I’m sorry about your disappointments this week! I’ve been hearing grumblings about Downton Abbey all week, and I’m thankful to be unaffected by the general upset, as I’ve yet to watch any more than the first episode. And your poor elephant! I think he’s awfully cute, myself. But whether you have disappointments to get over or not, Dorothy Sayers is always a good idea.
Picture from the 1935 movie
Speaking of novels, I finally finished Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities (1859). Have you read that one? You know I’ve never gotten into Dickens, despite having taken an entire grad school class devoted to him. His work is just too … Victorian, I guess: sentimental, sprawling, grotesque and covered in coal dust. Yet, many people I respect and like really do enjoy Dickens and find him worthwhile, so I feel like I need to make sure to try very hard to give him a fair chance before writing him off as “not worth my time.”
At the urging of my husband, who has an affection for it, I read this one. Seems like a reasonable choice – it’s certainly one of the five most famous of Dickens’s works – and I’ve always been attracted to the French Revolution as a subject of study. The strange thing is, the further I get from it, the better it seems in retrospect. While reading, I was annoyed by the flaws I saw. And there are certainly flaws – most of the characters are flat and kind of dull, the plot is characterized by improbable coincidence, and I generally despise overt sentimentality about dying children and perfect, beautiful blondes who do nothing but suffer heroically. I like to think that’s because I have too much of a sense of humor and self-esteem, but it could just be because I’m a brunette. I about threw the book across the room at the scene that contained both those elements.
However, that was only one scene, and there were others that were a joy to read, such as the exquisite first trial. Although I would argue that its weaknesses keep A Tale of Two Cities from being a masterpiece, there is enough strength in there to make this an engaging book and worth reading. The doubling throughout, for instance means that Tale works on some level like a compare/contrast essay, with the virtues of that type of writing: The dangers of the corruption in London’s law courts are highlighted by the contrasting of Darnay’s London trial with his two Paris trials, in one of which justice is carried properly.
And while I didn’t love most of the characters, I did very much enjoy dissolute but romantic Sydney Carton, and ruthless but compelling Madame Defarge. For Carton’s sake, and because I’m afraid of Mme Defarge, in the end I come down on the side of recommending this book to those who are looking for a decent story and a world of black and white morality, and who maybe don’t need much more than that to enjoy a book. B