Saturday, December 31, 2005

Change of plans

Well, I had good intentions... but my father took over the kitchen to create one of his culinary masterpieces, so my Turkish Delight isn't going to happen.

But that's ok... because I have some uisce beatha (gailic for "water of life," a.k.a. whiskey)and a sniffer with which to ring in the New Year, so I probably won't even know what the hell Turkish Delight is come 2006. It's Connemara 12, which I'm inclined to make the official drink of my Book Club.

Cheers! Happy New Year, everyone! Ad multos annos!


I'm too lazy to think of anything original... but, my post from last year on this occassion was one of which I was somewhat proud. Even though there's a lot I'd do to change it, in retrospect. Ah, the curse of being a writer. Anyway, if you're bored, go read a little something about Mary.

Prayer Request

For my brother, Michael.

He is a member of the Army National Guard, and is going to be deployed to Afghanistan for a year. Please keep him in your prayers, as he leaves behind a three-month old son and a young wife.

Friday, December 30, 2005

I'm That Bored...

I decided that to ring in the new year, I'm going to put on my chef's hat and serve up some Rose Champagne with... you guessed it, Turkish Delight.

A couple recipes I found to try:


Makes about 500g (18 oz)
Water - 250 ml (8 fl oz)
Gelatine - 25g (1 oz)
Sugar - 400g (14 oz)
Citric acid - ¼ tsp
Vanilla essence - ½ tsp
Triple-strength rose water - 2 tsp
Pink food colouring - few drops, optional
Icing sugar - 50g (2 oz)
Cornflour - 25g (1 oz)

Place the water in a large saucepan and sprinkle the gelatine on to the liquid. Set aside until the gelatine is spongy. Add the sugar and citric acid, place the pan over a gentle heat and stir constantly until dissolved. Bring the mixture to the boil and boil for 20 minutes without stirring. Remove from the heat and allow to stand for 10 minutes.
Stir in the vanilla essence, rose water and colouring if used. Pour into a wetted 15 cm (6 inch) square baking tin. Leave uncovered in a cool place for 24 hours.
Sift the icing sugar and cornflour together on to a sheet of greaseproof paper. Turn the Turkish delight on to the paper and cut into squares using a sharp knife dipped in the icing sugar mixture. Toss well in the mixture, so that all the sides are coated. Pack in airtight containers lined with waxed paper and dusted with the remaining icing sugar and cornflour.


And from the never-fail Wikipedia:
2 c sugar
1/2 c cornstarch
1 1/2 c water
1/2 ts cream of tartar
2 tb rosewater OR one of the following to taste:
1/2 ts rose food flavoring
1/4 c fruit juice
1 tb vanilla extract
1 tb orange extract
1 tb Creme de menthe liqueur
Food coloring (optional)
1/2 c chopped toasted pistachios or almonds (optional)
confectioner's sugar, granulated sugar, or desiccated coconut for dusting

*1 c equals 250 ml

Combine sugar, 1 c water, cream of tartar, and flavoring(s) in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. In a separate bowl, combine cornstarch with remaining water, mix completely, and slowly stir into sugar mixture. Boil over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes, until the mixture reaches "Firm-ball stage," or 245ºF (120ºC) on a candy thermometer. Apply non-stick cooking spray to a form (ice cube trays will do nicely), shallow pie pan, or jelly-roll pan. Pour the hot mixture into the pan or form and allow to set. When cool, release from form or cut into cubes as applicable and roll each piece in powdered sugar, granulated sugar, or coconut.

Store at room temperature in airtight container.

Note: with the exception of the sugar, cornstarch, water, cream of tartar, and cooking technique, this recipe may be greatly altered according to taste and/or occasion.

Is Anyone Else Freakin' Out?

Blizzards in England, wildfires in the American southwest, deluge and landsliding on the left coast... and now this: a tropical storm radically breaking rules. It's a little freaky...

Yet... in light of this, I don't know how surprised I'd be if it were the end times...

Warning: there's nothing to call the trailer of that film if not "offensive," so watch at your own risk.

Book the Second - Chap. 7-13

This section of Book the Second: The Golden Thread is the beginning of the real rising action of the novel. Things start to get kind of confusing, so stay with it. I have no general commentary, simply discussion points. I will also be going back and adding some material to the previous two discussions, such as my own answers to the questions I posed. This added material will be in red.

So check out discussions one and two. (Be sure to reload pages)

Discussion Points/Questions

Chapter Seven

1) Comment on the following quote from the text:
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.
Dickens was always a "social writer." Even though he's going to present the revolution in France as a horrible reality, he also exposes the dispicable society that caused it.

