September 29, 2008

TBR3: A Tale of Two Cities - And So It Goes

It's the end of The Big Read. Thanks to Leila for organizing this!

Book III, The Track of the Storm, Chapters 13-15
Chapter 13 ~ Fifty-two
I don't know how a person who is on Death Row can compose his mind. Of course, in California, prison terms seem to last full lifetimes, and one considers one's mortality for ages, but the guillotine worked a lot faster. Poor Charles, knowing full well that he's going to die, tries to compose himself.
His hold on life was strong, and it was very, very hard, to loosen; by gradual efforts and degrees unclosed a little here, it clenched the tighter there; and when he brought his strength to bear on that hand and it yielded, this was closed again.
What a very Victorian sentiment, the idea that one is meant to compose oneself, and go to one's death quietly. WHY??? What is dignity if one is dead? But eventually, Charles manages to calm himself for the sake of his spouse and thinking of others who have nobly gone, and he writes a few letters. He "never once" thinks of Sydney Carton.


And then follow some of the most amazingly awful but author-awesome passages. Dickens really stretches his imagination and gets into the mind of someone waiting to be executed -- the things that go over and over in one's head, the desire to know everything about the scaffolding, the disproportionately huge interest in what will be over in seconds -- it's written so well, and it's so awful.

This chapter is just SO AWFUL. When Sydney Carton comes, and has Charles exchange clothes with him, and write out a letter, and we finally see what he bought at the chemist -- although, he had three packets from him. I find myself hoping the other two packets were poison, and that he dies painlessly and soundlessly before the blade falls.

The next "so awful" moment is the realization that Charles is writing Sydney's farewell letter to him. The third "so awful" comes quickly after that, when Sydney is recognized as not being Charles by the young seamstress (a poor little faint thing, self-described -- why Mr. Dickens? She's not in hysterics. She's brave.), who wants to hold his hand on the way to the guillotine.

Now approaching the end of this, I recall at my first reading being so conflicted in the last chapters of the book -- not at all loving Charles and Lucie, but not wanting Sydney's sacrifice to be in vain. This time, I imagine reading this book the year it was written, 1859, and positively swooning and writhing (my brow, anyway) over reading it in weekly installments. No skipping ahead, and no way to avoid the emotional impact of the end. Brilliant. Writers should do more installment writing now. Cliffhangers improve the circulation, it has been said.

I'm so completely avoiding. Must read on...

The wind is rushing after us, and the clouds are flying after us, and the moon is plunging after us, and the whole wild night is in pursuit of us; but, so far, we are pursued by nothing else.

Chapter 14 ~ The Knitting Done
At last! Miss Pross. Thank goodness. If not for comic relief, I trust her to cross swords -- or knitting needles -- with Madame DeFarge, and come out on top. Jeremiah Cruncher, too, is a changed man. If only the innocent can be saved, he will change in some unnamed way, and leave Mrs. Cruncher alone in her "flopping." No one in poor Jerry's world understands one word in five that he says, but Miss Pross is distracted enough to not really care, and I'm glad, anyway, that he's going to give the poor woman a break.

The dawning horror of Madame DeFarge coming and coming and them dithering and fussing -- arrgh! And then, she comes, and Miss Pross has to hold her by herself.

"I am a Briton," said Miss Pross, "I am desperate. I don't care an English Twopence for myself. I know that the longer I keep you here, the greater hope there is for my Ladybird. I'll not leave a handful of that dark hair upon your head, if you lay a finger on me!"

Go, Miss Pros!
Oh, DRAMA! Miss Pross finally makes it to the carriage at the cathedral. In the end, it's a small price to pay for... *cough*
That's right.
We're encouraging others to read this for themselves, aren't we? So, run along...

Chapter 15 ~ The Footsteps Die Out Forever
Just two words. No real elaboration. Charles Dickens is a master.
But I still freaking hate him at the moment.

During the final "prophetic" soliloquy, Dickens mentions the future deaths of those who have incited the revolution to such bloody ends, proving yet again that those who live by the sword -- or the revolver tucked away handily -- generally die by the same. He also spoke about a golden future in which France straightens itself up and does better. It's all cycles on Fortune's Wheel, and Sydney throwing himself under the wheel for someone else means that someday he'll have a namesake who rises high in his chosen field, and makes his name great again.

The idea of a wheel means that it continues to turn. A vexing truth: trouble always comes again...

The Big Read: it's been awesome, the best of times, and the worst. I need a few hankies and a lie-down before I read anything else, however. I feel like I ought to be trying to apply the text to relevant times, life right now, political expediency, something... but I'm too sad.

'til next time, The Big Read rests.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I totally gave away a million zillion spoilers in my last installment because my heart and brain couldn't have handled tiptoeing around the events.