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A Themed Wrap-up

You’ve all been extremely polite and quietly waited for me to post The Scarlet Letter wrap-up despite the fact that we set sail on Moby-Dick some time ago.  Today’s the day, so don your favorite monogram and let’s put this book to rest – at least for a little while.

rt

We began our day with a trip to a local gallery that was featuring original illustrations from novels by Charles Dickens.  The showing was part of the large 200th birthday celebration for Dickens that began in February.  We, of course, read Oliver Twist in 2011.

The engravings from Oliver Twist were mostly by the artist James Mahoney and were new to us since our editions all contained the Cruikshank works.  The display did contain his famous Sikes on the roof sketch.

My personal favorite of the collection was this:

The Bumble/Corney corny, bumbled romance was the highlight of the book for me.

Then there was this illustration:

It was titled:

And we still don’t know.  Do you?  The Artful Dodger?  A healthy, confident Oliver?  Oh well, next up, we enlisted the

 rmy

The Salvation kind, of course.  We took a little side-trip to do a bit of shopping.  It had nothing to do with classic literature.  I’m sorry I even brought it up.  On with our day:

ppetites

We had to sate them, so Panera Bread was our next stop. And after analyzing the Thai dressing, and yumminess of edamame we finally got to discussing The Scarlet Letter.

nswers

We did our best with Susan Wise Bauer’s WEM questions, Christine even had hers typed out.  We started first with our own titles for the book, then we moved on to the trickier question of what each character wanted.  My mind is completely stuck in a rut on this particular text and so my answer to every question was:

bsolution

I know there is more to the book than that, and that my fellow readers had better answers, but I made the huge mistake of not writing them down, so now I seek the above for my self-centered forgetfulness.

stute Observation

The highlight of the dicussion was this beautiful literary structure that Jeannette pointed out.  Let me see if I can do it justice with a little diagram:And just look at what happens when you flip that on it’s end:

Clever, eh?  Or should I say,

Clever, ?


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Posted by on March 28, 2012 in Oliver Twist, The Scarlet Letter

 

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What’s Black and White and Re(a)d all over?

Not a sunburned zebra.

Why, Oliver Twist, of course!

In Oliver we encounter amazing contrast.  This took me by surprise.  I expected the dark, dirty, dingy, gray, even black scenes that come naturally to the portrayal of workhouses, dens of thieves, and murder scenes.  I did not expect the radiance of the good, right, and salutary that shines into those lightless worlds.  Here’s a passage where Dickens seems to illuminate exactly what I’m trying to clumsily say:

The sun, – the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, but new life, and hope, and freshness to man – burst upon the crowded city in clear and radiant glory.  Through costly-coloured glass and paper-mended window, through cathedral dome and rotten crevice, it shed its equal ray.

The light is so powerful it reaches rich and poor, righteous and sinful.  And on what morning is this sun dawning?  I’m afraid it’s the morning of Nancy’s death.  Here’s the rest of the paragraph:

It lighted up the room where the murdered woman lay.  It did.  He tried to shut it out, but it would stream in.  If the sight had been a ghastly one in the dull morning, what was it now, in all that brilliant light!

I’m sorry to keep harping on the murder scene. This isn’t really about that.  Well, not exactly.  What it is about is the contrast between good and evil, light and dark, day and night.  It’s just starkest here where even the greatest evil can’t push out the light of truth.  But here are some more examples:

Scene’s with Fagin, Sikes and Monks occur at night.  Scenes with the Mr. Brownlow and the Maylies occur during the day.

Everything in the workhouse and city is gray, cold, dingy, and dirty.  Everything in the countryside is verdant, warm, bright and beautiful.

Good is good.  Evil is evil.

Evil threatens good.

Good wins.

Guess a true story is always worth telling.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2012 in Oliver Twist

 

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I’m Back, and I’m Argumentative.

Susan Wise Bauer suggests that we might get more out of our analysis of these novels if we engage ourselves in debate with those who hold different opinions than ours.

We’re not so good at this.  I mean, just look at our little one-sentence gravatar profiles.  We’re all kind of alike.

But don’t despair.  I know how to be disagreeable.  Are you ready for my latest shocking disagreement?  Here it is:

I thought the depiction of Nancy’s death was not gory, but beautifully written.

Too bad that sentence isn’t.  Let me explain further.

The entire novel is the most sophisticated writing we’ve encountered on the list to date.  Dickens, while sometimes a bit wordy, is rich in his descriptive powers.  When he sets a scene he doesn’t just give you the surface view of the surroundings, but lends perspective – that of his characters, and by way of them, his own.

When Dickens describes Nancy’s death he is doing so through the eyes, and demented mind of Bill Sikes.  Chapter XLVIII isn’t a crime scene (sorry, Christine, I told you I was disagreeable), it’s a scene that shows that even this evil man is tormented with the reality of what he has done.  Dickens values life, that’s probably a blog post in and of itself, but here we see the value of Nancy’s life cannot be discounted even by the one who stole it from her.

