Okay, now for some reason I’ve never really been into proper classic books or old literature or whatever the right name is for it. Maybe because I was in the wrong set for English at my distinctly average suburban comp, or maybe because the front covers of Dick Francis and Douglas Reeman seemed an easier ride at that age. Apart from stopping a chapter short of finishing Jane Eyre through sheer boredom sometime in the nineties, I just never got into it.
Whilst bored rigid working at a conference somewhere on the M25 a couple of years ago, I picked up a copy of A Tale of Two Cities from one of those fake library display bookshelves that they have in those low rise Hotels with a row of flag poles outside. The book itself was like a hymn book with tiny text and see through pages, someone had used a fountain pen to scrawl 1907 on the inside cover, I was into this romantic gesture and started reading straight away.
After Mr lorry’s arrival in Dover the small text had given me a headache so I stuffed it into my suitcase and forgot about it. However Dickens’s poetic description of the crime fuelled eighteenth century London remained in the back of my head until I brought a Penguin Classics copy a few weeks back. I ignored all the pretensions of the preface in the style of Dead Poets Society, and quickly got right into reading half a chapter describing someone sitting at a desk, or such like.
I did find the language a little confusing at times and that in turn lead to the layout of the characters being a little tricky to navigate, this could have also have been down to the way I read as well. The way Dickens describes the intensity of the revolutionary mob rule is phenomenal in both its passion and characteristic detail. Properly gripping stuff.
As a republican (In the English sense!) my favourite character was the sultry Madame Defage. Her role starts as the mysterious wife of the wine shop owner and evolves into that of a sword-wielding revolutionary who will stop at nothing to achieve the complete extermination of the French aristocracy. It’s not her sinister fascination with mass killing that gets me, just Dickens’s description of her flowing black hair, her clever method of using knitting an intricate code and they way she kept a pistol down her blouse.
I see now why the expression ‘What the Dickens!’ is just so bloody funny.