About a month ago, I began “Project improvement of my mind by extensive reading”, or Project IMMER for short. I’ve been pretty quiet about it all because I’m plugging away at my first book, The Tale of Two Cities by Mr. Charles Dickens. I got half way through the book when this book (which I will write more about later) came in the mail and after reading the “how to read a novel” chapter, I re-started The Tale of Two Cities. So at this point, I’ve read the first half of the book twice, and now I understand what’s going on. The Well-Educated Mind has revolutionized the way I read. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still been a battle at certain points (like the part where I wasn’t paying FULL attention to reading and had to go back over the same 3 paragraphs at least 5 times and STILL didn’t register what I was reading) but the
struggle fun continues. I have learned a few things in the attempt to read this
1. I have ADD.
2. A blunderbuss is a sort of musket or gun (exhibit A)
3. Another man has entered my life and his name is Charles. His words are poetry - only the kind of poetry that makes sense (to me, at least). He knows humanity better than anyone I've read – and can communicate the very essence of a person through a very few words.
4. Reading difficult books becomes monstrously easier when you take notes. Who would have thought that a one-line summary of each chapter actually helps a person keep track of what’s going on?
5. I’m impatient. I do not have to finish this puppy in the next 4 hours. In fact, I have next to no timeline. Once I repeated this to myself 25 zillion times, I could enjoy the story. For some reason, I was in a big damn hurry.
So what’s to love about this book, you ask? Well among other things, I love Charles’ women.
There’s the wife of the wine merchant, Defarge. She is this inveterate knitter who ‘knits her life’ into the weave of whatever she’s making. She’s gutsy, intelligent, all seeing and knowing yet she’s only left her chair once or twice. Many of the locals (and incidentally some strangers too) are skittishly afraid of her and leave immediately when she does things like stand up and walk around or put a flower in her hair. She’s not afraid to flip off even the richest of men, like Monsieur de Marquis, and she looks him in the eye when all other men are looking to the ground. And Dafarge is prodigiously proud of her…
“…Her husband smoked at his door, looking after her with admiration. ‘A great woman,’ said he, ‘a strong woman, a grand woman, a frightfully grand woman!”
Ha. Frightfully grand. I sometimes wish my husband would say that about me. She returns his admiration and cares for her husband and knows him. Like when she noticed that he was ‘faint of heart’ and losing the ‘vision’, and offers him encouragement saying:
“…It does not take a long time for an earthquake to swallow a town. Tell me how long it takes to prepare the earthquake. ‘A long time, I suppose,’ said Defarge. ‘But when it is ready, it takes place, and grinds to pieces everything before it. In the meantime, it is always preparing, though it is not seen or heard. That is your consolation. Keep it.’”
She is everything a good wife should be and her husband knows it and puts his trust in her.
“’Jacques’, returned Defarge, drawing himself up, ‘if madame my wife undertook to keep the register in her memory alone, she would not lose a word of it – not a syllable of it. Knitted, in her own stitches and her own symbols, it will always be as plain to her as the sun. Confide in Madame Defarge. It would be easier for the weakest poltroon that lives, to erase himself from existence, than to erase one letter of his name or crimes from the knitted register of Madame Defarge’.”
And then there is Doctor Manette’s daughter, Lucie. She seems to be a woman of great integrity – continuing to nurse her father back to health after his great psychological and physical trauma – even after being abandoned by her parents as a child (it hasn’t yet been explained why this happened).
“But he [your father] has been found – been found. He is alive. Greatly changed, it is too probable; almost a wreck, it is possible; though we will hope the best. Still, alive. Your father has been taken to the house of an old servant in Paris, and we are going there: I, to identify him if I can: you, to restore him to life, love, duty, rest, comfort.”
And restore him to life and health, she does – with unstinting and meticulous care. Unlike Madame Defarge, Lucie is a pretty, delicate young lady, prone to tears during stressful situations, and inspires pity and love from those around her, including several men at the moment. One suitor, she has just agreed to marry (I shan’t spoil it for you by telling you who) and everything in my being is wishing her and her father every sort of happiness. I imagine Mr. Dickens knew how to woo a lady…
“…Dear Dr. Manette I love your daughter fondly, dearly, disinterestedly, devotedly. If ever there were love in the world, I love her. You have loved yourself; let your old love speak for me!”
Then there is the odd commentary about a gal here and there – like Miss Pross, Lucie’s maid who is devoted heart and soul to Lucie, calling her the “Ladybird” and attending to her every whim.
“Mr. Lorry knew Miss Pross to be very jealous, but he also knew her by this time to be, beneath the surface of her eccentricity, one of those unselfish creatures – found only among women – who will, for pure love and admiration, bind themselves willing slaves, to youth when they have lost it, to beauty that they never had, to accomplishments that they were never fortunate enough to gain, to bright hopes that never shone upon their own somber lives. …he stationed Miss Pross much nearer to the lower Angels than many ladies immeasurably better got up both by Nature and Art…”
Three decidedly different ladies in every respect, with completely different backgrounds, situations in life and ages, but I find myself drawn to each character, and her particular situation and look forward to seeing how they will all weave together. I have also been finding myself, as Colin Firth said, immersed in the world Dickens is crafting.
And so the journey continues. Since I’m not in a hurry anymore, I might not finish this book within my previously stated 2-month time frame. But I will finish it. I will check in again soon with Project IMMER. Until then, happy reading.