To be sure, the chapter is full of disturbing details.  But as much as they disturb us, they disturb Sikes a thousand times over.  They are details that scream to him, haunt him, prove to him, and by way of him – to us, that life, even the life of a prostitute, has value.

I’ve never watched a full episode of CSI, but because the show places shockingly graphic scenes of violence in the first 30 seconds the gore has not escaped me.  While acknowledging that Dickens does indeed begin his novel with death, it’s not a death like the one he paints for Nancy. He saves the blood spattered, hair bunched death until we can appreciate whose blood was spilled, and whose hair was pulled by the depravity of her lover.

And as Jeannette pointed out in the comments, the murder and its aftermath are uninterrupted by Dickens’ trademark sarcasm.  None is needed here.  We get the point, made all the more poignant by the change in style.  You must not smile about this.  Dickens will not allow you to take this lightly. There might be reform for the poor laws, or corrupt officials, but there is no reform for death.

So when it comes down to it, Christine, I’m not really disagreeing with you at all.  I just got all wordy on your question “Doesn’t it seems like Dickens, as and author, has crossed some sort of line?  The short answer it “Yup.”  Oh, and I went a little crazy with your title (which I kind of loved.)

That’s good.  I hate controversy.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2012 in Oliver Twist

 

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“When I was a child…”

“…I thought like a child, I talked like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put childish things behind me.”  1 Cor. 13:11

I think Mrs. Maylie knew this verse.   In Chapter 33, Oliver’s benefactors, the ones who have brought little-known peace, kindness and happiness into his life experience a very difficult time.  Rose Maylie – the other character with mysterious parentage – falls very ill.   Oliver is beside himself.   He would do anything to help Rose, who has been so good to him.   In his grief he pours out his heart to Mrs. Maylie:

Oh!  Consider how young and good she is, and what pleasure and comfort she gives to all about her.  I am sure – certain – quite certain – that, for your sake, who are so good yourself; she will not die.  Heaven will never let her die so young.

Mrs. Maylie kindly lays a hand on Oliver’s head, but her words indicate wisdom.   She tells him to hush, for “You think like a child, poor boy.”   Many in our world hold to this childish belief, I think.   How could a loving God “take” from our midst a young child, a beautiful and good young woman, a rich philanthropist, or a mother of young children?  This is an issue that causes many to lose their faith.   Listen to her words that follow – beautiful, wise words:

You teach me my duty…I had forgotten it for a moment, Oliver, but I hope I may be pardoned, for I am old and have seen enough of illness and death to know the agony of separation from the objects of our love.  I have seen enough, too, to know that it is not always the youngest and best who are spared to those that love them; but this should give us comfort in our sorrow; for Heaven is just; and such things teach us, impressively, that there is a brighter world than this; and that the passage to it is speedy.  God’s will be done!  I love her and He knows how well!

In our sinful, broken world, heartache and sorrow are never far.   Only in Heaven will there be true justice and true joy.   I think Dickens knew this too.

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2011 in Oliver Twist

 

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It’s Stupid Question Time Again!

Who is Monks?  Or is it the Monk?  or the Monks?

I’m confused.  And maybe it’s supposed to be that way.  He just pops out of nowhere in Chapter XXVI, and certainly intimidates Fagin.  And then he recognizes Oliver in Chapter XXXIII.  From where?  How?

Should I just be still and know that Dickens is in control and will answer my every question in good time?

Please answer.  Unless you’re not supposed to.  In which case, please answer that you’re not going to answer. Okay? (You can answer that.)

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Oliver Twist

 

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Reader, heed thyself.

I’m finished with Oliver Twist.  Speedy, eh?  Not so much, I just like a story with a happy ending, and since I don’t really know how Dickens plans to end his tale (I know, I may be the only person in the universe who hasn’t seen the musical or movie) I’ve decided to quit reading in a place where life is peachy-keen for our main character.  So here’s how Chapter XXXII wraps up in my book:

It seemed like a good idea.  Oliver is happily residing with two lovely ladies, who care deeply for him.  There are no lies floating about, or dangers in the air.  Just mutual respect, gratitude, and love.  Dickens calls it “true felicity.”  I call it, The End.

But, I just hope that maybe some future reader will see my directive and heed the advice.  However, I couldn’t leave well enough alone.  And sure enough, just a measly two chapters later Fagin and Monks are peaking in the window, spying on Oliver’s mid-study nap.

Which led to this book addition:

See, I told myself, so.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2011 in Oliver Twist

 

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Bacon Bits of Writing Wisdom

Long before the Bacon Craze started on the Interwebs, Dickens seemed to know that peppering his writing with a good salty analogy would really draw in the readers.  So at the beginning of Chapter XVII he compares his own writing to nothing else, but that crispy cured pork goodness that we all love.

It is the custom on the stage: in all good, murderous melodramas: to present the tragic and the comic scenes, in as regular alternation, as the layers of red and white in a side of streaky, well-cured bacon.

I’d say that’s sort of how we run this blog.  Two parts good meat, one part fat.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2011 in Oliver Twist

 

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