay them on your back and that's supposed to do something. No, she gets the muscles good and loose, then digs even deeper with the hot rock in lieu of her fingers. Saves her fingers, and gets the gremlins out of my back. I told her I felt like she was putting the strength of trees back into my body.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Big Read III: A Tale of Two Cities: Bk 2: Ch. 21-24

A Tale of Two Cities

Book 2: Chapter 21: Echoing Footsteps (more)

(Because I've used Google Notebook, I've retained the format for my comments from there...while I used to indent the quotes, now my own comments are indented. All excerpts from Dickens are in italics. Unless there's something I'm missing, Notebook is a bit tedious for trying to get the bits in order...they're saved from newest to oldest, thus from last to first. I can't find a simple way to flip that around.)

At first, there were times, though she was a perfectly happy young wife, when her work would slowly fall from her hands, and her eyes would be dimmed. For, there was something coming in the echoes, something light, afar off, and scarcely audible yet, that stirred her heart too much. Fluttering hopes and doubts--hopes, of a love as yet unknown to her: doubts, of her remaining upon earth, to enjoy that new delight--divided her breast.
Does some part of her know it should have been Sydney? What if she knew of her husband's secret identity? Will she ever?
Her husband's step was strong and prosperous among them; her father's firm and equal. Lo, Miss Pross, in harness of string, awakening the echoes, as an unruly charger, whip-corrected, snorting and pawing the earth under the plane-tree in the garden!
I like the plane-tree. What might it signify? It is often mentioned with the echoes. Could it be a harbinger of the past or of the future? Or a symbol of a well-rooted family? She loses her golden-haired boy angel, raises her rambunctious daughter.
The polite rejection of the three lumps of bread-and-cheese had quite bloated Mr. Stryver with indignation, which he afterwards turned to account in the training of the young gentlemen, by directing them to beware of the pride of Beggars, like that tutor-fellow. He was also in the habit of declaiming to Mrs. Stryver, over his full-bodied wine, on the arts Mrs. Darnay had once put in practice to "catch" him...
Stryver: bombastic as ever. He has his stepsons give a measly wedding gift, and calls Darnay a Beggar. Carton otoh is taken under the wings of the angels of his Angel.

"What is the magic secret, my darling, of your being everything to all of us, as if there were only one of us, yet never seeming to be hurried, or to have too much to do?" Charles said to Lucie.

"A bad look, you say, my dear Darnay? Yes, but we don't know what reason there is in it. People are so unreasonable! Some of us at Tellson's are getting old, and we really can't be troubled out of the ordinary course without due occasion."
They're getting old at Tellson's? I thought that was on purpose. For a tale of two cities, London gets more air time...but the echoes of Paris always rumble around Darnay.
...and a forest of naked arms struggled in the air like shrivelled branches of trees in a winter wind: all the fingers convulsively clutching at every weapon or semblance of a weapon that was thrown up from the depths below, no matter how far off.
In England, a plane-tree, in France, a forest of arms. Such peaceful family echoes in England, such a surreal war scene in France.
"What is the meaning of One Hundred and Five, North Tower?" asked Defarge. "Quick!"
Defarge has a purpose, seeks the secret left by Manette.
...was so close to him when he dropped dead under it, that, suddenly animated, she put her foot upon his neck, and with her cruel knife--long ready--hewed off his head.
Madame Defarge is the ruthless one. Mr. Defarge didn't find what he was looking for in Alexandre Manette's old cell. What does he wish to know?
Now, Heaven defeat the fancy of Lucie Darnay, and keep these feet far out of her life! For, they are headlong, mad, and dangerous; and in the years so long after the breaking of the cask at Defarge's wine-shop door, they are not easily purified when once stained red.
Charles could never be more than a symbol to these people, never mind his rejection of his birthright. Of course this means he will return to France and he will be discovered by the bloodthirsty revolutionaries. It's still hard to say whether we're meant to like him. There's still something that needs resolving about the past.
Every lean bare arm, that had been without work before, had this work always ready for it now, that it could strike. The fingers of the knitting women were vicious, with the experience that they could tear. There was a change in the appearance of Saint Antoine; the image had been hammering into this for hundreds of years, and the last finishing blows had told mightily on the expression.
The revolution has begun. I must look up Saint Antoine.
Saint Antoine slept, the Defarges slept: even The Vengeance slept with her starved grocer, and the drum was at rest. The drum's was the only voice in Saint Antoine that blood and hurry had not changed.
The drum? I don't remember the drum. So many details.... Everything and everybody gets renamed in a revolution. So will Charles Darnay escape a bloody fate due to his own name change?
Far and wide lay a ruined country, yielding nothing but desolation. Every green leaf, every blade of grass and blade of grain, was as shrivelled and poor as the miserable people. Everything was bowed down, dejected, oppressed, and broken. Habitations, fences, domesticated animals, men, women, children, and the soil that bore them--all worn out.
Two cities, one devastated by poverty into revolution, the other ordinary lives. I'm trying to keep an eye on the reason for the title...a family's fate threaded through the two cities? The contrast? The historical weight?
Presently, the chateau began to make itself strangely visible by some light of its own, as though it were growing luminous. Then, a flickering streak played behind the architecture of the front, picking out transparent places, and showing where balustrades, arches, and windows were.
...The mender of roads, and two hundred and fifty particular friends, stood with folded arms at the fountain, looking at the pillar of fire in the sky. "It must be forty feet high," said they, grimly; and never moved.
40 feet the gallows for Gaspard. The people put candles in windows to echo the fire of the chateau. How grisly. Was this already a Christmas custom?
Chapter 24: Drawn to the Loadstone Rock

