Monday, November 03, 2008

The Big Read III: Tale of Two Cities: Bk 3, Ch 1-4

A Tale of Two Cities I got so busy I had to set aside the Big Read of A Tale of Two Cities. Now another Big Read begins, on Shirley Jackson's The Lottery and Other Stories. So yesterday I finished reading the book, and the funny thing is, now that I've read more, I have less to say.

I appreciated the writing. I appreciated the plot, and could think some more about the two cities. I felt a little distance from the characters...from another time and melodramatic even for me.

More chapter by chapter readers found here: Bookshelves of Doom.

4 of 5 stars


Chapter 1 In Secret

So strangely clouded were these refinements by the prison manners and gloom, so spectral did they become in the inappropriate squalor and misery through which they were seen, that Charles Darnay seemed to stand in a company of the dead. Ghosts all! The ghost of beauty, the ghost of stateliness, the ghost of elegance, the ghost of pride, the ghost of frivolity, the ghost of wit, the ghost of youth, the ghost of age, all waiting their dismissal from the desolate shore, all turning on him eyes that were changed by the death they had died in coming there.
He's a man on a mission, however life-threatening it may be. All else drops away.

Chapter 2: The Grindstone

The Doctor can be the hero now.
My old pain has given me a power that has brought us through the barrier, and gained us news of Charles there, and brought us here. I knew it would be so; I knew I could help Charles out of all danger; I told Lucie so.
The grindstone is horrible gruesome.
My old pain has given me a power that has brought us through the barrier, and gained us news of Charles there, and brought us here. I knew it would be so; I knew I could help Charles out of all danger; I told Lucie so.
Chapter 3: The Shadow

Madame Defarge is cold and unmoved by the oft-loved Lucie. Lucie kisses her knitting hand. Nothing.
There was something in its touch that gave Lucie a check. She stopped in the act of putting the note in her bosom, and, with her hands yet at her neck, looked terrified at Madame Defarge. Madame Defarge met the lifted eyebrows and forehead with a cold, impassive stare.
..."We have borne this a long time," said Madame Defarge, turning her eyes again upon Lucie. "Judge you! Is it likely that the trouble of one wife and mother would be much to us now?"
Chapter 4: Calm in a Storm

What was his weakness is now the Doctor's strength.
For the first time the Doctor felt, now, that his suffering was strength and power. For the first time he felt that in that sharp fire, he had slowly forged the iron which could break the prison door of his daughter's husband, and deliver him.
Chapter 5: The Wood Sawyer

Lucie puts herself in a spot where Charles can see her from prison, daily. The Wood Sawyer greets her daily. This can't be good. Is he crazy?
"I call myself the Samson of the firewood guillotine. See here again! Loo, loo, loo; Loo, loo, loo! And off her head comes! Now, a child. Tickle, tickle; Pickle, pickle! And off its head comes. All the family!"
Chapter 6: Triumph

Charles acquitted again! Two times innocent, two times acquitted. What are the odds?
In wild dreamlike procession, embracing whom they met and pointing him out, they carried him on. Reddening the snowy streets with the prevailing Republican colour, in winding and tramping through them, as they had reddened them below the snow with a deeper dye, they carried him thus into the courtyard of the building where he lived.
Much of the revolutionary action is depicted in a vivid dreamlike way. The waving forest of arms, the Carmagnole dance, the procession...

Chapter 7: A Knock at the Door

Prisoner again!

Chapter 8: A Hand at Cards

Again, what are the odds? Miss Pross' erstwhile brother a cog in the revolutionary machine? Sydney Carton arrives to save the day in only a way such a Fixer could do: he plays a hand, and his hand is so much better than the brother who has been a spy every which way but Sunday. Why has Barsad/Solomon been so central to Charles Darnay's trials? Is he the fickle hand of fate?

Chapter 9: The Game Made

Carton has struck a secret deal with the spy, and goes to mysterious alleys for mysterious goods.
--he stopped at a chemist's shop, which the owner was closing with his own hands. A small, dim, crooked shop, kept in a tortuous, up-hill thoroughfare, by a small, dim, crooked man.

