*raises hand* One need hardly say that this book is a favourite of mine (though an even more recent one than LM; I'd been meaning to read it since the onset of my 1792-94 obsession, but did not actually get around to it until I had been whisked away into the nineteenth century).
All the same, it seems to suffer twice as much as "Les Misérables" from 'ninety percent exposition, ten percent action'; if I remember correctly it took two-hundred out of four hundred pages for Gauvain to make an actual appearance (as opposed to being alluded to from two sides) and the main conflicts (those among the characters, not the historical ones) to develop, and even then the actual plot took up fifty pages and the rest was ... gratuitous information on the underground cave systems of the Vendée woods or whathaveyou.
Skipping the Gauvain comment for now due to massive spoilerishness
I do hold that he is a dear and radiantly gorgeous and all (even though his hair is only light brown or blond foncé or something), but not the greatest of moral victors--
oh, those expositions. Paris especially. (Not to say I don't appreciate the see-above. All right, maybe I don't, but I did like the tour around the Convention with a one-and-a-half-line portrait of everyone.) The panorama of the respective atmospheres of '92, '93, '94. I hestitate to call it 'dazzling' because of the caricatural connotations that word has gathered in a literary context, but ... it's dazzling, isn't it? And the zoom into the café back room. The three men. Exclamation mark. Even now I lack the words to say how satisfying
that scene was compared to some ninety percent of fictionalised portraits of Danton and Robespierre known to me. (His Marat seems rather too clairvoyant about the events of the next year and a half though he's got nothing on Przybyszewska's Robespierre
- though I do adore his extensive account of which café crowd holds which opinion - and it's not really balanced by his air of craziness, which relies a bit much on physiognomic characterisation.) They're easily identified before the reader even learns their names, by their wardrobes, their faces (his description of Danton's appearance en bref is simply splendid, duly impressive but devoid of any sensationalism, the creature described is distinctly identifiable as a man rather than a wild animal or some allegoric manifestation of masculinity itself, but one can still see why others would see him as that
) - they are
as one expects them: Robespierre pale, stiff, calm, and careful - Danton roaring, debauched, self-assured, and impulsive. But they are not, at no point, clichés. And that's just brilliant. And exceptional. And even though it's lacking in outrageousness the scene is simply thrilling.
we make, by the way of the Royalist watchmaker named Joly, who fought against his Republican son, took him prisoner, and shot him in the head? Marguerite referenced the watchmaker as our Jolllly's grandfather, but could it really be a tentative attempt at a family history? Rather a painful idea.)
Sadly my physical copy (a German translation by the expressionist poet Alfred Wolfenstein; I'd be lying to say I had compared more than the last few lines and the descriptions of the géants with the French, but the tone generally seemed fitting) comes almost completely without annotations, though it has a lovely afterword from Heinrich Mann, but that's more of a eulogy for Hugo on the whole. ('He was life itself - and unrealistic at that.')
Minor detail: Hugo makes the mistake of giving Saint-Just's birth name as Antoine-Louis-Léon Florelle de Saint-Just, neglecting to point out, if he knew, that 'Florelle' was an arguably ill-advised addition he conducted of his own accord while still expecting to make a career in verse (la faute à Voltaire for that), and 'Léon' similarly, a reference to Léonard de Noblac, patron saint of (horses, ...) prisoners, political and otherwise.