Q4, W3, #4: FIRST REACTION TO DICKENS?

NOTE: This entry is ONLY for Per 1, 2 and 3

***

This is a wide open question for all of you who manage to read the first 50-ish pages of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities (as you are supposed to do — he smiles) ahead of Monday’s class (so you can do this entry — he smiles, once again).

I’m curious what stood out FOR YOU on the “it grabbed my attention/interest” level with regards to the way the novel started:

  • The famous — oh, so famous, actually — opening lines of the novel?
  • History?
  • Writing Style?
  • Plot?
  • Characters?
  • Something else entirely?

Response: 3+ paragraphs, 5+ sentences each. If you get stuck, start with a quotation and then explain why it caught your eye (even if you aren’t entirely sure where it’ll lead story-wise in the 350 pages to come).

Tale_of_two_cities_cover

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10 responses to “Q4, W3, #4: FIRST REACTION TO DICKENS?

  1. I have read Dickens’s Oliver Twist (as a side affect of my love for the musical), and the experience was very similar to that of reading A Tale of Two Cities now. It was very long, with a lot of wordy stuff that seemed completely unnecessary, and it likewise had those random little number things that led you to the back of the book where you read about that particular street corner in actual London that you really did not care about at all. But there are some points in reading where I really love Dickens’s writing style. He makes snide little remarks and says things that actually make me laugh out loud (my favorite is in chapter XIV of Oliver Twist, in which Mr. Grimwig is discussed eating his head)…though whether I’m laughing with him or at him varies. And he really is a very good writer, if you have the patience to tackle books as huge and dense as AToTC.

    Some of his characters, however, make me frown. From what I’ve read, his most important ladies tend to be mild-mannered and delicate, and all the other characters always worry that what they say might cause them to faint. And they do faint! Either ladies back then really were that pathetically sensitive, or Dickens is pathetically sexist.

    But the main thing I’ve noticed in AToTC is a theme in which different people are passing through certain stationary roles. Maybe it’s too general to be called a theme, but I’m seeing it everywhere. Mr. Lorry the mail passenger going into the Concord bed-chamber like many other mail passengers of the past, the unchangeable imperfection of Tellson’s Bank passing from generation to generation, the mirror over Darnay in the courtroom in which “crowds of the wicked and the wretched had been reflected” (page 66)… It’s everywhere, but I’m not yet sure what it has to do with the two cities.

  2. Well as indicated I definitely recognized the first very long (actually run on sentence long :)) famous lines of the novel’s start. At first I simply took them to mean that Dickens or the narrator simply did not know what to think about the time he was talking of. But the further I read the book the more I began to actually understand what Dickens meant and wanted his audience to understand. However, I think it would be impossible to fully understand the meaning of these lines without knowing the history behind the era Dickens was writing about. Obviously (and thanks to Mrs. Bonner) this story takes place during the enlightenment, the years leading up to and I’m assuming during the French Revolution.

    The French Revolution marks a very important turning point in European history. For once the lower classes execute the changes they want. This would seem to be a great and marvelous historic moment except, oh ya, the Great terror and exponentially increased use of the Guillotine. However, I actually was quite interested in the English side of this time period. It seems because of the magnitude of events occurring in France it is forgotten England was not just a clam little nation (as displayed in the second chapter “The Mail”).

    At first I thought that Dickens’ writing style was difficult to read and was rereading everything until I could understand it. Now, however (and 130ish) pages in I find it to be a lot easier and really appreciate the humor he puts in throughout the novel. Plot wise I find the story to be rather simple (though not quite as much as 1984). The characters seem to be the typical 18th century characters, which I really can’t explain. They seem to be intelligent (Mr. Lorry) the girl pretty (Lucie) and always the ever present mysterious character (Dr. Manette).

    Other than that I believe I will enjoy the story for Dickens’ impeccable use of metaphors and simply because I enjoy that time period in history.

