Dickens Update #17; Book 2: Issue 14

Chapter XII In Which a Great Patriotic Conference is Holden: Mr. Merdle is Dickens’ target here as Mr. Merdle has a Barnacle dinner to which the Chorus of Parliamentary Barnacles are invited.  “It was understood to be a great occasion.” Much is made of Mr. Merdle’s position: “All people knew (or thought they knew) that he had made himself immensely rich; and, for that reason alone, prostrated themselves before him, more degradedly and less excusably than the darkest savage creeps out of his hole in the ground to propitiate, in some log or reptile, the Deity of his benighted soul.” Mrs. Merdle had written to Mr. Merdle about the urgency of providing for Mr. Edmund Sparkler and this was to be a main reason for the dinner.Patriotic Conference Bk2 ChXII p578 There was also a discussion among the Barnacles about Mr. Dorrit and a bond he had signed many years before inheriting his present fortune when a business he had been involved in went bankrupt resulting in non-payment of the money Mr. Dorrit owed. Mr. Dorrit had been trying to repay the money and this was very “bothersome” to the Barnacles whom we might recall are committed to NOT doing things. There is another interesting discussion at the dinner about “buttoned-up” men and it being “certain that a man to whom importance is accorded is the buttoned-up man.” “Wisdom is supposed to condense and augment when buttoned -up, and to evaporate when unbuttoned.” This made me think about the buttoned-down collars style of men’s shirts and how that came about. “Everybody knew pefectly well that this dinner had been eaten and drunk specifically to the end that Lord Decimus and Mr. Merdle should have finve minutes conversation together.” There is an elaborate farcical process to bring the two men together that would be hilarious on the stage. The upshot of it all was an announcement in a day or two that “Edmund Sparkler, Esquire, son-in-law of the eminent Mr. Merdle of world-wide renown, was made one of the Lords of the Circumlocution Office”.

Chapter XIII The Progress of an Epidemic: “There never was, there never had been, there never again would be, such a man as Mr. Merdle. Nobody, as foresaid, knew what he had done, but everybody knew him to be the greatest that had appeared.” This made me think about celebrity status as it appears in present day society. Mr. Merdle’s wealth was all the talk by all the classes.

Elsewhere in London, the reader is updated on the Plornish household and Pancks’ doings,-Mr Baptist has seen something Bk2 ChXiiip597“making a very porcupine of himself by sticking his hair up” -sounds like he would fit right in with today’s young men.  Jean-Baptiste(he lives with the Plornishes) has a scare : he has seen “A bad man. A baddest man. I have hoped that I should never see him again.” In the evening, Mr. Clennam comes by with news from another letter from Miss. Dorrit (Amy). Over supper, Arthur and Pancks discuss the Merdle phenomenon. Pancks confesses to having invested 1,000 pounds. He encourages Arthur to invest: “Be as rich as you can, sir…for the sake of others.”

In Chapter XIV Taking Advice, Henry Gowan says about Sparkler getting the post in the Circumlocution Office: “There was nothing to do, and he would do it charmingly; there was a handsome salary to draw, and he would draw it charmingly;…”.  Fanny assesses her family members for Little Dorrit and explains to Amy as  well why she (Fanny) is best suited to marry Mr. Sparkler.  In days ahead “he (Sparkler) had no greater will of his own than a boat has when it is towed by a steam-ship; and he followed his cruel mistress (Fanny) through rough and smooth, on equally strong compulsion.” In six months, Amy sensed a change in Sparkler’s demeanor towards herself: “it became fraternal.” Then Fanny announces her engagement. And so ends Issue 14 with all readers anxious to hear about the wedding.

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

This is a very good read and a very good mystery but it is not at the top of my personal favourites of this author because I love the Three Pines setting of most of her books and found it much less comfortable in the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups in the Quebec wilderness.

The monastery is intriguing as are the monks themselves and the tension between Gamache and Beauvoir and their immediate boss Sylvain Francoeur who also comes to the monastery is somewhat higher than we usually experience in the Three Pines setting so perhaps it counterbalances the missing familiarity of Three Pines (not completely though!).

The mystery itself has to do with plainchant and Gregorian chants for which the monks have become famous through a recording they made to raise funds for much needed repair work on the monastery building. A bit of information which a reader might find helpful regards the term neumes. Neumes are musical signs written before clefs and which indicate the place to start; they are wavy lines which represent notes and tone and which give direction to singers.

There are only twenty-four monks at the monastery and so raising revenue is not an easy undertaking. The mystery is embedded in the fact that the monks became divided over the issue of making another recording because the very foundations of the building were slowly disintegrating and a very large sum would be needed to fund the repair. Making the recording meant entering the world they had left and having it intrude into their monastery in ways that were unknown yet but very threatening to the very core of their beliefs.

