Historical Fiction, Kent, Hannah

Review of Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Image result for burial ritesHannah Kent’s debut Burial Rites is a historical novel about the final days of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman beheaded in Iceland in the early 19th-century. Agnes is accused of complicity in the murders of Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson. At the beginning of the novel, the District Commissioner assigns Agnes to a family in rural Kornsá, where she must live and work until execution day. As you might expect, Jón and Margrét are not too pleased to have an infamous murderess living under their roof. Only one of their two daughters – Steina – tries to befriend Agnes. Lauga is repulsed by her presence. On her request, Agnes is also assigned a spiritual adviser named Thorvardur (Tóti) Jónsson. Though only an assistant priest, Tóti must accompany Agnes to her execution. Agnes remembered meeting him as a child.

Because Burial Rites is told alternatively in first and third person narrative, the reader encounters Agnes’ stories through several perspectives. In addition to giving us an intimate portrait of one woman, Hannah Kent introduces us to life in 19th-century rural Iceland. Daily chores include gutting sheep, preparing and cooking blood sausages, and stoking a fire with dung. The novel is powerful and intimate without being overly sentimental.

I can’t believe that I’ve put off reading historical fiction for so long! It is really the perfect genre for a literature student who works on stories from the archives. And Kent’s novel brings the past to life. The setting, the characters, and the dialogue are so compelling that I did not want to put the book down. Agnes’ host family may not be facing execution, but their lives are far from uneventful. They face heavy snowstorms and violent illnesses. Yet, nearly all of the characters are literate; Agnes is described as a lover of the sagas despite being a poor farmhand. Kent reminds the reader that Iceland has had one of the highest literacy rates in the world since the 19th century.

Female executions are rarely discussed in fiction or real life. Burial Rites deserves all of the acclaim that it has received. This work is beautifully-written and thought-provoking in its simplicity. I look forward to reading other works by Hannah Kent.

Graves, Robert, Historical Fiction

Review of I, Claudius by Robert Graves

What was it about?

Claudius, the future Roman Emperor, writes his autobiography for posterity. He consults the Sibyl who prophesies in verse the fall of the Roman Empire and describes the kind of men who will assume the throne before its fall. Because Claudius has a severe stutter his family considers him unfit for administration. Still, he is well-respected as a historian. Claudius describes the Julio-Claudian dynasty until his accession to the throne, emphasizing the influence of Augustus’ wife Livia on the fate of the empire. He insists that there are two kinds of Claudians – the good and the bad. But even the best Claudians are tyrants and self-professed gods. Inbreeding results in a highly complicated family tree; characters have similar-sounding or even the same names. Marriage is almost always a back-stabbing institution.  Robert Graves’ I, Claudius is not only an imaginative retelling of the history of the life and family of Emperor Claudius but a commentary on Ancient Roman historiography.

What did I think of it?

I actually read this book six months ago, but I never wrote a review for it. This is definitely the greatest work of historical fiction I’ve ever read. The writing is gorgeous, the characters are complex, and the story is exciting. I spent hours drawing a family tree to keep straight all of the characters (a family tree at the start of the book would have been nice), but I did not want to give up on the book. Graves does so much more than tell a good story. He makes insightful commentaries on the politics of language and Ancient Roman historiography (here is a sample passage). Historians today try to reproduce a historical event as accurately as possible, but this was not the goal of ancient and medieval historians. History was not only written by the victor but was deliberately distorted by him. In one scene, two historians fight over the purpose of writing and reading histories. Before reading the sequel, Claudius, the God, I will reread I, Claudius because I am sure that I have forgotten many details in the book. After finishing the books I will watch the award-winning 1976 mini-series. Even if you normally dislike historical fiction I suspect you will enjoy I, Claudius. It is incredible how much violence and deception can exist in one family!

Favorite Passage

“As you see, I have chosen to write in Greek, because Greek, I believe, will always remain the chief literary language of the world, and if Rome rots away as the Sibyl has indicated, will not her language rot away with her? Besides, Greek is Apollo’s own language.”

Adventure, Historical Fiction, Stevenson, Robert Louis

Review of Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

What was it about?

