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Wednesday’s Fiction

August 19, 2009

A large cask of wine had been dropped and broken, in the street. The accident had happened in getting it out of a cart; the cask had tumbled out with a run, the hoops had burst, and it lay on the stones just outside the door of the wine-shop, shattered like a walnut-shell.

All the people within reach had suspended their business, or their idleness, to run to the spot and drink the wine. The rough, irregular stones of the street, pointing every way, and designed, one might have thought, expressly to lame all living creatures that approached them, had dammed it into little pools; these were surrounded, each by its own jostling group or crowd, according to its size. Some men kneeled down, made scoops of their two hands joined, and sipped, or tried to help women, who bent over their shoulders, to sip, before the wine had all run out between their fingers. Others, men and women, dipped in the puddles with little mugs of mutilated earthenware, or even with handkerchiefs from women’s heads, which were squeezed dry into infants’ mouths; others made small mud-embankments, to stem the wine as it ran; others, directed by lookers-on up at high windows, darted here and there, to cut off little streams of wine that started away in new directions; others devoted themselves to the sodden and lee-dyed pieces of the cask, licking, and even champing the moister wine-rotted fragments with eager relish. There was no drainage to carry off the wine, and not only did it all get taken up, but so much mud got taken up along with it, that there might have been a scavenger in the street, if anybody acquainted with it could have believed in such a miraculous presence.

A shrill sound of laughter and of amused voices — voices of men, women, and children — resounded in the street while this wine game lasted. There was little roughness in the sport, and much playfulness. There was a special companionship in it, an observable inclination on the part of every one to join some other one, which led, especially among the luckier or lighter-hearted, to frolicsome embraces, drinking of healths, shaking of hands, and even joining of hands and dancing, a dozen together. When the wine was gone, and the places where it had been most abundant were raked into a gridiron-pattern by fingers, these demonstrations ceased, as suddenly as they had broken out. The man who had left his saw sticking in the firewood he was cutting, set it in motion again; the women who had left on a door-step the little pot of hot ashes, at which she had been trying to soften the pain in her own starved fingers and toes, or in those of her child, returned to it; men with bare arms, matted locks, and cadaverous faces, who had emerged into the winter light from cellars, moved away, to descend again; and a gloom gathered on the scene that appeared more natural to it than sunshine.

The wine was red wine, and had stained the ground of the narrow street in the suburb of Saint Antoine, in Paris, where it was spilled. It had stained many hands, too, and many faces, and many naked feet, and many wooden shoes. The hands of the man who sawed the wood, left red marks on the billets; and the forehead of the woman who nursed her baby, was stained with the stain of the old rag she wound about her head again. Those who had been greedy with the staves of the cask, had acquired a tigerish smear about the mouth; and one tall joker so besmirched, his head more out of a long squalid bag of a nightcap than in it, scrawled upon a wall with his finger dipped in muddy wine-lees — BLOOD.

The time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be red upon many there.

A Tale of Two Cities, –by Charles Dickens.

7 Comments
  1. Mary Sunshine permalink
    August 19, 2009 12:29 pm

    Loved the book, loved the movie. Thanks for that.

    Kitty, were you able to scan the text from some electronic source, or did you have to type it all in?

    • August 19, 2009 4:53 pm

      I found this with an etext Google search (type in the name of the works and the word etext); therefore, I did not have to type it out, just copy and paste. You know there is that 75 years copyright law thing (or something like that), where anything older than 75 years is no longer subject to copyright law and can be written out in full. But, I find it usually only applies to works written before 1900. I have no data to support my claim, but it seems that any author who still has living descendants is harder to find in e-text. I think it is because their heirs have renewed the copyright or something. For example, searching for Jean Toomer’s etext has been fruitless.

      http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/DicTale.html

  2. Mary Sunshine permalink
    August 19, 2009 12:31 pm

    Eek! I wasn’t logged in. Here’s my red blob. 😉

  3. August 19, 2009 5:07 pm

    And of course, I am not finished reading this particular novel. In the last six months, it seems like it has been difficult to concentrate on one novel. I can have six novels going at any one time and sometimes just abandon them all.

    I posted this excerpt because of something that has been bugging me. And that is how when some people today discuss poverty or allude to poverty or make fun of someone’s circumstances they tend to reach for Dickens. Well, I love Dickens as much as the next person, if not more, but it is quite telling when the only reference a person has for poverty is Dickens. It reminds me of how when many white people talk about racism they can only reach for slavery. Well, Dickens and slavery was over 150 years ago. Are some people so fucking insulated that their main or only reference about poverty and/or slavery is a time long ago. Now having said that, it paints me in a corner, because I do love Dickens and like to talk about Dickens’ works, while still being able to easily recall present day references and experiences of my own poverty. I think for me personally, Dickens gives me distance, thus, not as painful and I can be academic about it all. But when privileged people use Dickens as an example, it is condescending and when they mock someone’s poverty stories as something out of a Dickens novel, it is insulting.

  4. August 19, 2009 6:05 pm

    I completely agree, Kitty. And I think Mary talked before about how people do the same thing with misogyny – “oh, a long long time ago marriage used to be about ownership of women,” they say solemnly. Then they settle comfortably back onto the delusion that it’s different now.

    • August 19, 2009 6:34 pm

      Perfect example. And you know, I have to wonder if I did not think of that myself because I automatically see misogyny in the present day form as a given or if I fell in the trap of elevating male-inclusive isms above misogyny. I will have to think on that. Although I am comfortable that when I think of poverty and racism I am thinking of women first. None, of this, “It is a feminist issue because men have to deal with it and come home to their women.” UGH! Talk about perpetuating the crumb mentality. Not to mention invisiblizing women who don’t have or want a man coming home to them.

      Also, regarding poverty, I often hear Americans speak of it in third world terms only, as if there are not Americans drowning in poverty. Not to ignore third world countries, but it is the same as your misogyny example, there is an element of “it is all cured now for us” when day-to-day realities prove differently.

    • atheistwoman permalink
      August 20, 2009 11:25 am

      Yes, I can’t tell you how many times I have been told by wealthy white people, with these smug little looks on their faces, that no one in the US is poor, because everyone here has a tv!

      a) not true
      b) because televisions also give you healthcare, rent, a social net, etc?
      c) Most of that smugness was just their ass thinking that if they were poor they certainly would never ever waste their money on some junky thing like a tv *okay fellas, you already did, except you are rich…so that makes it okay, amiright?* or kitchen appliances (the microwave is also usually mentioned as proof that no one in the US is poor).

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