  3. I have already had the pleasure (honest to goodness, no sarcasm there) of reading A Tale of Two Cities a year and a half ago. Now reading it through the second time, I am able to focus more on the themes, symbols and foreshadowing of the story rather than just the plot. Already, I see a lot more things in the story that I just ignored or was blind to the first time. I am enjoying the book more this time because I am able to analyze and appreciate Dickens’ writing style better this time. A Tale of Two Cities is also the only book this year that my parents remember the plot in detail, and I can predict a great many dinner-time discussions about it.

    I think after we finish A Tale of Two Cities, I need to read more Dickens this summer because I love his writing style. It flows together very nicely almost to the point of being conversational. All of his characters have very detailed characteristics, as well as individual idiosyncrasies. I think that their quirks give them more of a depth and characterization that makes them more realistic. Lucy Manette, for example, has a crease in her forehead which she wrinkles whenever she is thinking, while Jarvis Lorry readjusts the wig on his head. Nerdy reference, but it is similar to O’Brien’s quirk of replacing his glasses on his nose every so often. Back to Dickens though, his writing creates a perfect picture in my mind of all the characters, as though they were actual human beings just like you and I.

    I think it’s cool how Dickens first has his characters travel to France in 1775, fourteen years before the French Revolution breaks out. The reader is able to see, through the characters, the unhappiness of the people that led to the Reign of Terror. My favorite scene thus far has to be the scene where the wine casket falls into the street and the man writes BLOOD on the wall in wine. This scene shows how hungry the people are, on a purely physical level, but also on a higher, mental plane; hungry for the blood of the nobility. To me, I also love the reunion between Doctor Manette and his daughter after eighteen years. It’s just one of those fun instances in which the bond between child and parent is so obviously strong (some say, unbreakable) that makes a person wonder how a child could betray their parent, like in 1984 :)

  4. In the first Book of A Tale of Two Cities I had absolutely no idea what Dickens was talking about. The language was difficult and there was a massive amount of seemingly pointless commas. When the story went into a dream sequence I sort of understood, but I didn’t know that it was a dream until it came up in class. I got the general idea of what was happening in the first Book after reading it but was not sure what it would lead to. I had to go on Spark notes after reading it to make sure that I understood what was going on in the story. Once I moved on to the second book the story became a lot easier to understand. I was frustrated at first because it seemed like I was starting a completely different book that had nothing to do with pages 5-53. After the first chapter I started thinking that I might actually enjoy reading A Tale of Two Cities because I could see the plot beginning to form.

    When I started reading chapter three of the second Book I thought it would be a good idea to look on the back of the book to see what I should be looking for. I got lost in the courtroom scene but when I saw that Darnay and Carton were important characters it became a lot easier to follow. I found it interesting that the two were so similar in appearances and had absolutely nothing in common personality-wise. At the moment I’m favoring Carton because he seems to be more outspoken than Darnay. That will probably end up changing because I have a lot of the book left to go.

    The back of the book told me that Darnay and Carton will both end up going after Lucie Manette. All that I can tell about Lucie Manette so far is that she cares about her father and that she is really nice. It’s a bit boring but there are still a lot of pages left to read. I feel a kind of mean because I hope that secretly she’s a witch or something. She doesn’t have to be AWFUL but Princess Lucie is boring. It’s nice that she is the only one that can calm her father down when he has his fits and she’s very polite in public and blah blah blah. But I still hope she has some immorality hidden behind that smile.

  5. The very first lines of the novel really interested me. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” We talked about this line a little bit on the first day, and today in class the group I was talking with brought it up again. It’s interesting because during this time of before and during the French Revolution, it went back and forth as to whom had the best of times and whom had the worst. Before the revolution began it was the monarchs who were in the best of times while the people of France were starving and begging in the streets. Then as the French Revolution began it became the best of times for the people as they finally got a say and made a difference. That is until the reign of the Great Terror when the killings began. It was also after the Enlightenment, bringing new bright ideas for humanity, another reason for it to be the best of times.

    There is also the history. The French revolution is so important in the history of the world. That revolution spurred and inspired so many others, while striking fear into the hearts of the leaders, for now they new that it was possible for there people to overthrow them. It is amazing what the people of France did. They overthrew a corrupt and inept monarchy, and created there own new way to rule. Yet as power always seems to do, the leaders became corrupt and paranoid. They killed so many and even got a law past to be able to do so without a trial. This revolution is so interesting in its complexity and the show of the sides of human nature that lie within it.