In such risings of fire and risings of sea--the firm earth shaken by the rushes of an angry ocean which had now no ebb, but was always on the flow, higher and higher, to the terror and wonder of the beholders on the shore--three years of tempest were consumed. Three more birthdays of little Lucie had been woven by the golden thread into the peaceful tissue of the life of her home.
Who in this family will be drawn to the other city of their blood? The father, the daughter? Can they resist the pull of the loadstone?
Again: those nobles who had seen the coming storm in time, and anticipating plunder or confiscation, had made provident remittances to Tellson's, were always to be heard of there by their needy brethren. To which it must be added that every new-comer from France reported himself and his tidings at Tellson's, almost as a matter of course.
Ain't it always the case that the really rich find refuge via their foreign banks? How many French Aristocrats in England; how many Nazis in Switzerland; how many Americans in offshore island accounts?
The House approached Mr. Lorry, and laying a soiled and unopened letter before him, asked if he had yet discovered any traces of the person to whom it was addressed? The House laid the letter down so close to Darnay that he saw the direction--the more quickly because it was his own right name. The address, turned into English, ran:

"Very pressing. To Monsieur heretofore the Marquis St. Evremonde, of France. Confided to the cares of Messrs. Tellson and Co., Bankers, London, England."
So it is that Charles will go to France...pulled there by Fate.
As he walked to and fro with his resolution made, he considered that neither Lucie nor her father must know of it until he was gone. Lucie should be spared the pain of separation; and her father, always reluctant to turn his thoughts towards the dangerous ground of old, should come to the knowledge of the step, as a step taken, and not in the balance of suspense and doubt.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Big Read III: A Tale of Two Cities: Bk 2: Ch 17-20

I was reviewing some things about the latest useful searching tools (more on that later) when I found a great use for Google Notebook. Once you install this tool on your computer, you can highlight any bit of a web page, and either click on the Notebook icon at the bottom of your browser, or right-click, and save that highlighted bit, text or whatever, to your Notebook. The nifty thing about this: you don't have to leave the web page.

I get bogged down with The Big Read when I skim over the reading a second time to find again those pieces I wanted to comment on. I've tried copy/paste while I'm reading, but that kind of slows down the reading, though it does make the writing a little faster. With this post, I will be using the bits that I copied to Google Notebook. It barely made a blip while I was reading; I really liked that. Now I'll see how easy it is to copy it over here.*

Book 2: Chapter 17: One Night

For all her brow-furrowing, Lucie is entirely unconscious of the affect her words could have on her father. So innocent, she expresses her happiness, but oh, the pressure it must put on him.

"But, if my life were not to be still consecrated to you, or if my marriage were so arranged as that it would part us, even by the length of a few of these streets, I should be more unhappy and self-reproachful now than I can tell you. Even as it is--"

The doctor shares his fantasies during his imprisonment about his imagined daughter. One fantasy has her completely unaware of his existence, the other has her honoring him in her household, remembering him, showing him her life, but never able to rescue him. He says,
"My thoughts, when they were wildest, never rose near the happiness that I have known with you, and that we have before us."

Chapter 18: Nine Days

Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross exchange coy banter about his bachelorhood as they attend the marriage of Charles and Lucie. They watch out for their adoptive family.

"Let me kiss my dear girl with an old-fashioned bachelor blessing, before Somebody comes to claim his own." For a moment, he held the fair face from him to look at the well-remembered expression on the forehead, and then laid the bright golden hair against his little brown wig, with a genuine tenderness and delicacy which, if such things be old-fashioned, were as old as Adam.

As I expected, the doctor's reaction to Charles's true identity is not good. It must have taken a great effort of will to hold himself together until the couple left for their honeymoon. He suffers a breakdown which Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross agree to keep from Lucie. He brings out the shoemaker's tools.

He worked, and worked, and worked, in silence, and words fell on him as they would have fallen on an echoless wall, or on the air. The only ray of hope that Mr. Lorry could discover, was, that he sometimes furtively looked up without being asked. In that, there seemed a faint expression of curiosity or perplexity--as though he were trying to reconcile some doubts in his mind.
What enlightened caregivers the bachelor and spinster are. I can't imagine there were any such in the madhouses of the day. They devise a brilliant method of acting normal:

This encouraged Mr. Lorry to have Miss Pross in with her work, several times during the day; at those times, they quietly spoke of Lucie, and of her father then present, precisely in the usual manner, and as if there were nothing amiss. This was done without any demonstrative accompaniment, not long enough, or often enough to harass him

Chapter 19: An Opinion (more)

Mr. Lorry displays more of his ingenius method. He consults the doctor on the doctor's own case as if the doctor were someone else. I'm not too sure I accept the suspension of disbelief that I must do in the face of this. It seems the doctor must know he is talking about himself. Did people in this time really so willfully stifle the emotional maelstroms?

