Read in HS, Summer 2008, and September 2012. Amazing. The Great American Novel. The conceit of the novel (rich man and poor man are rivals over prettyRead in HS, Summer 2008, and September 2012. Amazing. The Great American Novel. The conceit of the novel (rich man and poor man are rivals over pretty girl) is as old as mankind, and about as unoriginal as it gets, and, perhaps to (over)compensate for this, the ending is a little far-fetched. But you don't read it for the plot. You read it for Fitzgerald's handling of the material, for his lyricism, his word-music. Short and sweet: 50,000 almost perfect words....more
This must be read as an absurdist piece, a satire of modernity. Any other reading falls apart. It is, at times, hysterically funny. At times it just gThis must be read as an absurdist piece, a satire of modernity. Any other reading falls apart. It is, at times, hysterically funny. At times it just goes too far for me (but no doubt could achieve the same humor in someone else; I am thinking specifically of the dozens of pages devoted to a wild gay orgy).
The book is terribly overrated and not really worth reading, but it is possible to glean some artistic merit in the knowledge that the author is holding our hand and laughing with us as he describes the horrors of drug addiction with such bathos.
Burroughs seeks to hold a mirror to our modern faces, to show us that we are ugly, superficial, bigoted, and spiritually empty. The scene where the father brings his 15-year old son to a prostitute to "make a man out of him" is perhaps the best example of the genius Burroughs displays for satire. Anything but satire in this novel is worthless, however, and satire is the most fleeting, most perishable genre of the novel. I do not think this can maintain its reputation for long after the demise of the hippie generation's idealism and the hippie movement in the 1980's. This book should be removed from the canon, and if reasonable people are still out there, it will be removed soon. ...more
**spoiler alert** A gorgeous masterpiece, among the greatest novels of the 19th Century and any age. It is hard to summarize, as there are many revers**spoiler alert** A gorgeous masterpiece, among the greatest novels of the 19th Century and any age. It is hard to summarize, as there are many reversals, ironies, and paradoxes. It stubbornly resists interpretations and readings, however, because, while suggesting several possible interpretations, it does not fit snugly into any one of them. Because of all the complications, this must have been the result of intricate planning, which is not what one would expect from a serialized work; consequently, the reader profits from multiple readings, as much is foreshadowed.
Briefly: Charles Darnay, nephew of the Marquis de St. Evremonde, is framed of spying for France, but at trial he is acquitted because the witnesses could not distinguish him from a lawyer, Sidney Carton, who just happened to be (there are a lot of coincidences in this novel, a weakness, but also giving it a mythological air) in attendance. Also in attendance are Dr. Alexandre Manette and his daughter, with whom he was just recently reunited after 18 years in the Bastille. They are there as witnesses, with Jarvis Lorry of Tellson's Bank. After the trial, they all become acquainted with Darnay directly. Darnay, Carton, and just about everyone else falls in love with Lucie. Darnay, cut off from his aristocratic fortune, subsists by tutoring students in French. Both Darnay and Carton pursue Lucie; Carton does so in his melancholy fashion, knowing that he has no chance. He promises that he would do anything for her, even if he cannot have her. Darnay asks her father, Dr. Mannette, with whom she is extremely close in the 6 years following his release from the Bastille. Darnay reveals that he is actually Charles D'Aulnais, an Evremonde, and Mannette panics, but allows the marriage to take place when he recovers himself.
And so they start a family, and Lucie gives birth to little Lucie. But another coincidence: a servant of Darnay's is arrested by the revolutionaries, and Darnay goes to Paris to secure his release. But he is an expatriate, which marks him, like the apostate from Islam, for death. He left France on the very day the law was enacted. Despite his being in clear violation of the law (unlike in his first trial--in London), even if it is an irrational and even immoral law, Dr. Mannette, who is now a national hero for his endurance in the Bastille, persuades the jury to let Darnay free for the sake of his daughter and her daughter, who are descendants of himself, a hero. The jury is persuaded such that Darnay is carried out on their shoulders and feted.
But within hours, Darnay is arrested again, having been ratted out as an aristocrat by two wine-shop-owning revolutionaries, the Defarges. They know that he is an Evremonde because of Barsad, the same spy that framed him in the first Book, and they found, in Manette's old Bastille cell, an account of the Marquis' outrages against the peasants. It was their child whom he ran over with his coach (he threw them a coin to compensate them for their loss). The Manette account of the Marquis rapes and other brutalities throw the crowd into a bloodthirsty rage, and Darnay is condemned to death merely for being an Evremonde. And so this is justice: inverting the aristocratic privilege into an aristocratic curse. Rather than benefitting from mere blood, he is punished for it. And so the mob buys into the same fallacy as their former oppressors, as so often is the case.
