Notre-Dame: The Soul of France

An excellent review of a book by that name from Chronicles Magazine.

An excerpt.

“Kneeling in public remains rare in France. Even though Muslim crowds in the banlieues (suburbs) have recently taken to praying in the streets, religious display still shocks the country’s secular ethos, which prefers to severely confine religion to the private sphere. 

“So, when a motley lot of tourists and locals fell on their knees in witnessing Notre-Dame’s spire and 13th century wooden roof ablaze on a spring afternoon in 2019, foreign correspondents largely failed to grasp the moment’s deep religious significance. France’s wider reaction to the fire—and the ensuing uncertainty over the cathedral’s future—revealed a paradox: A nation notorious for its public laïcité (often translated as “secularism”) and declining faith suddenly embraced its deep Catholic roots.

“Agnès Poirier’s book recounts in a dramatic fashion those grave and heady hours, as well as many other key moments in Notre-Dame’s esteemed history that have bound its fate to that of France. It is a timely reminder that under its thick layer of secularism, France remains staunchly Catholic at heart.

“Paris was Christendom’s second capital and the seat of a powerful diocese when Bishop Maurice de Sully ordered Notre-Dame built in 1160. Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, tasked with restoring it in the 1830s after the desecration wrought by the French Revolution, famously described its first three centuries of life as its “splendor” and the following three as having “obscured” that splendor. He was referring to Notre-Dame’s marked decline from the 15th century onwards, aggravated by the self-absorbed megalomania of an absolute monarchy, which began centralizing the power it had previously shared with the Church while removing itself from public accountability. 

“When Louis XIV moved the royal court to Versailles in 1682, Notre-Dame became one of the last vestiges of aristocratic Paris. A new spirit would enliven the city in 1789—to Our Lady’s detriment. Although the revolution displayed a faux Catholic piety at its onset—the crowd of sans-culottes who stormed the Bastille on July 14 capped their feat with a Te Deum prayer for freer and fairer futures—a creeping atheist fervor soon replaced it. The established clergy’s long-standing privileges were abolished and a new state-sponsored priesthood was formed, leading Pope Pius VI in 1791 to officially exclude France from Christendom, thereby establishing the so-called French Schism. 

“The revolutionaries even melted down Notre-Dame’s bells into cannonballs and decapitated the heads of the 28 Kings of Judah lined up on its west façade, mistaking them for French kings. Notre-Dame was turned into Le Temple de la Raison, with busts of Enlightenment philosophers lining both ends of the nave. Rationalism was France’s new religion d’état.

“Napoléon, who emerged to channel revolutionary fervor into pragmatist statecraft, knew Catholicism couldn’t be uprooted from a nation that had been so defined by it, and that for the ideals of 1789 to triumph in Catholic Europe, they had to be reconciled with the Church. On July 15, 1801, he hosted Pope Pius VII to make amends, and signed a concordat with him that restored the Church’s status. The pope was present again at Napoléon’s coronation three years later at Notre-Dame, although he likely wasn’t delighted to kneel for 90 minutes waiting for Bonaparte to crown himself after skipping communion. 

“For all his smug disdain of churchly ritual, the self-proclaimed emperor had pulled off an elusive synthesis of religious and civilian power. When the Napoleonic experiment ended in 1814, Louis XVIII still felt the need to mark the restoration with a penitential Te Deum at Notre-Dame for all the revolution’s anti-religious sins.

“The cathedral’s by then decrepit state didn’t raise alarm until the 1830s, when a distinguished cadre of historians and archeologists began calling attention to the country’s severance from its medieval past. Chief among them was novelist-historian Victor Hugo, whose “Note sur la destruction des monuments en France” in 1825 set the stage for a deeper treatise in 1832, “Guerre aux démolisseurs,” (“War on the Demolishers”) which called for a halt on all demolitions of medieval landmarks and for the state to instead repair “the countless degradations and mutilations which time and men had simultaneously inflicted.” Later, Hugo published three massive, richly illustrated volumes weaving a fictional tale with the cathedral as its chief setting. We know it in English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.”

Retrieved January 25, 2021 from The French Soul, in Stone | Chronicles (

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Saint of the Day, Conversion of St. Paul

From Tradition in Action.

An excerpt.

“Excerpts from the 2nd Epistle to Timothy:

“Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned, and which have been committed to thee: knowing of whom thou hast learned (3:14).