The title refers to what the church calls “the beautiful mystery” and scientists call alpha waves. A visiting Dominican monk puts it this way when asked what the mystery is: “Why these chants, more than any other church music, are so powerful. Since I’m a monk I think I’ll go with the theory they’re the voice of God. Though there’s a third possibility,” the Dominican admitted. “I was at dinner a few weeks ago with a colleague and he has a theory that all tenors are idiots. Something to do with their brain pans and the vibration of the sound waves.” Needless to say, the Dominican brings some comic relief into an otherwise rather serious story.Beautiful Mystery

This novel seemed a tad long to me but not so much so that I was prepared to stop reading. The whole setting in the monastery is quite fascinating enough to keep one’s attention but it seems at times as if a resolution might have have been reached sooner. The conflict between the Chief Inspector and his superior begged for resolution as well and Inspector Beauvoir’s personal descent into a previous challenge was difficult territory for this reader also. The Dominican monk brings some light into the story but his presence also has a foreboding aspect initially.

All in all, as I said, a very good read just not my favourite Louise Penny/Gamache mystery. Oddly enough, my absolute favourite does NOT take place in Three Pines either so the setting alone cannot be blamed for my choices. Perhaps, as the saying goes, there is no accounting for taste sometimes.

Dickens Update #16; Book 2: Issue 13

In Chapter VIII, The Dowager Mrs. Gowan is Reminded That it Never Does, sees Dickens taking us back to see how Doyce and Clennam are progressing (very well it seems) and to remind us that success is not a goal of the barnacles because “under the affliction of a great amount of earnestness, there might, in an exceeding short space of time, be not a single Barnacle left sticking to a post.” I love this image of civil servants sticking to posts!  Arthur has decided to support Doyce’s invention again with the Circumlocution Office (you may recall he met Doyce there) thus opening an opportunity for Dickens to attack the government practices again.

Arthur’s reflections upon himself: “Everything about him tended to confirm him in the custom of looking on himself as an elderly man” who was done with love and/or passion.

Mrs. Gowan visits the Meagles one Saturday while Arthur is there and informs Mr. Meagles that a baby is expected by Henry and Minnie/Pet and there follows an interesting echange between Mrs. Gowan and Mr. Meagles who says “Don’t pity Henry, and I won’t pity Pet.” The continued conversation would be amusing on screen but was most disturbing for Mr. Meagles since Mrs. Gowan was incapable of the truth and wished to extricate herself from further associaion with the Meagles (her son might have been an embarrassment to her were she capable of being embarrassed.

In Chapter IX, Appearance and Disappearance, the Meagles tell Arthur they intend to go and find/see Pet in Italy. Mr. M says he has to clear more debt for Henry. Arthur takes care of the cottage while they are away and stays there on weekends. Mrs. Tickit tells him on one visit that she saw Tattycoram at the gate. Later Arthur sees Tattycoram in London and follows her and eventually she and Miss Wade go into Mr. Casby’s house (Flora’s father and Pancks’ employer). Arthur goes in and learns from Pancks that Casby doles out money to Miss Wade but Pancks knows nothing more.

In Chapter X, The Dreams of Mrs. Flintwinch Thicken, Arthur goes to visit his mother and in the street he encounters the man he saw with Tattycoram and Miss Wade in the street. It turns out this man is also visiting Arthur’s mother. The man refers to himself as Blandois! So the mystery thickens as do Mrs. Flintwinch’s dreams. Mrs. Clennam dismisses Arthur and when he asks Affery (Mrs. Flintwinch) what is going on , she replies “Don’t ask me anything, Arthur. I’ve been in a dream for ever so long. Go away!” No help there for reader or Arthur!

In Chapter XI, A Letter from Little Dorrit, Amy again reports on Mrs. Gowan’s lodgings in the artists’ colony in Via Gregoriana and on the birth of a son and on the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Meagles in Rome. She also reports on Fanny’s lover and expresses great homesickness and sends regards to Pancks. Amy wins us over again..never forgets those who have been good to her.

So ends Issue 13.

Dickens Update #15; Book 2: Issue 12

At the beginning of Chapter V, Something Wrong Somewhere, the Dorrits have been in Venice for “a month or two”. Mr. Dorrit has a chat with Mrs. General about Amy and Amy is sent for. She tells them she needs more time to feel at home in her new circumstances. Mrs. General corrects Amy on the use of the word “father”: the correct word being “Papa”. Father is considered “vulgar, my dear.” Dorrit tells Amy he is not pleased with her and Amy realizes that her father can never “overcome that quarter of a century behind the prison bars.” Amy, of, course, shows all the wisdom and awareness of a parent while Dorrit acts the role of child. Amy does not reproach her father. She does ask if she may go and visit Mr. and Mrs. Gowan who have now returned to Venice. Edward-Tip reveals connections between the Gowans and the Merdles making the Gowans socially acceptable so Amy is allowed to visit. Fred berates his brother and his niece Fanny: “I protest against any one of us here who have known what we have known, and have seem what we have seen, setting up any pretension that puts Amy at a moment’s disadvantage, or to the cost of a moment’s pain.” Fred exits and Fanny and Papa Dorrit try to come to terms with their guilt. Dickens leaves it to his reader to make her’his own conclusions regarding their way of dealing with that guilt.