Chapter Eight

1) Who was hiding beneath the cart of Marquis d'Evremonde? The "tall man" from Saint-Antoine.

2) What - other than establishing the fact of a stowaway - is the point of this chapter? To show the relationship of the Marquis d'Evremonde and the peasants in his precinct.

Chapter Nine

1) What do you make of Marquis d'Evremonde's sinister reference to Doctor Manette and his daughter? (p. 130) The fact that the Marquis knows about these two strikes a chord. It's not really foreshadowing, per se but a hint of what's to come.

2) Who murdered the Marquis? The "tall man" from Saint-Antoine.

3) The passage in which Dickens speaks of the Marquis' death is brilliantly constructed, and worth a second look: the three hours of darkness; the sunrise painting stone faces the color of blood; and this passage:
The carol of the birds was loud and high, and, on the weather-beaten sill of the great window of the bed-chamber of Monsieur the Marquis, one little bird sang its sweetest song with all its might. At this, the nearest stone face seemed to stare amazed, and, with open mouth and dropped under-jaw, looked awe-stricken.
The "nearest stone face" is the amazed face of the murdered Marquis himself. It truly is an excellently written and very exciting scene. Amen.

Chapter Ten

1) The chapter's title is "The Two Promises"... what are they? The first promise is Manette's to Darnay - that he testify to Darnay's sincerity if asked by Lucie. The second, more important, is Darnay's - that he will tell M. Manette his real name at a time of the latter's choosing (Darnay's wedding day).

2) What do you think is the meaning of the following words, spoken by Doctor Manette?
If there were- Charles Darnay, if there were... any fancies, any reasons, any apprehensions, anything whatsoever, new or old, against the man she really loved- the direct responsibility thereof not lying on his head- they should all be obliterated for her sake.
Tying in with the allusion made by the Marquis earlier, it can only mean that somehow Darnay's appearance - and last name, which Manette suspects - remind him of his time in France.

3) What did Lucie hear in Doctor Manette's chamber? (p. 140-141) He might have been making shoes again.

Chapter Eleven

Open for discussion. Dickens continues to pull at the reader's heartstrings through the unlikely character of Sydney Carton...

Chapter Twelve

1) The chapter's title is "The Fellow of Delicacy"... to whom does this refer? Explain. The true fellow of delicacy is Mr. Lorry. The way in which he controls - and allows to rise - his temper, and his plan for investigating whether Stryver's proposal will be well-recieved, are all very refined and delicate. Dickens portrays him as a true gentleman, the foil to types like Stryver, and a truly feeling man despite his protestations that he is only concerned with matters of "business."

Chapter Thirteen

An emotional chapter, please feel free to comment on how this one made you feel.

1) There seems to be a finality to this chapter. It has a note of doom to it. Why do you think that is? What do you make of Sydney Carton's "last supplication"? Hints: Suffice to say that this chapter is very important. Syndey Carton speaks of his life as something that "might have been." He says that between he and Lucie there is "an impassible space." The central themes of the novel have come to a head in him - but Lucie is there to try to shine light upon his darkness. His last supplication is to Lucie, to remember that "For you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything... [to know that] there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you."

Carton professes a Christ-like love. This theme of love, in contrast to the other themes of the novel, as a possible answer to those themes, begins to develop more clearly in the next section. Two things are important to note: Dickens makes the conflict between death and life, isolation and love the underlying thrust of the entire book's action and microcosms the whole scheme in the lives of individual characters, but only in certain aspects. In only one character does Dickens seem to bring all of the larger conflicts to bear together - that character is Sydney Carton.


Logical fallacy? I think not...

Over at Mark Shea's blog, he gets slammed in the combox for equating Mike Schiavo with Dr. Death.

But I'm with Mark on this one. After all, it's Mike beloved attorney making news for plans of a "death cruise."

The commenter argues that Jack Kevorkian's support for "classic" euthenasia doesn't relate with Mike Schiavo's support for the lite version. And to some extent, that's true, ideologically. But Mark's comparison between the two was not a straight line, but traingular, via the Democratic Party (insert Star Wars Imperial Theme here). And, as such, the comparison is fair. The three are bedfellows, and just because Slick Willy and his hairbrained wife lie in the middle as a bit of a buffer between Dr. Death and Mike Schiavo, their various agendas all have a common thread of perpetuating the culture of death, denegrading the value of human life, and challenging the dignity of the human person.

From even the slightest metaphysical worldview, it becomes apparent that condoms in school bathrooms have more to do with nursing home abuse and late term abortion than the advocates/defenders of either three would ever acknowledge. And that makes sense, really. Because demonic powers want to remain hidden and unnamed - once called for what they are, their power diminishes and they run the risk of being exorcised.

