Reviewing William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar at this point just feels wrong, because when I read the play, I'm no longer reading Shakespeare's versioReviewing William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar at this point just feels wrong, because when I read the play, I'm no longer reading Shakespeare's version, I'm hearing and creating Ms. R--'s sophomore English class version, complete with arrogant jerk Caesar--"See, this is what happens when you don't listen to your wife and when you talk in third person"--and with breaks every fifty lines to ask question after question and stuff the richness of Shakespeare's text into a nice digestible package for tenth graders.
Instead of looking at the complexity of Shakespeare's characters, I've worked hard to make them memorable caricatures--from manipulative Cassius whispering poison into Brutus' ear (and boy does Hamlet's father know the danger of that!) to Casca who plays dumb to Brutus who is too good for his own good. And now I hardly know where Shakespeare's version ends and mine begins. I do know that, since I've read the play seven times in just over a year doing this, it's probably never going to be the same for me.
I also know that Act Three is pure magic. At the heart of the play is its fantastic rhetoric. The speeches are amazing, but the play as a whole is a testimony to the power of words. I love, in two very separate activities, to mock the fickle nature of the plebians and then to have my students chart which character they favor in each act. Their favorite character inevitably changes. Frequently. We are forced to conclude that we are as fickle as the plebians at the hands of artful writing. And Julius Caesar is about as artful as it gets.
P.S. - I still think Marc Antony is one of the hottest male characters ever created. Even if he is a bit sadistic....more
Once more I find myself shamefully reviewing one of my not-so-favorite Shakespeare plays. I find The Tempest dull. There, I've said it. Sure, I like tOnce more I find myself shamefully reviewing one of my not-so-favorite Shakespeare plays. I find The Tempest dull. There, I've said it. Sure, I like the old school Prospero as Shakespeare interpretation and always enjoy reading through the postcolonial lens, but the action is slow, the characters are two-dimensional (okay, not Prospero, Caliban, or [I like to think] Ariel), and the conflict is about as disruptive as a speed bump.
The action of The Tempest that the audience sees is really only the climax, falling action, resolution, and denouement of a much larger story. And while the latter half of the plot pyramid is the more rewarding half, it's only rewarding if you see the stuff leading up to it. All the interesting conflicts--between Prospero and his brother, Ariel and Sycorax, Caliban and Miranda--occur before the start of the play and are merely alluded to in dialogue.
Aside from that, there can be very little suspense in a play in which the protagonist, a magician/storyteller, is calling all of the shots and has total control throughout all five acts. "Now I'll cause a little trouble for them, but don't worry, I'll fix everything in two scenes. *Two scenes later* FIXED! Aren't we all so happy?" I also think that The Tempest is very much about spectacle and a lot of that is, of course, lost upon reading it, so I'm sure it is much more enjoyable to watch (as long as it doesn't have the strange golden Ariel portrayal of the 1980 BBC version).
Of course, there are a lot of redeeming qualities. Caliban's character and situation is very interesting. I found myself repelled by him, but, at the same time, more sympathetic toward him than any other character. Prospero's possible "Goodbye to Theatre" speech never fails to give me chills. Because Shakespeare, like his protagonist, definitely created magic with words. So I shall end with quotes:
"We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded with sleep."
"The rarer action is / In virtue than in vengeance."...more
I think this was my second time reading Shakespeare's King Lear. When I started it, I couldn't decide if I had read it one time already, or three, whiI think this was my second time reading Shakespeare's King Lear. When I started it, I couldn't decide if I had read it one time already, or three, which seems like a pretty weird mix-up. I think it was one. Though I saw it in Stratford, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, which was an inspiring and amazing production.
I think the oft-repeated maxim that Shakespeare's plays are best seen and not read is most true for his sex jokes and for King Lear. Because, in seeing King Lear, I felt for the foolish needy King and the painfully blind Gloucester much more than I did in reading it. I didn't really have that problem with Hamlet, Othello, or Shylock. But these silly old stubborn men were only sympathetic characters for me when I saw them there, on the stage, broken by their age. Which I don't think Shakespeare would blame me for, since the text is littered with appeals to characters' pity based on the old men's white beards: the dignity that the appearance and triumph of age should lend them.
Cordelia, as an Elizabethan heroine, falls flat for me. It seems like she's the Victorian Angel of the House shoved onto a Renaissance stage. She needs a bit of the spunk and schemes of Merchant of Venice's Portia or the agency and cleverness of As You Like It's Rosalind. Even the bitterness of A Midsummer Night's Dream's Helena would be something. But instead she is like the dutiful Agnes Wickfield, Esther Summerson, and Amy Dorrit--all heroines in their own century, but out of place in a world where men get their eyes poked out and loyal servants are dispatched like flies. SPEAK UP, Cordelia! SPEAK UP!
It's interesting that Shakespeare, master of language that he is, uses the medium of language to hint at the failure of language. Words lie. Someone should have told a few characters that early on. And then when there is truth to be said, words fail. (SPEAK UP, Cordelia!) Or get rejected. (Oh Kent.) The Fool and "Poor Tom" are forced to speak truth in riddles and songs and jokes. Kent must disguise his language, deceiving to be true. And yet we, the audience, like poor poor Lear, hang on every word before us, because that's all we have.
