Quatrevingt-treize

Anything by Victor Hugo besides Les Misérables.
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Col.Despard
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Quatrevingt-treize

Postby Col.Despard » Thu Oct 29, 2009 10:40 am

Thought we had to have a separate thread for this one, after recent LJ posts Marianne has made and conversations with Frédérique over Enjolras as the reincarnation of the combined spirits of Gauvain and Cimourdain.

My edition is an undated "Cole's People's Classics"...can't wait to acquire enough French to read it in the original, but until then I can enjoy such gems as this little editorial comment from the translator:

Translation of Hugo's text: "An Englishman was taken at Lille on whome was found a letter from Prigent, Pitt's agent in Vendée, which contained these lines: 'I beg you to spare no money. We hope that the assassinations will be committed with prudence; disguised priests and women are the persons most fit for this duty.'"

English translator's note: "One need hardly say that this letter is aprocryphal - at least, that it never emanated from Pitt."

Bwahahahahaha! Of course! One could never expect such skullduggery from Perfidious Albion! And God forfend one should suggest the saintly Pitt was involved! (ask Edward Despard about Pitt's noble and above board dealings). I do love a translator, though, who wears his historical bias on his sleeve (although he could well be right, it's the "one need hardly..." that I adore).

So go on...who has read it? Who wants to throttle Gauvain, hot though he is?
"The principles of freedom, of humanity, and of justice, will finally triumph over falsehood, tyranny and delusion, and every principle inimical to the interests of the human race" - Edward Despard, 1803
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Postby Marianne » Thu Oct 29, 2009 12:39 pm

As I'm a little over a hundred pages in, I kindly request that this thread have an up-front policy for spoilers. :lol: Either explicitly spoiler-free, which might ruin the fun, or explicitly a "spoil as much as you want!" zone, so I know to avoid it until I'm done.
[Dieu] entend ta voix, ô fille des hommes! aussi bien que celle des constellations; car rien n'est petit pour celui devant lequel rien n'est grand.
- George Sand, Les sept cordes de la lyre

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Postby Frédérique » Thu Oct 29, 2009 1:18 pm

*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 :D 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.

(What do 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.

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Postby MllePaula » Fri Oct 30, 2009 1:37 am

Terrific timing for this thread. I was cleaning out a spare bedroom and found my copy. I thought I'd either lost it or that my best friend had mistakenly taken it with him when he moved to Chicago.

It's sitting next to my desk, ready to be re-read.
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Postby MmeBahorel » Fri Oct 30, 2009 2:42 am

I need a new copy. Mine is an awful translation, so I didn't bother bringing it with me from home, and I only read it once for that reason. Very awkward, babel-fishy at times in its stiffness, with utterly random lapsing into "thee" and "thou", so at least I know where Hugo was using "tu", it's annoying and it also felt inconsistent.

I think I'm going to have to check who the translator is when I go home at Christmas because I remember rather liking the novel but hating the translation. I need to make sure I don't accidentally buy another copy of the same rubbish.
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Postby MllePaula » Fri Oct 30, 2009 2:50 am

I also need to admit I originally bought it because I liked the cover with the close-up of the painting of Marat's death. I knew the picture from way back...I must have seen in in a book at some point before I knew the history of it.

I had a history teacher - a crazy, wonderful man who has a Facebook group in his honor - who used to tell us that, as a student himself, he asked the nuns - he went to a Catholic school - why Marat had guests visiting him while he was in the bath. The answer was a stern, "WE WON'T GO INTO THAT, THOMAS!!!"

All that stuck in my mind and, when I saw the picture on the novel, I had to by it.
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Postby Frédérique » Fri Oct 30, 2009 11:11 am

I think I'm going to have to check who the translator is when I go home at Christmas because I remember rather liking the novel but hating the translation. I need to make sure I don't accidentally buy another copy of the same rubbish.


Could be Frank Lee Benedict, right from 1874 (at least, the Babelfishing and random thou-ing - hello Wilbour and Hapgood! - seem to have gone out of fashion in recent decades). His translation is still widely sold (or as widely as this book is ever sold) - the one with the Marat cover seems to be the same, for one. There's a more recent one by James Hogarth, who (according to Amazon) won a prize for his translation of "Les travailleurs de la mer", so that might be a better one to go for (... but yes, I'm pulling that from Amazon, not personal experience :P).

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Postby MmeBahorel » Fri Oct 30, 2009 12:51 pm

I think that's it. I'm pretty sure it is the Marat cover.

I'll see if I can locate a Hogarth, in that case. Thanks!
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Postby Marianne » Fri Oct 30, 2009 1:05 pm

If any US people are interested in the original French, I could use you as a guinea pig to find out whether the French postal service's "send books overseas for dirt cheap" option is a hoax or not.

Also, surprisingly enough, Amazon has a French edition for cheap and there are used sellers that ship from the US.
[Dieu] entend ta voix, ô fille des hommes! aussi bien que celle des constellations; car rien n'est petit pour celui devant lequel rien n'est grand.

- George Sand, Les sept cordes de la lyre

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Postby sophiedegrouchy » Sat Oct 31, 2009 6:05 am

I someone managed to lose my (English) copy, which is really quite tragic. It was also the dead-Marat version. Quite a lot of fun to carry around, I must say.

I have to ask, does anyone own the Ayn Rand version? I'm dying to read what she says about it. I've gone on "How could Rand be a Hugo fangirl?" rants before, but it's particularly blatant here, what with Stalin being a Cimourdain fanboy.

As for the 'ninety percent exposition, ten percent action' qualm, I seem to remember that it didn't bother me so much in Ninety-Three. Perhaps it's simply that it's a shorter work. Truth be told, I need to reread both. I can't believe that it's been well over three years since the Brick and over two since Ninety-Three.

Frédérique, I'm looking forward to your assessment of Gauvin as soon as it's safe for you to do so.

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Re: Quatrevingt-treize

Postby a_marguerite » Sat Oct 31, 2009 10:21 am

I'm only on the 'Oops, the savior of the Vendee ended up on a boat with the brother of the guy he just killed' bit, but am jumping in because this:

Col.Despard wrote:Translation of Hugo's text: "An Englishman was taken at Lille on whome was found a letter from Prigent, Pitt's agent in Vendée, which contained these lines: 'I beg you to spare no money. We hope that the assassinations will be committed with prudence; disguised priests and women are the persons most fit for this duty.'"

English translator's note: "One need hardly say that this letter is aprocryphal - at least, that it never emanated from Pitt."

Bwahahahahaha! Of course! One could never expect such skullduggery from Perfidious Albion! And God forfend one should suggest the saintly Pitt was involved!


just cracked me up. xD I mean, I'm a Pitt fangirl, but even I know that Pitt was a jerk-ass reactionary once Britain entered the war and tried to pay everyone to do his dirty work for him. Granted, he didn't want war until George III had a hissy fit, but he seems to have made up for it in ruthlessness. Pitt couldn't be bribed himself and was legendarily indifferent to personal finance, but he did so love exploiting the shady economic system in place at the time.

I think it might be because, after Pitt, an independent Whig who at one point genuinely wanted reform, died, the Tories went, "... oh crap, WE ALL SUCK AND THE PEOPLE HATE US. WHAT ARE WE GOING TO D... say, Pitt's dead, let's usurp his historical legacy, eradicate his character flaws and liberal opinions (I mean, abolition of the slave trade? Hissy fit in the Commons when a bill to regulate the number of slaves on a ship nearly got shot down? Never happened), and TURN HIM INTO A SAINT NO ONE WHO KNOWS PITT WILL RECOGNIZE. IT IS A GENIUS PLAN I TELL YOU, GENIUS."

But yeah, I think Pitt is a fun subject of research, but I am always bewildered by the fact that Pitt just did away with habeas corpus and British historians are just like, "... so, um yeah. Look! A convenient distraction! Isn't Robespierre evil?" I mean, compared to Pitt, Robespierre had next to no practical power or control over the events of the Terror. Pitt was Prime Minister and, moreover, a Prime Minister who liked to dart into different departments and take over another person's tasks when he felt that they were doing a bad job of it, under a government where Ireland got screwed over to the point where even Pitt himself got disgusted and resigned. I just don't understand how Robespierre gets the Source-of-All-Evil rap he does and Pitt comes out like Saint George slaying the Evil Dragon of Actually Representative Democracy Oh Noes.

... sorry for the tl;dr there. :oops:

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Postby Frédérique » Sat Oct 31, 2009 12:12 pm

Nothing to add on Pitt (and still holding my tongue on Gauvain ... although, er, my assessment is not as complex as I possibly made it out to be and unfortunately depends on handwritten notes that look sort of like this), but re: Ayn Rand - I haven't got the version with her introduction, but I did once come across an essay on Google Books that discussed how Enjolras served as an inspiration for her Ideal Man, particularly Roark. Amongst other things, they have the same lower lip. (No, it's really quite interesting: 'Hugo portrays the members of the A.B.C. as relying on Enjolras for their image of the meaning behind their actions, the actions of their best selves. [...] He makes of these men [of diverse natures] not a mass or a unit, but individuals unified by purpose. They are not surrendering themselves to the cause; the cause gives a value to them. [...] They look up to him as the purest essence of what they aspire to be.' Mind you, the author then goes on to explain that the reason R wants to die with E. is that he wants to share in the respect he commands.)
According to this text (only for the fully spoilered!), 'Rand defined "Quatre-vingt-treize"'s theme as "man's loyalty to values, whatever these values might be". [...] The message of the novel, according to Rand, is not "what great values men are fighting for" but "what greatness men are capable of when they fight for their values"'; she also identified Hugo as 'a fiercely intransigent individualist' (viewing positively what Marx - also cited - considered a flaw, thus re-establishing the Rand/Communists disagreement) and suggested that his 'conscious beliefs [...] contradicted his subconscious ideal', which goes some way to explain the 'how could she like him?'.

Oh, oh, I love 'ninety percent exposition, ten percent action' ... from the second read onwards ;)

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Postby Col.Despard » Sun Nov 01, 2009 9:15 pm

Ah, Pitt. Great and fascinating man, but certainly far from a saint. Despard was imprisoned under the suspension of Habeas Corpus in Coldbath Fields Prison - a sort of Guantanamo of its day - for three years.

It always bemuses me when British history is held up as a model of untramelled progression, free from the taint of (gasp!) revolutionary bloodshed. The ongoing debate as to how serious the threat of revolution was is an interesting one...one side tends to downplay the seriousness of the threat and defend Pitt's actions, the other tends to attack Pitt and play up the general unrest. As Despard's biographer Mike Jay pointed out, either radical groups like the United Englishmen were a serious threat, in which case one could argue a justification for Pitt's draconian measures, or else they weren't a serious threat and were highly unrepresentative of popular opinion.

As an aside (and sorry, this is really a tangent, but it does give me the inappropriate giggles), here's another group of "dangerous" British rebels who came after the United Englishmen and were Despard fanboys: the Cato Street conspirators. Executed Today's write up is sadly too apt for many late 18th/19th century rebellions (although I refuse - refuse, I tell you - to see any of the 1832 lads in this):
A British government that had tilted from reactionary after the French Revolution to furiously repressive after defeating Napoleon was energetically at work stamping out the wide-ranging upheaval convulsing the isles.

This day’s conspirators plotted to overturn the authoritarian rule of Lord Liverpool by murdering his ministers at a dinner party. Next steps:

????

Revolution!

This excellent plot was hatched by none other than a government informant, who planted the idea among the circle and arranged their arrest when they took the bait.


Nice, classy work, guys. Even as half-baked revolts in their long inglorious history go, this is impressive. Other "planned" uprisings along these lines could arguably be the Decembrists in Russia (ooooops...what do we do now?) and Australia's own Vinegar Hill rebels (see, what we want is a ship to take us home to Ireland...).

Then there's Kate Beaton's frighteningly accurate depiction of Pearse and Connolly on the eve of the 1916 Rising (she seriously, seriously has these two pegged...and I say that not just because I'm a Connolly fangirl who has a postcard of him pinned to her wall at work). "Ah! You are going to throw the 'vague revolution'." ["Irish Men And Women/Glory/Freedom/Ireland/Patriots"]

And back on sort-of topic, and moderately spoilerish in a silly way......

*


*

Frédérique, here's my current spin on your Enjolras reincarnee theory, and the difficulty of *why* a divine allegorical entity would create him just to set him on the barricades to fail and perish...

Patria couldn't get her act together - she realised that as wonderful as Enjolras is (complete with radioactively luminescent hair) - he's still too absolute. So, she decides that her paladin needs some refining...and plots to have him die with Combeferre this time to see if a Combeferre/Enjolras entity, mingling the...um...revolution of one and the civilisation of the other would create the perfect being. Unfortunately, Enjolras fights too hard and survives the moment he's supposed to be killed with Combeferre (you can see where this is going...)

Result? A third generation Patria product that is the result of mingling the radiance of Enjolras' soul with the um...whatever it is of Grantaire's.

At which point, the goddess gives up, which is why there's no dazzling creature given to long future-orientated inspirational speeches with a backlit halo of hair in 1871. [/quote]
"The principles of freedom, of humanity, and of justice, will finally triumph over falsehood, tyranny and delusion, and every principle inimical to the interests of the human race" - Edward Despard, 1803

http://coloneldespard.deviantart.com/

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Postby Frédérique » Thu Nov 05, 2009 11:20 am

Continuing the spoilerish silliness!





With Grantaire's ... soft, yielding, dislocated, sickly shapelessness? (Though the result of their merging must have been a vastly charming - and frustrating - fellow. Radical in his ideas, a skilled fighter and tactician, with an instinctive comprehension of political situations past and present ... but also a babbler and hopelessly prone to distractions of every flavour. Actually, that probably serves as an outline for hundreds if not thousands of would-have-been revolutionaries. Would-be, even. Well, of course - since Enjolras and Grantaire are extremes, the middle ground is exactly the average.) Oh, poor Patria.

That is an excellent theory! Just the right balance between Olympic (or similar) planning and the incontrollable development of practical events (and in that, very in tune with Hugo, with his strange explanation of the origin of revolt, coming from the skies and the streets at once: 'Was it foreseen? Yes. Was it prepared? No. Whence comes it? From the pavements. Whence falls it? From the clouds.'). And what a compliment to Enjolras, he defies providence (for two hours) ... and in doing so accidentally upsets a plan that, if only he had known of it, he might have happily given his life to put to work (knowing at this stage that this time they as a generation have not succeeded, and that for them as individuals on this particular barricade there won't be a next time-- point being, by 'happily given his life' I don't mean to say he would have chosen the quickest possible martyrdom if he'd got around to seizing the opportunity, obviously, merely that if he had known that in dying with Combeferre rather than holding out just a little longer he was actively doing a service to future revolution[arie]s, he would have done it, being already all future-orientated in thoughts). Now that is tragedy of the Greekest kind.

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Postby sophiedegrouchy » Sun Nov 08, 2009 1:18 am

Ooo, thank you so much for the Rand link, Frédérique. That explains quite a bit; Hugo had enough contradictions that I suppose I really shouldn't be surprised that it's possible to admire different faces of his character and beliefs.

Incidentally, why is it that my internet searches so often end at either Marxist or objectivist websites? It's like the universe is trying to tell me something but can't decide what.


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