Tag Archives: classic

The Count of Monte Cristo

“I regret now,” said he, “having helped you in your late inquiries, or having given you the information I did.”
“Why so?” inquired Dantès.
“Because it has instilled a new passion in your heart—that of vengeance.”

Where to begin my praise for the Count of Monte Cristo? Written in 1844 by Alexandre Dumas, it is often considered one of the best novels ever written and rightly so. Dumas examines in painstaking detail the extent to which an innocent man, unjustly imprisoned, will go to punish those responsible for his doom.

It is an intricate plot told in a straightforward and accessible way, which is the beauty of The Count of Monte Cristo: it is digestible literature. Alexandre Dumas’ masterpiece combines adventure, mystery, romance and the result is savory. It is not a novel to dwell upon, it is a novel to be enjoyed; stop reading this review and go read the book.

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A Tale Of Two Cities

Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix

“It was the worst of time. It was the best of times.”

Spectacular is one word that comes to mind when thinking about Charles Dickens’ revered historical novel. Heartbreaking is another.

The French Revolution has been called the most important event in history. Like all history students, I learnt from textbooks. I committed to memory horrifying events yet still struggled to grasp the raw reality of the horror and the terror of the Revolution.

As an aspiring historian, I can tell you: It is one thing to memorize dates. Its is another altogether to have the fury of the French Revolution brought to life through Dickens’ pen. Whatever you will say about the ideals and intentions of the revolutionists, there is one thing that simply cannot be denied: the rage, the blood and the madness was inexplicably gruesome. Behind each death and behind each number is a story, a person and a face.

It is easy to forget how dreadful and dire history truly is. Just as our descendants will be horrified with the wars and genocides our century bore, so Dickens was horrified by the French Revolution* .  His novel is a warning, a severe warning to Aristocratic Britain. I like to think that his warning trancedes time and applies to our century as well.

To learn history is not to justify or make excuses for the horrors that our ancestors have perpetuated. To learn history is to take the first of many steps in understanding our present and applying lessons history yearns to teach us. Greater men and women have failed abundantly and left records of these errors so that we do not have to repeat them. The torch has been passed on, it is our task now to learn from it and bequeath it to what is hopefully a more deserving generation.

In spite of all this, there are things you simply cannot learn in school. When learning about the Revolution, there are sentiments that one simply cannot express in textbooks. That is when I turn to classics. More often than not, its authors express more about human triumph and human agony than a scheduled hour of class time ever will… When it comes to teaching about the human heart, one often learns best from one’s own readings and sentiments.

For these reasons (and many more I cannot reveal without stealing from the plot), I wholeheartedly recommend A Tale Of Two Cities to all. It is a chilling admonition… Lest we forget…

charles dickens

“Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious licence and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind”.

*even though he sympathized with the persecuted poor, having been “forced to work in a factory as a child” (wiki).

If you are interested in learning more about the Revolution, I suggest the History Channel’s documentary, available on YouTube.

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The Little Prince

Once in a lifetime, there comes along a novel that is so touching, so innocently poignant, that just by reading it, you feel your heart shatter and soar at the same time. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Éxupéry is the apotheosis of all such novels.  Published in 1943, it has become one of the bestselling novels of all time, sold more than 80 million copies and been translated into more than 180 languages¹.  Some would classify it as a childish story. Perhaps it is. Yet to categorize it as such would be to deny the fundamental philosophical truths it hides behind the simplicity of the narrative. 

In 2006, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit France. One of my first reactions to the old continent was how deeply engraved The Little Prince was in french culture*.  It seemed the philosophical lessons of this short novel were everywhere, to be read or to be bought.  The Little Prince has morphed into a capitalist’s dream: his notebooks, postcards, bookmarks can be bought everywhere. I should know… I bought a few myself.  

Do not let that stop you. Do not judge this book by how commercially successful it is. There is a reason behind the fervor. Do not reduce it to “children’s literature”. It would be reducing the human heart to a mere muscle. Do not judge it by its cover… Antoine de Saint-Éxupéry has achieved the seemingly impossible: he has illustrated (both linguistically and visually) all that is beautiful about love. 

Reader, whoever you are, I urge you: let the little prince seduce you. He will break your heart in the best way possible.

 

The Little Prince

“What makes the desert beautiful,” says the little prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well.”

 

¹wikipedia

*Literally; on my first or second day, I saw a carving of the Prince on a sidewalk. 

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The Red and the Black

This novel is beyond  sublime. Although I am a great lover of literature(duh) very rarely have I been so completely and utterly surprised, enthralled and bewitched by a classic. A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen were similar epiphanies. Perhaps it comes from expecting nothing at all and receiving everything in return. However, je divague.

The title says it all whilst saying almost  nothing. Le Rouge et le Noir: a young man’s choice between the scarlet red of the militia and the sober black of religion. A secret admirer of Napoleon, his life choices will always be made not with the intent of duplicating his hero’s path but rather with the intent of surpassing the old emperor’s glory. He will be torn in his love life as well, hesitating between two women who represent diverging aspects of his character. To a certain extent manipulative and hypocritical, Julien Sorel is almost an anti-hero. His crime however does not lie in his faults but rather in his great misunderstanding of the world and of himself.

I recommend this book to patient readers. At times, the novel may seem to be wearily advancing. Be that as it may, the magnificent finale is worth the journey.

Le Rouge et le Noir

“There is no place in contemporary French society for a superior man born without the advantages of money and social connections.¹”

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Red_and_the_Black

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