Now, to the words:
"The art of our necessities is strange / And can make vile things precious" (3.2.76-77).
"'Tis the time's plague when madmen lead the blind" (4.1.54).
"When we are born, we cry that we are come / To this great stage of fools" (4.6.200-201).
"Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say" (5.3.393).
And there, perhaps, is the solution to language's failure. Maybe it's not language that is lacking--just sincerity.
Though not my favorite of Shakespeare's tragedies, King Lear is undeniably a triumph. Each line--each word--is bursting with meaning, and old age... is just terrifying....more
With its innovative and personal style, privileging of mundane occurrences, fragmented structure, and characters that teeter on the margins of the socWith its innovative and personal style, privileging of mundane occurrences, fragmented structure, and characters that teeter on the margins of the social and psychological norm, Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway epitomizes the Modernist movement of the early twentieth century. But I don't hate it. I don't even grudgingly acknowledge its worth while carefully avoiding having to lift its cover again. I absolutely love it.
The narrative of Mrs. Dalloway, which is often described as wave-like, flows throughout London, seamlessly traveling between different characters' subjective realities and the outside world. Unlike the "Wandering Rocks" chapter of Ulysses, which also follows various characters' outings in a busy city, Mrs. Dalloway did not leave me feeling like an overstimulated and disjointed marathon runner. It was dazzling not only to watch Woolf's expert portrayals of the interplay between the shared, observable world and individual subjectivity (I love the car and plane episodes!), but also to watch her spread her web of interconnected characters across London. As a reader who very very rarely appreciates setting, I could not help but admire the way that Woolf's flawless narration made London come alive for me, with a heartbeat that sounded like Big Ben and a breath that swept characters to Clarissa Dalloway's door and inspired reflections on the past.
Clarissa Dalloway is a dynamic and complex heroine. Unlike most heroines I admire (like Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice, or Clarisse from Fahrenheit 415), who intellectually dwell on the sidelines of their society, keeping an ironic or critical distance, Clarissa hungers for society. But she isn't just an immature party-planner and social plotter (*cough* Emma Woodhouse *cough*) either. Sceptical about society and empathetic to the core, Clarissa does not simply have parties for her own gratification. They are, as she says, an offering. Cynical, self-critical, and aware of the pain around her, Clarissa plunges into the world seeking and spreading joy. And I love that.
There's so much more to say about this novel. It is a meaningful and moving post World War I novel. The character of Septimus Smith, a veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder as well as his society's failure to understand his condition, is as moving as Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon's poetry. It is also a novel about middle-age, after the expectations of youth are baffled by the pressures of the world. It is a novel about friendship, communication, death, life, marriage, and, perhaps most of all, those fleeting but all-important moments of being that make everything else worthwhile.
"Life itself, every moment of it, every drop of it, here, this instant, now, in the son, in Regent's Park, was enough."
"It is a thousand pities never to say what one feels."
"For she had come to feel that it was the only thing worth saying--what one felt. Cleverness was silly. One must say simply what one felt."...more
If I wasn’t so attached to Hamlet, I would adopt William Shakespeare’s Othello as my favorite Shakespearean tragedy in a second. But I am so it just gIf I wasn’t so attached to Hamlet, I would adopt William Shakespeare’s Othello as my favorite Shakespearean tragedy in a second. But I am so it just gets second place. Shakespeare’s Othello was both emotionally moving and intellectually engaging.
First off, reading Shakespeare, simply because of the disparity between Modern Modern English and Elizabethan Modern English, is a challenge. Often it’s difficult to get past the “cuckold”s and “marry”s to the play’s mood or emotion. This play, though, seriously made me cry. I didn’t like the character of Macbeth and Hamlet’s insanity (or insane façade) made him more difficult to sympathize with and Marc Antony was pretty vicious with his whole hounds of war thing, but I wanted to see Othello win. His initial relationship with Desdemona was beautiful and the way they spoke of each other was touching. He was a sort of underdog, beating the odds, rising to general despite the bigotry and racism that a Moor would face in Venice at the time. I wanted him to win, so seeing him fall was devastating. Which only made the play all the more powerful.
As I’ve already hinted in my talk of Othello, the characters in this play were powerful. Iago is the cruelest, most vile villain I have seen in a long time, possibly ever. Mind you, he has motive, but his blatant lies and set ups and destruction… Oh he makes me mad. (See how well done he is!) Desdemona is beautiful as the suffering, always faithful wife, albeit not very empowering. The changing current of the story resulted in a constantly changing perception of Othello, culminating in strong pity for “one that loved not wisely, but too well” (5.2. 404).
Of course, Othello cannot be mentioned without devoting some time to race issues. What is interesting about the play is that it leads to questioning of the reality inside the context of the play, the reality in which the play was written, and the reality of today. (Hopefully that statement will make sense in a second.) First, the reader may question how much of the characters’ animosity toward Othello is caused by race. Then, the reader must wonder if the fictitious character of Othello was always doomed, even in his conception, because Shakespeare, in the world in which he was writing, could not allow a Moor to be successful (especially with a white woman). Then, of course, in today’s reality, it is often debated which actors, or actors from which racial background(s), can play the part of Othello. Thus, the play presents a little story that leads to much consideration.
