Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Chimes

The Chimes. Charles Dickens. 1844. 116 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Here are not many people — and as it is desirable that a story-teller and a story-reader should establish a mutual understanding as soon as possible, I beg it to be noticed that I confine this observation neither to young people nor to little people, but extend it to all conditions of people: little and big, young and old: yet growing up, or already growing down again — there are not, I say, many people who would care to sleep in a church. I don’t mean at sermon-time in warm weather (when the thing has actually been done, once or twice), but in the night, and alone.

 Premise/plot: Toby Veck is the hero of Charles Dickens' Christmas novella, The Chimes. Is Veck as guilty as Ebeneezer Scrooge in terms of being out of touch with reality? Maybe, maybe not.

One wintry night, he meets with his daughter, Meg, and his future son-in-law, Richard. They are greeted by a horrid little man who is full of hot air. His words are hateful and penetrating. Will those words dissuade Meg and Richard from marrying because they are poor? Will those words strip Veck of his hope in humanity? Will Veck, in fact, become persuaded to the horrid man's way of thinking? Veck later carries a letter to another man who is only slightly less horrible. That night Veck finds himself going to hear the chimes; he feels himself irresistibly called to visit the bells in person. The ghosts--or goblins--that inhabit the bells convict him. They convict him BEFORE showing him visions of the future. But is Veck awake--and dead--or asleep? The ending of The Chimes can be just as ambiguous as say the movie Inception.

My thoughts: I found the Chimes to be very confusing at times. I stuck with it, however, and am glad I did. I love Dickens' writing style:
  • A weak, small, spare old man, he was a very Hercules, this Toby, in his good intentions. He loved to earn his money. He delighted to believe — Toby was very poor, and couldn’t well afford to part with a delight — that he was worth his salt. 
  • Perhaps he was the more curious about these Bells, because there were points of resemblance between themselves and him. They hung there, in all weathers, with the wind and rain driving in upon them; facing only the outsides of all those houses; never getting any nearer to the blazing fires that gleamed and shone upon the windows, or came puffing out of the chimney tops; and incapable of participation in any of the good things that were constantly being handled, through the street doors and the area railings, to prodigious cooks.
  • They were so mysterious, often heard and never seen; so high up, so far off, so full of such a deep strong melody, that he regarded them with a species of awe; and sometimes when he looked up at the dark arched windows in the tower, he half expected to be beckoned to by something which was not a Bell, and yet was what he had heard so often sounding in the Chimes.
  • In short, they were very often in his ears, and very often in his thoughts, but always in his good opinion; and he very often got such a crick in his neck by staring with his mouth wide open, at the steeple where they hung, that he was fain to take an extra trot or two, afterwards, to cure it.
  • The wintry sun, though powerless for warmth, looked brightly down upon the ice it was too weak to melt, and set a radiant glory there.
  • The New Year, like an Infant Heir to the whole world, was waited for, with welcomes, presents, and rejoicings. There were books and toys for the New Year, glittering trinkets for the New Year, dresses for the New Year, schemes of fortune for the New Year; new inventions to beguile it. Its life was parcelled out in almanacks and pocket-books; the coming of its moons, and stars, and tides, was known beforehand to the moment;
  • The New Year, the New Year. Everywhere the New Year! The Old Year was already looked upon as dead; and its effects were selling cheap, like some drowned mariner’s aboardship. Its patterns were Last Year’s, and going at a sacrifice, before its breath was gone. Its treasures were mere dirt, beside the riches of its unborn successor!
  • A blast of air — how cold and shrill! — came moaning through the tower. As it died away, the Great Bell, or the Goblin of the Great Bell, spoke. ‘What visitor is this!’ it said. The voice was low and deep, and Trotty fancied that it sounded in the other figures as well.
  • ‘I thought my name was called by the Chimes!’ said Trotty, raising his hands in an attitude of supplication. ‘I hardly know why I am here, or how I came. I have listened to the Chimes these many years. They have cheered me often.’ ‘And you have thanked them?’ said the Bell. ‘
  • ‘Listen!’ said the Shadow. ‘Listen!’ said the other Shadows. ‘Listen!’ said the child’s voice. A solemn strain of blended voices, rose into the tower. It was a very low and mournful strain — a Dirge — and as he listened, Trotty heard his child among the singers. ‘She is dead!’ exclaimed the old man. ‘Meg is dead! Her Spirit calls to me. I hear it!’ ‘The Spirit of your child bewails the dead, and mingles with the dead — dead hopes, dead fancies, dead imaginings of youth,’ returned the Bell, ‘but she is living. Learn from her life, a living truth. Learn from the creature dearest to your heart, how bad the bad are born. See every bud and leaf plucked one by one from off the fairest stem, and know how bare and wretched it may be. Follow her! To desperation!’
  • Had Trotty dreamed? Or, are his joys and sorrows, and the actors in them, but a dream; himself a dream; the teller of this tale a dreamer, waking but now? If it be so, O listener, dear to him in all his visions, try to bear in mind the stern realities from which these shadows come; and in your sphere — none is too wide, and none too limited for such an end — endeavour to correct, improve, and soften them.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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