“I charge thee, before God and Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead, by his coming, and his kingdom: Preach the word, be instant in season, out of season, reprove, entreat, rebuke with all patience and doctrine.

“For there shall be a time when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears:
“And will turn away indeed their hearing from the truth but will be turned to fables.

“But be thou vigilant, labor in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill thy ministry. Be sober.
“For I am even now ready to be sacrificed: and the time of my dissolution is at hand.

“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.
“For the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord, the just judge, will render to me on that day: and not to me, but to them also who love his coming” (4:1-8).

Retrieved January 25, 2021 from Conversion of St. Paul, Feastday of January 25 (

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Catholic Archbishop on Abortion

Wonderful response.

Complete Statement.

  • On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized prolife voters who voted for Donald Trump on the abortion issue, saying their votes cause her “great grief as a Catholic” and accusing them of “being willing to sell the whole democracy down the river for that one issue.”
    “Most Reverend Salvatore J. Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco, issued the following statement in response:

    “To begin with the obvious: Nancy Pelosi does not speak for the Catholic Church.  She speaks as a high-level important government leader, and as a private citizen.  And on the question of the equal dignity of human life in the womb, she also speaks in direct contradiction to a fundamental human right that Catholic teaching has consistently championed for 2,000 years.

    “Christians have always understood that the commandment, ‘Thou shall not kill,’ applies to all life, including life in the womb.  Around the end of the first century the Letter of Barnabas states: “You shall not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shall you destroy it after it is born’ (#19).  One thousand, eight hundred and sixty-five years later, the Second Vatican Council affirmed: ‘Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes’ (Gaudium et spes, n. 51).  

    “Pope Francis continues this unbroken teaching.  Addressing participants in the conference, ‘Yes to Life! – Taking Care of the Precious Gift of Life in Its Frailty’ on May 25, 2019, he condemned abortion in the strongest possible terms: ‘is it licit to eliminate a human life to solve a problem? …  It is not licit.  Never, never eliminate a human life … to solve a problem.  Abortion is never the answer that women and families are looking for.’  And just yesterday (January 20, 2021) Archbishop Gomez, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, reiterated the declaration of the U.S. bishops that abortion is for Catholics the ‘preeminent priority.’  In doing so, he acted rightly and collaboratively in his role as USCCB President, and I am grateful to him for doing so.

    “Preeminent does not mean ‘only,’ of course.  There are certainly many evils we must confront and many goods we must pursue.  In his inaugural speech yesterday, President Biden gave a moving call to unity and healing.  He offered what I would call a ‘Litany of Compassion’ – bringing before the eyes of the nation the suffering of people across a wide spectrum of issues.  In my experience, advocates for unborn children also work diligently to be of service in many of these causes as well.  Speaker Pelosi has chosen this week to impugn the motives of millions of Catholics and others for choosing to make voting on the issue of abortion their priority and accuses them of ‘selling out democracy.’  This is not the language of unity and healing.  She owes these voters an apology.

    “I myself will not presume to know what was in the minds of Catholic voters when they voted for the Presidential candidate of their choice, no matter who their preferred candidate was.  There are many issues of very grave moral consequence that Catholics must weigh in good conscience when they vote.  But one thing is clear: No Catholic in good conscience can favor abortion.  ‘Right to choose’ is a smokescreen for perpetuating an entire industry that profits from one of the most heinous evils imaginable.  Our land is soaked with the blood of the innocent, and it must stop.

    “That is why, as Catholics, we will continue to speak out on behalf of those who have no voice to speak for themselves and reach out to, comfort and support those who are suffering the scars of the abortion experience.  We will do so, until our land is finally rid of this despicable evil.”

    # # #

    Retrieved January 22, 2021 from Letters and Statements – Archdiocese of San Francisco – San Francisco, CA (

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Saint of the Day, St. Agnes

From Tradition in Action.

An excerpt.

“St. Ambrose speaks with great admiration of St. Agnes, who was martyred at the tender age of 12. In his work, On Virgins, he wrote: “This is a new kind of martyrdom! One not yet of fit age for punishment, but already ripe for victory. One unready for combat, but able to win the crown. One who has not yet reached the age of judgment but who has mastered virtue ….

