A Tale of Two Towels

All these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in and close upon the dear old year two thousand and nineteen.


See these towels?

These towels left our house in August of 2018, when my son and his girlfriend went out to enjoy a romantic evening by the firepit. The stone benches were wet, so my son took the towels to keep their butts dry.

The next morning, I noticed the towels were still outside, so I asked my son to bring them in and wash them. I mentioned for the record that no matter how long he delayed, no matter how effectively he hemmed and hawed, I would not touch those towels.

And lo, A Tale of Two Towels began.

The Towels saw summer wind down and a beautiful Vermont fall come and go. I could not see them for much of the winter, but they were still there, hidden but never forgotten, under piles of drifting snow.

Come April, when the last of the snow finally melted into mud season, the towels reappeared.

In the first week of May, my son invited a bunch of his friends home from college for dinner. Figuring they might use the firepit, he moved the towels (and about a pound of wet leaves and sticks) to the sill on the back porch, within twenty feet of the washing machine.

There was much rejoicing, and later, much passive-aggressive commentary .


Yesterday, as we were preparing to host some medical students in our home, this writer’s husband freaked out and caved. Embarrassed by their smelly, wet nastiness, he gathered up the towels (along with the aforementioned pound of leaves and sticks) and placed them in the washing machine.

I discovered his tactical error later that night and determined not to let this one defeat mar twenty-plus years of marriage, started the machine’s self-cleaning cycle with a double dose of Affresh.


For much of today, I thought our Tale was over. We fought the good fight for almost a year, but in the end, our son’s formidable delay tactics and my husband’s aversion to mildew were our undoing.

But this evening, I discovered my valiant and determined husband returned the towels, unfolded but sweet-smelling, to their place on the sill.

And with that, our Tale continues, afresh.


Thus did the year two thousand and nineteen conduct their Greatnesses, and myriads of small creatures—the creatures of this chronicle among the rest—along the roads that lay before them.

Look on My Flow, Ye Mighty and Despair!

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – Flow – 01

(c) Evalottchen - http://www.flickr.com/photos/evalottchen/4443853616/

NB: This is a re-post from a while back, but someone asked me tonight about my teaching style, and this post pretty much sums it up. This one's for you, Daniel Lippman!

Continuing on the "heady week" theme, Friday was simply one one those awesome days. I had a plan going in to English classes on Friday, but our Veteran's Day assembly lopped about twenty minutes off the front end of my seventh grade class. As the class after the assembly was an "open classroom" period, parents showed up in the back of my classroom to watch. No pressure there. Five moms, all less than easily impressed on a good day, waited to see what sort of show I'd put on for them.

At these times, I find it's best to let the class evolve organically rather than attempt to shoehorn fifty minutes of material into thirty minutes of class time. In other words, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Improv! Time to go with the flow. That's right. I went all Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on their asses.

I quickly gave the weekly spelling quiz of ten commonly misspelled words (the word "misspelled" happens to be one of them), and launched in to the final cultural literacy tidbit of the week, the poem "Ozymandias." I mentioned last week in "Things Fall Apart" that I had decided to scrap the whole Victorian novel theme and go with Yeats, "Second Coming," Things Fall Apart, and "Ozymandias" in order to soothe my own soul on the heels of a crappy week. I have to admit, I was also curious about whether or not my students could synthesize these topics into a coherent thematic journey come Friday.

Before reading "Ozymandias," I asked them to re-cap the week's cultural literacy for me. They had to explain each tidbit, then figure out how to move from one item to the next in a way that made sense. Why might Chinua Achebe choose a quote from Yeats' "Second Coming" as a title for a novel set in Nigeria?They had decided to define the "center" that cannot hold in "Second Coming" as "humanity" as it relates to the ethical standards of a society, they did a great job of tying that loss of humanity to what happened to the Igbo people as a result of the intrusion of Christian missionaries - or any European colonialists, for that matter. They had not read Achebe's book, I simply gave them a brief synopsis and let their brains run amok.