Cheers to people like Mark who dare to connect the dots of the devil's work. It's treacherous work, placing one in danger of being stampeded by the cavalry of self-styled logicians riding the Democratic donkey. But with another election season coming, it's important to call spades spades, whatever the risk.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Apologia pro... er... book club... sua.

Why start a book club? One may well ask. And it's a good question. Well, here is the reason. Granted, I wasn't aware of this list when I started the club, but I was aware of the trends represented by the "readers picks." Our culture has become so literally stupid - literally - that Ayn Rand and L. Ron Hubbard are found to have authored seven of the ten best novels of the century: an athiestic, minarchist philosopher with a talent for writing, Rand at least deserves a place in the list, granted... but Hubbard? He was a hack! In every way! I'd rather read a cereal box...

James Joyce gets seat number eleven?! He's the finest prose stylist who ever lived. I'd hardly stop short of physically fighting to defend that position. The man was an untouchable genius!

At least RandomHouse had somewhat better sense. At least the names at the top of their list are significantly noteworthy (although I personally feel that neither Lawrence, Koestler, or Huxley are quite as noteworthy as their position would indicate - still, they would only fall about a decade if anything, not completely off the list). Yet, the lower area of their list begins to show a little more politically-correct-mindedness than I think honest literary scholarship can afford.

I'll allow that the names on the "readers list" are those most familiar to our culture; but while Ayn Rand, L. Ron Hubbard, Toni Morrison, Steven King and even J.R.R. Tolkien are indeed deserving of special attention from a certain point of view, they do not represent the literary apex of the last century. Many of their writings may be around for a long time to come; many are in fact classics in their own right; and many are mentionable even more so for their social impact and prestige. Many, like Tolkien, are made "great" by their exalted message and profound communication of truth. But, when it comes down to it, novel writing is an art, a disciplined art like any other requiring great technical skill. Only rare geniuses master this art. Others may be geniuses in their own right and for their own reasons - their philosophy, their philology, or what have you - but when these geniuses write a novel imbued with the art of their own discipline, that does not make the novel a great novel, per se. Thus, even Tolkien, whom I love, while he wrote a great book and must be labeled a genius, ought not to be regarded necessarily as a great novelist.

The "readers list" was probably voted on by people who, sadly, have not even encountered the names that should populate such an inventory. Since it is such a battle simply to get students today to read, there is less of a focus on the value of what they read than there is on the fact that they do it at all. Hence the absence of Joyce, James, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Dreiser, Waugh, Conrad, Hemingway from that list... hence the presence of their names on my blog, and my goal of running a book club for the appreciation and proliferation of truly great literature.


And this too...

You're Ulysses!
by James Joyce

Most people are convinced that you don't make any sense, but compared to what else you could say, what you're saying now makes tons of sense. What people do understand about you is your vulgarity, which has convinced people that you are at once brilliant and repugnant. Meanwhile you are content to wander around aimlessly, taking in the sights and sounds of the city. What you see is vast, almost limitless, and brings you additional fame. When no one is looking, you dream of being a Greek folk hero.

Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

I was bored, so...

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Blogroll Updates...

Since I'm home and reading a bit more on the blog circuit, I'm ready to start maintaining the blogroll a little bit. A couple deletions, a couple additions.

For now, welcome to The Inn at the End of the World and Dappled Things (which I've read for quite a while, anyway).

More to come.

BOOK CLUB - Character Listing

As the characters become more complex and interwoven, I thought it might be good to make a list, to be updated as I read the novel, to keep the characters straight. Hopefully it is of help. CHECK BACK FOR UPDATES!

NB: French abbreviations:

Monsieur - M. - English: Mister
Madame- Mme. - English: Ms. or Mrs.
Mademoiselle - Mlle. - English: Miss

Mr. Jarvis Lorry (Alias: none)

         An elderly bachelor (appx. 60 yrs) in the employ of Tellson's Bank, between London and Paris. While a business-minded fellow, his heart is softer and better than he makes it out to be. He is friend to Doctor and Miss Manette, and his footman is Jerry Cruncher.

Dr. Manette (Alias: M. Manette)

         An elderly man (appx. 60 yrs) who was imprisoned for 18 years in France due to circumstances which are revealed gradually in the course of the novel. He survives his wife, who died during his captivity, and after his release lives with his daughter, Miss Lucie Manette in London. They are friends with Mr. Lorry, aquainted with Mr. Darnay and Mr. Carton, and are served by Miss Pross.

Miss Lucie Manette (Alias: Mlle. Manette)

         "A golden-haired doll," the beautiful and loyal daughter of Doctor Manette, whose striking beauty captures the attention of both Mr. Darnay and Mr. Carton. Her faithful maidservant is Miss Pross, who raised her after her mother's death.

