Tuesday, 29 April 2014

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

"The learned profession of the law was certainly not behind any other learned profession in its Bacchanalian propensities, neither was Mr Stryver, always fast shouldering his way to a large and lucrative practice, behind his compeers in this particular, any more than in the drier parts of the legal race."

Dear Mr Charles Dickens, it is such a puzzlement to me that it has taken so many years for us to become so well acquainted. Your stories are so entrenched in popular culture that they appear strangely familiar, for I 'dreamed a dream of days gone by' that Madame Defarge was knitting in Les Mis but clearly my cultural references were all askew.

I wonder whether my new found love of Charlie D (as I've decided to call him)  stems from:
 a) the awe inspiring address of Simon Callow that I had the pleasure of hearing on the subject of his brilliance - Dickens that is - not Callow - who is nonetheless quite brilliant; 
b) the wisdom of approaching middle age (highly doubtful with my Peter Pan-like tendencies - is there a female version?) or;
 c) my recent masters course of the legal persuasion - no one writes about the law like Dickens - he so beautifully captures the potential injustice of justice and the true financial burden and mental cost of protracted cases. 

Perhaps it is a mixture of all three and might I add, that this particular offering is delightfully slim in volume. I'm not 'fat-ist' but Dickens can tend to occupy a decidedly large portion of your life should you pursue some of his more weighty tomes and this  exists as a tasty morsel - much like A Christmas Carol  - bite sized chunks of brilliance for your brain to savour.

Fair warning, dear reader, the plight of the good Doctor Manette, his daughter, her husband and Mr Lorry is bound to draw you in and you may, like me, find yourself closing the final chapter in the wee hours of a school night. Needless to say work was frightful the next day and yet, I felt privileged to have lived through such upheaval in two great cities. I think the opening sentence retains such resonance because the present time is always the best and the worst of times and the equally famous final sentence, chock full of self sacrifice reminds us that in crazy times when the world  is a scary uncaring place, there are still good people who put the needs of others first. That, despite the horrific Defarge couple, is a reassuring takeaway in a world where civil unrest and torment is still an every day occurrence in much of the world.

"A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to each other" - well isn't that a timeless turn of phrase in a hands-off digital world?

5 out of 5, a classic for a reason and perhaps the real reason why I'm hopeless at knitting.

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