I enjoyed the play also because of Shakespeare’s presentation of the power of jealousy. Jealousy is a driving force in the play, and the incredible power that envy has over Shakespeare’s characters is alarming, yet convincing (and therefore, all the more alarming).
I found a zillion trillion quotes that I liked (it’s Shakespeare, I can’t help it), so here you go:
“Sir, you are one of those that will not serve God if the devil bid you” (Iago 1.1.122-123).
“It is silliness to live, when to live is torment, and then have we a prescription to die when death is our physician” (Roderigo 1.3. 350-352).
“Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners” (Iago 1.3.362-363).
“Knavery’s plain face is never seen till used” (Iago 2.2.334).
“Reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit and lost without deserving” (Iago 2.3.287-289).
“Thou dost conspire against thy friend… / If thou but think’st him wronged and mak’st his ear/ A stranger to thy thoughts” (Othello 3.3.167-169).
“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! / It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock / The meat it feeds on” (Iago 3.3.195-197). ...more
My second reading of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was much more fruitful than my first. The play helped me realize, to a greater exMy second reading of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was much more fruitful than my first. The play helped me realize, to a greater extent, Shakespeare’s genius and his works’ complexity.
The way Shakespeare frames the reality of those characters in love is very true and entertaining. In the final act, Theseus asserts that “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet / Are of imagination all compact.” Throughout the play, Shakespeare equates those in love to the insane, to those in a dream, to minstrels, and to actors, showing how love (or infatuation) takes couples out of day-to-day reality. I really liked that. After I saw how Shakespeare was doing that, it developed his play into something much different than the high school sitcom I had reduced it to.
I would love to cast this play with two sets of twins, one playing Hermia and Helena, and one playing Lysander and Demetrius. I know that neither pairs were related in the play, but I think it would be an interesting dynamic, especially with Hermia and Helena, as they’re so often played with Hermia being the pretty one and Helena being a reject. I think the audience is meant to view Helena as a reject because she, in her loneliness, views herself as a reject at the beginning of the play. Everyone feels ugly when they feel unloved, even if they aren’t necessarily ugly. So I think it’d be fantastic if Helena were always saying that Hermia is so much prettier than her and they look identical. Also, the twin thing would encourage the notion that you can’t help who you fall in love with, since the girls differentiate between the guys and visa versa, despite their obvious similarities—a result of the uncontrollable power of love.
Instead of jabbering on and on, I’ll let the play speak for itself, with these quotes:
“The course of true love never did run smooth” (Lysander, Act One).
“And yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays” (Bottom, Act Three).
Hmmmmmm… I expected there to be more. Oh well. On a slightly to the side note, Disney’s House of Mouse had A Midsummer Night’s Dream short with Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, and Donald as the lovers and Goofy as Puck, which was pretty well done and funny, so tune in to the Disney Channel. (Maybe I should try to get this page sponsored…) ...more
**spoiler alert** I do not know why Macbeth was chosen to be one of the three William Shakespeare plays on my Masters Exam. (Which panics me, because**spoiler alert** I do not know why Macbeth was chosen to be one of the three William Shakespeare plays on my Masters Exam. (Which panics me, because it seems like something I should know.) Macbeth is, in my opinion, the weakest Shakespearean tragedy I've read. It does not have the startling ambiguities or essential human questions of Hamlet. It does not have the brutal horror of Titus Andronicus. It does not have the political relevance and rhetorical strength of Julius Caesar. It does not have the pathos of an old man shrieking in the wind or a great man reduced to barbarity of King Lear or Othello. It has, in my mind, weak characters that progress through a shockingly simplistic (for Shakespeare) plot.
(BTW: I can't tell you how insecure in my education it makes me feel to apparently not comprehend the brilliance of this highly lauded play.)
I've decided that Macbeth is the opposite of Hamlet. Hamlet thinks and muses and philosophizes and thinks and doesn't act, while Macbeth is all action with very little thought. And few words. (He and Lady Macbeth never even articulate what the "it," "that," or "deed" they plan is.) Since reading a play hinges on the words, this makes Hamlet a much stronger piece of literature for me. (Macbethis about half of Hamlet's length. The half that missing is the half that makes the play intriguing.) Hamlet: "Let me explain to you, the audience, why I'm upset... This makes me question existence, the meaning of life, my place in the world, what is real, my moral purpose..." Macbeth: "I found out I'm destined to be king. I guess I should kill the current monarch! Go go Macbeth dagger!" Now if Macbeth was indeed equipped with superhuman technological accessories, the play would be much more interesting. Since he is not, it lacks the substance--challenging of the moral code, nature of reality, nature of sanity, role of the individual in the familial and political sphere--that I expect from Shakespeare.
And then there's Lady Macbeth. Her complete absence from Act IV destroys her character. She needs some more stage time. I cannot accept the transition from super crazy calling-on-the-darkness-of-hell shrieking "unsex me here!" woman to vulnerable sleepwalking "out, damned spot" lady without seeing more of it. She was the most interesting character in the play and could have been so much more if Shakespeare had spent a little more ink on her psychological deterioration.
There is some good stuff. You've gotta love the classic Greek tragic hero mistake of misinterpreting prophesies. And the psychological, social, and natural deterioration caused by immoral acts. But I can get those from Oedipus Rex. Which pretty much leaves me with just the drunken porter monologue.