Mr. Charles Darnay (Alias: M. Charles; M. d'Evremonde)

         Introduced on trial for treason, it comes out later (Book Two, Chapter Nine) that Darnay is a French aristocrat by birth, the son of the once-Marquis d'Evremonde, now dead. Darnay promised his mother on her death bed to make amends for his father's wicked ways; he is inhibited, however, by his uncle - his father's twin - the new Marquis d'Evremonde, who is a tyranical French lord.

Mr. Syndney Carton (Alias: none)

         An alchoholic jackal in the British court, Carton is a pitiable and weakwilled man who lacks ambition and spends his life in a type of servitude to others for no reason other than his own apathy. Dickens paints him as the most complex, confusing, and interesting character of the novel when he is introduced in the first part of Book Two. Carton bears a striking resemblance to Charles Darnay.

M. Marquis d'Evremonde (Alias: none)

         A French lord, called Monseigneur by his subjects, he is the twin brother of Charles Darnay's deceased father, and the current executor of the Evremonde estate. He is a heartless and wicked man, much like Darnay's father had been, who hardly thinks twice when his carriage runs over a small boy near M. Defarge's wineshop in Saint-Antoine. The boy's father, however, a "tall man," does not forget as easily...

Gabelle (Alias: none)

         One of the Marquis' subjects, he is often forced to carry out orders on behalf of Monseigneur, such as collecting taxes, which can be unpopular among the other peasantry.

M. Defarge (Alias: Jacques)

         M. Defarge is a wineshop owner in Saint-Antoine, and a powerful influence among his fellow poor citizens. He was once in the employment of Dr. Manette before the latter's imprisonment; it is from his care that the old man is taken back to England after his release. Defarge had previously been "showing" the old Doctor to some fellow peasants, for undisclosed purposes, all of whom went by the name Jacques, for undisclosed reason.

Mme. Defarge (Alias: none)

         An enigmatic woman, Dickens says she "sees nothing," an ironic allusion to the fact that she appears to be consumed in her knitting but perceives everything around her, with a depth and precision unmatched by anyone, even her husband. Her constant knitting is a symbol for the mechanism of her mind, which is forever spinning plots and advices to plant in the ear of M. Defarge.

Miss Pross (Alias: none)

         The Manette's faithful housekeeper, equally dependable for providing comic relief.

Mr. Jerry Cruncher (Alias: none)

         A mysterious figure with an unmentionable nightlife, he serves as a messenger for Tellson's bank. His wife prays against his dark doings, which his son, Jerry Jr., is always trying to uncover.


Book Club - note on text

To anyone who is actually reading this novel (why do I feel I'm the only one?):

Please note that in Chapter 7 of Book Two, the character Monseigneur is simply a French noble lord. The Monsieur de Marquis is, in Chapter 8, also called "Monseigneur" in his own province outside the city. They are two different people, so don't get confused.


A Note on Commenting...

Anonymous comments are subject to review and will be deleted if they are found to be infelicitous, gratuitous, or otherwise unrelated to any discussion taking place. Notwithstanding the fact that I understand I am easily found an object for infatuition; however, it's rather evident that my anonymous admirer requires a parent to buy most movie tickets... and we just can't have that.

Future folderol and balderdash shall be expunged.

I know... look them up.

Here endeth the lesson.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

"7th Heaven meets Desperate Housewives."

Such is the description that AP reporter Frazier Moore gives to a new comedic drama coming to NBC. Get the full story here.

The show, called The Book of Daniel, is about an Episcopalian "priest" and his troubled family - a gay son, an addict daughter, a hornball son, a drunk wife, and a son dead of lukemia. The minister pops pills to deal with his problems, and apparently has conversations with Jesus Christ in the flesh, "a loving, good-humored comrade whose robes-and-beard style stands apart in the starchy, posh suburb just outside New York City where 'Book of Daniel' is set."


I'm not sure which is more worthy of ridicule: the show or the news article. Moore calls the show "The gospel according to Jack Kenny", the show's creator:
A gay man raised in the Catholic Church, [who] says he drew on the Wasp-y, emotionally guarded family of his life partner.
There's a resounding endorsement. That should allay any fears about whether the show will be offensive to people of any religious bent, or even bent religion. But Moore anticipates that question in his interview with Aidan Quinn, the show's star. Quinn says the show is just about everyday folk. After all, men of the cloth can have everyday folk problems, right? Well, the answer is yes, and that's one reason they shouldn't get married, but I digress...

