Today is the 198th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. Yay! Dickens is one of my favorite writers, in case you don’t know me or somehow missed this fact.

I celebrated this impending event in three ways over the past week:

1. I finished reading Hard Times on Sunday. I’d been reading it for the class on the Victorian Period that I’m auditing this semester. I enjoyed it, but it’s not my favorite work.

2. I watched an episode of Dr. Who in which the Doctor and Rose travel back in time to 1869 London and meet Charles. It was the first episode of Dr. Who that I’d ever seen, and I truly enjoyed their portrayal of Dickens, and the fact that he frequently references his own work. 🙂

3. I ripped out pages from my spare copy of Great Expectations and decopauged a composition notebook. It’s now awesome, and I can take notes or write stories or something in a notebook covered with scenes from one of my favorite books.

So, today, in celebration of his birth, I’ll leave you with some of my favorite quotes from Dickens. He is prolific and perspicacious and completely awesome, and I think in two years, I should plan to travel to England on the 200th anniversary of his birth. 🙂

From Great Expectations (when Pip first meets Estella, I believe):

That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.

From A Tale of Two Cities:

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.

Sidney Carton’s vision of Paris in A Tale of Two Cities:

I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long, long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.

From A Christmas Carol:

It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour.

Happy Birthday, Charles! Thanks for enriching my life!

Recalled to Life

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation of itself and wearing out.”

-Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

* * *

After more than a month of reading sporadically, I have finally finished this novel. Harvin, who frequently expresses contempt for my literary tastes, finds this to be the only tolerable Dickens novel. Other professors have expressed shock that I claim to love Dickens and had not read what they declared to be his best work. Therefore, when the semester ended in December, I began this novel, anticipating that I would soon have another favorite Dickens novel.

The story takes place during the French Revolution. The book begins with the story of Dr. Manette, who has been imprisoned. His daughter Lucie (of whom he had no knowledge) and his friend Mr. Lorry rescue him from Paris, and they all return to London, where Dr. Manette is recalled to life; Lucie’s love and loyalty help him to overcome the isolation he has known for 18 years.

Part II begins with many other stories converging: the Defarges, who own a wine shop and are part of the Jacquerie, revolutionaries who storm the Bastille; Charles Darnay, estranged from his noble family, who flees to London and later marries Lucie; Jerry Clunker, an odd-job man at Mr. Lorry’s bank; a random mender of roads; various other minor characters that are sometimes hard to keep up with.

In part III, Charles returns to Paris to aid a friend who has been imprisoned. In the fervor of revolution, the Parisians are bloodthirsty. They will arrest anyone under suspicion of any illegal activity. And La Guillotine becomes a major character in the story, as she is worshiped by the Parisians. Charles is arrested, and the story ensues.

I found this novel difficult to get through. However, I think that’s probably because I’m burnt out on Victorian literature. Though I love it, after taking a class and reading two other Dickens novels just for fun in the past few months, I think I’ve just had too much description, verbosity, and intrigue. Perhaps a few years from now, I’ll pick up A Tale of Two Cities and be utterly delighted. This time, however, I had to force myself to finish, and I refused to start any other books until I was done.

Another reason I had a hard time reading the book is because the characters did not appeal to me nearly as much as others that Dickens has written. To be honest, I didn’t really care whether Charles Darnay was able to escape from prison. I didn’t care whether Dr. Manette became catatonic and started making shoes again, as he had done while imprisoned in the Defarges’ upper rooms. In Great Expectations (still my favorite Dickens novel), I cared about Pip from the very first page. I wanted to know how his story was going to end; I wanted to know if he achieved his great expectations. Conversely, I just didn’t care that much about Lucie and Charles in A Tale of Two Cities.

All that said, the very last chapter made the journey worth it. In the last few pages, Dickens concluded this story of love and loyalty in a profoundly beautiful way. Sydney Carton is the real hero of this novel, which is quite a feat considering I didn’t like him when he first appeared in the novel. For those of you who haven’t read this novel, I won’t ruin the ending. Just know that Dickens’ last chapter reminded me of why he is one of my favorite authors.