Giving this citizen, too, good night, as he confronted him at his counter, he laid the scrap of paper before him. "Whew!" the chemist whistled softly, as he read it.
Chapter 10: The Substance of the Shadow

The Doctor's letter hidden in One Hundred Five North Tower and retrieved by Defarge serves to condemn Charles Darnay. It tells the tale of his imprisonment by Charles' horrid uncle and father. A girl and her brother defending her honor, dead. The Doctor would not accept the gold. She had a younger sister.

Chapter 11: Dusk

O, look at her, dear Carton! Can you, of all the people who love her, bear to see her so?"

He bent over the child, and laid her blooming cheek against his face. He put her gently from him, and looked at her unconscious mother.

"Before I go," he said, and paused--"I may kiss her?"

It was remembered afterwards that when he bent down and touched her face with his lips, he murmured some words. The child, who was nearest to him, told them afterwards, and told her grandchildren when she was a handsome old lady, that she heard him say, "A life you love."

Carton has a plan.

Chapter 12: Darkness

Carton wants the Defarges to know how he looks like Darnay.
The Doctor has regressed, looks for his shoemaking bench.

Carton knows the family will be targeted next. He has his ways.

Chapter 13: Fifty-Two

Darnay waits for his sure death by writing a letter to Lucie.
showing her that he had known nothing of her father's imprisonment, until he had heard of it from herself, and that he had been as ignorant as she of his father's and uncle's responsibility for that misery, until the paper had been read. He had already explained to her that his concealment from herself of the name he had relinquished, was the one condition--fully intelligible now--that her father had attached to their betrothal, and was the one promise he had still exacted on the morning of their marriage.
Carton implements his plan
The door was quickly opened and closed, and there stood before him face to face, quiet, intent upon him, with the light of a smile on his features, and a cautionary finger on his lip, Sydney Carton.

There was something so bright and remarkable in his look, that, for the first moment, the prisoner misdoubted him to be an apparition of his own imagining. But, he spoke, and it was his voice; he took the prisoner's hand, and it was his real grasp.
He has the prisoner write a note, and drugs him with vapors from the chemicals. There will be no noble protests this way.

A seamstress that knew Charles detects Carton's impersonation. The two develop a bond that only selfless action and impending death could bring about.

Chapter 14: The Knitting Done

Of course Madame Defarge plots the imprisonment of Lucie and her father. The wood-sawyer affirms the 'plots' revealed by Lucie's daily stance outside the prison. Her sychophants are eager for more blood, more numbers. Lucie and the Doctor have fled; Crutcher and Pross are to follow. These two realize greater stealth can be had if they meet somewhere other than their house.

Miss Pross fails to leave before Mme. Defarge arrives. A struggle. A gun goes off. The wicked knitter is dead. She meets Crutcher as planned.
"If she don't hear the roll of those dreadful carts, now very nigh their journey's end," said Mr. Cruncher, glancing over his shoulder, "it's my opinion that indeed she never will hear anything else in this world."

And indeed she never did.
Chapter 15: The Footsteps Die Out Forever

The fifty-two condemned are carried in 6 tumbrils.
Of the riders in the tumbrils, some observe these things, and all things on their last roadside, with an impassive stare; others, with a lingering interest in the ways of life and men. Some, seated with drooping heads, are sunk in silent despair; again, there are some so heedful of their looks that they cast upon the multitude such glances as they have seen in theatres, and in pictures. Several close their eyes, and think, or try to get their straying thoughts together. Only one, and he a miserable creature, of a crazed aspect, is so shattered and made drunk by horror, that he sings, and tries to dance. Not one of the whole number appeals by look or gesture, to the pity of the people.

...The leading curiosity is, to know which is he; he stands at the back of the tumbril with his head bent down, to converse with a mere girl who sits on the side of the cart, and holds his hand. He has no curiosity or care for the scene about him, and always speaks to the girl.

...They said of him, about the city that night, that it was the peacefullest man's face ever beheld there. Many added that he looked sublime and prophetic.

...If he had given any utterance to his, and they were prophetic, they would have
been these:

..."I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. I see her, an old woman, weeping for me on the anniversary of this day. I see her and her husband, their course done, lying side by side in their last earthly bed, and I know that each was not more honoured and held sacred in the other's soul, than I was in the souls of both.

..."It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

Tomorrow, on to Shirley Jackson's first two stories, schedule here. I know nothing. I don't think I've ever read Shirley Jackson.

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