In the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745, recently orphaned David Balfour receives a letter from Mr. Campbell, the minister of Essendean, to give to his uncle Ebenezer Balfour of the House of Shaws. It soon becomes clear to David that the Shaws have a bad reputation in Scotland. No one is comfortable to give David directions. When he reaches his uncle’s house, Ebenezer hesitates before accepting his nephew. He forbids David from asking questions about his father and generally seems displeased to have David in his home. But it is only when Ebenezer sends David to fetch his inheritance from the top of a tower without any light to guide him that David realizes that his uncle wants him dead. The tower is unfinished and the ladder leads to nowhere. He nearly avoids falling to his death. The next morning, Ebenezer has him kidnapped by a ship headed to the Carolinas. On the ship he meets Alan Breck, a Jacobite, who tries to convince the captain of the ship to drop him off on the mainland. When Alan learns that the crew is plotting to kill him, he and David work together to kill the assailants. Although David is a Whig, perilous circumstances cause him to befriend Alan and to help him in his quest to bring justice to the Highlanders of Scotland. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson highlights the tension between the Highlanders and Lowlanders in Scotland in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising, making it one of the most famous works of Scottish historical fiction.

What did I think of it?

I have absolutely no knowledge of Scottish history, so the Historical Note at the start of the book gave me a much-needed introduction to the Jacobite rising. In many ways Kidnapped reads like an adventure novel for young boys. The story line is simple and the conclusion quite predictable. Still, David and Alan’s relationship is quite interesting. Although their friendship waxes and wanes throughout the book Alan and David know that they need each other. Alan is a bad man, but the reader cannot but love him as a character. He has a lot of affection for the youthful David. I wasn’t overly impressed by the book, and some of the dialogue was poorly written, but it was much more memorable than Treasure Island, and it has made me want to learn more about the history of Scotland.

Favorite Quote

Sir,” says I, ‘with a proper reverence for your age and our common blood, I do not value your favour at a boddle’s purchase. I was brought up to have a good conceit of myself; and if you were all the uncle, and all the family, I had in the world ten times over, I wouldn’t buy your liking at such prices.’

Eliot, T.S., Historical Fiction, Plays, Religious

Review of Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot

What was it about?

Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot is a play in verse about the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral. Caught up in one of the perennial conflicts between pope and emperor, Thomas Becket is exiled to France. Upon his return to England, four tempters try to prevent him from assuming his role as archbishop. They remind him of the power he had as Lord Chancellor to Henry II prior to his ordination. In view of more pleasant alternatives, why risk martyrdom?

What did I think of it?

Thomas Becket’s tomb was the site of a popular pilgrimage in the late Middle Ages. He was venerated as a holy archbishop who defended the Church against the encroachments of the State. Becket represented not only a good person but a man who defended a particular model of Church and State. Eliot rightly explores Becket’s murder from this latter perspective. Becket is not humble and peace-loving but arrogant and power-seeking. I really enjoyed this play. Despite its short length, the play packed a punch. It explored questions relating to Church and State that are debated still today in England. I also loved the style. I know that not everyone will enjoy a play in verse, but the repetition of imagery and language heightened the drama. The critics are right to compare this play to Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw. They are both excellent!

Favorite Quote

“Peace. And let them be, in their exaltation.
They speak better than they know, and beyond your
understanding.
They know and do not know, what it is to act or suffer.
They know and do not know, that action is suffering
And suffering is action. Neither does the agent suffer
Nor the patient act. But both are fixed
In an eternal action, an eternal patience
To which all must consent that it may be willed
And which all must suffer that they may will it,
That the pattern may subsist, for the pattern is the
action
And the suffering, that the wheel may turn and still
Be forever still.”

Historical Fiction, Plays, Schiller, Friedrich

Review of Don Carlos (Mike Poulton Adaptation)

What was it about?

Don Carlos, the Prince of Spain, is the son of the tyrannical King Philip II. At the start of the play, King Philip has commissioned the Duke of Alba to violently impose Spanish rule on Flanders. Carlos hates his father for two reasons: for marrying Elizabeth, a woman whom Carlos loved first, and for his ruthless political policy. With the help of Rodrigo (the Marquis of Posa), Don Carlos attempts to stop the Duke of Alba from enslaving Flanders. In the background is the passionate love of Elizabeth for her step-son. Mike Poulton’s adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s Don Carlos is a fast-paced, intrigue-filled play centered on the tumultuous relationship between an ambitious monarch and his naive son.

