NA classics challenge

Classics Challenge April: Cover art

I missed November Autumn’s Classic challenge questions for Feb and March, and I felt bad about it. Total *fail* honestly. I kept meaning to post my reply to her great prompts but somehow the time to sit at the computer for a significant period never came along. That is the hardest thing about blogging for me, finding that stretch of time where I am willing, able, and really want to sit at the computer for hours. And it does take hours. I am not a post and go person. It’s all or nothing up in here with the nothing winning by far!

Ah well, bygones. I am here to answer her April prompt which is:

What are your first impressions as you look at the cover?
Does the book cover have an aspect that reflects the character, setting, or plot of the novel?

I just finished reading A Tale of Two Cities. It was slow going at first but I am glad I stuck with it (thanks ladies who encouraged me!) because the book did turn out to be great. The last 100 pages were a whirlwind! And Carton! Carton!! When he and the young girl were holding hands, comforting each other, so poignant. I was holding back the tears on the last page.
And I loved Madame Defarge! I know she is horribly wicked but she was the most developed and interesting character, I thought, until the rest of the characters came to life in the last 150 pages.

I read the Barnes and Noble edition which has the painting Storming the Bastille by Jean-Pierre Houel on the cover

My first impression of the cover is that it is an obvious choice since it depicts the fall of the Bastille, a Paris prison, an event that helped kick off the Revolution. I think the chaos that Dickens tried to capture in the book is well illustrated in the painting. The entrance in the center of the painting looks like the gate to Hell and Dickens’ account of the revolution makes you feel that the French peasants were in a living Hell and once they had enough, they reached up and drug the rich down into Hell with them. The Bastille’s broken down walls capture literally and figuratively how French society fell. The smoke in the image reminds me of this line from the book

There could have been no such Revolution, if all laws, forms, and ceremonies, had not first been so monstrously abused, that the suicidal vengeance of the Revolution was to scatter them all to the winds.

Something that makes this painting a particularly apt cover for The Tale of Two Cities is that the storming of the Bastille was, in a way, rather senseless. There were only seven prisoners in the Bastille, four forgers, two “lunatics”, and a “deviant” friend of the Marques De Sade. Yet 98 revolutionaries, aka Bastille attackers, gave their life tearing it down. Of course taking over the Bastille and destroying it symbolized the destruction of the old ways, of royal and rich tyranny. But did it do much quantifiable good? I think Dickens wants us to ask that of the whole Revolution. It may have been an uprising of “the People” but did it really do any Good for those same people…

Classics Challenge January: All about the author

 I am participating in a year long Classics Challenge hosted by November’s Autumn. The challenge is to read at least 7 classic works in 2012. On the 4th of each month Katherine of N.A. will pose a question for challenge participants to answer regarding whatever classic book  they happen to be reading at the moment.


January’s questions are all about the author:

  • Who is the author?  
    This month I am reading The Tempest by William Shakespeare

    • What do they look like? 
      We do not know for sure what Shakespeare looked like, “none of the portraits qualifies as a verified likeness of him, for no evidence exists that Shakespeare actually sat for a portrait. Artists could have executed their portraits from memory or from descriptions of Shakespeare provided by persons who knew him. Even the so-called authentic likeness of Shakespeare–the 1623 Martin Droeshout engraving of him that appeared in the First Folio, the first published collection of Shakespeare’s plays–is suspect. The artist was only 15 when Shakespeare died in 1616. Apparently, Droeshout completed the portrait shortly before the First Folio publication.”  [1]
  • When were they born? Where did they live?
    Shakespeare was baptized on the 26th of April 1564. A baby had to be baptized on the Sunday following his or her birth, unless the parents could give a valid reason for not baptizing immediately. Therefore we can safely assume Shakespeare was born earlier that week. Shakespeare spent his childhood in Stratford-upon-Avon. The family was believed to live on Henley Street in the home shown below. The home has been under the care of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust since 1847



  • What does their handwriting look like?
    Six signatures of Shakespeare are known

    Image via Lawpundit

    There is also a play by Anthony Munday called Sir Thomas More, that is said to contain an addition written in Shakespeare’s hand, this is controversial though.

  • What is an interesting and random fact about their life? 
    Something I find interesting about Shakespeare is that it is widely said he was uneducated, or more specifically he did not go to college. Yet, Shakespeare’s father was a politician in their town of Stratford upon Avon and therefore Shakespeare and his siblings were eligible for a grammar school education at no cost to the family. There is no reason to suppose the family would not take advantage of this and it seems likely Shakespeare went to school from the ages of 7 to 14.
    Now a grammar school education in Elizabethan times was very different from the elementary school subjects taught now. Shakespeare would have been taught Latin and practiced translating Latin to English and English to Latin. A basic education included 7 to 11 hours a day studying the works of the great classical authors and dramatists such as Ovid, Plautus, Horace, Virgil, Cicero and Seneca [2] The type of education provided in grammar schools of the 16th century could be compared to a degree program in the classics today. In my opinion there is no reason to doubt that Shakespeare had the knowledge, ability, and historical education to write his plays.
    One other thing I found interesting is that Elizabethan schools were not big on handwriting. If it was taught, it was by a specialist teacher who visited the school for only a few weeks. [3] Also the English language was very much in a state of flux at this time. So, Shakespeare’s handwriting and spelling are really not a reflection on his intelligence.


Visit the November’s Autumn blog for links to more classic challenge January participants!