Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tuesday Intros: Celebrating Dickens Bicentenary

Today marks the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens. In honor of the bicentenary, I am posting two of my favorite opening passages from his novels. Bleak House, widely considered to be Dickens' masterpiece, has a marvelously visual opening. Can't you just see and feel the mud and fog? It is, by far, my favorite Dickens opening.

A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens' work of historical fiction, features what may be his most well-known opening, yet it is my least favorite novel. My favorite Dickens novel, Great Expectations, has an unremarkable opening paragraph.

More information on the Dickens Bicentenary can be found at Dickens 2012. Follow the celebration on twitter @Dickens2012.

Bleak House 
published serially 1852-1853
London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes--gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.
Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds. 
A Tale of Two Cities
published serially 1859
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way-- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening paragraph (s). Feel free to grab the banner and play along.


  1. Both are fabulous openings--I learned about Victorian London fog when I took a Brit lit class in college and read Bleak House. The professor did a mini-lecture just on London Fog.

    I still haven't read Tale of Two Cities. I hear wildly mixed reviews, but even if I end up disliking it, it's a must read for a classics lover.

    Happy Dickens' 200th!

  2. A Tale of Two Cities is my favorite! LOL

  3. Both are awesome intros, but my favorite is from A Tale of Two Cities. I actually hope to read both of these this year for my classics challenge. Great Choices JoAnn

  4. A Tale of Two Cities is a classic opener of course, but I liked Bleak House's too (very descriptive).

    Great Post & Happy Birthday Charles Dickens!

  5. Happy 200th to Dickens! I have yet to finish Bleak House. I always allow something to distract me. It is my goal to finish it one of these days.

  6. Happy Birthday Dickens! I have never read Bleak House and need to!

  7. Lovely opening from Bleak House, which is a favorite of mine. Our Mutual Friend has some nice London fog descriptions as well, but maybe not as long or prominently placed as the passage you included here.

    - Christy

  8. Loved the openers. I really enjoyed Tale of Two Cities way back in 1987 when I read it in Senior English!! I may participate in the Bleak House read-a-long this year!!

  9. JaneGS - I would have loved to sit in on a lecture on London's Fog -it's such a prominent figure in British Lit! I had a hard time getting through A Tale of Two Cities. At times I was simply enthralled, then there were others where I wanted to throw the book across the room.

    Rhapsody - All I can say is that it was my first Dickens and maybe I hadn't adjusted to his style...

    Diane - I love both of those intros, but don't know if I could handle two Dickens novels in one year. Good luck ;-)

    DCMetroreader - I think that's why I love them both, but for very different reasons.

    Nise' - Bleak House is like a monster in some ways. I started it with a read-along last year and immediately fell behind. Glad I was finally able to finish it on my own.

    Kathleen - Be forewarned, it's a huge undertaking!

    Paulita - So do I!

    Christy - I love that opening, too. Amy (New Century Reading) is working her way through Our Mutual Friend now. It may end up being my next Dickens.

    Staci - I'm not sure why I had such a hard time with A Tale of Two Cities. It seemed so uneven to me - first I couldn't put it down, then I dreaded picking it up again. Good luck with Bleak House.

  10. I've read that paragraph a dozen times and never got past it--I was never a fan of Dickens.

  11. Nice! happy 200th to Dickens! I hope lots of folks pick up one of his books today.

  12. I was so excited about Dickens' 200th birthday that I rushed over to audible to download Oliver Twist. But then got stuck between Simon Vance and Martin Jarvis as narrators. Which one to pick!!!

    I haven't read either of these though I do have the big doorstop of Bleak House on my shelf from when I ordered for Amanda's readalong.

  13. Kaye - Dickens is certainly not everyone's cup of tea. It took me years to warm up to him.

    Marie - I hope lots of people picked up one of his books yesterday.

    Trish - When you consider how long you'll be listening, that really is a big decision! It took me forever to decide on Vance's reading of Bleak House,

  14. I didnt realize that Vance was the narration you listened to. Would you recommend?? Never listened to him. Have listened to Jarvis (Good Omens).

  15. Trish - Yes, I'd recommend Vance. But you should listen to both samples a couple of times on different days to see which "voice" appeals to you personally. Listening to these long classics is a huge time investment and the narrator can make a world of difference!

  16. Yes of course, two openings from Dickens... how appropriate. I watched the BBC mini-series Bleak House, liked it so much that I read the book right after. That's one of my favorites. I haven't read Tale of Two Cities. But its beginning has been quoted so often, in variations too, that it sounds almost like a cliché, doesn't it? Great Expectations is also one of my favorites too.


  17. Arti - I've been meaning to watch the BBC's Bleak House miniseries ever since I finished the book. It's finally at the top of the Netflix queue.


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