What did I think of it?

I have never read the original play by Friedrich Schiller or seen a performance of Poulton’s adaptation, so I don’t know how this book stacks up against other versions of Don Carlos. However, I did enjoy this version. While some of the characters (such as Elizabeth and especially the Cardinal Grand Inquisitor) were not as well developed as I would have liked, the intrigue kept me engaged. This was definitely a page-turner. Don Carlos is a visionary, but because of his age, he is very short-sighted. He doesn’t really understand the forces at play in his father’s court. The whole play is in verse, but this speeds up rather than slows down the action. My only major criticism was the pacing. While most of the play was at a reasonable but engaging pace, the denouement was too steep. The story wrapped up too quickly. It would be interesting to compare this adaptation to the original Schiller play. Maybe there is more character development in the original. Regardless, I enjoyed Don Carlos and recommend it to anyone interested in a light historical drama.

Favorite quote

[Carlos]:
“Of all the fathers in the world
why do the Heavens punish me with him?
Of all the sons that could have pleased a king
why was God pleased
to displease this King with me?
No two minds are more at odds,
yet here we remain – we three – unnaturally linked
in a single chain of love. Impossible equation!
Wretched, wretched fate!”

 

Children's/Coming-of-Age, Gray, Elizabeth Janet, Historical Fiction

Review of Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray

AdamOfTheRoad.JPGWhat was it about?

Adam attends a preparatory school, befriends a boy named Perkin, and secretly cares for a stray dog named Nick. But Adam is not like any other child at the school. He is the son of Roger Quartermayne, a well-known minstrel in the kingdom. Adam dreams of being like his father and living life on the road. But he never expected the journey to start so soon. All of a sudden, Adam is separated from Roger and Nick. Over the course of the story, Adam takes an unintended pilgrimage through thirteenth century England, meeting new places and new faces at every turn of the road. Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray is about one boy’s search for his father and a purpose in life.

What did I think of it?

Good historical fiction is hard to find. Many bestsellers are sensationalist but can hardly be considered historical. Adam of the Road is quite the opposite. The sights and sounds of thirteenth century England come alive in this children’s book; the time period is described in such a way that the reader feels fully immersed in the world. The writing is as simple and unassuming as Adam’s journey.

But despite the elegance of the narrative, the story lacks a plot or a purpose. I know that Adam of the Road is supposed to be more about the journey than the end goal, but the journey is quite underwhelming. The people Adam meets don’t really leave a lasting impression on him. To be perfectly honest, it was a boring story. I love a good character study, but Adam isn’t a very compelling character. It is never clear how the people he meets contribute to his personal growth.

Overall, I thought the book was OK. My expectations going into the book may have been too high, but I wasn’t really wowed by anything. Adam of the Road won the Newbery Medal in 1943. I can certainly understand why the Newbery committee thought this book was deserving of the medal. With respect to historical accuracy and plausibility, this is historical fiction at its finest. I just did not find it very memorable.

Favorite Quote

“A road’s a kind of holy thing,” said Roger the Minstrel to his son, Adam. “That’s why it’s a good work to keep a road in repair, like giving alms to the poor or tending the sick. It’s open to the sun and wind and rain. It brings all kinds of people and all parts of England together. And it’s home to a minstrel, even though he may happen to be sleeping in a castle.”

This book counts toward the Newbery Medal Challenge

 

Bolt, Robert, Historical Fiction, Plays

Review of A Man For All Seasons by Robert Bolt

What was it about?

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A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt is a play about the life of Saint Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII who was later executed for refusing to acknowledge the king as the supreme ruler of the Church of England. In addition to being venerated as a Catholic saint, Thomas More is known in the West as the scholar who wrote Utopia. Although an Agnostic, Robert Bolt admired Thomas More for being true to himself and for striving after an ideal. In his preface to the play, Robert Bolt wrote, “[W]e no longer have, as past societies have had, any picture of individual Man (Stoic Philosopher, Christian Religious, Rational Gentleman) by which to recognize ourselves and against which to measure ourselves; we are anything. But if anything, then nothing, and it is not everyone who can live with that, though it is our true present position. Hence our willingness to locate ourselves from something that is certainly larger than ourselves, the society that contains us.” 

