#4 it was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences”

October 4, 2011
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” A grammatical nightmare. Repetitive, wordy, smug. I imagine Dickens reading this aloud for the sheer pleasure of his own voice. But! It’s still a brilliant opening sentence. There’s something right about the dialectics of it all. Opposites are bound together in a single, messy run-on sentence, just as opposites are bound together in a single, bloody history of the French revolution. It’s not easy to redeem 10 run-on sentences, but if anyone’s got the talent for it, Dickens does. Well done, old boy. 

even c. dickens don’t always talk pretty

August 30, 2011

Published in 1844, The Chimes by C. Dickens is a confused little ghost story. After his encounter with the brutal Alderman Cute and the hypocritical Sir Joseph Bowley, the kind-hearted Trotty has a crisis of faith (who hasn’t?) and in a moment of weakness commits a crime. In what precisely does his crime consist? Well, the Chimes accuse him of voicing a hollow public lament, denying providence and final justice, and turning his back on other human beings. This last crime is singled out by the Chimes as most egregious: “Lastly, and most of all. Who turns his back upon the fallen and disfigured of his kind; abandons them as vile…; does wrong to Heaven and man, to time and to eternity. And you have done that wrong!” But when has Trotty abandoned anyone as vile? This accusation is especially odd when we recall that Trotty invites Will Fern and his niece Lillian into the modest comfort of his home, right before (minutes? hours?) the Chimes “haunt and hunt” poor Trotty through ghastly visions. By comparison to Alderman Cute or Sir Joseph Bowley or Mr. Filer, Trotty is hardly a soul worthy of such fantastic remediation. Still, Dickens is at his best in this lovely gem of a passage: “To the rolling River, swift and dim, where Winter Night sat brooding like the last dark thoughts of many who had sought a refuge there before her. Where scattered lights upon the banks gleamed sullen, red, and dull, as torches that were burning there, to show the way to Death.”Alliteration! Personification! And the beautiful-sounding rhythm of a river!