Carton, still a drunk, still in love with Lucie, shows up in Paris and blackmails Barsad into giving him access to Darnay's cell. (Barsad was spying for the ancient regime in previous chapters, so he would be the perfect character to guillotine.) After a long walk meditating on the Lord's words to St. Martha in John 11. St. Lazarus had died, and St. Martha professed her faith that Christ could have saved him, if it weren't too late. The Lord says, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die." Carton, for once, has hope, supernatural faith and supernatural hope. He also has supernatural charity, since the same Lord says in the same Gospel (15:13) "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Therefore Carton has the three theological virtues: i.e. he is a saint.
Moreover, as is clear from the particular citation he mulls over as he walks the city, it is not that Carton is inspired by the example of Christ's self-abnegation and self-sacrifice so much as that Christ gives him hope in eternal life. Despite this, the Christian themes are obvious, and the Christian reversals/paradoxes are echoed in the novel. St. Paul's 2nd letter to the Corinthians: "Christ, though He was rich, became poor, so that by His poverty, you might become rich." Here we have another formulation of the central mystery of human life, the mystery of the cross. It is also the repeated theme of Tale of Two Cities:
Darnay, an aristocrat, becomes poor for the sake of the third estate; Darnay goes on trial for a crime he did not commit, twice; Darnay is condemned in place of his uncle; Carton dies in place of Darnay;
The Carton self-sacrifice is particularly interesting because, in contrast to the idealized Darnay
Henry James' advice to the young novelist was "dramatize, dramatize, dramatize." Dickens is among the greatest at this. He might be completely economically illiterate, but he could spin a yarn. The first book is a showpiece of suspense, the second of romantic sentiment, and the third of high tragedy. Everything is amplified: dialogue, descriptions, events. No one does anything half-heartedly; nothing merely happens. This is why the characters are never round: that complication would impede their amplification. To complicate a person means setting limits; Dickens rather makes absolutes. Stryver is absolutely obnoxiously arrogant; Carton is absolutely a drunken waste of talent; Lucie is absolutely ideal, and so on. Dickens often seems more like a playwright than a novelist with his florid set-pieces, his archetypical characters, and his talent for finding which scenes to show and which scenes to only detail in exposition.
A loose, baggy monster, no doubt, but all of it marvelous. Much time is spent on characterization, sardonic details of aristocratic privilege, but also the idiocy and barbarism of mob rule. The "two cities" are arguably both Paris--one of the ancient regime, one of the revolution. Dickens, despite his obnoxious leftism (the result of an unfortunate childhood more than calm reflection on the laws of economics) is even more vivid speaking about the revolution than about the cartoonish aristocrats. Whereas in Britain, there is rampant crime, and people are executed for little to no reason, under the ancient regime, aristocrats do whatever they please (Darnay's uncle rapes a peasant, works her father to death, and runs over a child with his coach). After the revolution, it is not the high born but the low born, the victim class, who are unfettered in their crimes, even against themselves. For all their utopianism, they bring only more bloodshed, more partiality, less equality. Rather than all things being dictated by class, they are dictated by political connections. Crucifixes around people's necks are replaced with guillotines. The guillotine looms over the whole country: it is the national razorblade, the barber, and a number of other pet names. It is the triumph of secular reason: mob rule one minute carrying Darnay on shoulders and then a few hours later condemning him to death for something even they admit he did not do. So there is a nice little political parable here, as well. To be ruled by your superiors is not so unbearable as to be ruled by your inferiors. ...more
When I first read it, I experienced it as a suspenseful thriller, as a dystopian novel. Upon a second r[Initially read in HS. Re-read September 2012.]
When I first read it, I experienced it as a suspenseful thriller, as a dystopian novel. Upon a second reading, 8 or 9 years later, I found it hilarious. I had found it so disorienting initially that I completely missed the humor. It seems to me now to be a satire of religion--more specifically, Kafka's Judaism, with its emphasis on Law, the Talmudic tradition, and its skepticism about knowledge of the Divine....more
Outstanding. Amazing plot, especially considering how short the novel is. There is not a single boring page in the whole thing. It reminds me of a 19tOutstanding. Amazing plot, especially considering how short the novel is. There is not a single boring page in the whole thing. It reminds me of a 19th century French novel, but without all of the excesses and decadence that usually came with even the best of those. Greene's career is amazing for many reasons; one of them is that this is not his masterpiece but a minor work....more
This book is terribly overrated. It's good; don't get me wrong. But section 5 is totally overwritten, overdone and unclear. Novels should be enjoyable
This book is terribly overrated. It's good; don't get me wrong. But section 5 is totally overwritten, overdone and unclear. Novels should be enjoyable and entertaining. Therefore, calling this book "the third greatest English language novel of the 20th century" is stupid. ...more