Monday, February 16, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Read: 1/5/09-2/2/09
Also read for high school English, assuming I finished it, which I don't remember for certain.
LibraryThing tags: Classics, Historical Fiction, French Revolution, SLOBS

I enjoyed this a lot more than when I read it in high school. A mix, perhaps, of not being forced to read it for a grade, and of reading it quickly enough to stay in the mood and to remember what was going on. There were even some moments in the book that I actually loved. Imagine! =)

Dickens was very, very good at description. There are still moments when one wants to throw something at him because he let description slow down the story, but at least it's good description. And sometimes he was so delightfully sarcastic! I had forgotten how sarcastic Dickens could be. As, for example (forgive the length, for I love this one):

“Military officers destitute of military knowledge; naval officers with no idea of a ship; civil officers without a notion of affairs; brazen ecclesiastics, of the worst world worldly, with sensual eyes, loose tongues, and looser lives; all totally unfit for their several callings, all lying horribly in pretending to belong to them, but all nearly or remotely of the order of Monseigneur, and therefore foisted on all public employments from which anything was to be got; these were to be told off by the score and the score… The leprosy of unreality disfigured every human creature in attendance upon Monseigneur… But, the comfort was, that all the company at the grand hotel of Monseigneur were perfectly dressed. If the Day of Judgment had only been ascertained to be a dress day, everybody there would have been eternally correct. Such frizzling and powdering and sticking up of hair, such delicate complexions artificially preserved and mended, such gallant swords to look at, and such delicate honour to the sense of smell, would surely keep anything going, for ever and ever… And who among the company at Monseigneur’s reception in that seventeen hundred and eightieth year of our Lord, could possibly doubt that a system rooted in a frizzled hangman, powdered, gold-laced, pumped, and white-silk stockinged, would see the very stars out!”

I also liked, especially when thinking of Baltar in Battlestar Galactica: “Some of his King’s Bench familiars, who were occasionally parties to the full-bodied wine and the lie, excused him for the latter by saying that he had told it so often, that he believed it himself—which is surely such an incorrigible aggravation of an originally bad offence, as to justify any such offender’s being carried off to some suitably retired spot, and there hanged out of the way.”

“‘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.’”

A philosophy of rule that has certainly been held at times in history. Provides an interesting contrast with Cleopatra’s Heir, in which Octavian is made to say that Cleopatra and Julius Caesar both believed kings could do whatever they wished, and both as a result were directly or indirectly betrayed to their deaths. From what I understand of the historical Caesar Augustus (as opposed to this one in a historical novel), this is probably an accurate portrayal; he may very well have taken warning from what happened to his uncle Julius.
It's interesting to think of such a "modern" and "enlightened" view in antiquity, long before history was forced to swing back to it after the French Revolution.

“‘...there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!’”

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