it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven,
we were all going direct the other way."
opening lines from A Tale of Two Cities, 1859
by Charles Dickens
Literature, even in snippets, can make life more beautiful, add value, impose meaning, establish connections. I like to think of the literary allusion as a bookish version of Six Degrees of Separation, linking the reader to a particular work and author, to everyone else who recognizes the connection, to centuries of human experience. For example, back in my teaching days, I had my students memorize the beginning and ending sentences of Tale of Two Cities even if they never read what was in between.
Maybe it would be a far, far better world if we all read A Tale of Two Cities in its entirety. Falling short of that, however, just knowing the first sentence and the last will enrich your life, because -- as I used to tell my students -- you are going to hear them repeated numerous times, in speeches, titles, jokes, advertisements, movies. What a shame it would be to miss the connection for lack of knowing the reference. If they heeded my advice to memorize these famous lines, my students will have been well - rewarded to hear Commissioner Gordon quoting Dickens at the graveside ceremony for Bruce Wayne this past weekend: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known" (closing line from Tale of Two Cities.
"The Dickensian Aspects of [Batman] The Dark Knight Rises"
and for more reading highlights of a similar nature,
check out this cool blog: First Line, Last Line
You might also remember back in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) that Spock gives Kirk a copy of A Tale of Two Cities for his birthday and Kirk reads aloud the first sentence: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” And, as so many have done before and since, at the movie's conclusion, Kirk chooses for Spock's eulogy the noble words of Sidney Carton: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."