It is the case of a shock from which he has recovered, so completely, as to be a highly intelligent man, capable of close application of mind, and great exertion of body, and of constantly making fresh additions to his stock of knowledge, which was already very large. But, unfortunately, there has been," he paused and took a deep breath--"a slight relapse." The Doctor, in a low voice, asked, "Of how long duration?" "Nine days and nights."

Lorry even goes so far as to divine future treatment, in his businessman's way, of course.

"Excuse me, as a persistent man of business. Assuming for a moment, that he was overworked; it would show itself in some renewal of this disorder?" "I do not think so. I do not think," said Doctor Manette with the firmness of self-conviction, "that anything but the one train of association would renew it."

He even goes so far as to instruct them to get rid of the shoemaker's tools only when he was not around.

Chapter 20: A Plea

The doctor joins his daughter and son-in-law as planned, they return, and Sydney Carton has a favor to ask.
Well! If you could endure to have such a worthless fellow, and a fellow of such indifferent reputation, coming and going at odd times, I should ask that I might be permitted to come and go as a privileged person here; that I might be regarded as an useless (and I would add, if it were not for the resemblance I detected between you and me, an unornamental) piece of furniture, tolerated for its old service, and taken no notice of. I doubt if I should abuse the permission. It is a hundred to one if I should avail myself of it four times in a year. It would satisfy me, I dare say, to know that I had it."

"Will you try?"
Ok, I understand Carton wishes to be able to hang around his angel, and he does so in a self-depracating way. I don't understand Darnay's response. Why "will you try?" Try what? Try to visit? Try to be a piece of furniture? By this question is he saying that Carton has no reason not to? He seems to imply later with the others that he finds Carton's self-effacement just a bit odd.

To which his wife responds:

"I would ask you, dearest, to be very generous with him always, and very lenient on his faults when he is not by. I would ask you to believe that he has a heart he very, very seldom reveals, and that there are deep wounds in it. My dear, I have seen it bleeding." "It is a painful reflection to me," said Charles Darnay, quite astounded, "that I should have done him any wrong. I never thought this of him."
Visit Leila here, and TadMack here, image courtesy of TadMack.

*Well, using Notebook did make the construction of the post easier. It has an export bookmarks feature. Exporting the html to the browser, you can simply copy that and paste into your blogging tool, and links and differences in fonts are retained. Of course, those links aren't exactly where I want them, so there is still some cleanup to do. I didn't this time, but I can also write comments as I save something to Google Notebook. It's conceivable I could have an almost complete blog post by the time I'm done reading something. I may use this more often, blogging more about the many articles I read. There is also a sort feature. I found if I labeled my saves, then sorted by label, I could get the saved excerpts in the right order (rather than reverse order).

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Big Read III: A Tale of Two Cities: Bk 2: Ch. 13-16

Book 2: Chapter 13: The Fellow of No Delicacy

Oooooh. Carton may just get the girl with that "I'm too bad, too irredeemable" schtick. Down through the ages, the good guys have asked, "Why do the women like the bad boys?" So we can save them, but we'll rarely admit it.

"If it will do you any good, Mr. Carton, if it would make you happier, it would make me very glad!"
So while Darney and the Doctor have exchanged promises, Miss Manette has promised to keep Carton's secret of an opened heart, like a knight's ribbon close to her breast.

Chapter 14: The Honest Tradesman (some more)

So old Jerry Crutcher, the messenger for the bank, is a grave-robber. His wife argues with him about his 'honest trade.' Jerry the younger sneaks out to follow him while he 'goes fishing.'
Young Jerry very well knew what it would be; but, when he saw it, and saw his honoured parent about to wrench it open, he was so frightened, being new to the sight, that he made off again, and never stopped until he had run a mile or more.

He would not have stopped then, for anything less necessary than breath, it being a spectral sort of race that he ran, and one highly desirable to get to the end of. He had a strong idea that the coffin he had seen was running after him; and, pictured as hopping on behind him, bolt upright, upon its narrow end, always on the point of overtaking him and hopping on at his side--
I wonder if we'll learn more about Mr. Cruncher's body-buyers, those eager scientists seeking to know the secrets of the anatomy.

Chapter 15: Knitting (continued some more)

Three Jacques report on a tall man getting caught. Was this the assassin of the Marquis? The reporters did not betray their recognition of the man to the soldiers.
"I make a circuit by the prison, on my way to my work. There I see him, high up, behind the bars of a lofty iron cage, bloody and dusty as last night, looking through. He has no hand free, to wave to me; I dare not call to him; he regards me like a dead man."
They "whisper at the fountain" about the pending execution, how it will be especially torturous as it will be treated as a parricide, and how 25 years before a man named Damiens was executed that same way. Damiens, eh. Duly noted, another clue to the mysterious past.
"Are you sure," asked Jacques Two, of Defarge, "that no embarrassment can arise from our manner of keeping the register? Without doubt it is safe, for no one beyond ourselves can decipher it; but shall we always be able to decipher it--or, I ought to say, will she?"