“Joyfully she advances with unhesitating step to the place of punishment, her head not adorned with plaited hair, but with Christ. All weep; she alone is without a tear. All wonder that she is so ready to deliver her life, which she has not yet enjoyed, but which now she gives up as though she had lived it fully. All are astounded that she stands forth as God’s witness although at her age she could not yet decide about herself!

“And so it came about that what she said regarding God was believed, although what she said about man would not be accepted. For that which is beyond nature is from the Author of nature. ….

“She stands, she prays, she bends down her neck. You can see the executioner tremble, as though he himself has been condemned. His right hand is shaking, his face grows pale. He fears the peril of another, while the maiden fears not for her own danger.

“You have then in one victim a twofold martyrdom, of chastity and religion. She both remained a virgin and she obtained martyrdom.”

Retrieved January 21, 2021 from St. Agnes, Plinio Correa de Oliveira commentary on the Saint of the Day, January 21 (

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Saint of the Day, St. Sebastian

From Tradition in Action.

An excerpt.

“We must picture to ourselves a young soldier, who tears himself away from all the ties of his home at Milan, because the persecution there was too tame, whereas at Rome it was at its fiercest. He trembles with anxiety at the thought that perhaps some of the Christians in the capital may be losing courage. He has been told that at times some of the Emperor’s soldiers, who were soldiers also of Christ, have gained admission into the prisons, and have roused up the sinking courage of the confessors. He is resolved to go on a like mission, and hopes that he may also receive the blessing of martyrdom.

“He reaches Rome; he is admitted into the prisons, and encourages those awaiting their own martyrdom. Some of the gaolers, converted by witnessing his faith and his miracles, become martyrs themselves; and one of the Roman Magistrates asks to be instructed in a religion that can produce such men as this Sebastian. He has won the esteem of the Emperors Diocletian and Maximian Hercules for his fidelity and courage as a soldier; they have loaded him with favors. This gives him an influence in Rome, which he so zealously turns to the advantage of the Christian religion that the holy Pope Caius calls him the Defender of the Church.

“After sending innumerable martyrs to Heaven, Sebastian at length wins the crown he had so ardently desired. He incurs the displeasure of Diocletian by confessing himself a Christian. The heavenly King, for whose sake alone he had put on the helmet and soldier’s cloak, was to him above all Emperors and Princes. He is handed over to the archers of Mauritania, who strip him, bind him, and wound him from head to foot with their arrows. They let him for dead, but a pious woman named Irene took care of him, and his wounds were healed. Sebastian again approaches the Emperor, who orders him to be beaten to death in the circus, near the imperial palace.

“Defender of the Church, as the Vicar of Christ called thee, lift up thy sword and defend her now. Prostrate her enemies, and frustrate the plots they have laid for her destruction. Let her enjoy one of those rare periods of peace during which she prepares for fresh combats. Obtain Christian soldiers, engaged in just wars, the blessing of the God of Hosts.”

From The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B.

Retrieved January 20,2021 from St. Sebastian, saint of January 20 (

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The Two Meanings of the Church, Berdyaev

One of the great Russian intellectuals explains:

“It must always be remembered that the Church bears two different meanings, and the confusion of these two meanings or the denial of one of them has fatal results. The Church is the mystical Body of Christ, a spiritual reality, continuing in history the Life of Christ, and its origin is revelation, the action of God upon man and the world. But the Church is also a social phenomenon, a social institution; it is linked with its social environment, and feels its influence; it finds itself in interaction with the State; it has its own law and polity and its origin is social. The Church as a social institution, as part of history, is sinful, liable to fall and to distort the eternal truth of Christianity, passing off the temporary and human as the eternal and divine. The Church in history is a very complex divine-human and not only divine process, and the human side of it is fallible; but the eternal truth of the Church of Christ acts secretly and operates through the Church as a social institution which is always relative and fallible. The Marxists-Leninists see the Church only as a social phenomenon and institution and see nothing behind it. To them the whole is thrust into the foreground; to them there is no spiritual life; that is only an epiphenomenon. Existence is flat, two-dimensional; there is no measurement of depth. But communism must be understood as a challenge to the Christian world. In it is to be seen the Highest Tribunal and a reminder of duty unfulfilled. The communists themselves do not understand this and cannot understand it. The communists expose the evil violent actions of Christians but they themselves continue to do the same evil and violence. Their responsibility may be less because they do not know the truth of Christianity, but they are responsible for the fact that they do not desire to know it.” (pp. 172-173)

Nicolas Berdyaev. (1969). The Origin of Russian Communism. The University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor.

