One of the many narrative facets is the contrast between the cities and the cultural orientations. As I mentioned last time, Dickens writes from the perspective of a Londoner but also the perspective of a Victorian Londoner 75 years after the events of the story. Even within this narrative there are sub-plots or micro-narratives. One, and I could be proven wrong by the time I get to the end of the book, the contrast of living insulated from our psyches and not. More like the thickness of the insulation.
What I mean by the psyche is the raw person (or id according to Freud) in all its glory, beauty and darkness (echoes of the fall). I don’t think it is possible to go through life living totally raw. If you tried, you would not have any friends at all, and maybe be put away in a mental illness warehouse somewhere.
So we all have to create some level of insulation from the core, as if the core of a nuclear reactor. The question is how much insulation do we create? This parallels my previous notions of living on different levels of a building. I would love to do some type of Biblical study on this concept. I do think the Bible itself takes place much closer to the core of real human nature than how Christianity is live out. That’s why Christians sometimes have trouble with, and have to re-write (figuratively) some of the brutal stories. David and Solomon are just a couple of the stories.
As I have said elsewhere, southern Europe lived with thinner insulation and I think the reason, in part at least, was the influence of Platonic (with emotions being highly appraised) thinking from the Renaissance while northern Europe was more under the influence of a rational Aristotle.
In Dickens’ Tale, he makes this contrast most acute (at least at this point of the reading). The French revolution was overflowing with raw emotion. The same emotion that brought the beauty and appreciating of the senses (taste, smell, feel, love) in France, also brought the ugly brutality. The insulation was very thin.
But Dickens was very intuitive. While as a Victorian Londoner, he was also an artist. Artists tend to live with thin insulations. So while he was a member of the thick-insulation society, he could observe it and give commentary on it with x-ray vision, seeing beneath the fluff. That theme seems to run through many of his stories.
I want to end with one more practical thought and then a quote from the book.
Ironically I was discussing the book yesterday with a family member (as you can tell when I start something I become obsessed with it) but I was speaking about a different narrative. It was about how the French doctor Manette was released from prison (after 18 years) and reunited with his daughter, Lucie. He is “resurrected” or as Dickens says, “Recalled to Life.” But later in the book (so I’ve read in the introduction) Lucie has a suitor and marries. After which, the father seems to die again, or at least to enter a time of self-imprisonment. She had been his breath of life.
I made the point that this is part of the human experience that is not talked about very much. That is the pain of loosing your child to marriage. The reaction I got was abrupt and showed signs of disgust with my raw thoughts. I was told that was a “horrible way to think.” That, “Marriage of our children is always a happy thought.” It was like I said I wanted to start killing babies or worse (in our society’s view) killing puppies. So I just retreated into my thoughts.
Now, I am NOT saying that we should lock our kids up in the basement. I am not saying that we don’t, at the same time, feel happiness for them. I certainly do believe that this is the way that God intended life to be, where we raise our children and then turn them loose into the world to be joined to another and to leave us. That is all healthy.
All that I’m saying is that there really is a human emotion of grief that must be experienced privately. It is hard to raise a child, be the center of their life and then, over night almost become superfluous to them. There is no hidden message here but expressing a true feeling of the raw id. But you can’t even have this discussion outside your own head . . . especially in Christian circles.
I think I mentioned that a good friend of mine stood up in church a few weeks ago and started to share (trying to put a positive twist on it) that his dear 92 year old aunt had died. Then he started balling so hard he couldn’t speak. His wife suddenly took over and expressed that he was not crying out of grief, but out of happiness for his aunt who was now in Heaven. Hell no! I thought. He is crying out of pure unadulterated grief . . . just as Jesus did at the tomb of his dear friend.
I remember balling at my son’s wedding (who I know will read this here). My wife was a little embarrassed and explained to people that I was crying out of happiness. I was not. I know it is selfish and I am truly happy that he did the healthy thing and moved on with his life, but I was crying because of deep sadness that an epoch of our relationship was over forever . . . or until there is this new world that God will make where these things are fixed.
I don’t know why but some of us live precariously close to our ids. I often wake up in the middle of the night with virtually no insulation. I feel the elation of bliss and the horror of darkness sometimes, simultaneously.
So I will end with a quote from Dickens. He is looking at London (I think, but it could be Paris) with its thick insulation, but speaking now as a fellow-Victorian, but an artist. But notice how that deep insulation that we put between ourselves and our id and even deeper insulation between our ids and our neighbors is part of the great alienation (which Schaeffer use to refer to) that is part of the Fall. Our tower of Babel isn’t a different dialect but the inability to share honestly how we truly feel.
This is from the chapter Night Shadows.
A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page. It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when the light was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. My friend is dead, my neighbor is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life’s end. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?