"Jacques," returned Defarge, drawing himself up, "if madame my wife undertook to keep the register in her memory alone, she would not lose a word of it--not a syllable of it. Knitted, in her own stitches and her own symbols, it will always be as plain to her as the sun. Confide in Madame Defarge. It would be easier for the weakest poltroon that lives, to erase himself from existence, than to erase one letter of his name or crimes from the knitted register of Madame Defarge."
Ah, the famous knitting plot. Finally.

Chapter 16: Still Knitting (some more)

Another one for the register. John Barsad, Englishman.
"Age, about forty years; height, about five feet nine; black hair; complexion dark; generally, rather handsome visage; eyes dark, face thin, long, and sallow; nose aquiline, but not straight, having a peculiar inclination towards the left cheek; expression, therefore, sinister."
She's been knitting, knitting, no doubt 'registering' the new recruit.
It was curious. The moment Madame Defarge took up the rose, the customers ceased talking, and began gradually to drop out of the wine-shop.
The tall thin man has entered.
"Ah, the unfortunate, miserable people! So oppressed, too--as you say."

"As you say," madame retorted, correcting him, and deftly knitting an extra something into his name that boded him no good.
The sinister spy reveals that he knew the Doctor and Miss Manette in England, and that she is to marry the son of the Marquis. (I thought that description sounded familiar...but who?) Defarge says,
"--And if it does come, while we live to see it triumph--I hope, for her sake, Destiny will keep her husband out of France."

"Her husband's destiny," said Madame Defarge, with her usual composure, "will take him where he is to go, and will lead him to the end that is to end him. That is all I know."
...she says as she keeps knitting.

Darnay better not go to France.
Madame Defarge with her work in her hand was accustomed to pass from place to place and from group to group: a Missionary--there were many like her--such as the world will do well never to breed again. All the women knitted. They knitted worthless things; but, the mechanical work was a mechanical substitute for eating and drinking....

Another darkness was closing in as surely, when the church bells, then ringing pleasantly in many an airy steeple over France, should be melted into thundering cannon; when the military drums should be beating to drown a wretched voice, that night all potent as the voice of Power and Plenty, Freedom and Life. So much was closing in about the women who sat knitting, knitting, that they their very selves were closing in around a structure yet unbuilt, where they were to sit knitting, knitting, counting dropping heads.
There are knitters these days who speak of it as a revolutionary act. Watch out for those knitters....

Visit the other Big Readers here.

Finally got a post at Rosie's

I've been reading Rosie O'Donnell's blog since she joined The View a couple years ago. Every once in a while I'd try to send her an "Ask Ro," but she gets thousands of questions and comments, and it was a bit like trying to win the lottery. I really thought I'd never ever get picked.

One thing has bothered me, and I don't know why this has happened. Somebody got to her. I don't know if it was the negative attention during her time at The View, or if some doctor has convinced her any "excess" weight is bad, but she has slipped over to the dark side of dieting. On her old show, she used to say stuff like, "I don't know what I weigh...I don't weigh myself. Sometimes my clothes get tight, sometimes they get loose." More recently she's been more concerned with the need to lose some weight. Never mind the fact that she does pilates, she's active with her kids, her wife cooks healthy meals for them all...that diet talk was slipping into her responses to her fans. The "if only I were a couple size smaller" kinds of things. Not too dark, she still seems to be pretty reasonable about her perception of her self. Still, it strikes a jarring note.

The other day, a woman named Lisa wrote, "If you were an obese person with high blood pressure, borderline diabetic, and sleep apnea, would you consider a bariatric bypass? I believe it's the only chance for me." Rosie's response seemed to suffer a technical difficulty, as it was only "h". I couldn't let that go. I had to try to get through to Lisa. For one thing, if Lisa gets her sleep apnea under control, it's sure to help with her high blood pressure and her metabolism, as well as the depressive negative self-talk. And just what does borderline diabetic mean? Could her experience be like mine, in which the doctor is labeling something as "pre-diabetes" which only a few short years ago was labelled "normal"? Even worse, did her doctor scare her into thinking bariatric surgery was her best option for better health? Ugh.

It actually took me several tries to get my note to Rosie submitted, the submit box kept getting hung up. I wasn't even sure if I got my message through. I wondered if she was actually reading emails at that moment, and that's how I got noticed.

And here it is, a screen shot of my lottery winning:
I got those links from reading Taking Up Space. There are truly some horror stories to be found at the Obesity Surgery Information Center. The so-called safer lap-band can leak, can block your esophagus, can deflate, can cause a bodily resistance to this foreign object. Of course you could die from surgery. Then, if the surgery happens without complications, you still have to live with the consequences of ill health caused by enforced starvation, such as anemia, wacked up blood sugar levels, fatigue, loss of teeth, acid reflux, and so on. One woman who once was healthy and fat now feels 20 years older than her 40 years, and has several of these complications.

I hoped the other website from Largely Postive would give Lisa, and Rosie, another view than that default of diet talk.

