Charles Dickens: Four Novels

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The Dover mail was in its usual genial position that the guard suspected the passengers, the passengers suspected one another and the guard, they all suspected everybody else, and the coachman was sure of nothing but the horses. Antoine Wine Shop in Paris, a wine cask tumbled out with a run, the hoops had burst, and it lay on the stones just outside the door of the wine-shop, shattered like a walnut-shell, an accident which inaugurates a mad sprawl by passersby, who fall to their knees to lap the wine from the cobblestones.

This symbolically bloody omen is emphasized when one tall joker so besmirched, his head more out of a long squalid bag of a nightcap than in it, scrawled upon a wall with his finger dipped in muddy wine-lees—BLOOD. A Tale of Two Cities is one of the most popular novels of all time, and it elated Victorian readers no less than their twentieth-century counterparts. Although moments of high melodrama may occasionally strike modern readers as unnecessarily sentimental, the descriptions of mob violence are among the finest of their kind.

An ominous mood permeates the novel, and one fully comprehends the sense of looming disaster felt by those who lived through the French Revolution on both sides of the English Channel. Dickens was almost certainly moved by sympathy for the poor and exploited of Paris—no less than he was for those of London—yet he does not advocate revolution, certainly not of the chaotic and bloody variety that detonated in France.

He preferred reasonable movement toward parliamentary reform over time. He was a humanitarian, after all, and his compassion is realized through the strength of his characters, distinct and memorable individuals who stand out from mobs and crowds. Throughout A Tale of Two Cities , Dickens views the revolutionary fervor and accompanying violence as a peculiarly French condition.

The guillotine itself is brought to life. Carlyle saw it as a function of the crazed new state: The Guillotine, we find, gets always a quicker motion, as other things are quickening. The Guillotine, by its speed of going, will give index of the general velocity of the Republic. Dickens lavishes even greater, and more detailed, attention to the deadly instrument:. Every day, through the stony streets, the tumbrels now jolted heavily, filled with Condemned.

Lovely girls; bright women, brown-haired, black-haired, and grey; youths; stalwart men and old; gentle born and peasant born; all red wine for La Guillotine, all daily brought into light from the dark cellars of the loathsome prisons, and carried to her through the streets to slake her devouring thirst. Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death;—the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!

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There is something oddly theatrical about the bloodshed that unfolds on the streets of Paris. The assault upon the Bastille, and its liberation, seem more symbolic than anything else, given that only seven prisoners were held within. Likewise, the daily passage of the tumbrels, carts that carried the condemned, and the grisly beheadings in the Place du Revolution, attended by audiences eager for a show—many of whom reserved seats—seems bizarrely staged by the revolutionaries.

As with all of his novels, Dickens created minor characters for A Tale of Two Cities every bit as striking as the principal ones. Equally memorable is the stout, ruddy Englishwoman Mrs. Pross, who proudly declares, I am a Briton, as she bravely stands off against the menacing Madame DeFarge, refusing to back down even at the threat of death.

Yet it is the primary characters who drive the story. The frail Dr. Manette is the central victim of the novel. Cast into the Bastille by a letter de cachet —an anonymous denunciation by a nobleman—he spends eighteen torturous years secretly imprisoned in solitary confinement, which deranges him to such an extent that he forgets who he is and replies only North Tower when asked his name.

His daughter, Lucie—a figure so pure as to challenge credulity—rescues him when he is recalled to life after being released from the prison where it was believed he had died. The Manettes embody quiet family life, the basis of a moderately ordered civil society, one rendered impossible across the channel by ancient oppression and radical retribution. Antoine Wine Shop. Driven mad with hatred for decadent French aristocracy, Madame DeFarge becomes a cold-blooded and utterly unreasonable angel of death, bent on endless slaughter.

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It becomes impossible to pity her, despite the terrors once inflicted upon her and her family. Charles Darnay, though he turned his back on his demonic uncle, Marquis St. The last-minute swap in the cell before the execution has become one of the most enduring moments in the novel: Darnay, an innocent man, escapes the insatiable justice of the revolution through deception, and Syndey Carton, through the ultimate sacrifice, finally finds meaning. Great Expectations is a novel of aspiration, remorse, and friendship.

The opening scene gives us Pip, a boy of seven, visiting the grave of his parents on Christmas Eve. He is suddenly seized by the monstrous escaped convict Magwitch, who demands that Pip pilfer scraps of food and drink from his home for him:. A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.

Magwitch is eventually recaptured and returned to the prison ship where he is jailed off the coast, but Pip has been inducted into an adult world of suspicion and fear from which he is never again entirely free. The genial Pip is raised by his bad-tempered adult sister and Joe Gargery, a gentle giant of a man, a village blacksmith who works a forge adjoined to the family home.

Pumblechook, is asked by the mysterious and wealthy Miss Havisham to locate a suitable young boy to spend time with her. The spinster Miss Havisham dwells in a decayed mansion that was of old brick, and dismal, and had a great many iron bars to it. Some of the windows had been walled up; of those that remained, all the lower were rustily barred.

She lives with an equally mysterious young woman, the imperious and beautiful Estella.

