Where Words Take Us – Opposite

The Opposite of Sunset in Paris is Sunset in London
Sunset in Paris

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times as I sat down opposite my blank screen to find today’s word – the first in five months. A random search of Lit Hub magazine rendered this fun quiz in which to identify the opening lines of 100 famous novels. And there lay opposite. The word found its way into Late Middle English via Old French from the Latin word oppositus or ‘set against’. Not written but implied in all its contrariness in the opening line of Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities.

The Opposites of Two Worlds

The French Revolution was too dark for the light mood in which I started writing again. But when the same quote drifted down my inbox a day or so later, my fate was sealed.

Said quote had already struck a chord the first time. I mean, let alone the pandemic’s ups and downs; we are indeed in an age of opposites. Of extremes. Of wisdom and foolishness, an epoch of belief and incredulity, a season of Light and Darkness (no matter whether you want to spell that in upper or lower case). But a philosophical discussion about this line’s significance for us in 2021 may paint us into a corner of despair while I’d rather take an opposite view – towards the freedom of hope.

The Opposite of Sunset in London is Sunset in Paris
Sunset in London

Conor Kostick & Declan Burke

I came across one such ray of hope especially relevant for writers, in a recent Zoom conversation, where Conor Kostick and Declan Burke talked about their different experiences of writing during the pandemic.

The launch of Conor’s new book, The Retreat, crashed as all the Irish bookshops and publishers locked down hard in April last year and all the orders of his book were cancelled. His family was also one of the first hit by the virus itself. But despite everything, he found a new outlet for his writing – a kind of Dickens-on-Digital. He is writing a new novel for readers on the Royal Road at two episodes per week, and he realised that Dickens’s books were so good because each episode had to be a self‑contained story with a drum‑roll delivery. 

This element of each of Dickens’s chapters was probably why he could become the successful owner of his own lit mag in which he originally published his Tale of Two Cities.

I owe special thanks for this issue

* to my editor, Audrey Mac Cready

* to the Irish Writers Centre and Westmeath Libraries for hosting the event.

* to photographer Leo Boudreeau, for the use of his photograph of the Stoppage at the Fountain.

Facebook: @HeleneWordemporium Twitter: @HeleneTranslate LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hel%C3%A9ne-van-der-westhuizen-46b0a218/

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Safrea or its members.


10 Responses

  1. Welcome back after five months! Hopefully, there are many more interesting words to come.

  2. Great choice of word, Heléne. As you mentioned, it is a suitable word for some of the circumstances we find ourselves in.

    1. It was the weirdest experience, Vaughan. After the long break, I had no idea where to even start searching. A bit of synchronicity, I imagine, because I saw the conversation between the two writers a week and a bit ago, and then came across the quiz, and then came the quote through my inbox on one of the Daily Maverick’s Things newsletters.

    1. I’ve just downloaded it from Kindle because I promised Mr Dickens, red-faced, that I won’t use his book without going to read it again. The last time I read it was in Grade/Year 9. I had a wonderful teacher, and she walked us deftly through that foreign, European world. But I remember how we laughed. I remember how we absorbed her words like sponges. But of the story itself, I can’t remember much. To be fair, it was many, many moons ago. And the world of the French Revolution was very far removed from our reality down south.

  3. Dit is teenoorgestel maar nie teleurgestel nie. You read that in Gr 9. I am now so old that I think I read the first edition. Maybe I even stormed the Bastille in a previous life. You have persuaded me to download that book to my electronic library device , (I don’t use brand names unless Bezos pays me) and read it again again again

    1. 😀 Enjoy it, Peter. It’s actually amazing to think that he had written the Tale of Two Cities ánd Great Expectations week by week – on the fly, so to speak. He hadn’t written the whole story and then published the episodes. So, he had to plot on the go. It’s scary to even think about it.

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