I really also wanted to point Lisa and Rosie to this article. As I learned from the series Unnatural Causes, stress due to oppressive conditions can cause all of these health issues that people like to blame obesity for: high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. I said that in the community meetings, and it says so in that article. I didn't have enough space though for a third link in my message.

It really is much better to be fat and healthy than to submit to a surgery that comes with a certain amount of risk, and leaves you with the necessity of limiting your food intake, that is, starving yourself, for the rest of your life, and vulnerable to anemia and vitamin deficiencies among other more nasty things. I brought my supposed pre-diabetes blood sugar level down to well into normal levels within a summer, and that was without eating was simply by eating smarter and choosing more opportunities for exercise as part of my daily routine.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Big Read III: A Tale of Two Cities: Bk 2: Ch 10-12

A Tale of Two Cities Book 2: Chapter 10: Two Promises

I like the way Dickens puts it:

Now, from the days when it was always summer in Eden, to these days when it is mostly winter in fallen latitudes, the world of a man has invariably gone one way--Charles Darnay's way--the way of the love of a woman.

Charles Darnay hasn't told Miss Manette how he feels. It's been a year since his father the Marquis's murder. I wonder what he did at that time? Dr. Manette health is recovered:
The energy which had at once supported him under his old sufferings and aggravated their sharpness, had been gradually restored to him.
Charles Darnay seeks the help of the girl's father.
Dear Doctor Manette, I love your daughter fondly, dearly, disinterestedly, devotedly. If ever there were love in the world, I love her. You have loved yourself; let your old love speak for me!"

The Doctor sat with his face turned away, and his eyes bent on the ground. At the last words, he stretched out his hand again, hurriedly, and cried:

"Not that, sir! Let that be! I adjure you, do not recall that!"
Dr. Manette takes Darnay's silence regarding his love as consideration for himself. With this second look, now I'm not so sure. There is much we don't know about Darnay. Could it have something also to do with his own despicable now dead father?
"It would be ungenerous to affect not to know that your self-denial is to be referred to your consideration for her father. Her father thanks you."
Darnay asks of the Doctor:
"It is, that if Miss Manette should bring to you at any time, on her own part, such a confidence as I have ventured to lay before you, you will bear testimony to what I have said, and to your belief in it."
The Doctor is willing to put aside any of his own apprehension toward a man if his daughter loves him. Perhaps his memory is not so fuzzy after all? He definitely has an idea there's something about Charles that has to do with his darkest suffering.
"...She is everything to me; more to me than suffering, more to me than wrong, more to me--Well! This is idle talk."

So strange was the way in which he faded into silence, and so strange his fixed look when he had ceased to speak, that Darnay felt his own hand turn cold in the hand that slowly released and dropped it.
He doesn't want to know Darnay's true name, not yet. I suppose he knows it would distress him, and could thus keep Miss Manette from knowing her own mind about her love. So he also extracts a promise:
"Tell me when I ask you, not now. If your suit should prosper, if Lucie should love you, you shall tell me on your marriage morning. Do you promise?"
Chapter 11: A Companion Picture

Stryver is such a pompous ass, that kind of rich idiot that plays so well in fiction:
"My meaning is that I am a man," said Stryver, inflating himself at his friend as he made the punch, "who cares more to be agreeable, who takes more pains to be agreeable, who knows better how to be agreeable, in a woman's society, than you do."
I loved this repetition. It punctuates so well the distance between the two, and the savvy despair Carton has to live with.
Sydney Carton looked at his punch and looked at his complacent friend; drank his punch and looked at his complacent friend.
Stryver blathers on about Carton's lack of gentlemanliness as opposed to his own, and again...
Sydney Carton drank the punch at a great rate; drank it by bumpers, looking at his friend.
Stryver blathers on some more about how his suit would be so welcome by Miss Manette. Carton responds to his questions with questions, which, as a curmudgeonly guy I knew on an email list was wont to say, "Answering a question with a question is no answer at all."
Are you astonished?"

Carton, still drinking the punch, rejoined, "Why should I be astonished?"

"You approve?"

Carton, still drinking the punch, rejoined, "Why should I not approve?"
Chapter 12: The Fellow of Delicacy

Stryver is so full of himself he's in for a comeuppance.
Mr. Stryver having made up his mind to that magnanimous bestowal of good fortune on the Doctor's daughter, resolved to make her happiness known to her before he left town for the Long Vacation.
For some reason Dickens chooses to spare him, and sends Stryver past Tellson's bank, where he decides to pop in and share the news with Mr. Lorry. Mr. Lorry delicately sets him straight.

I liked this image of the clerks. Banking was different then. I can almost see cobwebs anchoring them to the floor.
Those venerable and feeble persons were always seen by the public in the act of bowing, and were popularly believed, when they had bowed a customer out, still to keep on bowing in the empty office until they bowed another customer in.
Read Leila and other Big Readers here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Big Read III: A Tale of Two Cities: Bk 2, Ch 6-9

click on the photo for its source and more about the plane tree

Book 2: Chapter 6: Hundreds of People (more) (and more)

The Manettes have found and created a sanctuary in Soho. It is as though Lucie Manette brings the sweet touch of nature and spring. The setting is no longer dark. Even the shade under the plane tree is pleasant and cool. Mr. Lorry comes for a visit, and quizzes Miss Pross, "the wild red woman, strong of hand, whose acquaintance he had first made at the Royal George Hotel at Dover," as to whether any clues have surfaced from the Doctor regarding his imprisonment. It seems to me when his "business eye" surfaces, he is sleuthing for something important.

