Saturday, December 24, 2005

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!



Anonymous Chris said...

Chapter 1
1) I find Dickens decision to start the novel with such a broad beginning, and to explain that what follows is a inquiry into the fundemental problems of man's condition has a positive effects on the novel. It gives a level of importance to what is to follow, it stress that what follows is more the just the tale of several characters but that it addresses fundamental questions. Being informed of this from the start helps the reader to look more deeply into what is to follow.
I do believe this to be a very catholic idea. To set out to study the the problem of the condition men is very catholic in it very nature.

Chapter 2
q 1 I feel there is much symbolism in the way he introduces his characters. He introduces slowly, and in action. He first describes what the character is doing and where they are then only later who they are and why they are doing what they are doing. Even the setting he reveals them in seems to show a kind of mystery to who his characters are. For example Mr. Lorry and Jerry are both first introduced in dark, and fog of night. Mr. Lorry is first introduced as one of three mysterious passengers, and Jerry first appears as an unknown person riding up ferously on a horse through the darkness.

q2 I think Dickens in so intrested in theivery and piracy on the roads becuase of it symbolic and psychological dimensions. First it roads seem to be symbolic of the progression of time, of movement toward the future. It seems to be an expression of lack of freedom, the ability to not be able to go where one wishes safely can have a restritive and even terrorfying effect of people.

More to come later

Merry Christmas

12/24/05, 12:58 PM  

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