Once they figured out why I had presented those four items together in one week, I moved on and pointed out that Shelley also wrote a little poem called "Prometheus Unbound." My students really know their mythology, so we talked about why he would be bound in the first place and what it might mean to unbind him. Then, I mentioned that Shelley was married to another Shelley - Ms. Mary - and that she was inspired to write Frankenstein at the same time her husband was writing "Prometheus Unbound." And that Dickens took inspiration from Frankenstein when he wrote Great Expectations.

Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic: These works are thematically related. Discuss.

I look at them and they look at me. For what seems like a wee bit too long.

Suddenly a gasp, and an arm flies up. Arnold Horseshack is in the house.

"Oh! Oh! I know! Prometheus made people, Dr. Frankenstein made the monster, and Miss Havisham made Estella!" This all tumbles out in one breath, so fast that some students have to ask their neighbors what the heck he said.

"Nice. Great first step. And what are people trying to be when they go about creating?"

Hands shoot up all over the place and one kid can't help but blurt out, "Gods!"


We finally get around to the other creator - Magwich - and his creation, Pip the gentleman. A couple of weeks ago, I'd asked them why they thought Magwich went to all that trouble to make Pip a gentleman. They mentioned gratitude, that he saw Pip as a son, that he wanted to show up all of those people who think badly of him because he's a criminal...but I had told them I thought there might be more and asked them to file the discussion away until later. Once we started pulling this this thread on creation and monsters, I felt they could bring the conversation home. And they did. They saw the full spectrum of Magwich's motivations, and we spent some time talking about all the people in literature, mythology, and folklore who come to bad ends when they try to usurp the power of the gods. The short answer? It never ends well.

And the alternate title of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein? The Modern Prometheus. They loved that.

In the last two minutes of class, I opened up Great Expectations and read from chapter 40. Magwich has just revealed himself to Pip, who is clothing and housing him. Pip is sheltering Magwich from the law, but he's still freaked out by the revelation Magwich has lain at Pip's well-shod feet. As Magwich sleeps, Pip describes his feelings:

"The imaginary student pursued by the misshapen creature he had impiously made, was not more wretched than I, pursued by the creature who had made me, and recoiling from him with a stronger repulsion, the more he admired me and the fonder he was of me."

I look up at my students, raise my eyebrows, and close the book. "And that? What you guys just did there? That's where we'll start on Monday, with Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Buddhism and Siddhartha."