Kenny, whose relationship with life-partner Michael was the fathering force behind the show, claims that it's not about religion; it's about people. I imagine that G.K. Chesterton would pounce upon such a statement and point out that anything about people will be about religion because people are about religion and religion about people. But that's beside the point: you can't have Jesus Christ personified as a character in a television series (about a person in a ministerial role whose publicity photo features gothic vestments and architecture and men standing around b.s.'ing in cassock and surplice) and claim that such a series is not about religion.

"The fact that Daniel is a priest is secondary. The church is the backdrop. This is no more about religion than 'Six Feet Under' was about mortuaries." Now if the article were written by a cynical person like me, I might take this to be a roundabout statment about the nature of the Anglican orders compared with other "careers" and the ministerial priesthood of the Church; but I don't think I'm rash to assume that neither Kenny nor Moore have read Apostolicae Curae.

If I seem irritated, it's just out of perplexity. I'm not a conspiracy theorist or anything... but it's strange to see how Hollywood kind of cycles. "Narnia" is storming theaters, but Aslan's roar may not be enough to crack "The Divinci Code." "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" is available to come into people's homes and shine a positive light on a priest in a movie, for once; but maybe upon switching off the DVD, viewers will find Father Daniel giving approbation to his gay son after a long, 39 minute internal conflict about the matter. We only ever hear right-wingers and religious people speaking about the "cultural war," but it seems that the other side, although not acknowledging the war, is very calculated in its plans and counterstrikes...

Book the Second - Chap. 1-6

Joe's Two Cents

The first four chapters of Book the Second - The Golden Thread are loaded with comedy. Despite the serious nature of the plot - a man on trial for treason: a crime punishable by torture on the rack, death by strangling, and quartering of the corpse - Dickens tells the story of Charles Darnay's trial with his tongue as deeply embedded in his cheek as ever. From the opening pages where he describes Tellson's bank as "the triumphant perfection of inconvenience," and its tellers, "any one of [whom] would have disinherited his son over the question of rebuilding Tellson's," Dickens is as sarcastic and droll as in any of his most lighthearted work.

The courtroom scene is one of my favorites in the whole book, for Dickens' merciless treatment of the British legal system, which he regarded as brutal and barbarous. Particularly during the remarks of the prosecution does Dickens use humor to ridicule the not-so-proud history of Britain's court:
Silence in the court! Charles Darnay had yesterday pleaded not guilty to an indictment denouncing him (with infinite jingle and jangle) for that he was a false traitor to our serene, illustrious, excellent, and so forth, prince, our Lord the King, by reason of his having, on divers occasions, and by divers means and ways, assisted Lewis, the French King, in his wars against our said serene, illustrious, excellent, and so forth; that was to say, by coming and going, between the dominions of our said serene, illustrious, excellent, and so forth, and those of the said French Lewis, and wickedly, falsely, traitorously, and otherwise evil-adverbiously, revealing to the said French Lewis what forces our said serene, illustrious, excellent, and so forth, had in preparation to send to Canada and North America.
The closing remarks of the prosecution are no less amusing:
That, for these reasons, the jury, being a loyal jury (as he knew they were), and being a responsible jury (as they knew they were), must positively find the prisoner guilty, and make an end of him, whether they liked it or not. That they never could lay their heads upon their pillows; that they never could tolerate the idea of their wives laying their heads upon their pillows; that they could never endure the notion of their children laying their heads upon their pillows; in short, that there never more could be, for them or theirs, any laying of heads upon pillows at all, unless the prisoner's head was taken off.
As the opening section of Book the Second slows considerably in terms of pace, compared with Book the First, I think it important to relish such comedic elements and good writing in this section, which more than make up for the slightly weaker plot. Dickens is, after all, simply setting up the fury of action that is to follow. In fact, the entire first book may be regarded as a prelude, and these first six chapters as an introduction proper in the whole scheme of the novel (hence the symbolism of a breaking storm and impending footsteps in chapter six - but more of that later.) So, whereas Dickensonian structure was my focus in the last part, I think Dickensonian comedy (closely linked to his style of writing - with all of its parenthetical statments - which I have, if you have not noticed, been imitating in this very post) is in my opinion the gem of the first parts of Book the Second - The Golden Thread.

Discussion Points/Questions


Book the Second is subtitled "The Golden Thread." What, or who, is the Golden Thread? (Hint: the answer is in the section we read) The answer given, please comment upon it. See comment box - Chris got this one.

Chapter One

1) Jerry Cruncher's boots are not dirty when he comes home from work at Tellson's, but are always dirty when he wakes up each morning; his wife is said to be "praying against" his "work"; he is insistent upon his being regarded as "an honest tradesman"; and later, Dickens notes that Jerry always has iron rust on his fingers. What's up with Jerry Cruncher?

