Week one: The best and worst of times; poetry within prose

Chapter 1 could very easily be arranged into verse.  It begins with several oxymoron, personifies Light and Darkness and has a steady poetic rhythm.  Quoting the Shakespearean iambic pentameter on the cover emphasises this.

Aside from the one name of Mrs Southcott and the identification of England and France everything else is very anonymous.  “A King”, “the musketeers”, “miscellaneous criminals”, keeps the tone of the novel very general and allows Dickens to maintain the mystery achieved with the title of A Tale of Two Cities.

Chapter 2 maintains this anonymity revealing characters slowly.  The passengers from the coach are even wrapped up to such an extent that their faces are indiscernible.  Coupled with the mist there is a sense of mystery and no clue as to where the action is going.  This is emphasised further by the obscurity of the message Mr Lorry gives to Jerry which serves to intrigue both the reader and the guard, Joe.

Chapter 3 is poetic again making great use of imagery and repetition.  The images of shadows and live burial are haunting and, as Gail already said, when the end of the chapter is followed by “the happiest man alive” the irony serves to make readers go cold.


2 thoughts on “Week one: The best and worst of times; poetry within prose

  1. I was very interested by Donna’s point that the Shakesperian iambs of the bannerhead are continued in this rhythmical opening. Perhaps Dickens’s choice of the term ‘Conducted’ rather than ‘Edited’ has a similar effect in drawing our attention to sound. This aural quality, and the prose rhythms, would have been particularly pronounced for those who heard the installment read aloud.
    I’m wondering about the other effects of this rather plain banner. I was thinking about it in relation to Katieloubell’s comment about the layers of obscurity produced by all this fog, secrecy and cryptic messages. In an opening where we’re not sure who anyone is, one name looms (reassuringly?) large, as Dickens inscribes himself across the bannerhead and every double page. Does anyone have other thoughts about the effects of the banner and page headers?

    • There’s certainly no doubt that Mr Dickens wants us to know about him,his name appearing twice in quick succession – a mere self publicist, or is it a sign of wanting to establish his authorial authority? I am curious about his use of the word ‘conducted’ perhaps used in its sense ‘to lead’ and think he wants us know he is in charge – of the periodical, the story, and our opinions, too perhaps?

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