Trespass Freely and Fearlessly

A teacher emailed me a while back with a great question. I’ve been meaning to answer and there’s no better time than today, when I have five other deadlines to avoid.
Dear Jess,
Here’s my question for today: how much can high school age students benefit from a classical curriculum like the one at my kids’ school?   I love that next year my son will read, for example, Plato, as part of the Great Books type humanities program. That stuff is challenging for even the best educated adults. We chose to transfer our kids this year to [name deleted] specifically because of their humanities program. The other option was having them take many AP courses while attending the nearby traditional public high school. I had nothing like the [name deleted] curriculum back in my high school days, and I only read Great Books stuff on my own, many years after I graduated from college.  So I’m excited for my kids to have this opportunity, but only if it benefits them.
Are “Great Books” relevant for today’s students?  My answer is an emphatic “yes,” and I whip out my favorite quote on the subject, by Michael Dirda: “Classics are classics not because they are educational, but because people have found them worth reading, generation after generation, century after century.”
The argument against asking young people to read great books goes something like this discussion from the Diane Rehm Show. Panelists were discussing the novel Ethan Frome, and a caller said he thought students should not read some books until they are forty, with the life experience and perspective to understand the darker, more mature themes.
While I would shy away from teaching Ethan Frome in the darkest weeks of our New Hampshire winter – just for sanity’s sake, mind you – I respectfully disagree. I have heard this argument among teachers, that Romeo and Juliet is appropriate for middle school, while King Lear is not. Romeo and Juliet concerns itself with the heartache of young love, while King Lear stares down the naked torment Lear finds at the end of his useful life. Students may find connections to their own life in the story of Romeo and Juliet’s love tragedy, but the pain of losing a child and the treachery of the vile Edmund are just too mature for younger readers.
Sure, the familiar may be strange in King Lear, but there is much to offer young people in a story such as Lear’s. My students love the treachery of Edmund, the way he plots against the seemingly perfect and legitimate Edgar. Lovely, bookish, kind, Edgar, who can do no wrong in his father’s eyes. And the tensions runs high as Edmund is overtaken by sibling rivalry and plots to steal a place in his father’s heart – or at least his inheritance.
Or what of Cordelia? The youngest child, who cannot heave her heart into her mouth in order to satisfy her father’s outlandish expectations and is eclipsed by her more rapacious older sisters? Or Gloucester, who does not realize until too late that he has hurt someone he loves, and must find a way to make amends.
No, King Lear is not an easy read. It would be much easier for me to reach for The Hunger Games or Inkheart – both commonly assigned in middle school, and books with entertaining plots, to be sure, but they are…lacking. Reader’s questions are too easily answered. “Of all the virtues related to intellectual functioning, the most passive is the virtue of knowing the right answer. Knowing the right answer requires no decisions, carries no risks, and makes no demands,” writes Elanor Duckworth in The Having of Wonderful Ideas.
It is important that we ask students to read great works of literature because, when we hand them Dickens or Shakespeare, we offer students so much more than a good story. We give them the opportunity to step beyond the safe boundary of the known world and journey into the uncharted territory of challenging vocabulary, unpredictable plot, and shifting perspectives. I’m with Virginia Woolf on this one, “Literature is no one’s private ground. Literature is common ground; let us trespass freely and fearlessly and find our own way for ourselves.”
In the end, that’s what I hope I do. I teach my students how to find their own way through a complex and challenging world, and these books are the maps I hand my students.
Great books are literary proving grounds, safe places for students to try, fail, and in the end, find unexpected moments of wonder and pride in their own abilities. Students cannot approach these works lightly; they must brave these works armed with their own experiences and ability to reason, because great works of literature require more than simple retrieval and regurgitation of other’s ideas; they demand feats of intellectual bravery, patience, and trust.
Great books contain more than challenging vocabulary and syntax. Great books contain novel ideas, universal themes, vivid sensory experiences and complex literary construction absent from commonplace works of literature. Great books teach great lessons. When students learn to ask more of the books they read, they learn to ask more of themselves.

A Hand at Cards

Okay. It's that time of year again; time for my 8th grade to discuss A Tale of Two Cities, Book III, chapter 8: "A Hand at Cards." This one really throws the students into a tizzy each year and I've learned to treat this chapter with some respect and forethought.

The refrain: "Mrs. Lahey? Are we having a quiz today? Because I really did not get last night's reading" greets me before homeroom every year. Every year, I consider keeping this chapter for class time - why freak them out unnecessarily? But every year, three or four students get it. And that triumph is worth risking some frustration on the part of the other students.

I teach a copy of the novel that includes comprehension questions in the margins - The EMC Masterpiece Edition for those teachers out there - and while these comprehension questions usually help students gauge whether or not they are on top of what's going on in the story, the questions in this chapter only serve to underline how little they are understanding. The students arrive at school a little discombobulated, for just as they are finally getting their arms around this book, this chapter tests them. I don't have eighth grade English until the end of the day, so I usually hear the refrain at least five or six times before our class. I like to smile and remain impassive, giving up no information other than the unspoken promise that they will have fun come seventh period. If I've done my job right and they trust me, I can usually build up a head of anticipation over the course of the day.

"A Hand at Cards" picks up just after the big moment at the end of the previous chapter "A Knock at the Door." Darnay has just been denounced by the Defarges and "one other" unnamed accuser. As "A Hand at Cards" opens, Miss Pross is out in Paris, grocery shopping with the help of Jerry Cruncher. They are ignorant of what has just taken place back at the apartment, and when they stop at a bar to purchase wine, and Miss Pross runs smack into her long-lost brother, Solomon. Now, Solomon is one bad dude. He has stolen from his sister, taken advantage of her love, and has been out of touch for ages, but she remains steadfast in her love for him. She claims he's the only man on earth worthy of Lucie, and despite her obvious delusion, it's clear she adores him. She's thrilled to see him, but rather than swoop her up in an embrace, he yells at her to keep quiet, and reveals that he's known she was in Paris all along. The poor woman - all she wants is one kind word from him: "Say but one affectionate word to me, and tell me there is no thing angry or estranged between us, and I will detain you no longer." Clearly, Miss Pross has a wee case of codependency.