Bonus: When a writer like Charles Dickens repeats a theme or symbol, or brings a conversation topic up multiple times, you can be assured that it is not by mistake. In the section we read, Dickens repeats a theme with Jerry Cruncher from Book the First. Did anyone catch what it was, or what it might mean?

The answer is coming in our fourth discussion... STAY TUNED!

Chapter Two

1) The mirror above Darnay's head comes up a few times in this and following chapters. Significantly, at one point (in chapter three) Darnay and his own real life "reflection" - the look-alike Sydney Carton - are reflected in the mirror together. Any ideas about the symbolism of this mirror in the dock?

No answers, but a hint... once the mirror captures an image, it is like a doom-sayer, a call from another world. Darnay escapes that call... for the time being...

Chapter Three through Five

Imprimis: In three chapters, Syndney Carton becomes the most complex and most developed of Dickens characters in the novel thus far. This is significant. If you missed it, you might want to go back and reread these three chapters with that consideration in mind.

Research note: A "jackal" is a term unfamiliar to us. It means a person who does menial tasks for another person. Carton is described as such a one, even from early age (see p. 95).

1) Contrasting the personality of Mr. Stryver to Mr. Carton's, what do you think about the two men's last names?

Stryver Or, if you will, Striver. That is, one who strives. Stryver is constantly "shouldering his way" through the world, striving to get ahead and on top.

Carton: A closed box, letting nothing in or out. Carton is sealed and resigned to his fate, going nowhere, isolated from the world, like Scrooge "solitary as an oyster."

2) Mr. Carton is portrayed as rather loathesome. Yet, again, Dickens painstakingly shapes him as the most defined character so far. Before commenting upon Mr. Carton's personality, and your impression of him, reconsider this paragraph, second to last in chapter five, "The Jackal." Note the descriptive words.
Waste forces within him, and a desert all around, this man stood still on his way across a silent terrace, and saw for a moment, lying in the wilderness before him, a mirage of honourable ambition, self-denial, and perseverance. In the fair city of this vision, there were airy galleries from which the loves and graces looked upon him, gardens in which the fruits of life hung ripening, waters of Hope that sparkled in his sight. A moment, and it was gone. Climbing to a high chamber in a well of houses, he threw himself down in his clothes on a neglected bed, and its pillow was wet with wasted tears.

Chapter Six

Imprimis: This is probably the most difficult chapter so far...

There is much foreshadowing in this chapter. No discussion questions, but a few individual things to consider from the reading:

Carton might seem, to a reader, out of place showing up at the Doctor's house... Miss Pross is given to a certain kind of motherly intuition, and this is made much of, yet her observation about "hundreds of people" coming into Lucie's life is obviously an exaggeration... At the end of the chapter, Lucie, Doctor Manette, Mr. Carton, and Mr. Darnay are described at the window watching the storm break, but Mr. Lorry is left out of the description...

Are these inconsistancies, or deliberate?
Make note of them... you'll find out later.

No inconsistancies, I promise you. Dickens deliberately leaves Lorry out and takes a risk by putting Carton in the home before shaping his relationship with the Manette's later on. The reason for this omission, and this placement, is that Dickens wants to place the main four characters of the book in the scene right before the storm breaks and the real action of the book begins. Brilliant!


Monday, December 26, 2005

Nota Bene...

Over on the right hand side of the page, I have installed quicklinks to sections of the Book Club discussion. This informational note is superfluous, I know... its real aim is to inspire guilt and shame in those who have not yet posted...

Saturday, December 24, 2005


A Child of the Snows
by G.K. Chesterton

There is heard a hymn when the panes are dim,

        And never before or again,
When the nights are strong with a darkness long,
        And the dark is alive with rain.

Never we know but in sleet and in snow,

        The place where the great fires are,
That the midst of the earth is a raging mirth
        And the heart of the earth a star.

And at night we win to the ancient inn

        Where the child in the frost is furled,
We follow the feet where all souls meet
        At the inn at the end of the world.

The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,

        For the flame of the sun is flown,
The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,
        And a Child comes forth alone.

Vatican Aide: Gregorian Chant Must Be Recovered

Zenit has an interview with the President of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in which he gives some very interesting insights. Check it out.

Among my favorite quotes are:
I think that new musical products, in the majority of cases, have not learned or have not been able to root themselves in the tradition of the Church, thus dragging in a general impoverishment.
A Vatican body is needed that would directly oversee the matters of sacred music.