"And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death."
"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing."
(After reading this again (again), I upped my score to four stars. The moral and psychological deterioration, ironic juxtapositions, structural genius (except for act four, which is like the pointless weeks leading up to Thanksgiving that aren't Christmas time yet--you know you're so close to the magic but everything is so monotonous), the gender commentary, and the motifs of blood, sight, natural order, and fair/foul are admittedly phenomenal.) ...more
Since the first time I read William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I loved it. I was worried that after reading so many great Shakespearean plays, it would losSince the first time I read William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I loved it. I was worried that after reading so many great Shakespearean plays, it would lose its position as my favorite, but the second time around just cemented its spot.
The first thing I love about Hamlet is the ambiguity. Is Hamlet insane or is he just acting the part? Does the ghost appear? Is the ghost really Hamlet Sr.? (Even Hamlet initially doubted that.) Is there really a ghost every time Hamlet sees it? Why doesn’t Gertrude see the ghost Hamlet sees? In a fictional story, the fictional characters and the real audience are both puzzled as to what is real and what is not. Reality and fiction mingle in Hamlet: the protagonist plans to find out what really happened with Claudius and his father by having Claudius watch fiction. Furthermore, death is both reality and fiction for Hamlet, as corpses have substance and can be eaten by worms, but death might allow for the chance to dream… The ambiguity then becomes both a literary technique and the makings of a theme. Very cool.
The second thing I love about Hamlet is Hamlet. Hamlet is one of my favorite characters of all time. A melancholy intellectual who over-thinks every aspect of his life to the point of near inaction. It just appeals to me. I think his story, the real tragedy of Hamlet, is one of self-destruction. He alienates himself from those who care for him and whom he cares for (I am obstinate about his deep, deep, love for Ophelia), those he could turn to for comfort, because he chooses instead to turn to his thoughts. He is intelligent and wise, but he fails to see what he truly has, pessimistically (and understandably) dwelling on his father’s death. He’s such a round character, so strong and so weak. He’s just great, okay?
Okay, the long-awaited Hamlet quotes:
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Hamlet, Act 1).
"Brevity is the soul of wit" (Polonius, Act 2).
“For there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” (Hamlet, Act 2).
"O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams" (Hamlet, Act 2).
“What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable; in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?” (Hamlet, Act 2).
"Thus conscience does make cowards of us all" (Hamlet, Act 3).
"Ay, truly, for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness" (Hamlet, Act 3).
“You do surely bar the door upon your own liberty if you deny your griefs to your friend” (Rosencrantz, Act 3).
“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below; / Words without thoughts never to heaven go” (Claudius, Act 3).
“So full of artless jealousy is guilt, / It spills itself in fearing to be spilt” (Gertrude, Act 4).
“We know what we are but know not what we may be” (Ophelia, Act 4).
"When sorrows come, they come not in single spies, / But in battalions" (Claudius, Act 4).
"That we would do / We should do when we would; for this 'would changes / And hath abatements and delays as many / As there are tongues, are hands, are accidents; / And then this 'should' is like a spendthrift sigh, / That hurts by easing" (Claudius, Act 4).
“Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander till he find it stopping a bunghole?” (Hamlet, Act 5).
And with that happy note, I end.
(This review is old--from my second read in 2003. I just added some quotes.) ...more
It’s times like this that I really get frustrated that I can’t safely file away all my memories and impressions of every book I read to pull out yearsIt’s times like this that I really get frustrated that I can’t safely file away all my memories and impressions of every book I read to pull out years later and examine without the memory having suffered any decay that time so often causes those occupants of my brain. Then I could truly know if Nicholas Nickleby were my favorite Charles Dickens book of those that I’ve read, as I was willing to declare it before I realized that I could hardly remember the earliest two that I had read, A Tale of Two Cities and Oliver Twist, and, therefore, couldn’t really judge between them. But, I must say, I really, really liked Nicholas Nickleby.
I feel like the back of a Penguin Classics publishing of any Dickens book, as I immediately feel the need to compliment his fantastic cast of characters. Characters like noble, hot-headed Nicholas, virtuous, sweet Kate, slimy Mr. Gride, villainous Mr. Squeers, devoted Smike, scattered Mrs. Nickleby, arrogant Sir Mulberry-Hawk, the warm-hearted Cheerybles, petty Miss Squeers, just John Browdie, admirable Mr. Noggs, “charming” Mr. Mantilini, bitchy Miss Knag, and horrible Ralph Nickleby make the novel a constant pleasure to read. Dickens has great control over his readers’ sympathies, showing them which characters to love and which characters to hate, and thus directing the readers’ hopes for the novel’s ending.
The back cover of my publication of Nicholas Nickleby calls it one of Dickens’ comedies, which struck me as odd when I first saw it, but seemed perfectly fitting by the end. Dickens is hilarious! I laughed out loud so many times as I read his book that I felt silly. His charming little observations about the world and about character types never cease to amuse me.
Of all the Dickens books I’ve read, Nicholas Nickleby is probably the least popular in that thousands of high school students don’t read it every year. This is probably because it’s more concentrated on being a “comedy” rather than making a social statement (though that doesn’t stop it from presenting many of Dickens’ customary themes). It’s less dark and heavy than many of his others, but still very good and definitely worth a read.
