“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death!”

So yesterday I wrote a little bit about my love for A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I feel like I said almost nothing about the book and there’s more I wanted to write about, so this is post 2. This post is mostly about Dickens writing about the French Revolution. I don’t think it really counts as a spoiler for me to say that once the French Revolution portion of the story gets going, the French peasants are going to kill a lot of people and they’re going to do it some really awful ways. That’s just history. I’ll alLibertyLeadingthePeopleso say that once they start doing that stuff, it becomes really difficult not to view them as an extremely unlikable bunch of people, but this is where Dickens is really amazing. He’s spent the earlier part of the book painting such a brutally moving picture of the life of the poor in pre-revolution France that you can totally understand why they end up murdering all these people later in the book. Here’s an example where he’s speaking of the French peasants:

“A people that had undergone a terrible grinding and re-grinding in the mill. . . The mill which had worked them down, was the mill that grinds young people old; the children had ancient faces and grave voices; and upon them, and upon the grown faces, and ploughed into every furrow of age and coming up afresh, was the sign, Hunger. It was prevalent everywhere.”

One of my favorite passages from the book is a description of the frenzy of a crowd of peasants in Paris to collect and drink every drop of wine from a dropped and broken wine cask. They scoop it off the muddy ground, they soak their scarves in it and wring the wine into their mouths, they chew on the broken pieces of the wine cask to suck out all the wine they can. This scene manages to be funny while highlighting the extreme poverty of French peasants before the revolution. It also foreshadows the blood that will eventually stain the streets and people of this neighborhood once the revolution begins.

“A shrill sound of laughter and of amused voices–voices of men, women, and children–resounded in the street while this wine game lasted. . . The wine was red wine, and had stained the ground of the narrow street in the suburb of Saint Antoine, in Paris, where it was spilled. It had stained many hands, too, and many faces, and many naked feet, and many wooden shoes […] One tall joker. . . scrawled upon a wall with his finger dipped in muddy wine—BLOOD. The time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be red upon many there.”

This book manages to make you feel for both the peasants and the aristocrats, even though in the beginning of the story you despise the aristocrat429px-Cruikshank_-_The_Radical's_Armss and by the end you are repulsed by the peasants. It really left me with an intense feeling of the general awfulness of this kind of conflict. Given the horrible way the peasants are treated, I really can’t say they shouldn’t have had their revolution. But then reading about the terrible things that happen to the aristocrats, even if you agree that they deserved to be overthrown, it still made me cry to read about them being sent by the hundreds and thousands to La Guillotine:

“It sheared off heads so many, that it, and the ground it most polluted, were a rotten red. It hushed the eloquent, struck down the powerful, abolished the beautiful and good. Twenty-two friends of high public mark. . . it had lopped the heads off, in one morning, in as many minutes.”

I was going to end this post by talking about the ways in which the tragic costs of revolution seen in A Tale of Two Cities really made me think about the current situation in Syria, but that’s probably a bit heavier than my mom really wants me to get on her blog. And at the end of the day, it’s not really the point of the book. I think it’s more important to say that even though the Revolution is the backdrop for a large part of this book, A Tale of Two Cities is really mostly about love. The love of a father and daughter, of a husband and wife, and of a man who loves a woman he knows he can never have, but who loves her enough to want nothing but happiness for her. I haven’t done the book justice in these two short reviews, but hopefully some of you will still want to read it anyway!

How does a person fall in love with A Tale of Two Cities?

Hi, this is Karen. As my mom said, I’m hoping to write in occasionally with book reviews, so hopefully this first one won’t be so off topic that it gets me kicked off the blog!A Tale of Two Cities

I’m starting with a review of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I know this isn’t the type of book my mom usually reviews on her blog, but she told me I could write about any books I wanted, and I really loved this book. I’d never been particularly interested in reading A Tale of Two Cities because it sounded like kind of a boring book, but wow, was I wrong! This is an amazing story, full of romance, unrequited love, mysterious imprisonment (“Recalled to Life!”), and all the drama and violence of the French Revolution. And lots of sad and terrible and occasionally wonderful things happening to people and being done by them to others. Plus, Dickens has such an amazing gift for words and imagery. I suppose since he’s one of the greats of English literature this shouldn’t surprise me so much.

You might wonder how I ended up reading A Tale of Two Cities in the first place if I thought it was going to be boring. The answer is pretty simple. A guy I had a big crush on loved this book and read me the passage quoted below during one of those marathon nights of conversation where you’re both getting to know each other and pretending to find everything the other person likes to be profoundly interesting. I went and bought the book in a rather transparent attempt to impress him, but now, 3 years later, he’s long gone and I have a book that has a permanent place on my list of favorites. So here’s the first section of A Tale of Two Cities that I ever heard; and even after reading the whole book it’s still a favorite quote of mine:

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of death itself, is referable to this.”

When I first heard this, I struggled with the idea that at the deepest level, even in the closest or most intimate relationships of life, there will always be some ways in which no ever truly knows you, or at least some things that no one ever knows. It seems at first incredibly lonely, to imagine that there will always be parts of yourself, thoughts, opinions, dreams, secret hopes, that are so delicate or dangerous that you never share them with another soul. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it really is true. I’m a big fan of sharing about my life with the people who are close to me, but there are personal doubts and worries that are too personal even for my closest confidants, and sometimes it seems like I might jinx myself or sound foolish if I voice the deepest hopes of desires of my soul. This quote has also altered my perspective somewhat when I interact with other people. As a new person in a new city, I feel like I’m a “profound secret and mystery” to pretty much everyone I meet, and they are certainly a mystery to me. I tend to be a little quick to form opinions about new people I meet, so I find that it’s useful to think of this quote and remember that there’s a lot more to people than the personality that they may present at work or otaleoftwocitiesaudiobookut at a bar or on a first date. People are complicated and I shouldn’t be so quick to think I know or understand them. And even with people I know really well, I shouldn’t assume that they really share everything with me. But I’m getting off topic. . .

This post is getting long and A Tale of Two Cities is a book with lots of plot twists and turns and a ton of great characters, none of which I’ve actually talked about at all. I don’t want this to turn into a book review though, so I guess I’ll just let you read the book to find out about the story. Or if you don’t want to read the book, try listening to the audiobook. I have the version from Audible.com narrated by Simon Vance (really excellent version!). I will warn you though, I listened to this last month while doing mundane things in the lab, and although it made my days go by really fast, there were some sad or touching sections that caused me to cry at my lab bench. Very embarrassing. I had to pretend I was having a terrible allergy attack.

I may write a bit more about this great book tomorrow, so if I got you at least a little interested in this fantastic classic, stay tuned for more tomorrow!