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Edward Hopper, Artist for Our Time

I love his work, and his best, Nighthawks, was painted during my first year, as this article from the New Statesman reports.

An excerpt.

“A woman and two men are seated at the bar in a diner. We can see from the lights outside and inside that it is night. Each one has a cup of coffee. The woman and one of the men sit close together, though, looking at them, it’s impossible to say whether they know each other or whether they just met. One man sits alone. The man behind the bar is fussing, as men working in bars and diners do, with something.

“This is 1942’s Nighthawks, one of the most famous paintings by Edward Hopper, one of the most famous American painters.

“Hopper lived from 1882 to 1967, but his paintings have an emotional resurgence today. As the world moved into 2021, the pandemic has come with it. Many Americans could not or chose not to see families and friends for the holidays, afraid that contact would spread the virus. We did not throw parties on New Year’s Eve, instead staying in our homes with our dinners and our countdown shows. We have spent the better part of a year like this: isolated.

“Isolation is what Hopper’s paintings capture so well. In 1927’s Automat, a woman sits by herself at a small table. She already has her coffee, and, though there is another chair at the table, we cannot know if she is waiting for someone, or if that someone will ever arrive. 1930’s Early Sunday Morning shows a series of storefronts in the daytime, all dark, all empty. In Room in New York, painted in 1932, a woman and man sit in a room, together but also somehow apart. He’s reading a paper. Her back is mostly to him while she half-heartedly tinkers with the piano. In my personal favourites, Morning Sun from 1952 and Office in a Small City from 1953, a woman on a sun-kissed bed and a man in a small office, respectively, sit alone and stare out of their windows at the world, or at least the little parts of the world that they can see.

“Hopper was far from an unknown artist when he was alive: the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art both purchased his works in the 1930s, and the Museum of Modern Art put on a retrospective of his work that same decade. In the years since his death, his celebrity status has lasted.

“In recent weeks, though, Hopper has received renewed attention. From October through this past weekend, ARTECHOUSE, which has exhibition spaces in New York and in Washington, DC, has put on a show reimagining Nighthawks. The artists, Noiland Collective, installed NHKS4220 Bar Illusion where the bars in the exhibition spaces had stood, and where people gathered before the pandemic. The painted figures were replaced by hologram-style projections. Viewers could stand at the installation’s central point and have their own forms projected into the piece. The artists said they saw a parallel between the painting’s world – the anxiety and apprehension of the Second World War – and our own.

“They aren’t the only ones. Next month, Del Ray Artisans, a gallery in Alexandria, Virginia, is exhibiting “After Edward Hopper: Themes of Solitude and Isolation”, in which contemporary artists reimagine Hopper. In Kelly MacConomy’s Covid Nighthawks reimagined the diner is still there – but the woman, men and coffee cups within it are gone. It’s been emptied out for our times. As the gallery put it, “Artists present their interpretations of what makes Hopper’s imagery quintessentially American: perseverance, fortitude, diversity, and an egalitarian spirit in spite of adversity, impoverishment, and social injustice.

“Part of why artists are returning to Hopper, then, is that his work reminds us that we have endured hard times before. His creations were set in an era that was frightening, fearsome and lonely, like ours. But here we are, decades later, looking back.

“Furthermore, his paintings also often suggest connectedness, even in the midst of isolation. The woman in Automat may have felt like she was the only woman ever to sit alone at a table in public, but she wasn’t, of course. The painting works for me because the experience is at once unique to the woman in the painting and a common occurrence. The reason I like Morning Sun and Office in a Small City so much is that, taken apart, they show individuals isolated from the rest of the world, but taken together, they show how alike we are. We are common in our loneliness.”

Retrieved January 13, 2021 from How Edward Hopper became an artist for the pandemic age (

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It is good they still exist—even more appreciated now—as this article from City Journal reminds us.

An excerpt.