I end with Dickens’ own words by presenting these quotes:
“Nature’s own blessing are the proper goods of life, and we may share them sinlessly together. To die is our heavy portion, but, oh, let us die with life about us; when our cold hearts cease to beat, let warm hearts be beating near; let our last look be upon the bounds with God has set to his own bright skies, and not on stone walls and bars of iron!” (Alice).
“Dreams are the bright creatures of poem and legend, who sport on earth in the night season, and melt away in the first beam of the sun, which lights grim care and stern reality on their daily pilgrimage through the world.”
“Such is hope, Heaven’s own gift to struggling mortals; pervading, like some subtle essence, from the skies, all things, both good and bad; as universal as death, and more infectious than disease."
“Bodily illness is more easy to bear than mental” (Kate).
“Thus, cases of injustice, and oppression, and tyranny, and the most extravagant bigotry, are in constant occurrence among us every day. It is the custom to trumpet forth much wonder and astonishment at the chief actors therein setting at defiance so completely the opinion of the world, but there is no greater fallacy; it is precisely because they do consult the opinion of their own little world that such things take place at all, and strike the great world dumb with amazement.”
“If a man would commit and inexpiable offence against any society, large or small, let him be successful. They will forgive him any crime but that” (Nicholas).
“When I speak of home, I speak of the place where—in default of a better—those I love are gathered together; and if that place were a gipsy’s tent or a barn, I should call it by the same good name notwithstanding” (Nicholas).
“Love, however, is very materially assisted by a warm and active imagination, which has a long memory, and will thrive for a considerable time on very slight and sparing food. Thus it is that it often attains its most luxuriant growth in separation and under circumstances of the utmost difficulty.” ...more
As a devoted Charles Dickens fan who watches about seven different film adaptations of A Christmas Carol every December, I am ashamed to admit that itAs a devoted Charles Dickens fan who watches about seven different film adaptations of A Christmas Carol every December, I am ashamed to admit that it was not until this Christmas Eve that I read the original work. I, of course, was not surprised to discover that I enjoyed Dickens’ novel much more than any film adaptation (enjoyable as they are).
The novel appealed to me more intellectually and emotionally than any film adaptation ever has. Though I had seen his novel performed in so many different ways, there were some portions that I just didn’t understand until I read them, like the idea that the Ghost of Christmas Present is present in this world only one Christmas day and then retires to be replaced by a different Ghost of Christmas Present the next year, or the idea that the ghosts were supposed to have visited Scrooge over a course of three nights but only visited him on one night so that he could enjoy Christmas and so that it is left ambiguous to the reader whether they visited him at all or if Scrooge was merely dreaming. Also, I cried much more in the novel than in the movies. Dickens' language combined with my imagination (though his artfulness deserves the entirety of the credit if you ask me) was so very moving, and I found myself crying at several parts as I read.
Furthermore, it is only through reading the novel that you can truly experience Dicken’s wit. I laughed out loud as I read his novel, even though, for the most part, it is concerned with very serious material. Just a sample from the first page that totally cracks me up:
"…Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for."
Admittedly, I’m generally a sucker for self conscious narrators, but—c’mon—that’s hilarious. That had me laughing out loud in a hospital waiting room.
Though I fear this review has more convinced you of my absurdity than the novel’s worth, I highly recommend you read it. It’s less than a hundred pages and (like all of Dickens’ lengthier novels I have read) worth every word. So read it. Around Christmastime, a time so beautifully described by Scrooge’s nephew:
“But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round… as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
This review is from 12/24/2003, though I have since read the novella again. All I can add is that it amazes me that a novella written by one man has so firmly embedded itself into cultural tradition. I know it informs my ideology of Christmas to a far greater extent than any other story or custom. I love it. ...more
My primary goal when I'm teaching A Tale of Two Cities to my sophomores is to make them realize that Charles Dickens didn't write creaky, dusty long nMy primary goal when I'm teaching A Tale of Two Cities to my sophomores is to make them realize that Charles Dickens didn't write creaky, dusty long novels that teachers embraced as a twisted rite of passage for teenagers. Instead, I want them them to understand why Dickens was one of the most popular writers in England and America during his time. I want them to see the book as the suspenseful, comedic, and sentimental piece of entertainment that it is. Because, while A Tale of Two Cities is masterfully written with sly humor, densely meaningful descriptions, a cast of quirky characters only Dickens could create, an endless series of telling binaries and foils, and relevant social commentary about the French Revolution as well as Dickens' time, it is also simply a damn good story. By a damn good storyteller.
I have a difficult time writing reviews about books that I adore because, when I'm not reading them, I hug them too closely to be very critical. (BTW - I frequently hug A Tale of Two Cities in front of my students... and write Charles Dickens' name with hearts around it... They think I'm crazy, but it intrigues some of them just enough to make them doubt the derisive comments of upperclassmen.) I reluctantly admit that Dickens does oversimplify the causes of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror; however, in doing so, he successfully captures the spirit of a tumultuous period and helps readers sympathize with characters on every side of the developing conflict. I also think that the characters of Roger Cly and John Barsad get a bit messy and may have worked better as a single character. Perhaps the confusion is a result of serialization restructuring. But, really, I read A Tale of Two Cities like a costumed Lord of the Rings fan at a movie premier. I cheer when my favorite characters enter scenes and I knowingly laugh when Dickens cleverly foreshadows future events.