Thomas More had an identity that was not determined by the swiftly-changing values of his society. A Man for All Seasons portrays More as a brilliant statesman who loved life and law, but when push came to shove, defended what he believed.

What did I think of it?

This is the second contemporary play I have read about a Medieval saint ( I read Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw in June). Both plays offer a refreshing portrayal of the heroes. No longer are More and Joan of Arc depicted as stock saints – perfect individuals who have no fear of death. In A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More respects the law and turns to it for guidance. Although he is a staunch Catholic, More admits that he doesn’t always know what God wants of him.

Like Bishop Cauchon in Saint Joan, Henry VIII in A Man for All Seasons is not a purely evil man. He has understandable objections to the Pope’s conduct. Pope Leo X supported sins when they were convenient (Henry VIII’s incestuous marriage to Catherine of Aragon appeased the Spanish) but denounced them when they weren’t in his favor. The Pope was politically motivated like Henry VIII. A Man for All Seasons underlines the Church-State tension.

The most interesting character in the play is The Common Man. The Common Man introduces each scene but takes on such roles as a servant, a boatman, a spy, and eventually as Thomas More’s executioner. As the play goes along, the Common Man assumes more unpleasant and controversial roles in the kingdom. Money and fame are temptations. Unlike Thomas More, the Common Man has no integrity of character. He will do anything to climb the social ladder.

I laughed at More’s sarcastic jokes, sympathized with his personal struggles, and was inspired by his final words to his accusers. Thomas More is diplomatic throughout the play. Even before his family, he does not insult the king. A Man for All Seasons is an excellent portrayal of a man whom I’ve admired for years.

Favorite Quotes

[The 1520 quote from Robert Whittington that inspired the title of the play]: “More is a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons.”

[Thomas More to his daughter Margaret]: “When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. (He cups his hands) And if he opens his fingers then – he needn’t hope to find himself again. Some aren’t capable of this, but I’d be loathe to think your father one of them.” 

Avi, Children's/Coming-of-Age, Historical Fiction

Review of Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi

What was it about?

At the start of the novel, Crispin, referred to as Asta’s Son, is attending his mother’s funeral. Crispin’s life has hit rock bottom. Although his family had always been burdened by heavy taxation and starvation, Crispin leaves the funeral with the comforting knowledge that John Aycliffe, Lord Furnival’s steward, wants to kill him. Crispin’s mother had always been treated as an outcast on Furnival’s land, but her son had taken this for granted. They were peasants after all. But shortly after the funeral, Crispin overhears a conversation between Aycliffe and one of his servants. Upon seeing the boy, the two men chase the boy with the intention of killing him. Crispin doesn’t know why he is labeled a Wolf’s Head, but now anyone can kill him without risking any retribution. But why would anyone want him dead? He is only a peasant boy. Crispin runs to the local church and asks Father Quinel why he is being pursued. Quinel admits that there is a mystery surrounding his father’s life, and promises to reveal it to Crispin the next day.  All he tells the boy is that his real name is Crispin and that his mother knew how to read. But the next day, Father Quinel is nowhere to be found. Instead, Crispin finds himself running away once again from Aycliffe and his men with only his mother’s lead cross for protection. At a dilapidated cathedral, he becomes the servant to a jester named Bear. Unlike the servitude Crispin is used to, his new master treats the boy more like an assistant than a servant. Bear and Crispin together take the road to the village of Great Wexly, John Aycliffe close at their heels. Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi is the story of a 14th century peasant who suddenly and mysteriously becomes the most threatening person in all of England.

What did I think of it?

Crispin: The Cross of Lead is the first book of the Crispin Trilogy, and it was a phenomenal read. Although I knew the mystery all along, the book is intended for middle-grade children. Children at that age are still learning to identify tropes and imagery. For them, the ending of Crispin most likely comes as a surprise. Still, I enjoyed the novel. There have been countless novels set in the Middle Ages. However, so many portray Medieval Europe inaccurately or stereotypically. Crispin: The Cross of Lead does neither. Finally, I have come across a character who finds strength in his faith. Avi doesn’t bore the reader by including pages of facts about the 14th century. Rather, the descriptions of the time period are elegantly weaved into the action of the story. Crispin is one of those works that should be taught in schools. Not only is it fast-paced and action packed with very likeable characters, it has great educational value. The book raises some important questions about power, wealth, and poverty that can serve as talking points for some great class discussions. Crispin: The Cross of Lead definitely deserved the 2002 Newbery Award  for being both enjoyable and educational. I look forward to reading the second and third books in the trilogy, Crispin: At the Edge of the Wood and Crispin: The End of Time.

