September 19, 2008

TBR3: Insufferable Happiness, Insufferable Pain

It's the Big Read: Are you reading?

Crivens! For a brief moment at the beginning of this section, I was quite moved to give Our Charles such a kicking! He was really making me nauseous -- and I couldn't help but wonder if he wasn't perhaps just going a wee bit overboard on the Lucie is the Angel of the Home theme. WHEN was the story going to begin!? We were already a hundred pages in, and modern editors would be writhing in their seats and making big slash marks with their green (my editor uses that merciful shade) pens! But eventually, we got into the meat of it -- and how.

Innocent leaves are being swept along in the tide, and unwise choices are being made. What are these people thinking!?!?!?. Ah, never mind now. To the text!

Book II ~ The Golden Thread,
Chapters 21 - 24

Chapter 21 ~ Echoing Footsteps
I just don't REMEMBER this book being so... tooth-achingly sweet! Pah, for the 19th century sentimental view of women and motherhood and children! I'm in need of a thumping good dose of Mark Twain now. Dickens, my man, I thought better of you.*Sigh*

Ah, well. Our Lucie hath beget, and there is, in the house on the corner, the echoing pitter patter of tiny feet. Lucie is so happy she fears she might die -- and when she's pregnant, she has a rather maudlin imagination and fears that Charles will one day mourn her. Apparently that's normal for the newly married. Anyway, there's an ineffable sense of golden happiness -- even when Lucie's second Little Angel flies back to Heaven from whence he came, he is Good and Compassionate and not Sickly and Ailing and causing his parents pain and agony as he dies. Oh, no, he's practically chirpy as he returns to his Maker, and even says to comfort Syd when he's gone. ALL holy wee babies love Sydney Carton, aren't all the children of the Agilely Browed attracted to dissolute drunks?

Dickens. Stop it. Now.

Syd is still being dragged along in Stryver's wake as his "jackal." Though married to a well-off widow, and the steppapa to three boys, Stryver is still just as stupid as ever, now telling the story of how Lucie set out to catch him, and how he evaded her. Stryver, then, is still a blowhard and a liar, but elsewhere the world is actually changing. There's a run on Tellson's bank. French people are desperately withdrawing and depositing monies, and Mr. Lorry and the dessicated husks at the bank are actually being required to work with some haste -- which probably raises puffs of dust and arthritic creaking.

Mr. Lorry takes refuge at the home of the Manette's, but meanwhile, back at the village...

"Come, then!" cried Defarge, in a resounding voice. "Patriots and friends, we are ready! The Bastille!"

With a roar that sounded as if all the breath in France had been shaped into the detested word, the living sea rose, wave on wave, depth on depth, and overflowed the city to that point. Alarm-bells ringing, drums beating, the sea raging and thundering on its new beach, the attack begun.

Jacques Three -- the bloodthirsty one -- and DeFarge race into the Bastille, and then shove a turnkey ahead of them to One Hundred and Five, North Tower. It is Alexandre Manette's old cell, and they tear it apart -- seeming to be in search of something...? Not finding it, they burn the cell, and go away, down to the main floors, to print their blood-stained footprints throughout the streets of Paris.

Chapter 22 ~ The Sea Still Rises
Saint Antoine has changed:
The raggedest nightcap, awry on the wretchedest head, had this crooked significance in it: "I know how hard it has grown for me, the wearer of this, to support life in myself; but do you know how easy it has grown for me, the wearer of this, to destroy life in you?" Every lean bare arm, that had been without work before, had this work always ready for it now, that it could strike. The fingers of the knitting women were vicious, with the experience that they could tear. There was a change in the appearance of Saint Antoine; the image had been hammering into this for hundreds of years, and the last finishing blows had told mightily on the expression.

It's not the men who have changed so much. Dickens, squarely showing himself a man of his times, mostly fears for the changes in the women, who are now insanely overwrought and murderous, tearing at themselves and screaming for blood, and dropping into indelicate swoons -- from which the men save them.