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Miss Havisham, wearing a stained wedding gown, lives in suspended time, her clocks all stopped at twenty minutes to nine, the moment when, as a young woman, she was jilted by her lover:. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose, had shrunk to skin and bone. Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state.

Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress, that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. I should have cried out, if I could.

Charles Dickens: Four Novels by Charles Dickens, Ernest Hilbert ·

The room remains as it stood that day, eerily prepared for a wedding celebration that never took place: It was spacious, and I dare say had once been handsome, but every discernible thing in it was covered with dust and mould, and dropping to pieces. Pip continues to visit Miss Havisham in her ghostly chambers and receives payment for his company.

Great Expectations is part coming-of-age story, part mystery, part morality tale, part love story, part thriller, though no one of these features ultimately defines it. It does not present a battle between clearly defined forces of good and evil, and it refuses to serve up a triumphant ending in which noble figures are rewarded and villains sent off to die.

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In other words, it rather unsettlingly resembles real life. They offer useful lessons and are, in fact, nothing less than enduring meditations on humanity. They teach us a great deal about nineteenth-century England, its conflicts and concerns, its people and persuasions, but we are always surprised to find something of ourselves in his characters as well. Charles Dickens remains a favorite with both critics and readers, an unusual circumstance for a classic author. His fame survived his own era, while countless other authors, many of whom were celebrated and greatly admired in their day, have disappeared entirely from our shelves.

The best Dickens novels stand shoulder to shoulder with the finest works of literature from any era. Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.

For a long time after it was ushered into this world of sorrow and trouble, by the parish surgeon, it remained a matter of considerable doubt whether the child would survive to bear any name at all; in which case it is somewhat more than probable that these memoirs would never have appeared; or, if they had, that being comprised within a couple of pages, they would have possessed the inestimable merit of being the most concise and faithful specimen of biography, extant in the literature of any age or country.

Although I am not disposed to maintain that the being born in a workhouse, is in itself the most fortunate and enviable circumstance that can possibly befall a human being, I do mean to say that in this particular instance, it was the best thing for Oliver Twist that could by possibility have occurred. The fact is, that there was considerable difficulty in inducing Oliver to take upon himself the office of respiration,—a troublesome practice, but one which custom has rendered necessary to our easy existence; and for some time he lay gasping on a little flock mattress, rather unequally poised between this world and the next: the balance being decidedly in favour of the latter.

Now, if, during this brief period, Oliver had been surrounded by careful grandmothers, anxious aunts, experienced nurses, and doctors of profound wisdom, he would most inevitably and indubitably have been killed in no time. There being nobody by, however, but a pauper old woman, who was rendered rather misty by an unwonted allowance of beer; and a parish surgeon who did such matters by contract; Oliver and Nature fought out the point between them. The result was, that, after a few struggles, Oliver breathed, sneezed, and proceeded to advertise to the inmates of the workhouse the fact of a new burden having been imposed upon the parish, by setting up as loud a cry as could reasonably have been expected from a male infant who had not been possessed of that very useful appendage, a voice, for a much longer space of time than three minutes and a quarter.

As Oliver gave this first proof of the free and proper action of his lungs, the patchwork coverlet which was carelessly flung over the iron bedstead, rustled; the pale face of a young woman was raised feebly from the pillow; and a faint voice imperfectly articulated the words, Let me see the child, and die.

The surgeon had been sitting with his face turned towards the fire: giving the palms of his hands a warm and a rub alternately. Lor bless her dear heart, no!

The patient shook her head, and stretched out her hand towards the child. The surgeon deposited it in her arms. She imprinted her cold white lips passionately on its forehead; passed her hands over her face; gazed wildly round; shuddered; fell back—and died. They chafed her breast, hands, and temples; but the blood had stopped forever.

They talked of hope and comfort.

Charles Dickens: Four Novels

They had been strangers too long. Ah, poor dear, so it is! Poor dear! Give it a little gruel if it is. He put on his hat, and, pausing by the bed-side on his way to the door, added, She was a good-looking girl, too; where did she come from?

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She was found lying in the street. She had walked some distance, for her shoes were worn to pieces; but where she came from, or where she was going to, nobody knows. The surgeon leaned over the body, and raised the left hand.

Charles Dickens : four novels.

The old story, he said, shaking his head: no wedding-ring, I see. The medical gentleman walked away to dinner; and the nurse, having once more applied herself to the green bottle, sat down on a low chair before the fire, and proceeded to dress the infant. What an excellent example of the power of dress, young Oliver Twist was! Wrapped in the blanket which had hitherto formed his only covering, he might have been the child of a nobleman or a beggar; it would have been hard for the haughtiest stranger to have assigned him his proper station in society.

But now that he was enveloped in the old calico robes which had grown yellow in the same service, he was badged and ticketed, and fell into his place at once—a parish child—the orphan of a workhouse—the humble, half-starved drudge—to be cuffed and buffeted through the world—despised by all, and pitied by none. Oliver cried lustily. If he could have known that he was an orphan, left to the tender mercies of church-wardens and overseers, perhaps he would have cried the louder.

For the next eight or ten months, Oliver was the victim of a systematic course of treachery and deception. He was brought up by hand.