This is the opening sentence of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens:
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, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way
encapsulate some of my own feelings about
the situation unfolding in the world at this moment in time, March to July
26th May 2002
"Miss Jellyby was announced, and entered, leading the identical Peepy, whom she had made some endeavors to render presentable, by wiping the dirt into corners of his face and hands, and making his hair very wet and then violently frizzling it with her fingers. Everything the dear child wore, was either too large for him or too small. Among his other contradictory decorations he had the hat of a Bishop, and the little gloves of a baby. His boots were, on a small scale, the boots of a ploughman: while his legs, so crossed and recrossed with scratches that they looked like maps, were bare, bellow a very short pair of plaid drawers finished off with two frills of perfectly different patterns. The deficient buttons on his plaid frock had evidently been supplied from one of Mr. Jellyby's coats, they were so extremely brazen and so much too large. Most extraordinary specimens of needlework appeared on several parts of his dress, where it had been hastily mended; "
Samten on Dickens
- 13 January 2002
One of the most beautiful images in David Copperfield, again connected to Light, is the candle that is lit every night and placed in the window, in case Emily should come home. I think we should all place a candle in our windows, and if we do not have a window, then in our hearts.
I think it is also nice to be able to share vulnerable spaces and periods as well as moments of joy and success. This is so evident in the other great influence in my life at the moment, which is: reading the novels of Charles Dickens. The times that I have wept my eyes dry! Or:
"...the ladies wept into their pocket-handkerchiefs till they were moist, and waved them till they were dry." Nicolas. Nickleby
The entire spectrum of humanity is etched in his pages - the lowest, most vile of the human species, and the kindest, most loving and compassionate. And the good news is that the Good Guys (and Gals) always win! As it should be, in a 'beyond dualism' sense, because that is the way the Nature would want it. In 'Hard Times' the whole crisis of the environment is encapsulated in a microcosm. The 'river that ran purple will ill-smelling dye' - and we know who is responsible.
His critique of the glorification of rationalism in education, and its bitter results, is still very valid today, if not more so than in the 19th century.
"...reason is...the only faculty to which education should be addressed." Hard Times
The study of mass hysteria and religious intolerance between Catholic and Protestant in 'Barnaby Rudge' can again be mirrored against the inter-religious intolerance at various sites across the world today. 'Nicolas Nickleby' can be seen as a lacerating attack on the soul-destroying effects of capitalism and homo economicus.
"...the stultifying effects of a society dominated by productivity and profits,..." p. xiii. Hard Times.
Was not Karl Marx himself influenced by Dickens? 'David Copperfield is of course a great masterpiece - and this mood-piece - says more in a paragraph about the state of consciousness at the beginnings of industrialization, than many political tracts:
The neighborhood was a dreary one at that time; as oppressive, sad, and solitary by night, as any about London. There were neither wharves nor houses on the melancholy waste of road near the great blank Prison. A sluggish ditch deposited its mud at the prison walls. Coarse grass and ranks weeds straggled over all the marshy land in the vicinity. In one part, carcasses of houses, inauspiciously begun and never finished, rotted away. In another, the ground was cumbered with rusty iron monsters of steam-boilers, wheels, cranks, pipes, furnaces, paddles, anchors, diving-bells, windmill-sails, and I know not what strange objects, accumulated by some speculator, and groveling in the dust, underneath which - having sunk into the soil of their own weight in wet weather - they had the appearance of vainly trying to hide themselves. The clash and glare of sundry fiery Works upon the river side, arose by night to disturb everything except the heavy and unbroken smoke that poured out of their chimneys. Slimy gaps and causeways, winding among old wooden piles, with a sickly substance clinging to the latter, like green hair, and the rags of last year's hand-bills offering rewards for drowned men fluttering above high-water mark, led down through the ooze and slush to the ebb tide. There was a story that one of the pits dug for the dead in the time of the Great Plague was hereabout; and a blighting influence seemed to have proceeded from it over the whole place. Or else it looked as if it had gradually decomposed into that nightmare condition, out of the overflowings of the polluted stream.
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, Chapter XLVII.
I fact the whole opus of Dickens can be seen as a Gnostic or Manichean struggle between Darkness and Light. Dickens was all too aware of the fragility and impermanence of the human condition - and the beautiful final image we have of Mr. Pickwick, with the tears of joy and happiness streaming down his cheeks, ends with these words:
Let us leave our old friend in one of these moments of unmixed happiness, of which, if we seek them, there are ever some to cheer our transitory existence here. There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast. Some men, like bats or owls, have better eyes for the darkness than for the light. We, who have no such optical powers, are better pleased to take our last parting look at the visionary companions of many solitary hours when the brief sunshine of the world is blazing full on them.
Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers.
Life is really a great web of miracles, and it is such a pity that we think otherwise. Goodness Blazing Gloriously - as the Shambhala Lineage puts it. Each day brings its portions of Light and Dark, Negative and Positive, Birth and Death. What else should we expect?
Love and Peace
Thursday, 30 May 2002
In any event, do not attempt any Dickens without some advice e.g. Great Expectations is a good one to start with, magnificent - be prepared to be drenched in tears. Suggestions for reading Victoriana: Relax - that's the aim of the novel. Re-read the first few chapters to get used to the language, style and pace of the prose. Open yourself, almost like a meditation to the pictures and associations that the words bring. Remember, Dickens opens doors into our genetic ancestry - so we find pulsations of the old ways, the English culture and the textures of the people become very familiar to us. They strike cords. We develop likes and dislikes of the characters. Which is as it should. Pause on the descriptive passages, e.g. landscapes, furniture, clothing, facial contours etc and savor them like wine, sip by sip. Dickens is almost an encyclopedia of wonderful detail. For example you could concentrate on the costume, make notes, and drawings and so on.
The benefit of Dickens in particular, and the classics in general, is that they are so enrichening. They aid emotional growth and human understanding. They develop compassion in us. Precisely because the writing is about people just like us, and the moral issues of truth and justice, suffering and joy, and so on, which Dickens deals with in all his novels, are issues which apply to our daily lives as well. The same does NOT apply for example to a Mills & Boone novel - where there is only stereotype and NOT archetype.
1836 Sketches by Boaz
1837 The Pickwick Papers
1838 Oliver Twist
1839 Nicolas Nickleby
1841 The Old Curiosity Shop
1842 American Notes
1843 Christmas Carol
1844 Martin Chuzzlewit
The Cricket on the Hearth
1846 Pictures from Italy
The Battle of Life
The Haunted Man
1848 Domby and Son
1850 David Copperfield
1851 A Child's History of England
1853 Bleak House
1854 Hard Times
1857 Little Dorrit
The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices
1858 Reprinted Pieces
1859 A Tale of Two Cites
1861 Great Expectations
The Uncommercial Traveller
1863 Mrs Lirriper's Lodgings
1865 Our Mutual Friend
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
1866 Mugby Junction