Apparently, a woman with agency to act is A Very Scary Dame in the 19th century! It's interesting how much better the men come off in this -- even as everyone is killing everyone else. And, so, the rabble of Saint Antoine is roused, and the blood of le bĂȘte noir, -- littered with grass -- flows in the streets...

Chapter 23 ~ Fire Rises
Road mender Jacques is still working -- though who might be paying him now, I can't tell. The more things have changed in the village, the more they stay the same; though blood has been shed and tyranny roused, people are still starving. They continue to blame Monseigneur for everything -- the weather, the crops, the state of the world -- where previously he was held up as an example of worthy Class.

The road mender is working in the dust when he meets another Jacques. They exchange ritual signals, the new Jacques, dressed in wooden shoes and animal skins, sleeps for a few hours through hailstorms and sun, and then they part ways at sunset, the road mender going to the fountain in the middle of town, and the other Jacques going two leagues beyond there.

The entire village looks out in the darkness at the old chateau, and four unknown persons come from North, South, East and West... and it burns. The poor servant left behind tries to rouse everyone to help him fight the fire, but no one cares anymore about preserving things for the Marquis, and one wonders how Monsieur Gabelle has missed that things have changed with regard to the chateau and the village! He spends the night on the roof, preparing to throw himself down and crush a few people at his death if they break down his door.

The night of fire isn't successful everywhere, but it's successful enough. People all over France realize that things are changing.

Chapter 24 ~ Drawn to the Loadstone Rock
I had to look up "loadstone." I thought it might be a cornerstone, but no, it's just loadestone spelled wrong. Or, *cough* a spelling variation. (Whatever, wrong is wrong, Dickens.)

Wee Lucie is now three six years old, and for three years, the house on the corner has been awash in the bloody echoes of the city across the sea. I love how Dickens describes the glittering class as leaving France -- as if Monseigneur had tried for eons to raise the devil and was scared to death when he actually managed it. The royals are all gone, and only their spirits remain. Many of those spirits haunt Tellson's, which is obliging to those formerly rich. It has turned into a meeting place for impoverished Frenchman, who hear news of still wealthy French aristocrats, and hope for help. We find ourselves at this French intelligence bureau and discover that Mr. Lorry is going to Paris... for the bank.

Charles Darnay is remonstrating with him, gently suggesting that he's too old to go, but thinking himself someone with an intelligent voice, to whom people would listen. I have to say that I sort of rolled my eyes at this; last time he visited the Marquis didn't convince him that a.) there was a problem, and b.) people were no longer listening!? Hello? Jarvis Lorry rightly scolds him for even thinking about going to France, and insists that he is going on this one last journey for Tellson's... and taking Jerry Cruncher with him.


(On one hand, I think the DeFarges may at last have met their match. On the other... Boy howdy, talk about going to hell and taking various demons with you. Jerry Cruncher!? Ah, well, better the devil you know. Or don't know about. Or something. At least Mrs. C. will get a break.)

Idiocy runs rampant in Britain about the revolution; Stryver remains, of course, at the forefront of idiocy, and is foaming at the mouth about ungrateful peasants. Darnay sticks around to try and put in a word of sense, but he's suffering himself under a great attack of stupidity.

Doctor Manette has made him promise to keep his true name a secret between them both -- because he's as wise as oceans are deep, despite his occasional attacks of madness, and Darnay is, in his semblance of sanity, quite frankly a fool. Doctor Manette foresaw these troubles, and knew that for Lucie's happiness to be secure that Darnay would have to turn his back on being Marquis D'Aulnais -- but of course, when a letter comes addressed to him at Tellson's, he says he knows the man. Stryver blows hard about Darnay knowing him, and the type of alleged gentleman who would leave his property to the murderous band of cowards, and essentially sputters that he's probably heading them up, and killing off other aristocrats.