“If asked what I love best in New York City, it would not be the city’s museums or its music halls, wonderful as these are, but its splendid churches: the neo-Gothic glory of the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer on Lexington and East 66th Street; the somber grandeur of the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on 84th Street and Park Avenue; the breathtaking beauty of the Church of St. Jean Baptiste on Lexington Avenue and East 76th Street. All these testify to the vitality of the Catholic faith in New York over the centuries. Yet the church in which I rejoice most is the Church of St. Agnes, on East 43rd Street, next to Grand Central—the quintessential city church, to which I have gone over the years not only to attend Mass—and plunder the bookstore—but to baptize my children and give thanks for my blessings.

“Since the devastation of Covid-19 has put St. Agnes and many other churches in unprecedented straits, now seems a good time to remind ourselves of how truly essential these places of worship are to the life of the city. In his recent ruling in Diocese of Brooklyn v. Governor Cuomo, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch upheld the clear constitutional rights of houses of worship.

“As almost everyone on the Court today recognizes, squaring the Governor’s edicts with our traditional First Amendment rules is no easy task. People may gather inside for extended periods in bus stations and airports, in laundromats and banks, in hardware stores and liquor shops. No apparent reason exists why people may not gather, subject to identical restrictions, in churches or synagogues, especially when religious institutions have made plain that they stand ready, able, and willing to follow all the safety precautions required of “essential” businesses and perhaps more besides. The only explanation for treating religious places differently seems to be a judgment that what happens there just isn’t as “essential” as what happens in secular spaces. Indeed, the Governor is remarkably frank about this: In his judgment laundry and liquor, travel and tools, are all “essential” while traditional religious exercises are not. That is exactly the kind of discrimination the First Amendment forbids.

“After this welcome ruling arrived, I happened to be reading John Betjeman, who, in one of his poems, expresses delight in London’s most famous city church.

“If in some City church we’ve knelt
Shut off from traffic noise and news,
And all the past about us felt
Among the cedar-scented pews,
Or if we think the past is rot,
Or if our purse has other calls,
Whether we go to church or not
Which of us will not help St. Paul’s?

“With Betjeman’s timely poem and the Gorsuch ruling in mind, I stopped by St. Agnes and had a good chinwag with Father Michael Barrett, its Opus Dei pastor—a gentle, incisive, and faithful man, at once a true shepherd of souls and a crack administrator, having worked in the secular world for many years before becoming a priest. Born in Stuyvesant Town, he grew up in the Bronx. After graduating from Columbia University, he worked for the Gulf Oil Chemicals Company selling petrochemical feedstocks on the East Coast and then for Merrill Lynch as a retail broker. After that, he did some investment advising for a private foundation and, ten years later, studied theology in Rome, where he was ordained a priest by none other than Pope John Paul II. Father Barrett received his doctorate in moral theology from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. A good city church needs a good city pastor, and Father Barrett fits that bill completely.”

Retrieved December 26, 2020 from City Churches in a Time of Covid | City Journal (

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Good News from the Pope

Very good news, as reported by Rorate Caeli.

An excerpt.

[UPDATE: Full English text of the motu proprio at the end of the post.] 

“Of course, for us Traditional Catholics, the Minor Orders never ceased to exist. And for good reason: the  last major dogmatic Council, Trent, mentions all seven orders explicitly in the Canons and decrees related to Session XXIII.

“But after Vatican II, the new elites severed the minor orders (Acolyte, Exorcist, Lector, and Porter) and one of the Major Orders (the Subdiaconate) from the Diaconate and Presbyterate. They became mere functions that could be performed by laymen, though demanded (the functions of Acolyte and Lector) from those who aspired to the Diaconate.

“The limitation of these venerable positions, that have always been held by men since Apostolic times (since they are intimately joined to the cursus honorum of the Priesthood), to men was broken today by a motu proprio of Francis opening them to “lay people”– that is, including women.

“The Motu Proprio is available here (in Italian and Spanish); Francis’ letter explaining it is available here (in Italian). A summary of the motu proprio and the letter sent by Francis to the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith provided by Vatican News:“With a Motu proprio released on Monday, Pope Francis established that from now on the ministries of Lector and Acolyte are to be open to women, in a stable and institutionalized form through a specific mandate.

“There is nothing new about women proclaiming the Word of God during liturgical celebrations or carrying out a service at the altar as altar servers or as Eucharistic ministers. In many communities throughout the world these practices are already authorized by local bishops.