 This book counts toward the Newbery Medal Challenge

Historical Fiction, Plays, Shaw, George Bernard

Joan of Arc: Saint, Traitor, or Heretic?

Saint Joan - New MermaidsThere have been many adaptations of the life of Saint Joan of Arc. Among the many adaptations created were Christine de Pizan’s poem Ditie de Jehanne d’Arc (Song in Honor of Joan of Arc) in 1429, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Giovanna d’Arco (1845), and Georges Méliès’ silent film Jeanne d’Arc (1900).  The Nazis even made a propaganda film on the life of Joan of Arc: Das Mädchen Johanna (1935). She has been memorialized in countless films, plays, songs, paintings, and sculptures. She is also the patroness of France and the patron saint of soldiers.

 In 1924, four years after the canonization of the maid of Orleans by the Catholic Church, George Bernard Shaw wrote and directed his own play about Joan of Arc: Saint Joan. A year later, Shaw won the Nobel Prize in literature.

 Saint Joan is a more or less historically accurate retelling of the events that led up to the execution of Joan of Arc. It follows the maiden turned warrior from the gates of Captain Robert de Baudricourt to her execution outside of the cathedral of Rheims. Unlike many adaptations that focus on Joan’s miracles or on her maidenhood, Shaw’s play portrays Joan as nothing short of a warrior. She is stubborn and prideful, not afraid to criticize military and ecclesiastical officials to their faces. She is neither beautiful nor gentle. The other characters speak and treat her like a man. Joan leads Jean (called Dunois in the play) and the French army to victory against the British who had laid siege to Orleans. Afterward, she crowns Charles VII (the Dauphin) king of France.

 The focus of the play is not on the nitty-gritty of warfare but on the nature of Joan’s crime. Why was she burned at the stake, and why, after almost four hundred years, was she canonized a saint? Shaw’s Joan is a Christ-like figure. Like Jesus, this Joan puts herself above the political and religious leaders of her time. She claims that the Archangel Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret have given her a mission that she must fulfill at all costs. There is one question that all the leaders struggle to answer: Who is this Joan of Arc? Like Jesus whom some claimed was a prophet, others claimed was the Messiah, and still other claimed was a blasphemer, Joan’s identity is a mystery. The Archbishop Regnault de Chartres thinks Joan is foolishly “in love with religion” (Scene II, line 466). The Nobleman believes that Joan is a witch (Scene IV, line 87) while Cauchon is convinced she is a heretic (Scene IV, line 267). Only Dunois thinks Joan is a saint (Scene III, lines 176-177).

The play analyzes the motivations behind the execution of Joan of Arc. Shaw disagrees that she was killed for dressing like a man or because the Church thought she was a witch. Rather, he believes that her executors were convinced that Joan was a threat to the established political and religious structures in Europe. To Shaw, Joan was one of the first Protestants and Nationalists (he uses the terms rather anachronistically). Bishop Cauchon is outraged by Joan’s lack of reverence toward Church authority. Because she claims an authority over and above that of the Pope, Cauchon labels Joan a heretic.

[Cauchon]: “A faithful daughter of The Church! The pope himself at his proudest dare not presume as this woman presumes. She acts as if she herself were The Church. She brings the message of God to Charles; and The Church must stand aside. She will crown him in the cathedral of Rheims: she, not The  Church! She sends letters to the king of England giving him God’s command through her to return to his island on pain of God’s vengeance, which she will execute. Let me tell you that the writing of such letters were the practice of the accursed Mahomet, the anti-Christ. Has she ever in all her utterances said one word of The Church? Never. It is always God and herself” (Scene IV, lines 369-379).

Richard Beauchamp, the 13th Earl of Warwick, wants Joan killed for a different reason. As a statesman, Joan’s alleged heresy is of little consequence to him. But her role in crowning the Dauphin is inexcusable. She undermines the feudal system by crowning an absolute monarch. Because Warwick has an obvious stake in the current political system, he can’t let Joan get away with what he considers as treason.

