Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

I started this book because I knew it was a classic. I’ve read many other Dickens novels and I liked them. Most of his tales are hard to read because they deal with difficult social situations. The hard issues in this story was based on the French Revolution. I didn’t realize how horrible the Revolution was until I read about the mass executions performed by the common people against the nobles. But that is another issue in itself.

The story starts with a certain doctor of the name of Manette. He is a French man that was wrongfully imprisoned for reasons found out late in the book. He is brought to England where his daughter, Lucie, helps to revive him back to his normal self. She eventually falls in love with a man that goes by the name of Charles Darnay. They live happily in England until a particular event causes Darnay to return to his home country of France. He is imprisoned on account that the Revolution has begun and he comes from noble birth. Lucie and her father follow him to France to try to get Darnay out of the hands of the Republic. Dr. Manette’s former imprisonment gives him a creditable standing and the people grant his request to free Darnay. Unfortunately there are people from Darnay’s past that are determined to see him executed because of his father’s ill doing. They arrest him again and bring him to trial. There is an interesting turn of events that bring all the characters in the book together at one place. The outcome is a good ending.

Choosing one main character is hard. It really centers around Dr. Manette, his daughter Lucie and her husband Charles Darnay. These three and their lives and adventure is focus of this story. I’m very interested in Darnay. He was a man born of noble birth. But after seeing and realizing how horrible the aristocrats treated the common people, he renounced his title and moved away. He understood the horrible condition that the country of France was in with the misuse of the common people. I admire him for that. His reason for returning to France was only to help a loyal servant from the hands of the Republic. Unfortunately the people didn’t understand him and just blame him for the horrible misdeeds of his forefathers. Another interesting character is Mrs. Defarge. She is one that denounces Darnay to the people, blaming him for the acts of his father. She is a strong, evil woman that takes a large part in pushing forward the Revolution. She is a symbol of the hate and anger of the people to the aristocrats.

This story was very believable since it was based on a historical event. I never realized how bad things were before the French Revolution and how much blood shed occurred to change things. Thousands of lives were executed in the Revolution. The unfair imprisonments of Manette and of Darnay were just parts of life in the changing system of France. Each character in itself was believable in their own way. Dickens has a very thorough of describing characters. After the first introduction of a person I feel like I know them.

The story is told in third person omniscient. That is my favorite style and also one of the most common. Dickens does a very good job narrating the story. During a lot of the reading I felt like I could hear him telling a story. It was much easier to read than some of his other novels. I didn’t think it was a dark and gloomy either, even though it contained heavy issues. The time period and location were key in the story. If the French Revolution wasn’t the center point I don’t believe it would have been a believable story. It was learning experience for me to read it. I’ve heard of the French Revolution and that it was a great change in the society of France, but I never understood the gravity of the situation.

I’m not sure there is one particular part of the story that was my favorite. I liked it was a whole. There isn’t anything that I didn’t like. The ending made me glad. I’ve read some endings that didn’t turn out the way I wanted. But this one did. I will recommend this book as my favorite of Dickens. I don’t know if it should be the first Dickens book to read, because it is different from his others, but it should be in the mix of his top books. It is definitely in my top books.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Pair of Blue Eyes

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

I wanted to read this book because I love another Thomas Hardy book, The Mayor of Castorbridge, that I previously read. I wanted to read a book by an author that I already know I like. The story is of a young girl, Elfride Swancourt, that falls in love with the first man she gets to know, Steven Smith. She plans to secretly marry since her widowed father doesn’t approve of the marriage because Steven is from a lower class. But wisdom overtakes her and she decides against it. They promise one another’s love and Steven goes to India to save money and become wealthy enough to earn the father’s approval. In the meantime Elfride falls in love with another man, Henry Knight. There is a confusing turn of events leaving Elfride alone. The end turns tragically as the two lovers of Elfride race each other to win back her love.

Elfride, the main character, is one that is hard to understand. She is very passionate about her lovers, yet is torn between the two. Her commitment to the first is very strong for quite some awhile, but time and distance makes that love fade and she falls for another man. She believes that her attempt at elopement was a dreadfully wrong deed that ruins her honor. With this belief in mind she keeps it a secret from Knight and leads him to believe that she really did do something immoral. The misunderstanding brings about tragedy. She brings it upon herself with her false beliefs in her actions.

I can almost relate to Elfride in the beginning of the book. Her strong passion for Steven and desire to secretly marry, along with their separation for him to earn a living, are similar to my situation. But once she falls for another man and forsakes her first love, I lose the sympathy I had for her. Elfride’s lovers are very interesting people. As I read I want her to end up with Steven. He is handsome and works hard to make a living and loves her for who she is. Knight is a less emotional character and somewhat dry. I don’t like him very much. Elfride seems to change who she is to match what Knight desires. Part of the problem between them is that Knight wants a woman who has never loved before and Elfride tries to hide that she has loved.

The drama in this story could be somewhat believable. Not to such an extent as the eventual outcome, but I could see the misunderstandings and the broken hearts actually happening. The story is told third person omniscient. I like this point of view because I can know what all the characters are thinking and I know all the facts. This can take the suspense out of story, but in this case there are still striking turns of events that are surprising. The time and location help make the story more romantic. It’s set in nineteenth century England, a picturesque time for romance stories.

This story evokes a lot of emotions. I felt for Elfride in her first passions of love. I also felt angry and frustrated with the characters when they were stubborn or miscommunicated. I really liked when Elfride was sharing romantic moments with Steven. The beginning was my favorite part. I didn’t like how it ended. I won’t give it away. I had to read the last few pages a couple of times to make sure I understood what happened.

Even though the ending wasn’t the way I wanted it to be, I really enjoyed the story. When I read a book and I can’t put it down I’m a big fan. I definitely recommend this book to any one that loves a good romance.