“However, up to this point, this has occurred without a true and proper institutional mandate, as an exception to what Pope St Paul VI had established when, in 1972, even while abolishing the so-called “minor orders”, he decided to maintain that access to these ministries be granted only to men because they were considered to be preparatory to the eventual admission to holy orders.

“Now, in the wake of the discernment which has emerged from the last Synods of Bishops, Pope Francis wanted to formalize and institutionalize the presence of women at the altar.”

Retrieved January 11, 2021 from RORATE CÆLI: Earthquake: Francis decrees women can occupy the former Minor Orders of Lector and Acolyte | Update: Full Text of Motu Proprio (

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Prison World

This article from the New Yorker reminds me of something I journaled a few days ago “Live in Prison World long enough and it lives in you forever.”

An excerpt.

“In February of 1824, Charles Dickens watched in anguish as his father was arrested for debt and sent to the Marshalsea prison, just south of the Thames, in London. “I really believed at the time,” Dickens told his friend and biographer, John Forster, “that they had broken my heart.” Soon, Dickens’s mother and his younger siblings joined the father at Marshalsea, while a resentful Dickens earned money at a blacking factory, labelling pots of polish for shoes and boots. Although his father would be released within months, Dickens would never fully outrun the memory of his family’s incarceration. In her 2011 biography, Claire Tomalin notes that, in adulthood, Dickens became “an obsessive visitor of prisons.” In the autobiographical essay, “Night Walks,” he describes halting in the shadows of Newgate Prison, “touching its rough stone” and lingering “by that wicked little Debtors’ Door – shutting tighter than any other door one ever saw.” While touring America as a famous author, he made sure to go and see the prisons in Boston, New York, and Baltimore, among others.

“Dickens’s obsession appeared in his first novel, “The Pickwick Papers,” and would continue to haunt his imagination through the years. In “Great Expectations,” the provincial hero Pip visits Newgate and thinks “how strange it was that I should be encompassed by all this taint of prison and crime . . . starting out like a stain that was faded but not gone; that, it should in this new way pervade my fortune and advancement.” Newgate isn’t just the setting of Pip’s queasy tour. It waits to enclose Fagin at the end of “Oliver Twist,” and, in “Barnaby Rudge,” the historical novel about the Gordon Riots of 1780, a mob breaks into the prison and burns it down. “A Tale of Two Cities” begins with the return of a Bastille prisoner to his family, and ends in La Force, where the French revolutionaries hold those condemned to die by guillotine. And “Little Dorrit,” which was serialized between 1855 and 1857, is set in the Marshalsea, an imagined return to the place where Dickens’s father was kept from him.

Little Dorrit” is Dickens’s most harrowing prison novel, a plangent study of the costs of confinement. The Dorrits, like the Dickenses, are released when someone else pays their debts, but Dickens shows how Little Dorrit, who was born in the Marshalsea, has trouble distinguishing freedom from captivity. The Dorrits stamp their return to respectability with an ostentatious tour of Italy, but Little Dorrit can’t accept the truth of her liberty. She moves from one ornate lodging to the next, all passing before her vision as a procession of “unrealities.” She muses cynically on the similarities between prisoners and tourists: “They prowled about the churches and picture-galleries, much in the old, dreary, prison-yard manner.” From the balcony of her Venice apartment, she looks down over the dark water as if “it might run dry, and show her the prison again, and herself, and the old room, and the old inmates, and the old visitors: all lasting realities that had never changed.”

“Flinging open a door, Dickens suggests, isn’t always enough to free someone. In fact, the prison is even more prevalent in his work as a metaphor than it is as a setting. Coketown, the fictional industrial locale of “Hard Times,” is a place “where Nature was as strongly bricked out as killing airs and gases were bricked in.” “A Tale of Two Cities” is packed with actual prisons, but even the novel’s bank, Tellson’s, is described as a dank oubliette. There are iron bars and a perpetual “dismal twilight,” and when a young man goes to work there, “they hid him somewhere till he was old.” Dickens, influenced by his days in the blacking factory, passionately exposed how employers entrap their workers, but he also sprinkled his prison-yard dust over his characters’ homes. In “Great Expectations,” Miss Havisham’s “dismal” dwelling, Satis House, has all the key features: “Some of the windows had been walled up; of those that remained, all the lower were rustily barred.”

Retrieved December 26, 2020 from Charles Dickens, the Writer Who Saw Lockdown Everywhere | The New Yorker