Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Dickens' Debate

Her 5th birthday started with all of us laying in my bed.

This is how pretty much every day starts at the moment.

After many years of grappling with A Tale of Two Cities, I was determined to finish the last thirty pages before I committed my mind and body to any of the heavy duties of the day - like feeding everyone breakfast.

Jonah asked me to read aloud. His request came in the most critical, emotional, purposeful pages of the book. I read with tears barely held at bay. I gave voice to Sydney Carton as the unlikely Christ figure. We rode with the tumbrils through Paris to meet Madame La Guillotine. We followed the clicking, knitting Defarge en route to an unexpected encounter with Miss Pross. We were jostled in the heart thumping carriage of the little party desperate to abandon la vie francaise. Jonah held on to every word - enraptured. Caroline said, "When can I open my presents?"



Oh yeah. . . it's her birthday.

"Caroline," Jonah retorted with frustration, "we have to find out what happens."
"But I want to open my presents from Granny."
"Ugh," he replies, "if only you understood the glory of books."
"I know the glory of books," Caroline demands.
"No, I mean like, figuring out something new, and . . . the magical way the author tells the story."
"Well, I just want to open my presents."

And it is her birthday, so Dickens will have to wait another ten minutes to render the conclusion of his tale that has taken me nearly fifteen years to read.

We open presents.
We play.
We finally come to that famous sentence:
"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
How did he do it - Dickens that is - The first and last sentence of this book are arguably the most famous in English literature - except for maybe a few of Shakespeare's.
We eat pancakes per birthday request.

The culmination of our birthday celebration came in the evening when I used Caroline's new curling iron to put curls in her hair, dress in her fanciest dress, take a picture in the front garden, and dine at the Olive Garden - a very rare outing for our family.

Books are good. A Tale of Two Cities might be one of the best. But someday Jonah will also know the glory of children - his own - a little girl turning five. Even Dickens would have yielded to that glory.


Cameron said...

Like you and Matt, Dickens has a knack for words and great one-liners and great books! Here's some of my favorites:

"I looked up at the stars, and thought about travellers in distant countries and the stars THEY saw, and hoped I might always be so blest and happy as to be useful to some one in my small way." -Bleak House

"Some happy talent, and some fortunate opportunity, may form the two sides of the ladder on which some men mount, but the rounds of that ladder must be made of stuff to stand wear and tear; and there is no substitute for thorough-going, ardent, and sincere earnestness. Never to put one hand to anything, on which I could throw my whole self; and never to affect depreciation of my work, whatever it was; I find, now, to have been my golden rules."

-David Copperfield.

"There can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose."

-David Copperfield.

" . . . there are quiet victories and struggles, great sacrifices of self, and noble acts of heroism, in it - even in many of its apparent lightnesses and contradictions - not the less difficult to achieve, because they have no earthly chronicle or audience - done every day in nooks and corners, and in little households, and in men's and women's hearts - any one of which might reconcile the sternest man to such a world, and fill him with belief and hope in it . . ."

-The Battle of Life.

I'm glad you finally got through Tale of Two Cities. Now you'll have to begin David Copperfield or Bleak House, probably my two favorite Dickens.

Les said...

"...the glory of books."

Wow. This kills me. When I was his age I only knew the glory of the Smurfs and He-Man. But to know the glory of books is an entirely new thing (and he clearly does since the Victorian era speaks to him).

A Tale of Two Cities was a game changer for me. After I read that book that I knew I was going to study English in College.

Wayne said...

Jessica, you are a wonder.

aubtobobtolob said...

She is beautiful.
So are you.
I loved bleak house.

speaking of houses, the one next door sold.

Susan said...

I apologize to all my children for letting them watch too much t.v. Another round of guilt at my door. Some day your precious children will know of the gift you gave them.

justin + camille said...

Oh my goodness, I LOVE Dickens!!! He is by far one of my favorite authors. I loved A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, and last but not least, Our Mutual Friend. Sigh. Just thinking about these books takes me away to somewhere a bit more romantic.