    Character wise, Madam Defarge is probably the most interesting. While Lucie is where all the characters meet, she herself is not all that interesting. I think what makes Madam Defarge so interesting is that she is so important yet overlooked by everyone else. Even when we first meet Madam we as the readers can already see her code, yet she is once again overlooked.
    She is so much more interesting because of her deviousness. She is plotting under everyone nose. She is doing it all out in the open by the use of code and knitting and no one is noticing.

    There is also the pattern of doubles. Mr. Long brought it up in class one day as to point out the use of Spark Notes and such, but after he said it, I began to see it. Madam Defarge and Miss Pross, Carton and Darnay. My group today also noticed that as one character in the pair seems to gain power, the other seems to loose it. As Madam Defarge is gaining power as the Revolution evolves and grows, Miss Pross is loosing power as Lucie is pulled farther away from he by meeting her father and Darnay.

  6. Many things have stood out for me in Dickens’ book so far. His opening lines so far serves the purpose of translating the play, according to Mr. Long. Various things are put together in his writing, ranging from killing to knitting. Why would he put the code for the story at the beginning of the story? Many of these conditions really spark curiosity and point out.

    I noticed that this exchange of people between England and France. It is odd, because England hated(and probably still hates) France and vice versa. They were both different cultures, yet they are still entertwined; they contain the same problems of poverty and crime. Both are polar opposites but connected. What also stood out for me was the random Capitalized words within words. These words include:Truth, Virtue, etc. What their purpose is I still don’t know, but I have a guess to what it is: they must show the future effects when the story/revolution has ended.

    I also noticed that Dickens used description in order to show its importance. So far, the description of the Tellson’s bank had symbolized that of a grave and that is what it ends up to be. His writing style also stood out. If put into a poem form, it would fit perfectly but it still also works as a narrative/story. The language used also has many more meanings, such as mail as a taxi/bus.

  7. What immediately caught my attention as I was reading A Tale of Two Cities was Dickens’ writing style. The way he writes is probably far more complex/deep than any other piece of literature that I have read so far. I was surprised at the sheer volume of information that he was able to imply with just a few words. It feels like Charles doesn’t let a single sentence go to waste. There is no “filler plot” and as I later found out that Dickens was forced to write this entire story in weekly installments, I understood why each of the chapters in the story had some sort of “cliff hanger” at the end.

    I was also interested in the characters that Dickens had created for his novel. Unlike most other stories, the characters in A Tale of Two Cities force you to draw your attention onto every single one of them. There is no clear protagonist, therefore making it impossible to determine the antagonist of the story as well. The reader is forced to either be intrigued by each character’s possibility of being the so called “hero” of the story but they are also drawn in by the suspicions that could make that same character the villain as well. Dickens being forced to write each chapter in weekly increments explains the reason why each of the characters in A Tale of Two Cities are equally suspicious/intriguing to the reader.

    However, the one thing that drew me into the novel was the first opening lines of the story. I was intrigued by the fact that the entire first page of the novel is perhaps the most important and is also almost entirely comprised of opposites. I’m surprised that I have never heard the beginning of this novel, it being so famous. The numerous words that Dickens uses in contrast with one another sets up a story that has many possibilities. This is the first thing that I noticed from A Tale of Two Cities. Although it was obviously the first page I would have seen when I first read the book, I still haven’t forgotten the lines as I continue to read the book.

  8. I have read Dickens’ before in my earlier years, and though at the time I kinda liked it, I realize now I had no clue what was going on in the book.I read Great Expectations and, like Tale of Two Cities, at the beginning of the book I would literally just stare at a page like what the heck did this whole page just say? At the beginning of Tale of Two Cities I did that as well, but now I am starting to warm up to the book. I can now notice little things that I couldn’t catch before. What hit me broad-side was the language. It is really pretty, but at the same time I hate it because it makes the plot way more complicated. It is not like the book is too deep for me to understand or anything, it is really, for me, just picking my way through the language. If I can figure out what they are actually saying (ha) I can tell what Dickens’ was trying to say. I guess that is just half the battle.