Though I don't think that A Tale of Two Cities is Dickens' best novel--that title I would reserve for either Bleak House or David Copperfield--I do agree with Dickens, who claims that it was his best story. It is artfully written. Dickens introduces a cast of characters, sprawled across two nations and spanning varied social classes and political affiliations, and then effortlessly weaves their stories and secrets together in a masterful way. The Modernist movement painstakingly forced literature to reflect the ambiguities and uncertainties of the real world and that's great, but sometimes it is a real joy to read a story that ends with such magnificent closure. All mysteries are solved and everything makes sense. It is beautiful.
(I have to admit that I was overjoyed when a group of my fifth period girls persistently voiced their disdain for Dickens' angel in the house Lucie and backed Madame Defarge. I think they may have created a Madame Defarge myspace, actually. Oh how the times have changed.)
"Ms. R--, you got me." "What?" "At the beginning of this book, you said you would get some of us. And that we would love it. You got me." I didn't get you G--. Charles Dickens did. I just introduced you.
"A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other."...more
I enjoyed this (my third or fourth?) reading of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations the most. In all likelihood, my enjoyment stemmed from the immenseI enjoyed this (my third or fourth?) reading of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations the most. In all likelihood, my enjoyment stemmed from the immense relief I felt at escaping from Modernist novels; I did read this directly after my misguided venture into James Joyce's Ulysses. It could be that I've grown or matured since last time. But, in all seriousness, it's probably because this the first time reading Great Expectations that I was able to truly appreciate Pip as a protagonist.
I realized that as I read Dickens various bildungsroman novels, his heroes tend to travel through the narrative as silhouettes of young men, with generically handsome, but naive faces. Of course, they all have their distinguishing characteristics: Nicholas Nickleby is emotional and impulsive, David Copperfield is "blind," and Oliver Twist... has that strange ethereal glow. But they are pretty much silhouettes that the reader can inhabit (as the author often did) and grow with throughout the tale. Pip is different. He is a fully developed character whose arrogance, snobbery, and pretensions made me want to distance myself from him. What I realized this time around was that, as repulsive as he often was, Pip is so easy to relate to. In his most shameful moments, he is so human. I begrudged him his faults because, in some indirect way, I have shared them. My replusion was also tempered by the fact that the older Pip narrating the story was exceedingly ashamed and guilty of his younger self. It's a situation that is more uncomfortable but also more realistic than the common "if I knew then what I know now" retrospective narration.
Place Pip among a cast of heartwarming and humorous characters (the uneducated but heroic Joe and Wemmick, who separates his business life and his private life to the extreme, especially stand out) in an entangled plot that begs questions about the moral supremacy of the upper class, the formation of identity, the dangers of love and dreams, and the proper role of parenthood, and you have a quality novel. As anyone might expect of <3 Charles Dickens <3.
(I have to admit that, as I read, I sometimes couldn't help but picture scenes from the South Park parody of Great Expectations.)
"So, throughout life, our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of people whom me most despise."
"It is a principle of his that no man who was not a true gentleman at heart, ever was, since the world began, a true gentleman in manner."
"For, there was something very comfortable in having plenty of stationary." (Why don't I have post-its with this quote on them?)...more
I have officially been wooed by nineteenth century French literature. First Dumas and now this. I just finished reading Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback ofI have officially been wooed by nineteenth century French literature. First Dumas and now this. I just finished reading Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, and it was fantastic. The characters, the themes, the literary structures… Ahhh… *swoons*
Before I proclaim my love affair with Victor Hugo, I have to mention some negatives. First off: very, very difficult book to get into. I struggled through at least the first hundred pages, and I’m not that hard to please. Secondly, up until this point, I had always thought that abridged novels were ridiculous. How could the editors take parts out and still have the story make sense? Upon reading unabridged Hugo, I understand. The man had complete chapters devoted to discussing the history of Paris or the history of the cathedral, and while I admit that it was a clever way to show off his knowledge and spread his political ideals, it was not what I bargained for.
The novel would have been more accurately titled “The Archdeacon of Notre Dame.” (Frollo was not a judge as in the Disney movie. They just tried to secularize him to an equivalent position.) I argue that Frollo was the protagonist. The story spent most of its time with him: his internal struggle, his plotting. And his character was fantastic! He was underhanded, but I pitied him. He was pathetic, but I feared him. He did evil, but I loved him. Frollo was not simply a powerful villain; he was a dynamic, complex character that, at times, the reader could really sympathize with.
The other characters in the novel were equally impressive. Esmeralda’s sweet, strong innocence (she was only sixteen) and foolish devotion to Phoebus is heart wrenching. Quasimodo’s strength of body and heart is awe-inspiring. Phoebus’ selfish arrogance is antagonizing. The minor characters, from the old heckling woman, to the foolish young Frollo (the Archdeacon’s brother), to the rambling philosopher, create a motley portrait of a fascinating world.