Miss Pross acts as a priestess to her angel, taking care of the family. She tells Lorry they could expect hundreds of people for the doctor, but these were echoes of footsteps in the cool corner under the tree.

Miss Pross's friendship being of the thoroughly practical kind, she had ravaged Soho and the adjacent provinces, in search of impoverished French, who, tempted by shillings and half- crowns, would impart culinary mysteries to her. From these decayed sons and daughters of Gaul, she had acquired such wonderful arts, that the woman and girl who formed the staff of domestics regarded her as quite a Sorceress, or Cinderella's Godmother: who would send out for a fowl, a rabbit, a vegetable or two from the garden, and change them into anything she pleased.
Lucie holds court under the plane-tree, bringing the wine, "and the plane-tree whispered to them in its own way above their heads."
Still, the Hundreds of people did not present themselves. Mr. Darnay presented himself while they were sitting under the plane-tree, but he was only One.
Again, Lucie's father is unsettled by Mr. Darnay. Does it have to do with him, or with his tale of the ashes of paper and pouch found deep in the Tower dungeon? Mr. Lorry notices.
Tea-time, and Miss Pross making tea, with another fit of the jerks upon her, and yet no Hundreds of people. Mr. Carton had lounged in, but he made only Two.
They've been driven indoors by a storm. "The footsteps were incessant, and the hurry of them became more and more rapid. The corner echoed and re-echoed with the tread of feet." They are as if a prophecy, Lucie "imagined them the footsteps of the people who are to come into my life, and my father's."

Book 2: Chapter 7: Monseigneur in Town

Could the Monseigneur be more decadent? His is the classic story of the former rich marrying his family into the newly rich, while despising the son-in-law. The son-in-law is a Farmer-General, which appears to be much like a stock-broker...he invests money in a venture, and receives returns on his holdings. It seems the more meaningless the activities of the nobility, the more it signifies the entitlement of the nobility. Mothers do not mother their babies.
Peasant women kept the unfashionable babies close, and brought them up, and charming grandmammas of sixty dressed and supped as at twenty.
Aha. Dickens is pulling an Aristophanes here, with his Convulsionists and his Dervishes. When the Monseigneur's party is over, the last man to leave sums it up:
"I devote you," said this person, stopping at the last door on his way, and turning in the direction of the sanctuary, "to the Devil!"
This same man, marked by treacherous, cruel nostrils, drove his carriage without care for human life or limb.
With a wild rattle and clatter, and an inhuman abandonment of consideration not easy to be understood in these days, the carriage dashed through streets and swept round corners, with women screaming before it, and men clutching each other and clutching children out of its way.
He kills a child, and tosses a gold coin for the injury while complaining of the injury to his horses.

Defarge gains the notice of the Marquis with his advice to the bereft father. The Marquis tosses him a gold coin. Someone tosses it back. How dare he? And who is there but Madame Defarge, knitting.
The father had long ago taken up his bundle and bidden himself away with it, when the women who had tended the bundle while it lay on the base of the fountain, sat there watching the running of the water and the rolling of the Fancy Ball--when the one woman who had stood conspicuous, knitting, still knitted on with the steadfastness of Fate.
Book 2: Chapter 8: Monseigneur in the Country

The Marquis is absolutely heartless. People beneath him are not people. And Monsieur Charles has arrived from England. Is he a dark one, as I feared?

Book 2: Chapter 9: The Gorgon's Head (more)

OMG Charles Darnay is the nephew of the evilest man so far!

But the uncle wants him imprisoned! It is only his disfavor in the court that keeps the nephew free.

This about sums up their relationship:
"We have so asserted our station, both in the old time and in the modern time also," said the nephew, gloomily, "that I believe our name to be more detested than any name in France."

"Let us hope so," said the uncle. "Detestation of the high is the involuntary homage of the low."
Oh oh oh. Early on, Mr. Lorry spoke of two gentlemen to the young Lucie. One was her father...was the other the father of Charles?

Charles would renounce his heritage...such a noble youth.
"To the eye it is fair enough, here; but seen in its integrity, under the sky, and by the daylight, it is a crumbling tower of waste, mismanagement, extortion, debt, mortgage, oppression, hunger, nakedness, and suffering."
The blood at the fountain in town has followed the Marquis to the country.
...the sun touched the tops of the still trees, and poured its radiance over the hill. In the glow, the water of the chateau fountain seemed to turn to blood, and the stone faces crimsoned.

What winds conveyed this hurry to the grizzled mender of roads, already at work on the hill-top beyond the village, with his day's dinner (not much to carry) lying in a bundle that it was worth no crow's while to peck at, on a heap of stones?

The Gorgon had surveyed the building again in the night, and had added the one stone face wanting; the stone face for which it had waited through about two hundred years.