    Personally, I do love the plot actually. It is so intertwined and gets really complicated but at the same time, you as the reader likes to get pieces of the puzzle to solve the mystery. It is cool because you may wonder why some event happened and then you find out he is the main character’s uncle! Once you get a piece of information like that and then Defarge suddenly comes into the scene you start to be able to make connections. The plot gets a little sticky but it wouldn’t really be a good reading if the plot didn’t get a little tricky. I am really curious to see how the characters and the plot intermingle more; who especially intrigues me is Carton and Defarge. I feel like it is harder to figure them out.

    Speaking of the characters, one thing I notice about every character is (I guess in modern terms) ‘things are not what they appear.’ Even inanimate objects have a shady under tow. Like when Darnay was at his uncle’s house. His uncle made a comment at the house and how lovely it is, but Darnay recanted with saying it was really moldy and destructful. Everything in this story has a ‘seedy underbelly’. It is fascinating how the characters can appear one way, but in reality be something totally different. It is like in Macbeth, “fair is foul and foul is fair.”

  9. I have never read any works by Dickens before, and in all honesty I am not surprised I haven’t. A Tale of Two Cities really does not suit my style. Dickens’ writing style is a tad complicated, yet he uses no fancy words or phrases. The first thing that caught my attention with his style of writing was the excessive use of commas. It drove me crazy for the first 20 pages, but after a while, you get used to his style. It’s a lot easier to understand his writing and cope with it once you are in deeper into the book.

    Character-wise, Dickens was able to pull off the mindset for many of the characters well. The most interesting asset he introduces for them is the ‘secrets’ — aka the ‘mystery’ of the human mind to even other humans. I found this extremely intriguing, especially how Mr. Manette reacts to all the other characters. Even though he has been imprisoned for eighteen years, his mind is still extremely secretive, his thoughts hidden from his daughter and Mr. Lorry. Another ‘mysterious’ character that follows Dickens’ description of the secretive human mind is Madame Defarge. Her code language, although understood by Mr. Defarge, still appears mysterious and secretive to the reader which continues to emphasize “that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.” I have a feeling Madame Defarge is hiding something from her husband even if they both are revolutionaries, and I think she will play a bigger role later in the novel due to her secretive ways in the beginning of the story.

    My first reaction to the first line of the book was the thought that it was poetic. It plays along really nicely with the Macbeth line of “fair is foul and foul is fair” — with good, there must be evil, and with life, there must be death. The reader already knows that the French Revolution will be occurring in the novel, so the opening line foreshadows the oppression and hatred the Revolution will bring about. Yet, on the other side, Darnay and Carton fall in love with Lucie, bringing in love to the fray of hatred and oppression. A new life will start for Darnay and Lucie when they marry; yet death will strike the streets of Paris when the Revolution reaches its peak.

  10. I was actually really excited when I saw the opening lines of the book. I recognized them immediately, but poor, ignorant me didn’t know they came from A Tale of Two Cities until that point. I still don’t really understand what they mean despite you trying to explain that to us in class one day. It just doesn’t make sense to me how you can have the best you have ever had and the worst at the same time. Maybe it takes on different points of view? I’m not sure.

    It was also nice, thanks to AP Euro, to be able to recognize the history in the book. On the first page when Dickens talks about the kings and queens of England and France, I could name the French ones immediately. Marie Antoinnette and Louis XVI. However the characters in the book itself get mixed up in my head. With the way that Dickens talks it’s hard to keep them straight for me.

    Speaking of Dickens’ writing style, I can’t say that I like it. This is only because I don’t understand it very much at all. When he says things like “the year of our lord one thousand sevenhundred and seventy five,” I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. I know that in that particular instance he’s saying it’s 1775, but when everything else is worded in a similar fashion it’s hard to keep up. I’m a slower reader anyway but the confusing language makes it more tedious and much more difficult to get through.

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