In Chapter VI, Something Right Somewhere, Dickens lets us know how Minnie Gowan sees her marriage: “From the days of their honeymoon, Minnie Gowan felt sensible of being usually regarded as the wife of a man who had made a descent in marrying her, but whose chivalrous love for her had cancelled that inequality.” Blandois had accompanied the Gowans to Venice and Gowan encouraged Blandois to oppose his wife and made him his companion. Fanny accompanies Amy to visit Mrs. Gowan and Minnie takes them to Gowan’s studio.Instinct stronger than training Bk2 ChVI p508 Blandois was in the studio : he is modelling for Gowan. Blandois provokes the dog, Lion, in the studio and Henry tells Blandois to get out. (see picture to right). He leaves but Henry then attacked the dog, kicking him with his boot heel. Minnie is disturbed. Gowan strikes the dog several additional times. Amy protests. She is not impressed with Gowan’s behaviour nor by Fanny’s flirtation on the gondola ride home with young Mr. Sparkler. Fanny makes her intentions with regard to Sparkler clear to Amy. Back at the palace door, Sparkler stands up with his card case  and his boat collides Mr. Sparkler Bk2ChVIp516with that of the two women so “as to tip that gentleman over like a large species of ninepin, and cause him to exhibit the soles of his shoes to the object of his dearest wishes.” (see picture to the right)  Fanny takes Sparkler to meet her Papa and S. is invited back for dinner and to go to the opera.  Papa Dorrit thinks he will engage Gowan to paint his portrait.  After the opera, Blandois tells them Gowan’s dog is dead/poisoned: he reports this during a sinister appearance at the box-door of the opera. The suspense thickens regarding Blandois and what he is about.

In Chapter VII, Mostly, Prunes and Prism, Fanny tells Amy that Mrs. General has “designs” on their father/papa. Fanny believes “he is ready to get himself into a state of perfect infatuation with her at any moment.” And more than that! Fanny says she herself would marry Mr. Sparkler before she would accept Mrs. General for a Mama! Mr. Dorrit engages Gowan to paint his portrait and Gowan says he will do it in Rome. Amy quietly observes the fate that has fallen on Mrs. Gowan and also realizes she has an ally in her dislike of Blandois. Amy thinks Blandois gained access to her father’s house much too easily. Amy compares society abroad to that of the Marshalsea and, of course, this is Dickens getting in his political commentary again. The family goes to Rome and Amy experiences another layer of society in which no one has an opinion of their own.  Mrs. Merdle calls and mr. Dorrit tells her how much he wishes to meet Mr. Merdle. Little Dorrit/Amy is now interested in meeting Mr. Merdle as her father appears to want advice from him about his fortune. So now we too want to witness the meeting of these two men. Our interest is piqued in several directions as Dickens closes out Issue 12.

The Breadwinner Trilogy by Deborah Ellis

Breadwinner TrilogyA powerful young adult read which includes the novels The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey and Mud City. The dedications for each of these novels are as follows: to the children of war; to children we force to be braver than they should have to be; to children lost and wandering, far from their homes. When The Breadwinner begins Parvana is eleven years old and in sixth grade, her sister Nooria is in high school, her sister Maryam is five and her brother Ali is two years old. They have been living in one room for more than a year. Parvana went to the market with her father (lost part of his leg when the school he taught at was bombed). She helped her father get to the market and she sat with him while he tried to sell the few items they could part with to try and raise money for food. Her father also read and wrote letters for Afghans who could not read or write.  Parvani spoke Dari and understood Pashtu and some English. They are living in Kabul and the Taliban has taken over the country. “Bombs had been part of Parvana’s whole life. Every day, every night, rockets would fall out of the sky, and someone’s house would explode.” One day four Taliban soldiers burst through the door. They dragged her father outside although Parvana tried to hold on to him. The other soldiers searched their room and threw things about. When Parvana tried to stop them she was beaten. And this is only the beginning. When her mother and sister go to Mazar, Parvana is left alone. She finds a friend named Shauzia. She has to disguise herself as a boy because girls cannot be on the street and she must go to the market and try to make some money.  In Parvana’s Journey her story continues and in Mud City we hear more of Shauzia’s story.

These are inspirational and informative stories about family and friendship in war ravaged countries that we hear of in the news daily. They have much to teach all readers about the lives behind the headlines. All three novels have won awards. The Breadwinner Trilogy is published by Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press in Toronto. Deborah Ellis can be researched at www.deborahellis.com.  I intend to read more of her work in the immediate future.