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.

1 comment:

TadMack said...

Hey, glad you like the little Big Read pic I did -- feel free to yank it. I just do random little logos like that for fun.