So I’ve been gone from my blog. For a while. A long while. Part of it is because I started a new teaching job, and my leisure time virtually disappeared. What little free time I do have has been devoted to reading what my students are reading. And part of it is because I’ve been reading the same book for three months. Slightly embarrassing to admit, but true, and directly related to my loss of free time. But I must say, it is a wonderful book with which to have spent three months!
I started rereading one of my all time favorite books, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Some people have responded to that declaration with, “No wonder you’ve been reading it for three months!” That’s not it at all. It is, quite fortunately, just as deliciously meaty and romantic as I remembered it. I say fortunately because I admit that I stalled in beginning the book for a while. I read an article in the Houston Chronicle earlier this summer where several Houston figures and journalists reread one of their childhood favorites. And, to my horror and hers, one of the book columnists HATED her childhood favorite, Little Women. I was terrified of the same thing happening to me.
You see, I have a very vivid memory of finishing A Tale of Two Cities. After fighting my way through the first part of the book, it got good, so to speak. I finished the second half in one afternoon and ran to find my dad. He looked at me questioningly; I held up the book, eyes wide, and said, “Woah!” He grinned and said, “Yeah…!” It was a deeply profound moment.
I didn’t want to sully that memory. It is one of the few times I actually remember the moment I finished a book and the deeply acute emotional effect it had on me. I needn’t have worried. Dickens’ classic tale of the individual fighting against the mob played out pretty much as I remembered it. A lovely discovery was how little of the plot I actually remembered. Though how it made me feel was somehow ingrained in me, it’s been such a joy to rediscover the characters, vivid settings, and thrilling plot twists that caused those feelings.
It’s hard to critique Dickens now as he is lionized as a literary genius. However, I won’t deny his wordiness. At times, the plethora of words is distracting, annoying even. That being said, Dickens’ mastery of the English language is on full display. The mindless horror of the mob rushes through the novel, its capriciousness as terrifying as its hyper-violent tendencies. The grey mists of London beautifully contrast with the vibrancy of blood-soaked Paris, and the characters fly off the page, both familiar and fully formed. In this post-feminist world, Lucie Manette’s fainting wife persona wears thin at time, though our cynical society could learn a lesson in loving and supportive relationships from Lucie and Charles Darnay. And the heartbreaking romantic of Sydney Carton! THERE, ladies, is true love, devotion, and sacrifice. THERE is the gut-wrenching anguish of offering support and friendship in place of love that will never be returned. For all of his wretched flaws, Carton is the moral center of the book, the individual sacrificing himself to the mob for the woman he loves. Forget Edward and Jacob. Go, Team Sydney!
As I said, the book reading experience for A Tale of Two Cities was familiar. It is a slow start. But persevere, dear readers, and you will be richly rewarded. Dickens created both an evocative and shocking warning against the mob, and a multi-layered, beautiful, and, at times, shattering story of love and redemption. Read it. And if you read it years ago, read it again. You won’t be sorry.