Friday, May 13, 2011

An Amazing Book. Enough Said.

This afternoon I finished reading Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. I have read many of Dickens' books, but for some reason I avoided this one. I guess I assumed that because it is a popular "must read" in so many schools, that it must be a stuffy, boring book. The title isn't the most intriguing, I must admit. It sounds as if it would start "Once upon a time there were two cities and a mean king ruled one, and a kind king ruled the other." ;)
But it did not take me long to get swept into the plot. Okay, so I do have a weakness for historical novels set in the French Revolution...(think The Scarlet Pimpernel) but by the end of the book, I had fallen in love with all the characters.
There was the perfect balance of danger, mystery, and fierce loyalty to make a brilliant story. I had heard that Dickens wrote this book in sympathy with The People of France's side of the Revolution. However, as I read it, I found that Dickens showed both sides of society in an equal and fair light. He touched on the cruelness many commoners felt from the aristocrats, while also admonishing the level of cruelty and depravity the people fell to at last.
He showed the harsh and unfeeling behavior of some aristocrats while also having sympathy for those who were kind, those who were just, and those who were honorable.
But my very favorite part of the book was the last third- Sydney Carton's sacrifice. He started as a good-for-nothing, and ended up as an honorable, noble, man.
What impressed me was the symbolism between Carton and Jesus Christ. Not the particulars, (Carton was a low-life to begin with) but their selfless love and sacrifice. I felt that Dickens drew his readers to think of Jesus in the last chapters...

"These solemn words, which had been read at his father's grave, arose in his mind as he went down the dark streets, among the heavy shadows, with the moon and the clouds sailing on high above him. 'I am the resurrection, and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.' ...A trading boat with a sail of the softened color of a dead leaf, then glided into his view, floated by him, and died away. As its silent track in the water disappeared, the prayer that had broken up out of his heart for a merciful consideration of all his poor blindness and errors, ended in the words: 'I am the resurrection and the life.'"

Then the sweet scene at the guillotine at the very end of the book when Sydney Carton is comforting a poor seamstress before pays the ultimate price for the love of a woman whose husband would otherwise be taking the punishment:

"'What then, my gentle sister?'
'Do you think'--the uncomplaining eyes, in which there is so much endurance, fill with tears, the lips part a little more and tremble--"that it will seem long to me, while I wait for her in the better land where I trust both you and I will be mercifully sheltered?'
'It cannot be, my child; there is no time there, and no trouble there.'
'You comfort me so much! I am so ignorant. Am I to kiss you now? Is the moment come?'
She kisses his lips, he kisses hers; they solemnly bless each other. The spare hand does not tremble as he releases it; nothing worse than a sweet, bright constancy is in the patient face. She goes next before him--is gone; the knitting women count Twenty-two.
'I am the Resurrection and the the life, saith the lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever believeth in me shall never die.'
The murmuring of the many voices, the upturning of many faces, the pressing on of many footsteps in the outskirts of the crowd, so that it swells forward in a mass, like one great heave of water, all flashes away. Twenty-three."

And then the heart-wrenching last line of the book:

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

That is all. And that is enough. I appreciate Dickens showing these scenes. Jesus' gift to us is the only one that can provide comfort in situations this dire. It is the only thing that counts at the end. I have to say that A Tale of Two Cities blessed me as much as a sermon. So the only thing left to say? Amen.


Anonymous said...

Well, apparently now I've got to borrow "A Tale of Two Cities" from the library! :)

I've read Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" (who hasn't? ;) and "Oliver Twist", and I really enjoyed them both. (Well, I think so... it's been a long time since I've read "A Christmas Carol"... I think the last time, Mom read it aloud to me and my sisters!)

But anyway, I'd be interested to read this one. Thanks for bringing it to my attention! :)

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud said...

I read A Tale of Two Cities many years ago and I'm afraid I was too young to fully appreciate it. I remember the woman at the pub who put a rose in her hair as a sign, and I remember a scene in an attic which was so vividly written I remember it perfectly except the part it played in the story.

I must re-read it, as Frost said no book's worth reading unless read a thousand times over. :)