Cruncher interrupts their awkward greeting to point out that he knows Solomon as "John," from the Old Bailey so many years ago when John (then Barsad) testified against Charles Darnay. Cruncher asks Solomon to explain himself.

But just as Solomon admits that his name was Barsad back then, Sydney Carton appears on the scene, as he has been out looking for creepy Solomon/Barsad. Carton tells Miss Pross and Cruncher that Solomon/Barsad is what's known as a Sheep of the Prisons, or mouton. There were hundreds of these moutons in the French prisons, often prisoners themselves, who turned spy in order to gain their own freedom. In other words, Barsad worked as a fake prisoner in order to gain information about prisoners, information that will save his neck and maybe earn him some cash. No wonder he wanted his sister to lower her voice when she shouted out his real name - he would be in constant peril around Paris, and he needed to guard his identity carefully.

Carton asks Barsad to go with him to Tellson's Bank for "a talk." Quotes are mine; not Dickens'. Barsad isn't happy about it, but understands he should comply, as he knows Carton has seen him emerge from the prison and could turn him in if he wanted.

At Tellson's Paris office (the same office from the grisly "Grindstone" chapter), Barsad informs Lorry, who has been sitting in front of the fire in his office, that Darnay has been re-arrested. Barsad knows of this through his spy network of Sheep, of course.

"...this is a desperate time, when desperate games are played for desperate stakes."

And so the game begins.

Here's where things get a little challenging for my middle school students. The game of cards spoken of in the chapter title is metaphorical. There is no literal game of cards going on; the cards are units of power, and Carton defeats Barsad with a winning hand. But we'll get to that hand in a moment.

Carton's goal? "Now, the stake I have resolved to play for, in case of the worst, is a friend in the Conciergerie. And the friend I purpose myself to win, is Mr. Barsad."

Barsad quips that in order to win this reward, a really valuable one, "You will need to have good cards, sir."

Ah, but Carton does, and he proceeds to list them ("run them over").

But first, he drinks. Brandy, specifically. Now, if you remember - Carton was a big drinker when we first met him, and once can only assume he's got a tolerance suited to this sort of high-stakes drinking. However, Barsad knows that the more booze Carton consumes, the more rash he will become, and the less control Barsad will have over Carton's behavior. As Carton has information that could get Barsad killed, Carton's drinking makes Barsad uncomfortable. And Carton wants Barsad to feel as uncomfortable as possible.

Carton begins to describe the cards held by both players.

Barsad's first card: Barsad a Sheep of the Prisons, and he is also English. This works well for Barsad in that an Englishman is under less suspicion than a Frenchman. Barsad: 1, Carton: 0.

But, Barsad is still in the employ of one Pitt (William Pitt the Younger), an Englishman, and enemy to the Republic. The Republic has been looking for Pitt and has not been able to find him, and they consider him a traitor. Because Carton knows this, Barsad: 1, Carton: 1.

Carton plays his Ace: "Denunciation of Mr. Barsad to the nearest Section Committee," and invited Barsad to "look over your hand carefully, Mr. Barsad," and consider his hand. Unfortunately for Barsad, "It was a poorer hand than he expected."

Turns out, there are cards that even Carton knows nothing about, but Barsad knows these losing cards are included in his hand. He lost his job in England and can't go back, he knows he is registered in Madame Defarge's knitting, and that the people registered there inevitably go to the guillotine. He can't flee France, and if he's caught, the Defarges will reveal their evidence against him and denounce him. Barsad: a total bust, Carton: Full House.

