Friday, July 19, 2019

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, . . ."

I knew that title quote above was the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities  but I didn't realize that the first
sentence went on for the rest of the first paragraph.  Here's the rest:
 ",,,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 ha nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."  
If you are wondering what was happening 'in the present' that caused Dickens to liken the year 1785 to his own times,  the Dickens Museum website tells us:
"A Tale of Two Cities was published at a time when there were considerable diplomatic tensions between Britain and the France of Napoleon III, whose Second Empire regime was not considered very stable by many in Britain. This would doubtless have given a contemporary significance to Dickens’s tale of the French Revolution of 1789."
Dickens' own time, that is when he wrote the the newspaper serial that would become the book, was 1859.  It was also a tumultuous time in Dickens' own life as he divorced his wife and mother of his ten children and split from his long time publisher.

The description of 1785 certainly resonates in today's USA.  But I'd quote one more part from page 2 of the book.  It's after he compares the monarchs of England and France in 1875 and how those in power could not imagine that anything would change.

They took less notice of what was happening in the American colonies, Dickens suggests, than they did of stories of ghosts on Cock Lane.
"Mere messages in the earthly order of events had lately come to the English Crown and People, from a congress of British subjects in America:  which, strange to relate, have proved more important to the human race than any communications yet received through an of the chickens of the Cock-lane brood."

And so we see today far more focus (alas, by the media as well as people - who are influenced by what the media say is important) on Trump's outrageous Tweets and affairs, than on more important imminently momentous matters in the earthly order of events - like climate change.

And I note that Dickens, in 1859, saw the creation of the United States as so important to the human race, as we today fight to keep the idea of democracy alive in North America.

Reading good fiction, I learned as an undergraduate English major, offers us the wisdom of the world's most insightful observers of humanity.  While few completely escape their own times' world views, they do see deeply into the strengths and weaknesses of humans, and those insights are valuable lessons for the present.

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