It lay back on the pillow of Monsieur the Marquis. It was like a fine mask, suddenly startled, made angry, and petrified. Driven home into the heart of the stone figure attached to it, was a knife.
That karmic consequence was swift.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Big Read III: A Tale of Two Cities: Book 2: Ch. 1-5

Book 2: The Golden Thread

Chapter 1: Five Years Later

Once upon a time it was the long-established bank that was the sort of business one trusted. Tellson's was old. Dickens pokes right through the crusty tradition.

In this respect the House was much on a par with the Country; which did very often disinherit its sons for suggesting improvements in laws and customs that had long been highly objectionable, but were only the more respectable.

Cramped in all kinds of dun cupboards and hutches at Tellson's, the oldest of men carried on the business gravely. When they took a young man into Tellson's London house, they hid him somewhere till he was old. They kept him in a dark place, like a cheese, until he had the full Tellson flavour and blue-mould upon him.
I think Dickens liked cheese. He uses cheese a lot in his descriptions. I'm still wondering what the role of the bank is in all this. It's more like they hold birthrights, rather than simply money. Why do they help a girl retrieve her crumbling father in another country, when it sounded like they had no money? Why are the messenger Crutcher's fingers rusty?
"Al-ways rusty! His fingers is al-ways rusty!" muttered young Jerry. "Where does my father get all that iron rust from? He don't get no iron rust here!"
Book 2: Chapter 2: A Sight

Why is a bank sending a messenger to the trial of a traitor? I begin to get the feeling Mr. Lorry is the bank's version of a secret agent. What is the bank's interest in this trial, and in the Manettes? The bank does business in England and in France, yet France is helping the enemy, the colonies, right? Could it be the bank is protecting some shady business?

Book 2: Chapter 3: The Disappointment (continued) (some more) (and more)

Some things don't change: "a buzz arose in the court as if a cloud of great blue-flies were swarming..."

So Mr. Lorry is a witness to the travel of the alleged traitor. Still, what does it matter to the bank what the outcome is? Miss Manette, also a witness. She bursts into tears. "Buzzing from the blue-flies." Dr. Manette is also a witness, but he does not remember the meeting when they were crossing to England. He received sympathetic treatment regarding his incarceration in France. Since Miss Manette as a witness was sympathetic toward the prisoner, and the court sympathetic toward the Doctor, I don't think it helped the State's case. So when the defense produces Mr. Carton, who looks just like the prisoner, another witness's testimony is shattered. The person he saw could have been this man, or another man. Mr. Carton is another character who appears to "see nothing," yet he notices when Miss Manette needs air.
Hastily written on the paper was the word "AQUITTED."

"If you had sent the message, 'Recalled to Life,' again," muttered Jerry, as he turned, "I should have known what you meant, this time."
I thought maybe he was the same messenger avoiding the bullet at the coach to Dover.

Book 2: Chapter 4: Congratulatory

Dr. Manette remembers little of his bad time in France, when he checked out and took up shoemaking. Yet the acquitted man, Charles Darney, sparks this from him:
His face had become frozen, as it were, in a very curious look at Darnay: an intent look, deepening into a frown of dislike and distrust, not even unmixed with fear. With this strange expression on him his thoughts had wandered away.

Mr. Carton and Mr. Darnay toast Miss Manette. Mr. Carton seems a bit envious.
"That's a fair young lady to be pitied by and wept for by! How does it feel? Is it worth being tried for one's life, to be the object of such sympathy and compassion, Mr. Darnay?"
Book 2: Chapter 5: The Jackal

It seems the lawyer could not be who he is without his Mr. Carton. The lion needs the jackal.
It had once been noted at the Bar, that while Mr. Stryver was a glib man, and an unscrupulous, and a ready, and a bold, he had not that faculty of extracting the essence from a heap of statements, which is among the most striking and necessary of the advocate's accomplishments. ...Stryver never had a case in hand, anywhere, but Carton was there, with his hands in his pockets, staring at the ceiling of the court...
Let me think about the jackal. It is thought to be vicious, smart, and a scavenger. It seeks the weakest points of its prey and exploits them. It surrounds and attacks. Alone, it won't be strong enough, but in a pack, watch out. Mr. Carton is locked into his position in life. Even with a glimpse of some lighter world, he can't leave this position as the jackal to his master, the lion.
Waste forces within him, and a desert all around, this man stood still on his way across a silent terrace, and saw for a moment, lying in the wilderness before him, a mirage of honourable ambition, self-denial, and perseverance. In the fair city of this vision, there were airy galleries from which the loves and graces looked upon him, gardens in which the fruits of life hung ripening, waters of Hope that sparkled in his sight. A moment, and it was gone.
Read more over at Bookshelves of Doom.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Big Read III: A Tale of Two Cities: Book 1: Ch 4-6

Book 1: Chapter 4
(The Preparation) (some more) (and some more)

The mildewy inside of the coach, with its damp and dirty straw, its disagreeable smell, and its obscurity, was rather like a larger dog-kennel.
Ahhh the good old days. I wonder, was it much the same in Dickens day? I suppose it was, perhaps worse, as this bio tells me he was born "during the new industrial age."

