Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"One hundred and Five, North Tower"

Deep breaths.

I just finished A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Who says literature doesn't matter?

Is it not strange how one of the bloodiest and most frightening periods of human history should have produced two of the most moving pieces of classic literature? Out of the carnage of the French Revolution come Hugo's Les Miserables, and this masterpiece by Dickens. Dickens portrays this period in shuddering bleakness, beginning with the misery of the French people at the hands of their aristocratic oppressors. This is a view we are familiar with; it is the sympathy with the underdog, the pitiable Fantine and the revolutionary Marius that we love to suffer with, rise with. And Dickens, like Hugo, chooses to write the light of redemption against the darkness of sin and bitterness.

Dickens, it would seem, understands redemption -- in terms of the gospel, and its power to change people. Of the wretched Sydney Carton, at the character's introduction, Dickens writes,

     "Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away."

It seems the ultimate irony, to write of redemption against the writhing horror of the French Revolution. And yet, what better backdrop for grace than the deepest picture of man's depravity? Dickens understands.

...Oh! I so want to talk about it! But I'm afraid that you, like me a few days ago, haven't read this book! And I really don't want to spoil the beauty of the story for you.

Suffice to say, I urge you to read it. And for those who wonder what purpose there is to books, I must remind of the words of Tennyson, from his poem "The Poet":

. . . And in her raiment’s hem was traced in flame
     WISDOM, a name to shake
All evil dreams of power–a sacred name.
         And when she spake,

Her words did gather thunder as they ran,
     And as the lightning to the thunder
Which follows it, riving the spirit of man,
         Making earth wonder,

So was their meaning to her words. No sword
     Of wrath her right arm whirl’d,
But one poor poet’s scroll, and with his word
         She shook the world.

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