And oh! Oh! Great word: Tergiversation, from the Latin, tergiversatus, to turn one's back, to turn renegade, forsaking a former position of allegiance. All things Barsad has done. It's a great word for him.

Barsad considers his cards long and hard, but knows he's going to have to fold.

"You scarcely seem to like your hand," said Sydney, with the greatest composure. "Do you play?"

He stalls, and Carton threatens to play his Ace: Denunciation, and soon. He takes another drink, just to make Barsad a bit more nervous.

Barsad goes for the sympathy card - pity for Miss Pross' feelings for her brother, and Carton cuts him off at the knees: "I could not better testify my respect for your sister than by finally relieving her of her brother." Ouch.

And Carton's not even done. He reveals he has another card. Another sheep, working with Barsad in the prisons, is Roger Cly. The same Roger Cly who testified against Darnay at the Old Bailey. The same Roger Cly who is supposed to be dead. When Carton reminds everyone in the room that Cly is dead, the narrator reminds us that Jerry Cruncher is in the room.

"Here, Mr. Lorry became aware, of where he sat, of a most remarkable goblin shadow on the wall. Tracing it to its source, he discovered it to be caused by a sudden extraordinary rising and stiffening of all the risen and stiff hair on Mr. Cruncher's head."

Cruncher, the Honest Tradesman grave-robber, knows that the only thing buried in Cly's grave are paving stones. He knows, because he went there to steal the body in order to sell it to a surgeon, and found the stones himself (NB: it was common practice for grave robbers to exhume bodies and sell them to surgeons for anatomy practice).

That's a great card. Barsad cannot hope to outlive denunciation if he's in communication with a man who is supposed to be dead, working as a sheep of the prisons. That, Carton claims, is a "plot in the prisons, of the foreigner against the Republic. A strong card - a certain Guillotine card! Do you play?"

And of course, Barsad does not. He folds and throws himself on Carton's mercy. He has to get back to the prisons, and asks Carton to reveal his proposal. Carton, ever the hard-drinking man, pours the final glass of brandy out on the hearth, watching it as it drops. This, my friends, is a big moment. It seems incidental, moment, but it's huge, and announces Carton's redemption.

"So far, we have spoken before these two [Lorry and Cruncher], because it was as well that the merits of the cards should not rest solely between you and me. Come into the dark room here, and let us have one final word alone."

Dum da-dum. Secret plots. Carton has a plan.

Next chapter: "The Game Made." And it is. Carton knows what he's going to do, and just as the Revolution had to happen, so too, the novel draws to its inevitable close.

In Both Countries it Was Clearer Than Crystal

The stars have aligned and my love of literature has come full circle. I am teaching Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities at the same time that my fourteen year old son has (finally) agreed to read this, one of my favorite books. I think Ben (the aforesaid son) has finally given in because I said I came to love it in sixth grade when my teacher, Mr. Akeley, read it aloud while we ate our lunches. Ben's in 8th grade, so I think he sensed a challenge. 

Yeah, that's right, a gauntlet was tossed down, and I can win. But only if he loves the book.

So. Taking a cue from a post I did a while back for Great Expectations, I'm doing the same for the first book of A Tale of Two Cities. This is for my students, their parents, and my son. Accordingly, all page numbers in my notes refer to the text I like to use in my classroom, the EMC Masterpiece Series Access Edition. I like the notes in the margins and use them as quiz questions.

Oh! And Katherine Schulten, the august and editorial genius of The New York Times Learning Network. She became my editor last summer when she asked me to write some critical thinking quizzes for The Learning Network. She was a teacher in Brooklyn for ten years, has been a curriculum writer since the invention of fire, and has won all kinds of awards for her work in education, but she has one major failing. She does not love A Tale of Two Cities. 

Today, I made a bet with her: one lunch in the New York Times cafeteria (notably not excluding the sushi bar) that I can make her love this book. The stakes are high, people, and I'm playing for keeps.

Brace yourself, Ben and Katherine, because this will be one wild ride.

Book the First - Recalled to Life

Chapter One: The Period

As we go through this novel, remember that Dickens published it in installments. In the tradition of serial writers and dramatic television series writers throughout history, that calls for some really great cliffhangers, and Dickens delivers.