Like an angel of light the young Miss Manette appears.
As his eyes rested on a short, slight, pretty figure, a quantity of golden hair, a pair of blue eyes that met his own with an inquiring look.... a sudden vivid likeness passed before him, of a child whom he had held in his arms on the passage across that very Channel, one cold time, when the hail drifted heavily and the sea ran high. The likeness passed away, like a breath along the surface of the gaunt pier-glass behind her, on the frame of which, a hospital procession of negro cupids, several headless and all cripples, were offering black baskets of Dead Sea fruit to black divinities of the feminine gender--and he made his formal bow to Miss Manette.
I wondered about the "negro cupids," and I found this from Stanford. If I have time I'll want to go back and look at that for a deeper understanding. According to that, the carvings were "negro" because the material in which they were carved were black, the better to heighten the gothic gloominess surrounding the pure light of Miss Manette.

So the one recalled to life is her father, and the banker's mission is to tell her, and get her to France to bring the man back.

Thanks to TadMack over at Finding Wonderland for sharing the image.

Chapter 5: The Wine-Shop (continued) (some more) (even more)

Ew. Drinking wine from the offal-filled street. Ew. They did that? May I never be so poor. May no one be so poor.

Back in France we meet the woman who knits, the wine-keeper's wife.
Madame Defarge being sensitive to cold, was wrapped in fur, and had a quantity of bright shawl twined about her head, though not to the concealment of her large earrings. Her knitting was before her, but she had laid it down to pick her teeth with a toothpick. Thus engaged, with her right elbow supported by her left hand, Madame Defarge said nothing when her lord came in, but coughed just one grain of cough.
Chapter 6: The Shoemaker (continued) (some more) (yet more)

So just how necessary was the continued locking up of Mr. Manette? His former servant took care of him, yet made a show of him. His dark surroundings, his small cell, making of shoes, were these necessary? This is most slippery for me with my modern sensibility. I know the mad were not treated well by the establishment, but I wonder, what about the common folk. What did they usually do to take care of the mad? More to the point, did Mr. Defarge treat the old man with compassion, or with spite? He certainly willingly helps the foreigners pack for the shoemaker.

Again Miss Manette is the light angel in the darkness. Her golden hair, matching his long-saved treasure, is the thread that pulls the man from his dark world.

Read what others have to say.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Big Read III: A Tale of Two Cities 1-3

A Tale of Two Cities Book the First--Recalled to Life

Chapter 1: The Period

I may not have read this before, but in the West, who doesn't know the first sentence? It is so deeply ingrained in our culture it has been referenced, parodied, paid homage to, probably washed in the laundry or used in a commercial. I seem to recall the calculatedly cold woman knitting has also made the rounds (I wonder when that happens).

I must pay attention to the Woodman as Fate

It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history.
and the Farmer as Death. (I learned a new word.)
It is likely enough that in the rough outhouses of some tillers of the heavy lands adjacent to Paris, there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution. But that Woodman and that Farmer, though they work unceasingly, work silently, and no one heard them as they went about with muffled tread: the rather, forasmuch as to entertain any suspicion that they were awake, was to be atheistical and traitorous.
I don't think I've ever seen stir used as a noun in this way. It could mean 'a slight movement,' or it could mean 'a ferment.' I'm leaning towards ferment.
Environed by them, while the Woodman and the Farmer worked unheeded, those two of the large jaws, and those other two of the plain and the fair faces, trod with stir enough, and carried their divine rights with a high hand.
That phrase fascinates me, "trod with stir enough." I can just imagine the pairs of kings and queens officiously going about their royal business, causing a stir as they trod with stir, while Fate and Death laid plans in spite of them.

Chapter 2: The Mail (cont)

Fear of highwaymen rules the road in this period, and this is a delightfully spooky, tension-filled scene as the mail to Dover is halted by a messenger on a horse. Is the recipient who he says he is, a banker? Why did he give such a cryptic response to the message telling him to wait in Dover? "Recalled to life." Even the messenger thinks it odd.

I find myself reflecting that the modern preference in books for short direct sentences is due not only to Hemingway, but to the ever quicker messages of modern media. Our attention spans are attuned to video shorthand, whereas in Dickens's day, people would linger over their entertainment found in the written word. Of course Dickens could draw our attention to the curling mist, the mysterious message, and drag out the foreshadowing with another scene with the messenger.

Chapter 3: The Night Shadows

This gets more mysterious. The narrator reflects, "A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other." I do often reflect on that. Even those I know, my friends who tell me things, I don't know all there is to know. Their lives are a secret to me as they go about their business separate from me.

The narrator has some secrets...dead neighbor, dead love, dead friend. The passenger on the mail coach, Jarvis Lorry, the man who belongs to Tellson's Bank, he has secrets. He knows the secrets of the bank vaults deep underground. They mix with his apparent task in his half-awake dreams as the mail coach travels on, something about digging someone up who's been buried eighteen years? What's that all about? Recalled to life?

See what others are saying about A Tale of Two Cities over at Bookshelves of Doom.