Dehumanization in A Tale of Two Cities

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” ~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

“It’s a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It’s a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.” ~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” ~ Brené Brown

I can’t stop thinking of that interview Marie Forleo did with Brené Brown about her book Braving the Wilderness. When Brené was talking about the process by which we dehumanize other human beings, I thought of A Tale of Two Cities. There are many examples of how this process happens both in literature and in history, but the thing that Dickens does in his book is to make the process personal and devastating.

This story is so timeless that there are four film versions of it. My favorite is the 1938 version with Ronald Coleman, but every version I’ve seen is compelling.

The story takes place during the French Revolution. At the beginning of the story, Dr. Manette has been in prison for many years. He was imprisoned by aristocrats because he wouldn’t pledge to keep a secret they wanted buried. Since much of his work was with the poor of Paris, the De Farges, who had worked for Dr. Manette, try to get him released. In fact, that’s how the book begins, with Dr. Manette’s release. His wife and daughter had fled to England when he was taken, and now his grown daughter meets her father for the first time in many years. He’s a broken man.

Meanwhile, back in Paris, the De Farge’s are prominent members of the festering discontent that leads to the revolution. A single incident shows the callousness of the French aristocrats and sets the stage for the blood bath that is to follow. The Marquis St. Evrémonde, orders his coachman to speed through the poor part of the city. A child is crushed under the wheels of his carriage and he doesn’t care. Meanwhile St. Evrémonde’s nephew is packing to leave his title and his uncle behind. He can’t stand to see the way the people in his class are so callous toward the poor. And that’s the crux of the story. First the aristocrats devalue the lives of the poor, then the poor, having gained power, do the same to the aristocrats and those who work for them. Many innocent people end up dying at the guillotine.

The thing that has stuck with me since I first read the book when I was in high school was how quickly noble causes can be changed to bloody rampages. The De Farge’s have a just cause, but as they gain power they are seduced by blood lust. Their desire to right the wrongs their class has suffered turns against Dr. Manette and his family. Lucy Manette has married Charles Darnay, St. Evrémond’s nephew and the De Farge’s want to kill every last member of the family as if that would bring back the child who got trampled so many years before. It’s shocking how blind the De Farge’s and their cohorts become to the suffering they are causing.

My father used to say that wounded people, wound other people thinking it will ease their own pain. Pain, of course, is never eased by harming someone else. The only way to ease our pain is to forgive ourselves and others.

Sometimes life throws curve balls at us. Directing this play has been one of those situations for me. I have at times been sucked into the drama of situations with students, but getting upset and angry doesn’t help anything. I’ve had to take a step back and look at why I’ve drawn this into my life. The answer is, I have more guck to clear out so that I can be free of anger and blame.

It seems to me that stories like A Tale of Two Cities are examples of how tragic things can become if we fail to heal our own wounds. Trying to control things on the outside never makes us feel better. All the work must be done on the inside, in our own minds and hearts.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I hope the rest of your week is lovely.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. I you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

Movies That Imitate Life

Charles Dickens

“The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.” ~ Charles Dickens

“I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time.” ~ Charles Dickens

Last Sunday my husband and I drove two hours to Tucson to see The Man Who Invented Christmas. I don’t know why the local theaters weren’t showing it, but we were determined to watch this movie that I am sure will become a holiday classic since it is about how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol. My favorite scenes all have to do with how Dickens found inspiration in everyday encounters.

In the movie, his last three books have flopped. He’s strapped for money and needs a hit, but he doesn’t have a wisp of an idea. Then one night he overhears the new Irish maid telling his children stories about how on Christmas eve, the veil between our world and that of the spirits is thin enough to allow them to slip through to our side. That sets Dickens’ imagination whirling and the idea of new story is born.

After that Dickens picks up bits of real dialogue, he meets people who inspire characters, and he comes upon situations that inspire events for his novel. But the most intriguing element of the movie is how Dickens and the characters talk to each other. As Dickens is trying to finish the last chapter, he wants to leave Scrooge as an unrepentant miser. His characters “won’t do what I want them to.” They rebel. They keep telling him that Scrooge can be redeemed. Even his Irish maid tells him that the end of the book needs to be hopeful. That’s when we get a glimpse into Dickens’ childhood and how his life inspired his stories and activism on behalf of the poor.

His father was an upper class working man, but he had no idea how to manage money, and so was arrested and put into debtors prison, along with his family. Charles, however, was forced to work in a boot blacking factory at the age of twelve. The conditions in the factory were harsh and Dickens never forgot what it was like to lose everything and be treated as if he were a commodity. So, as he’s writing A Christmas Carol, he must face the fact that he has never forgiven his father for that humiliation.

I know that every author has their own method and personal viewpoint. Charles Dickens wrote his books in serial form, changing his characters and plots as he heard his friends and readers talk about the latest installment. However, he started with a firm beginning middle and end in mind. And because of his childhood experiences, almost all of his books had to do with the inequity between the rich and poor.

Sometimes I wish I was more like Dickens. When I began writing The Space Between Time, I only had a vague idea of my characters, themes, and where I wanted my story to end up. I don’t have conversations with my characters, as the movie portrays Dickens doing. But, I do get ideas just as I’m waking up, or some little snippet of plot will slink by me as I’m doing something else. Sometimes I get inspiration while I’m driving. When that happens I tell the ideas to stay put so I can write them down, or commit them to memory for later use. But like Dickens, my past and how I feel about it, is all part of my written work. I think it must be that way for all authors.