Hugo’s occasional comments on society cannot go unnoted. I especially enjoyed one episode where Quasimodo was being questioned in court. In the novel, unlike in the Disney movie, Quasimodo is deaf, so, as he is being questioned, he tries to anticipate the judge’s questions and answer them accordingly. The irony is that the judge was doing the same thing. Hugo created a deaf judge. Beautiful. Anyway, a funny scene ensued, and Hugo made his point.
The best part of the story (maybe, there were just so many good ones) was likely Hugo’s portrayal of love. Love was everywhere: the inexplicable love Frollo had for his useless brother, the love that caused Frollo to accept Quasimodo, the love that broke a mother’s heart at the loss of her daughter, the faithful love that sent Quasimodo to Frollo with his tail between his legs… But the most stunning and provocative of all was the comparison of the three men who “loved” Esmeralda: one man, “loving” her so much that he wanted to possess her; one man, “loving” her for the moment, until another girl came along; and one man “loving” her so much that she went before everything: before his desire to be with her, before his desire to have her, before his own desire to live. *swoons again* Awesome book…
When I started reading it, everyone felt the need to warn me that it didn’t end like the Disney movie. I was afraid. I was scared that after stringing me along, Hugo was going to kill it at the end. Don’t worry: he doesn’t. The end is moving and beautiful and fitting and so what if it’s not Disney: it’s great.
And, to further please the happy reader, there were a million good quotes. Here you go:
“Oh, love!... That is to be two, and yet one. A man and a woman joined, as into an ange; that is heaven!” (Esmeralda).
“Great edifices, like great mountains, are the work of the ages.”
“He found that man needs affection, that life without a warming love is but a dry wheel, creaking and grating as it turns.”
“Alas! The small thing shall bring down the great things; a tooth triumphs over a whole carcass. The rat of the Nile destroys the crocodile, the swordfish kills the whale; the book will kill the edifice” (Frollo).
“It is to this setting sun that we look for a new dawn.”
“Spira, spera.” (“Breathe, hope.”)
“For love is like a tree; it grows of itself; it send its roots deep into our being, and often continues to grow green over a heart in ruins.”
“What man orders… Circumstances disorder” (Frollo).
“Everyone knows that great wealth is not acquired by letters, and that the most accomplished writers have not always a warm hearth in wintertime. The lawyers take all the wheat for themselves and leave nothing by chaff for the other learned professions” (Gringoire, the philosopher).
“A lighted candle never attracts one gnat only.”
“That’s life… It’s often our best friends who make us fall” (Gringoire).
“The human voice is music to the human ear.”
Just a wonderful sample of the jewels contained in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The novel was difficult, but well worth the effort. I’m just sitting here in awe of it. I can’t write any more. ...more
Victor Hugo’s outstanding novel Les Miserables is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful, touching, and thought provoking books I have ever read.Victor Hugo’s outstanding novel Les Miserables is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful, touching, and thought provoking books I have ever read. Les Miserables captures the vibrancy of France during the tumultuous early nineteenth century by following the interwoven stories of powerful characters: the delightful and the disdainful, the downtrodden and the unjust, the villains and the saints, and proves that goodness may radiate brilliantly from those from whom it is least expected: from the miserable.
It is important to me that the first aspect of Hugo’s work that I praise be Jean Valjean, the story’s protagonist, and now one of my favorite characters of all time. Many characters that encounter Jean dub him a saint—and justly so—as humility, goodness, love, and kindness flourish his every action. What makes him so incredible, however, is that Hugo allows his reader to see Jean struggle in his pursuit of goodness, painstakingly emptying his soul of all selfishness and ill will, thus creating in Jean an inspiration. He is a model of goodness, a simple man—obviously a fallible man—who, touched by the kindness of another, begins to answer to something greater than himself. Absolutely beautiful.
Another extremely beautiful aspect of Les Miserables is Hugo’s portrayal of love. Just as in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hugo presents the various shades of love with the accuracy and delicacy of a philosopher and an artist. The selfless, sacrificing love a of mother for her child between Fantine and Cosette; the all-important, life-giving love of a “father” for his child between Jean and Cosette; the always present, all-forgiving love of a grandfather for his grandson between Gillenormand and Marius; the innocent, passionate love of young lovers between Cossete and Marius… Hugo’s presentation of the various, always powerful, forms of love throughout his novel left me speechless, sobbing, giggling, doting, and always moved.
Hugo’s examination of criminal justice, primarily through his presentation of Javert’s relentless pursuit of Jean, leaves his reader not only questioning institutionalized justice in Hugo’s time and in contemporary times, but also questioning and redefining preconceived notions of guilt, culpability, justice, incarceration, and reform. Prison, in Jean’s case, made his condition worse. In prison, he became the crime for which he was jailed. Even after he was completely free and reformed, his person was still tainted and shamed by his past incarceration. Is it not the same now? How then, can prison encourage reform in prisoners? It was only after Jean was shown respect and love that he was able to give it. Where is the respect in a dingy jail cell? Where is the love behind locked doors?
The greatest wonder of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is that after reading an 1463 page novel, I feel tired and tried, but not because of the relentless barricade of words and the exhausting turning of pages, but because I feel as if I have wondered the streets of Paris with his lively characters, felt their greatest joys and deepest pains, and grown because of it.