Speaking of the technical difficulty of some chant, Msgr. Miserachs' answer serves as a good dictum for approaching even other, newer liturgical music:
In liturgical chant the assembly does not have to be the only protagonist. A certain order must be kept. The people should sing their part and the rest should be done by the choir, the chanter, the psalmist and obviously the celebrant.
Monsignor allowed that other liturgical music is acceptable insofar as it grows from the legitimate tradition of the church. Remarkable was the phrasing which he used to describe this condition: he spoke of such music as being "worthy of being beside the Gregorian repertoire."

In related news, I'm going to try to slip in the Alma Redemptoris Mater at Midnight Mass... Saint Cecilia, pray for me!


Book the First - all chapters

Joe's Two Cents

Dickensonian. It's an adjective, and a good one at that. A good one because it encapsulates in a word an idea or condition altogether unique: it describes something relating to what or how Charles Dickens wrote. Like other adjectives, the word carries the full burden of its own meaning, and all one can do in order to define it is to exemplify. If a person were to ask what "red" was, or "fluffy," one would need reply "that is" or "this." Such with "Dickensonian." How to inform someone what the word means when asked, except to hand him A Tale of Two Cities, and tell him to read the first paragraph.

The first paragraph is a single sentence - 11 lines, 120 words, 500 letters of the most memorable prose ever written. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." It's an important sentence. It contains a profound philosophy of man and lays out a program for the entire story that follows. It is grandiose, yet quaint; serious, yet with tongue in cheek; highminded, yet whimsical; it's very Dickensonian.

I love this paragraph. I'd say that I would give my right arm to write like that... but without my right arm I wouldn't write much at all. This observation encapsulates my only "personal" reflection on this first book of the novel: Dickens is a master craftsman of prose, not quite the best, but far above most others who have set pen to page. I'd encourage anyone reading the novel to keep an eye and ear open to its Dickensonian character. The poetical rhythm of the words, the constant punning, the onomatopoeia, all the various symbols, and above all the unique voice which speaks so directly and yet somehow does not overshadow the action it describes. It's truly brilliant, and only such a powerful plot as this book has can make the sheer style of the novel slip so easily into the background.

Discussion Points/Questions

Chapter One

1) Most novels begin quite narrowly, in media res: if they have a grander scope, it somehow blossoms as the novel progresses. Dickens daringly begins this novel quite broadly, with questions of great moral and philosophical import. What do you think of Dicken's straightforward assertion in this opening chapter that the work which follows will be a microcosmic inquiry into the most fundamental problems of man's condition? Is it offputting? Intriguing? ... Catholic?

I think Dickens was primarily concerned with deeper realities of man, and wanted his readers to view his present endeavor with an open mind, searching beyond the entertaining plot for its many and various implications.

Chapter Two

1) Is there anything symbolic about the way in which Dickens introduces his characters in the beginning of this novel?

Dickens seems to focus in on his characters as though from a telescope. He starts with a wide view, and then "zooms" in. This holds true throughout the novel (see, for example, his introduction of Darnay on trial, or his re-introduction of Jerry Cruncher in book two). This accomplishes two things: first, by taking an "objective" writing point-of-view, he prevents readers' preconceptions getting in the way until after he describes a person as they are really to be found; and second, it gives his characters a one-among-many universality - they are a face in a crowd, and could be any one of the people his readers meet on a daily basis.

2) Why does Dickens seem so interested in petty theivery and piracy on the roads? What do they have to do with the French Revolution?

Sin has metaphysical implications. Evil begets evil.

3) Why might Jerry be worried by the prospect of people being "recalled to life"?


Chapter Three

1) What connections are there between the opening part of this chapter (about individuals' alientation from one another) and the first chapter?

In the opening of the book, Dickens speaks about how a king and a peasant are the same in the fact of their individual secretness from any other person. People's alienation, and the way that love bridges that gap, is a central theme of the novel, which Dickens approaches on individual and national levels.

2) Dickens is great at creating ghostly atmospheres. Discuss.

Chapter Four

1) Isn't the nursemaid lady at the end of the chapter halarious? Cockney characters are always great for a laugh. I love her.

Chapter Five

1) The suburb of Paris where this chapter takes place is Saint-Antoine - any symbolism?Saint Anthony was a hermit, and also fasted extremely. The book is about alienation caused by man's indifference to man, and the universal hunger for love. The "scarecrows" of Saint-Antoine, like the Saint himself, are omens against such indifference.

2) Page 39 - Dickens speaks of the poor citizens as scarecrows being blown by the winds of change in France. Who are the birds to whom he refers? Ibid.

3) What is significant about Dickens' introductory descriptions of Mdm. Defarge on page 40-41? More of this later.

Chapter Six

Open for any discussion. Anyone like Lorry better than earlier in the book?


Merry Christmas, everyone. Enjoy your reading!