 [Warwick to Cauchon]: “My lord: pray get The Church out of your head for a moment; and remember that there are temporal institutions in the world as well as spiritual ones. I and my peers represent the feudal aristocracy as you represent The Church. We are the temporal power. Well, do you not see how this girl’s idea strikes at us?” (Scene IV, lines 470-475).

 In Saint Joan, the eponymous hero is like Jesus, executed for religious and political reasons. While there are many obvious differences between Joan of Arc and Jesus, I find the similarities quite striking. It is no accident that Shaw places the words of Caiaphus in John 11:49 in the mouth of the Chaplain, John de Stogumber: “It is expedient that one woman die for the people” (Scene IV, lines 586-587).

 The play does not paint any of the characters in black and white. Joan may hear messages from God, but she is still human. She doesn’t want to die. By showing her love for life, Shaw repudiates the notion that Joan is a rash or suicidal person. Even Bishop Cauchon and the Inquisitor, Bishop Jean Lemaitre, are not sinister characters. Shaw makes it clear in his Preface that Cauchon and Lemaitre were not essentially different people than ourselves.

 The end of the play was quite enjoyable and included a very interesting commentary on Joan’s legacy. I recommend this play to anyone who enjoys learning about an old hero through the perspective of a modern writer.

A-E, Dickens, Charles, Historical Fiction, Victorian

Review of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

I read A Tale of Two Cities for the read-a-long hosted by Laura@ Reading in Bed.

What was it about?

“Recalled to Life.” That is Jarvis Lorry’s response to his colleague Jerry Cruncher of Tellson’s Bank and Company. Confused, Jerry sets off to deliver the strange message. Shortly afterward,  Mr. Lorry meets a young woman named Lucie Manette at the Royal George Hotel. She has been summoned to Saint Antoine, Paris by two French shopkeepers. Her father Doctor Manette, formerly a French prisoner, has been found alive, sheltered in the Defarge’s wine shop. It is 1775.

Five years later in London, a young Frenchman named Charles Darnay is tried for treason. He has been accused of spying on the English and relaying information back to King Louis XVI. Lucie Manette is in the courtroom, and Sydney Carton makes note of her reactions; she is very much troubled by the plight of the prisoner.  In the course of the trial, Sydney passes a note to the defense attorney and his colleague Mr. Stryver. After much deliberation, the jury determines that there is not enough proof that Charles Darnay has been spying on the English, and he is exonerated of all charges. But revolution is in the air. In less than a decade, aristocratic heads will roll.

A Tale of Two Cities is more than a story about two cities. It is also a story about two families. These families may both be French, but they belong to very different social strata. Aristocrats have been living comfortably for centuries at the expense of the peasants, but mobs are popping up all over France that aim to flip the social hierarchy. Led by women, these mobs go through the streets of France, arresting and beheading any and all aristocrats they find. Under the watch of the revolutionary women, no aristocrat, no matter his/her innocence, can escape from Lady Guillotine.

What did I think of it?

Although this was a re-read for me, I was still surprised by the density of this short novel. The first five chapters were the hardest to read; the characters were not fully fleshed out and the use of too many pronouns made it very hard to understand who was speaking. However, it became easier as I went along.

What a difference three decades can make! Early this year I reviewed The Old Curiosity Shop (1841). It was one of Dickens’ earliest works, and it left much to be desired; the characters were more like caricatures and the plot was virtually non-existent. But A Tale of Two Cities, written 28 years later, had a very well-developed plot, and the characters were a lot more complex and interesting than in The Old Curiosity Shop. The revolutionary women were not portrayed as purely evil. Dickens described their state of mind in such detail that the women were arguably the most interesting characters in the story. The only flat character was Lucie Manette; she was nothing more than a sweet, perfect angel. Her character irritated me because I wanted to understand her true feelings. I wanted her to be powerful and intelligent like Madame Defarge or even Miss Pross (Lucie’s servant). Still, A Tale of Two Cities was a breath of fresh air in comparison to The Old Curiosity Shop. The story was considerably shorter, but no part of the plot was compromised. The start of the novel made a lot of sense after I finished the book. I especially loved how each character mentioned was connected in some important way to the other characters and to the plot. I definitely consider A Tale of Two Cities a classic.

Favorite Quote: “A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!”