"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 [skepticism], it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the season of hope, it was the winter of despair..."

Yeah. I know you know that one, and it goes on for a while. 

This paragraph is one of the most famous in all of literature. I like to bring in some other famous first lines when we talk about this one in order to compare/contrast. Moby Dick ("Call me Ishmael") and Pride and Prejudice (extra credit for the students who memorize this one: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.") top the list. 

This first paragraph is easy at first - best/worst, wisdom/foolishness, belief/incredulity, Light/Darkness, hope/despair - but goes off into stuff that only readers in Victorian London will understand. But that first part? That first part is killer. It's the contrast of opposites - a rhetorical device called antithesis. Antithesis is about the setting up opposites for effect, and to take it one step beyond the pale, there's another rhetorical device that defines serial antithesis called isocolon. This first paragraph is one massive example of isocolon, and it's chock full 'o examples of allusion to the Enlightenment ("Light," "Dark"), Genesis ("Light," "Dark"), Revelations ("clearer than crystal"), Matthew ("loaves and fishes," 14:17), and some verbal irony. "Things in general were settled forever." Um, no. They were the exact opposite. Totally unsettled in the short term. 

This is why Tale of Two Cities is perfect for the 8th grade. Middle school students are smack in the middle of so many things, notably their transition from literal to figurative thought. This transition is not about "smart"; it's about neurological development. Sorry, parents of kids who have been accelerated in school, but this ability to connect can't be taught. I can present metaphor and allusion until I turn blue, but those sort of connections just have to happen on their own sweet neurological time. These connections must be made in the brain before my students can make the leap from concrete understanding of literature to the symbolic, abstract, figurative wonderland that is the stuff of mature reading. I've written about this transition before, the moment when a student moves from the world of black and white to one of technicolor. I call it the "Dorothy Moment," and I am forever grateful to be there when it happens to my students. For seventh graders fortunate enough to make that leap, it tends to happen during Great Expectations. If it happens in 8th grade, it happens during A Tale of Two Cities. The allusions, metaphors, and symbols are just too thick on the ground, and even the most immature 8th grader can't help but trip on a few. 

But back to the text. 

You can just relax through some of the incomprehensible references of the next couple of pages, because all that stuff about the Cock Lane Ghost and the sister of shield and trident (Britannia), people being buried alive after not kneeling down to monks (the execution of Chevelier de Barre in 1766; he did not take his hat off at an inopportune moment in front of church members), and the state of rampant lawlessness in England is only comprehensible to people who lived and read the newspaper during Dickens' lifetime. Don't worry about it. Dickens is setting the scene. Here are the relevant points:

1. Things were bad in England. Worse, actually, than in France, where much of the action of this novel will take place. Lawlessness reigned, no one trusted anyone else, and people were put to death for everything from the worst to the most trifling offenses. The country was overrun by burglars and highwaymen (this will be important in chapter 2). 
2. Dickens uses a lot of irony and dark humor to convey how bad things actually were. "Dear old year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five" (3) is ironic. It was not, in the least, "a dear old year." It was horrific. 

One last note. Note the mentions of the Woodman, Fate and the Farmer, Death. Keep these allusions in mind. This paragraph (2) just beautiful, just so...oh, dear, so lovely. 

"It is likely enough that, rooted in the wood of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it. terrible in history." (2) 

This quote refers to the trees that will someday become guillotine. That have already been marked for that purpose. Fate, the Woodsman, already knows. It's already done. The trees are growing, they will be felled, the guillotine will be made, and the Revolution will take place. Capital F-Fate has determined it all. 

"It is likely enough that in the rough outhouses of some tillers of the heavy lands adjacent to Paris, there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution." (2) 

See? Again, it's already done. Death has already decided which farmer's carts will serve as the tumbrils (carts) that will transport what used to be farmers' harvests but which will now be the prisoners of the Revolution to the guillotine. Done. Over. Don't even try to pretend the future is not set in cobblestones. 

