10 November 2008

A Tale Of Two Minds

Someone left this about the house, and I simply couldn't resist picking it up. I haven't even thought about this book since high school but, you know what? It's marvelous stuff!

Certainly, Dickens is rightly poked fun at for so obviously "being paid by the word", and his reliance on the most ludicrous of coincidences to execute his plots is, well, ludicrous.

(For the life of me, I cannot figure out how it is that two men, who just happen to look so much alike as to pass each for the other—despite one being French and one English—both fall so madly in love with a woman they barely know, whose character is so thinly-drawn as to consist solely of long blond hair, obedience to rules, and an insistent soppy-saccharine compassion, that they would each give their life for her happiness and safety, but...that's Dickens.)

Still, there is something here of brilliance. So many of his passages possess a rare and soulful elegance of both syntax and meaning. Witness this description of Darnay meeting the other aristocrats in prison:

So strangely clouded were these refinements by the prison manners and gloom, so spectral did they become in the inappropriate squalor and misery through which they were seen, that Charles Darnay seemed to stand in company of the dead. Ghosts all! The ghost of beauty, the ghost of stateliness, the ghost of elegance, the ghost of pride, the ghost of frivolity, the ghost of wit, the ghost of youth, the ghost of age—all waiting their dismissal from the desolate shore, all turning on him eyes that were changed by the death they had died in coming there.*

It's beautiful. Honestly, brings tears to my eyes (though that may also be the must and mildew wafting off the pages themselves...)

The craziest part of rereading this book, is how much, and how quickly, my thought patterns have become infected by Dickens' style. Perhaps you have picked that up in the paragraphs above, but here is an even clearer example. Yesterday I made a big pot of Cheese Beans from the original Moosewood Cookbook (the recipe is massacred in the revised edition and I don't recommend it) and my carnivorous brother announced that it tasted like vomit. This is the answer my Dickens-saturated brain produced:

"Tastes like vomit, Sir, I say you nay! Now, had you declaimed that yon warm cookpot contained a material which, upon first and cursory examination, did resemble vomit by looks alone, I might be inclined to agree—'tis true that the swirling sauce in company of so many indistinguishable bits and cutouts of vegetable matter and other edibles does come over in appearance altogether autumnal or spew-like in hue, but good Sir, that is in appearance alone! One breath of the sweet and savory aroma, one tiny morsel slipped delicately between the lips and the truth is out. 'Tis ambrosial in the extreme, Sir! And I , for one, intend to partake of it heartily, and, if need be, with the blindfold of Justice herself, that most impartial of Saintly Virtues, upon mine eyes to disguise any apparition of puke."

*Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. 1962, New York, London, Richmond Hill, Ontario: Scholastic Book Services,7th printing, pg 316


Darx said...

Your brother doesn't deserve to eat your cooking. My mind does the same thing when I get into a book; I start going crazy with the adverbs and the emphasis whenever I read Salinger.

Anonymous said...

I don't know much about Dickens, but I know A LOT about them cheesy beans! They make me speak in tongues: mmmmm mmmm mm mmm mmmmm!

Sim1 said...

Your photo makes me WANT to like/enjoy Dickens, but, alas, I am unable to muster the strength to overcome my endless, traumatic remembrances of hours spent toiling away in academic deference to the vast array of words spilling forth from the voluminous pages of said mighty tome.