I put my conclusion before my quotes simply because I found so many of them that I’m not sure anyone other than myself will read through them. They’re good ones though…
“Teach the ignorant as much as you can; society is guilty in not providing universal free education, and it must answer for the night it produces. If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness” (Bishop Myriel).
“We may be indifferent to the death penalty and not declare ourselves, either way so long as we have not seen a guillotine with our own eyes. But when we do, the shock is violent, and we are compelled to choose sides, for or against.”
“Be careful how you think of the dead. Don’t think of what might have been. Look steadfastly and you will see the living glory of your beloved dead in the heights of heaven” (Bishop Myriel).
“The most beautiful of altars… is the soul of an unhappy man who is comforted and thanks God” (Bishop Myriel).
“The beautiful is as useful as the useful… Perhaps more so” (Bishop Myriel).
“Unless God protects a house, they who guard it watch in vain” (Bishop Myriel).
“Have no fear of robbers or murderers. They are external dangers, petty dangers. We should fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers; vices the real murderers. The great dangers are within us. Why worry about what threatens are heads or our purses? Let us think instead of what threatens our souls” (Bishop Myriel).
“Man has one tyrant, Ignorance” (conventionist).
“To destroy abuses is not enough; habits must also be changed. The windmill has gone, but the wind is still there” (conventionist).
“The judge speaks in the name of justice, the priest in the name of pity, which is only a more exalted justice” (Bishop Myriel).
“Yes, the brutalities of justice are called revolutions. When they are over, men recognize that the human race has been harshly treated but that it has moved forward” (conventionist).
“In passing, we might say that success is a hideous thing. Its false similarity to merit deceives men.”
“Liberation is not deliverance. A convict may leave prison behind but not his sentence.”
“Pride, the fortress of evil in man.”
“There are no bad herbs, and no bad men; there are only bad cultivators” (Jean Valjean).
“The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved: loved for ourselves—say rather, loved in spite of ourselves.”
“The highest duty is to think of others” (Jean Valjean).
“Diamonds are found only in the dark bowels of the earth; truths are found only in the depths of thought.”
“If you wish to understand what Revolution is, call it Progress; and if you wish to understand what Progress is, call it Tomorrow.”
“There is something more terrible than a hell of suffering—a hell of boredom.”
“To see and to show, even these are not enough. Philosophy should be energy; it should find its aim and effect in the improvement of mankind.”
“Thought is the true triumph of the soul.”
“A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is a visible labor and there is an invisible labor. To meditate is to labor; to think is to act. Fold arms work, clasped hands perform, a gaze fixed on heaven work.”
“Those who pray always are necessary to those who never pray.”
“The delight we inspire in others has this enchanting peculiarity that, far from being diminished like every other reflection, it returns to us more radiant than ever.”
“All the generous sunrays of society spring from the science, letters, the arts, and education.”
“There is a way of falling into error while on the road of truth… a sort of willful implicit faith that swallow[s:] everything whole.”
“Between the logic of the Revolution and its philosophy, there is this difference—that its logic could conclude in war, while its philosophy could only end in peace.”
“The good must be innocent.”
“All civilized nations offer the thinker this circumstance for his admiration: war; but war, civilized war, exhausts and sums up every form of banditry.”
“Life, misfortunes, isolation, abandonment, poverty, are battlefields that have their heroes; obscure heroes, sometimes greater than the illustrious heroes.”
“The soul helps the body, and at certain moments raises it. It is the only bird that sustains its cage.”
“Destroy the cave Ignorance, and you destroy the mole Crime.”
“Courage does not fear crime, and honesty does not fear authority.”
“This conflict between right and fact has endured since the origins of society. To bring the duel to an end, to consolidate the pure ideal with the human reality, to make the right peacefully interpenetrate the fact, and the fact the right, this is the work of the wise.”
“The soul that loves and suffers is in the sublime state.”
“To diminish the number of the dark, to increase the number of the luminous, there is the aim. That is why we cry: education, knowledge! To learn to read is to kindle a fire: every syllable spelled sparkles... But whoever says light does not necessarily say joy. There is suffering in the light; and excess burns. Flame is hostile to the wing. To burn and yet to fly, this is the miracle of genius.”
“For where there is no more hope, song remains.”
“As with stomachs, we should pity minds that do not eat. If there is anything more poignant than a body agonizing for want of bread, it is a soul dying of hunger for light.”
“Our civilization, the work of twenty centuries, is at once their monster and their prodigy; it is worth saving. It will be saved. To relieve it is already a great deal; to enlighten it is something more.”
“Take from the whispers of two lovers the melody that springs from the soul and accompanies them like a lyre, what remains is only a shadow. You say, What! Is that all? Yes, childish things, repetitions, laughter about nothing, useless things, absurdities, and that is deepest and most sublime in the world! The only things worth being said and listened to.”
“The mob is traitor to the people.”
“The writer doubles and triples his style when silence is imposed by a master over the people.”
“But no sword is simple. Every blade has two edges; he who wounds with one wounds himself with the other.”
“Love one another. Be foolish about it. Love is the foolishness of men, and the wisdom of God” (Gillenormand).
“It is nothing to die; it is horrible not to live” (Jean Valjean). ...more