First one is, we'll be doing a book review today instead of our regular scheduled programming, as I finished A Tale of Two Cities last night.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring special extended edition of the movie is now available for review by email (just use the link on the sidebar) review includes casting, accuracy, language, violence, etc. (No language, well done!) Due to the nature of the film, I strongly encourage you to get a review before you see it. Special features and commentaries not included.
And now to today's book review.
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. ~A Tale of Two Cities
Today, Americans cast their vote for whether God's sovereignty still reigns supreme. Dickens captured---oh sorry, I was joking in the above line. I actually didn't see that this morning's ballot.---Dickens captured our present political concerns brilliantly in his first well-known paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities.
Now I'm holding my head in both hands, trying to find out who's the main character in this book. I have no Esther Summerson to help me out this time.
I give up.
Mr. Lorry, manager of Tellson's Bank for his entire life, escorts young Lucie Manette to Paris to try to restore her mad father to his right state of mind. Unknown to Lucie, her father has been prisoner in the Bastille for 18 long years, though he was never given trial or told the reason, and when Mr. Lorry informs her that he has been found, she is overcome with shock and joy. Doctor Manette is restored, and they return to England where Lucie has grown up, and pass a happy year there.
The story cuts to a courtroom scene, in which we find a young French emigrant, Charles Darnay, on trial for espionage and treachery towards the English government and about to be brutally executed. (English executions at that time were extremely inhumane; I'll spare you the detail, but Dickens won't.) Through a strange twist of evidence, Lucie Manette testifies at his trial, and along with the help of one Sidney Carton, curiously like Darnay in looks, Charles is absolved from his crime. He's a French tutor, in England under a different name from his own, but he often crosses the Channel on delicate and private business in France.
Darnay marries Lucie; all goes smoothly and peacefully for them, though when Darney tells Lucie's father his real name on their marriage morning Doctor Manette relapses for a time into his mad state. Troubles brew across the water; the scum of Paris are rising. When Charles Darney receives a letter from one of his servants imploring for help, he promptly crosses the Channel to rescue him, and is arrested as soon as he sets foot in Paris. An accursed aristocrat, he is sentenced to death. Lucie, Lorry, and Manette follow him. But only one man has the power to extricate him from the clutches of the Republic.
Why was Manette imprisoned in the Bastille? What is Charles Darnay's name? And will they escape the clutches of the people?
Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, or Death.
(But don't expect the Scarlet Pimpernel. Dickens is a master in his own rite.)
I was so wrong. He did.
Please, if you've never read Dickens, start with Great Expectations. But then you'll definitely want to read A Tale. Beautiful characterizations, exquisite satire, empathetic portraits of the times. Oh, my, yes, this is Dickens. He actually liked America in this book---though I wouldn't be surprised to detect a hint of satire in his praise. A tale of father/daughter filiality, love of husband and wife, and the constancy of friends.
This is not your normal historical fiction. The only people he mentions are the King and Queen of England, and the King and Queen of France. The rest are simply characters of his own imagination. Robespierre didn't get so much as a wink. I enjoyed that in this book, actually. The tale was told from the perspective of the middle and lower classes, all their everyday struggles and train of thought, and not gummed up with the nobility's point of view. That's an important perspective to have.
Dickens was not advocating the Revolution; nor was he putting down the nobility. But as he always does, he portrays good and bad in both social scales.
The suspense was non-stop. The story was cohesive without some of the lengthy descriptions he includes in his other books. If you're not used to Dickens' humor style, you probably won't find much in A Tale, but if you read it after some of his other books, you should be able to detect it here and there.
I knew part of the ending, actually, before I began. But though I had an idea of what was going to happen, I didn't know who it was going to happen to. Dickens included pathos and sadness without wringing me out at the ending. It was a gentle slope, and a peaceful conclusion, without the deep breath necessary in, say, The Return of the King.
I edited for language here and there, as usual in his books.
And now, after a long Dickens and Tolkien run, I'm off to find a relaxing book with no traumatic sacrifices, painful partings, or harrowing romance. That's a tall order, but I must have a little recovery time.
Many people today are thinking along Dickens' lines, even though they've never even heard of him. If the right man wins the presidency, they say, we're all going direct to heaven. And if the wrong man wins, then we're going direct the other way. But as in A Tale of Two Cities, right and wrong is not dependant on turning the will of the populace. Evil will always be done in the name of progress. Let us do our best individually to pray and sacrifice, vote and serve, as the Lord our God would have us. On the obedience of one individual can hang the fate of many.
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? ~Micah 6:8
In the best of times, in the worst of times, God is on the throne.