Friday, December 23, 2005


Just a brief note about how the book club discussions will run. Tomorrow, Christmas Eve, is the first "due date" for our group reading of A Tale of Two Cities. Tomorrow, and on all subsequent dates by which sections are to have been read, I will post some discussion points and questions about the given section of the book, as well as some of my own personal thoughts, observations. Then, the comment box can be used as a forum for discussions, taking my questions as starting points, or new threads begun by other members/readers. We'll keep it informal, conversational, etc. If you are beginning a new thread, or are responding to one of my own questions, please "title" your response as such; then, when others reply or follow up on these posts, they can use a RE:VARIABLE TITLE heading for their own posts.

Hopefully that's clear to everyone...


Just to annoy certain people...

I would like everyone to go read this post by Jeanetta, which tackles an issue that has been of some annoyance to me lately, as well.

And this quote, just to confuse you as to where I stand on the issue...
If a man called Christmas Day a mere hypocritical excuse for drunkeness and gluttony, that would be false, but it would have a fact hidden in it somewhere. But when Bernard Shaw says that Christmas Day is only a conspiracy kept up by Poulterers and wine merchants from strictly business motives, then he says something which is not so much false as startling and arrestingly foolish. He might as well say that the two sexes were invented by jewellers who wanted to sell wedding rings.
G.K. Chesterton
Adieu... and Salutary Solstice!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Papal Speak

Today's Vatican Information Service has a couple of interesting articles about some comments that Pope Benedict XVI has made in the past couple of days. In the first, it quotes the Holy Father's speech to the Sistine Choir after their concert on Monday:
Indeed, praise of God calls for song. For this reason, your contribution is essential to the liturgy; it is not some marginal adornment, quite the contrary, the liturgy requires this beauty, it needs song in order to praise God and to bring joy to the participants.

I would like to thank you with all my heart. The liturgy of the Pope, the liturgy of St. Peter, must be an exemplary liturgy for the world. You know that today, through television and radio, many people all over the world follow this liturgy; from here they learn ... what the liturgy is and how it must be celebrated. That is why it is so important, not only that our masters of ceremonies show the Pope how to celebrate the liturgy well, but also that the Sistine Chapel should be an example of the beauty of song in praise of God.
The second story consists of Benedict's words to the Roman Curia, in which he said some great things about John Paul II and some even more profound things about Vatican II. In a nutshell, he focused on how a valid interpretation of the council's words, which has been wanting in the years since, particularly those immediately following the council, can answer many of the perennial questions the Church confronts in the modern world.

The Pope's unofficial "programme" of renewal and reform that many speculators and pundits have been predicating of him seems to be taking shape, although not quite as radically as many predicted after his election. The words are certainly thought provoking and inspiring, though; it seems that once every week or two, Pope Benedict makes a speech or gives a homily that just hits me like a breath of fresh air. I must say I'm very excited to read the encylical when it is released next month.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Recalled to Life


I know I’ve been away for a little while, but I feel that this return to the blogosphere will be a particularly triumphant one, because I have a new zany scheme to unveil: I’m starting a BOOK CLUB!!!

A few other seminarians and I – and anyone else who would like to join in – will be using Veritatis Visio as a locus for discussion while we read together, over Christmas break, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. We will be reading the Signet Classic edition of the book, which has been marked in publication, into sections indicating Dickens’ original serial segmentation. The major of these divisions split the book into eight nearly equal sections, so I have schedule eight minor deadlines as indicated below for the completion of the entire novel by mid-January. I will be posting on the due date for each of the sections with my own observations and notes from my reading journal, and hopefully others will log on and comment and facilitate some good discussion on the work. I really would like as many people to participate as are able, so that we can get many various perspectives on the piece. The deadlines and sections are as given below. Pagination is according to the Signet edition; however, I have also noted the chapters to which the page numbers refer, so that any edition may be used.

I – Book the First - all chapters - pp. 13 – 57.
II – Book the Second - chap. 1 – 6 - pp. 61 – 109.
III – Book the Second - chap. 7 – 13 - pp. 109 – 156.
IV – Book the Second - chap. 14 – 18 - pp. 156 – 198.
V – Book the Second - chap. 19 – 24 - pp. 198 – 242.
VI – Book the Third - chap. 1 – 7 - pp. 245 – 289.
VII – Book the Third - chap. 8 – 12 - pp. 289 – 339.
VIII – Book the Third - chap. 13 – END - pp. 339 – 367.

Due Dates for Each Section:
I – December 24
II – December 28
III – December 31
IV – January 3
V – January 6
VI – January 9
VII – January 12
VIII – January 14

Happy reading to everyone!