Okay: you know it, and I know it: Monsieur le Stupide is going to Paris.

WHY he can't just -- let things go is beyond me. Okay, so there's a letter from Monsieur Gabelle, who is a prisoner in the Abbaye and who is resentful that he's going to be killed merely for being a family servant -- okay. One would wish to do all in one's power to take care of that. And granted, yes, the house should have been sold and the servant discharged eons ago -- who pays these people to keep working and collecting rents after the Master of the House has been murdered? Why did the cycle of life keep going on, even when there was no one to grasp from Saint Antoine and squeeze it to death? Is it really human nature to stay in the shadow of slavery when the cell doors are opened? Dickens is asking us to stretch with him, so, okay: we're stretched. That idiotic man is going to Paris.

And he's not telling his wife or her father until he's gone.

Because there's no point in making a suicide attempt if you don't leave a note.
Pah. I am flat disgusted.

Tune in next time to see just how many pages are devoted to Lucie's trembling swooning, the doctor's rejuvenated madness, and her wrinkled brow. Count the paragraphs and see how long it takes everyone to run after Charles and risk death by maddened mob and guillotine.


Anonymous said...

I am SO happy that you felt the same way about the Little Angel. It made me want to yack, which in turn made me feel like a horribly unsympathetic bad person. How is it that he can go from being amazingly sarcastic to borderline insipid? I mean, does he MEAN it? I haven't read enough Dickens to form a real opinion. I WANT to imagine him writing this stuff, chuckling to himself and saying, "Hoo-eey, this'll get 'em! They'll be sobbing! Ha ha ha!" But I'm not so sure that's what was going on. Sigh.

I'm so glad to read your synopsis because you actually wrote about the things that I noticed but didn't write about due to freaking out about all of the bloodshed -- like the fact that the ladies are uber-bloodthirsty but still faint all over the place.

And THANK YOU for also being disgusted with stupid Charles Darnay. ARG!!!

PS. I still heart Mr. Lorry. I hope that crazy Mr. Cruncher can keep him safe!

tanita✿davis said...

I don't think Dickens means it. He ...can't, can he? How could someone with such a wicked eye to the foibles of human nature actually think that children are always an angelic joy and that even a happy home is all bliss and pitter pattering echoes of golden bliss? I mean, a child DIED here. Of DISEASE or something. And is was most appalling; the child's grandsire is a DOCTOR. That must have been horrendous!

And we skip that?
Hookay. Maybe we're not meant to fixate on Lucie that much.

Yep, I'm betting on Mr. Cruncher to wrench off a few peasant arms and beat them to death with them so that Mr. Lorry can get home. He sees himself as an honest businessman; that's his duty, here...

Saints and Spinners said...

Wow. I've either blocked out a lot of details, or a lot of these details didn't show up in the play. (Did I mention that on opening night, there were still a of students who didn't quite know what was going on besides the wee matter of the revolution?)

I'll admit it. I'm an English major and I don't appreciate Charles Dickens. I read the books I was supposed to read in class, and in grad school I went out of my way to read more books, but they were chores to get through.

tanita✿davis said...

I can't imagine doing a play version of A Tale of Two Cities; it is indeed a very deeply contorted plot.

Incidentally, I was an English major who didn't care for all of Edith Wharton (Ethan Fromme did me in.), or Oscar Wilde, (The Picture of Dorian Gray. Bleuch. Oscar should have stuck to plays.), or James Joyce (Ulysses? Was he trying to kill us?)And let's not get me started on some of the modern high school "canon;" Lord of the Flies gave me nightmares like wow and oh, my goodness.

The whole idea of canon is ...well, someone else's idea of What One Should Read. We all take from the canon what we can and try to appreciate it intellectually, if not for its ease of reading. Much like the idea of Great Literature is subjective so is the whole "I'm an English major, must love this."

Incidentally: now that we've graduated, are we called linguists now? That doesn't seem to cover the literature aspect...