Chapter Two: The Mail

Jarvis Lorry (the "he" of this chapter), an employee of Tellson's Bank in London (and its profitable Paris branch) is on the Dover Road (the road between London and Dover, about 71 miles long) in a mail coach - hence "The Mail."

The coach at Shooter's Hill, about 8.5 miles outside London, when it gets stuck in the much and mire and fog. At this point, I tend to gesture back one year to our reading of Great Expectations when we talked so much about the fog and "clammy and intensely cold mist" (4) and its ability to create a mood of tension and uncertainty. That's what's going on here. The passengers have to get out and push. No one trusts anyone else, everyone is freaked out, and the coach is stuck on a hill. The horses are shaking and breathing so hard that the motion is transferred to the coach and, well, yikes. 

A messenger approaches the coach from "T, and Co." (Tellson's Bank), looking for Jarvis Lorry. Everyone else is frightened and hangs back. The message for Jarvis Lorry (after some paranoid back-and-forth between the coach drivers and the messenger) is: RECALLED TO LIFE. No, you are not supposed to understand this message. Yet. 

Jerry, the messenger, reveals that he'd be sunk if "RECALLED TO LIFE" were to come into fashion. This will be important later. I get kind of tired repeating "Trust me, this will be important later," but trust me. This will be important later. 

NB to teachers and frustrated readers: Adolescents are not used to waiting for information. YA fiction and television tend to give the plot away on an as-needed basis, and as today's adolescents NEED stuff IMMEDIATELY, they are not used to waiting. I like to assign a book like Skellig as a way of getting used to the idea of waiting for information. It's short, but doesn't give it all up in the first chapter. 

Chapter 3: The Night Shadows 

"A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other." (10) This, and "He was on his way to dig someone out of a grave" (12) are the main points of this chapter. 

People in England are so freaked out by each other, that even among those three passengers in the Dover Mail, "they were mysteries to one another, as complete as if each had been in his own coach and six, or his own coach and sixty, with the breadth of a county between him and the next." (10) Those passengers are so distrustful, and the people of England, by extension, are so distrustful of each other, that even when they are sitting next to each other in a coach, they may as well have the distance of an entire county between them. 

This whole first paragraph is about mood. Well, tone and mood. Okay, well tone and mood and the theme of imprisonment

Jarvis Lorry is on his way to Dover to meet someone and then head to France, where he will "dig someone out of a grave." (12) Not literally, of course. Jarvis Lorry is no grave-digger; he's a man of business. His digging will be metaphorical. Trust me, it's okay that you don't understand what his musings/delusions/nightmares mean yet. 

Know that the subject of this chapter, even with the switches between "he" and "I" is Jarvis Lorry. Jerry Cruncher, the messenger, makes some appearances to wonder about that RECALLED TO LIFE message, but the main focus of this chapter is Lorry. 

All of that confusing "dialogue" between Lorry and someone else is imagined. He's dreaming, hallucinating, fearing, whatever...he's worried about his coming meeting with the person who has been RECALLED TO LIFE and it haunts him. All that dig - dig - dig, is figurative, not literal digging, as I mentioned before. 

And in the final paragraph, we find out that whomever has been buried, has been buried for eighteen years. 

But the lovely part of this chapter is the change in tone between the meat of the chapter and this final paragraph. Dark, mist, hallucinatory nighttime images morph into, "He lowered the window, and looked out into the rising sun. There was a ridge of plowed land, with a plow upon it where it has been left last night when the horses were unyoked; beyond, a quiet coppice wood, in which many leaves of burning red and golden yellow still remained upon the trees. Though the earth was cold and wet, the sky was clear, and the sun rose bright, placid and beautiful." (14)

Can you see it? The beautiful scene indicating a change in tone from hopeless to hopeful, all "placid and beautiful"?

And with that new sense of hope, I call it a night. Even the dog is having nightmares as Ben watches the British version of The Office, which means it's time to go to bed. Please forgive the insane commentary behind the twitching paws. It's not me, it's Ricky Gervais. 

Tomorrow, chapters 4-6.