Monday, March 1, 2010

Impressionism: Word style

I stumbled across an interesting question today on a listserv: What is one line from an author that has stayed with you over the years?

I've read a lot of books, so a ton of quotes ran through my head. Shakespeare, Austen, JK Rowling, Dr. Suess. Too many to mention. However, there are a couple that manage to rise to the surface. Not because they inspire great knowledge or give the secret to life or create world peace. Instead, when taken in context, they are heart-breakingly beautiful.

I attended a small school in a rural area, but the literature program was top-notch. By the time I reached college, I had qualified to test out of the freshman literature course because my high school teachers had introduced a large array of literary offerings. Shakespeare to Faulkner. Hawthorne to Bronte. Austen to Twain. Dickens to Chaucer. Capote to Steinbeck. We even read Beowulf. Yikes.

And it was within the pages of a "Tale of Two Cities" I discovered a character that has stayed with me. Sydney Carton. I won't go into detail about Sydney's motivation because I'm no literary scholar. In a nutshell, he was a rat, a tragic character. But one who made the ultimate sacrifice. It's easy to die for someone we love. But to die in place of the person you hate the most? Who is loved by the woman you love the most? To die under his name, so he and your true love can live happily ever after?

Whoa. That's sacrifice, my friend. So it is Syndey's final thoughts that haunt me still: '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.'

My second favorite is courtesy of a man called Gaston Leroux. I know he's not at the top of Most Favorite lists. However, he penned a novel that became one of the most beloved theatrical offerings: The Phantom of the Opera.

Good old Gaston was ahead of his time. He was one of the first true mystery authors. Although - in my mind - Phantom isn't a mystery. It's a suspense. Tragedy. Drama. And, yes, comedy. It's a mixture of so many different styles, making it a unique offering.

The line I love the most? Let me put it into context first. Many fans of the musical are familiar with the story. However, it fails to explain the Phantom's background. We learn at the end of the book, he was an architect by trade. After being cast out as a child due to his appearance, living on the streets and joining the carnival, the Phantom acquired a large bag of tricks. Conjuring, magic, ventriloquy, music. And he was intellectually gifted. He became an architect. Worked for a few shady characters and eventually returned to Paris, where he designed the Opera House. With nowhere to go, he decided to make it his home and secretly designed his lair below.

And it is the narrator's words that describe the Phantom's tragic end the best: 'He had a heart that could have held the empire of the world; and, in the end, he had to content himself with a cellar.'

It reminds me each day to look past one's flaws and see the beauty within. What could someone with his talents have achieved had the world shown him an ounce of compassion?

A much better place than we have now.

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