I can’t say I’ve ever had writer’s block, as Dickens does in the movie, at least not yet, thank heaven. But there are times when I know that where the story and characters want to go isn’t quite ripe yet. So I have to let the ideas simmer on the back burner of my mind. Or maybe it’s more a matter of me giving up resisting where the characters need to go. While writing The Space Between Time, I wanted to make my characters perfect, spiritually awakened people. But we all have those dark places inside that we must face to get through to the light. For me, dredging up the dark emotions are the hard days of writing. Fortunately I have good writer friends who keep reminding me that the best stories show the character’s struggles before they find a happy plateau.

Not being a person who plots out every event in the book is sometimes a pain. But that’s just not my personality. When I began writing this first novel, part of my vague idea was to have two intertwining timelines, but when I picked it up again after several years, I couldn’t figure out how to do it. Then a fellow author encouraged me to go with my first instinct. On the drive home I just said to the universe, “Okay, I want to tell the story of a character in the present and have her discover a character in the past. As a result they learn from each other. How do I do that?” And as I was approaching the San Pedro River, the idea came to me. Jenna’s life would be shattered. She’d find Morgan’s journals and enter her consciousness. From that moment on, idea after idea flowed to me as the story developed. I was energized again.

A similar thing happened with Time’s Echo, the sequel novel I’m working on now. Again the story in the past came to me first. I knew I wanted Morgan to become involved in the Suffrage Movement, but what was happening with Jenna in the present wasn’t clear to me. I wanted her to have some kind of awakening and become involved in advancing women’s rights, but just what was going to motivate her to do that wasn’t clear. That was in 2014. I began writing Morgan’s portion of the book and waited for events or inspiration to come to me about Jenna. I mean, I had been harassed in college and in the work place, but none of it seemed immediate enough to propel Jenna into activism. Inspiration and recent events collided with a vengeance. We’ll see how real life events help me write more of Jenna’s awakening. Like Dickens, everything that comes into my sphere of awareness is fodder for the stories I want to tell.

I hope you will go see The Man Who Invented Christmas. Even if it is fantasy, it’s satisfying to think that Dickens came to understand and forgive his father. The movie is filled with hope that if we forgive, we can find joy in life and change those around us.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate your likes and comments.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and print-on-demand at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

Inspiration

Charles Dickens

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” ~ Joseph Campbell

“Watch out or you might end up in my novel.” A T-shirt given to me as a gift.

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us become better too.” ~ Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

“If you’re reading this … Congratulations, you’re alive. If that’s not something to smile about, then I don’t know what is.” ~ Chad Sugg, Monsters Under Your Head

So, I know, scrolling through Facebook doesn’t seem to be a creative act. In fact, Pam Grout author of Art & Soul Reloaded, asks us to reduce the amount of time we waste on social media in order to carve out time for at least one creative endeavor a day. But over the weekend the trailer for a new movie popped up in my feed and I was inspired. The movie is The Man Who Invented Christmas, starring Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer. Just the trailer shows what an author goes through when working on a story. Inspiration comes from so many different unexpected places, a bedtime story, offhanded remarks, getting the right name for a character, or the right title for the piece. Any one of those are fodder for someone who uses their imagination.

The movie is about how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol. From the trailer, it looks like a fanciful and funny rendering of the real story. One thing is true to life, Charles Dickens was in financial difficulty when he wrote the novella. His last two novels had not been received well by the public. He needed a hit and was fortunate that inspiration struck. He wrote the book in October. It was published on December 19th 1843 only a few weeks later, and has never been out of print since. So, this Thanksgiving, I will be in the theatre watching this delightful, funny film and taking comfort in the fact that if we allow it, anything can inspire our creativity.

I have a confession to make. I read A Christmas Carol for the first time last Christmas. I know, how can that be. One of my brothers-in-law reads it every Christmas. Since I’ve seen many film and stage adaptations of the story, I thought I didn’t need to read the book. But last Christmas was particularly bleak for many people, including me, and I wanted to remind myself that carrying the spirit of Christmas with me all the year, is better than giving into despair. Christmas is a good time to reinvigorate hope and there are lots of wonderful Christmas books and movies that have that as a central theme. They are meant to inspire us and help us embrace loving life, and offering help to those less fortunate. Something good to remember any time of the year. I may read the book again this Christmas.

As if that little bit of inspiration from watching the movie trailer wasn’t enough, I was inspired by another post in my feed by Diana Gabaldon. She was promoting the new season of Outlander, a series I love, and wrote about how she approached each of the eight books, almost nine, in the series in a different way. That one statement sent my imagination flying to my new novel. I’ve been making progress on it, but the other day I was thinking that it was kind of boring and needed a new angle. Well, thank you Diana Gabaldon, I got a flash of inspiration about a new direction I could take the book.

One thing I’ve been learning as I’ve focused my attention of being creative every day is that, inspiration comes easier the more you commit to being open to it. Pam Grout says, “Look at it from the muses’ point of view. If you have an important project to present to the world, would you pick some two-timing, tap-dancing Willy too scared to commit? Or would you nominate the person who shows up every day, who is loyal, like the backyard dog?” I want to be loyal, maybe not like the backyard dog, but like a good friend. That’s why I’m always open and working, even if it’s just paying attention to what’s going on around me. I’m looking for that song lyric, which by the way is how I got the title for my first novel, The Space Between Time, thanks to The Beatles, or that thing someone does or says that give me an idea. Inspiration will find the right person at the right time. I want to be in the right place at the right time to catch a spark of inspiration that will be of benefit to me and those around me.

Oh, and if you want to see the trailer for The Man Who Invented Christmas, you can click here.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel. It’s available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and will soon be available in a print-on-demand version at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.