What the dickens, Charles!?
Quotes out of cf context, as is always the case, are deceiving to a point. This is the full text, from A Tale of Two Cities:
There were hurried words of farewell and kindness, but the parting was soon over. It was the incident of every day, and the society of La Force were engaged in the preparation of some games of forfeits and a little concert, for that evening. They crowded to the grates and shed tears there; but, twenty places in the projected entertainments had to be refilled, and the time was, at best, short to the lock-up hour, when the common rooms and corridors would be delivered over to the great dogs who kept watch there through the night. The prisoners were far from insensible or unfeeling; their ways arose out of the condition of the time. Similarly, though with a subtle difference, a species of fervour or intoxication, known, without doubt, to have led some persons to brave the guillotine unnecessarily, and to die by it, was not mere boastfulness, but a wild infection of the wildly shaken public mind. In seasons of pestilence, some of us will have a secret attraction to the disease—a terrible passing inclination to die of it. And all of us have like wonders hidden in our breasts, only needing circumstances to evoke them.”
Still, it reveals Dickens to be a far more cynical soul than is usually discussed at any length in literature fora. There is an application here to the current pandemic. While the courts and the guillotine are far more tangible images than a plague, the forces that drive the death sentences do seem as untouchable, unstoppable and inevitable as any disease. They are both largely unseen phenomena/enemies. They speak to fears deep inside us. I do believe that we often want to be able to reach out and touch them, or have them touch us, just to see that they are indeed real, and perhaps to finally end that nagging doubt. It’s the daily fear of something we cannot even see or touch that can become the Chinese water torture. Make it stop. Please make it stop.
And perhaps each of us is secretly that child harboring that dark fantasy that if missing us will reveal our value, we’ll do what it takes to get that moment of someone’s attention.
“You’ll see. One day you’ll see!”
Mostly though I do believe it’s about the monotony of fearing something that one can’t see nor touch. That’s COVID-19. It’s the sheer boredom of something somewhat shy of terror. What is the world going to look like on the other side of this and who will be here to see it?
And Jesus Christ, Charlie! You weren’t so far off. Some people have already tried to storm the Bastille!
Dickens never accused people of being particularly smart either.
A Tale of Two Cities might also be a fitting title for my two states of mind regarding the COVID-19 lockdown. I’ve no doubts about any of the mandated measures to “flatten the curve.” None at all, in fact I’m pretty pleased with that response to the problem. I’m speaking of the two warring camps in my own daily emotional response to the loss of… and I hate to say the word freedom… let’s call it freedom of movement. It’s the same thing everyone else is going through. It’s not even so much about plans that were dashed as it is about freedom to make plans. It’s about choice. Even people who rarely make any plans are feeling constricted. It’s just curious that some days I think this is the best thing that’s happened to me in months and others it feels like my head will explode. I do, by the way, think it’s in really poor taste that the anti-lockdown protesters have appropriated the MY BODY MY CHOICE slogan from reproductive rights activists.
It’s okay though. That’s where things are today. The City of Inner Peace is prevailing and there’s a big banner hung up on the ramparts that says THIS TOO SHALL PASS. All good. I booked the time off at the end of the summer and almost pulled the trigger on airfare/flights last night. The destination my change depending on… well, if you want to make COVID-19 laugh, tell it your plans for tomorrow, or next month, or 2021. I’m going to leave travel plans alone for a couple days. Thinking about getting away is making my feet itch, and thats not helpful. Consider me gone at some point though.
AND YOU’RE GOING TO SEE! YOU’RE GOING TO MISS ME WHEN I’M LOST ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD!