Quatrevingt-treize

Anything by Victor Hugo besides Les Misérables.
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Frédérique
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Postby Frédérique » Sat Nov 14, 2009 8:17 pm

Continuing in that vein for the interested (and just-about-spoilered), the fullish text of Ayn Rand's "Introduction to '93".

There is a sense of 'Hugo's works would have made an awesome setting for my ideology. Why didn't he formulate it?' especially in the fourth fifth (approximately), but though she judges them rather pronouncedly by her standards, she makes a few interesting points about the Contradictions Within Hugo. (Though, does she not contradict herself when she claims both that his characters' '"supposed"' explanations of their stands are mere rhetoric and metaphor and that he makes them all 'superbly conscious, fully aware of their motives'?)
To speak with the novel itself, What a battlefield is man! We are left at the hands of these gods, these monsters, these giants, our thoughts. Often these terrible belligerents trample our soul.

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Postby Marianne » Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:32 am

Just finished it. Loved it, definitely seeing themes similar to Les Mis, definitely wanted to SMACK SOME SENSE INTO GAUVAIN AT THE END JESUS CHRIST KID.
[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.
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Postby Col.Despard » Sun Nov 15, 2009 6:59 am

Can we talk about Gauvain now? :D Skip over this if you haven't read this book...massive spoilers....

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Oh, come on, Gauvain! Seriously! You even acknowledge that it was Lantenac's fault the kiddies were endangered in the first place. After he allowed their mother to be (supposedly) killed! Yes, clemency would have been nice...one regrets the binary position of the Republic and death/no death, when a middle course of containment would have been preferable (although then you've got an imprisoned maquis as a rallying point = not good). But the Republic needs you, citizen! You've not only freed an arch-foe of the State who has expressed no remorse for either his methodology or his ideology (and who positively affirms his belief in the later), you've deprived the Republic of a valuable resource: yourself (and, although you couldn't have forseen it, Cimourdain as well).

So...net result? The most effective commander against Lantenac is dead. Lantenac himself is now free to rally what support he can and try fight the Republic. More death is on the way. Cimourdain is also out of the picture. I'm sure the Convention is going to be just THRILLED and will now adopt a more merciful approach to the outlaws...oh, wait, no. That's not what's going to happen. I think we can anticipate an intensification of the attempts to crush the opposition. The Terror just got a deeper shade of red in the Vendee, I suspect. Oh, and your men? Rather demoralised, one would think.

It was a nice thought. But it was not your decision to make, and the repercussions of taking matters into your own hands are NOT going to be good.

Seriously. Why couldn't Enjolras have been on hand? He'd have sorted out the situation pretty quickly and clearly. It's like the scene with Gauvain making himself a target by standing in the light of a torch - can you imagine for an instant Enjolras exposing himself like that? Not bloody likely - you can bet he'd be nicely ensconced in a good position, directing the action and only exposing himself *when necessary*. No wastefulness for Enjolras - not even of heroics. If the situation absolutely calls for getting out there and singlehandedly facing down a whole batallion, yes, he can do it. But he's not going to do it unless it is essential.

Gauvain. Adorable, but totally smackable upside the head.

As an aside, I wonder what Ayn Rand thought of him - surely she'd love the Libertarian vision of the future.
"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 Frédérique » Sun Nov 15, 2009 10:35 am

SPOILERS.


You've not only freed an arch-foe of the State who has expressed no remorse for either his methodology or his ideology (and who positively affirms his belief in the later), you've deprived the Republic of a valuable resource: yourself (and, although you couldn't have forseen it, Cimourdain as well).


PRECISELY.
Really, the boy's a dear, but a Doomed Moral Victor? Not so much. If Enjolras' flaw is that he has 'too much' of Saint-Just, the reason Gauvain fails (quite possibly it's meant to be not a 'flaw' at all, as Enjolras' too-Saint-Just-ishness is a criticism, though of theoretical more than practical consequence) is that he does not have enough of him, being not 'absolute' (and perhaps, then, not 'incomplete'? I think I brought this up before when trying to explain the reincarnation theory mathematically :P).
Yes, he argues quite sensibly that the Royalists mustn't be known as child-savers while the Republicans kill old men, but it's not much less discrediting to the Republic's humanity to have it execute its own shining youthful leader/s (and it's precisely that - Saturnine child-eating et al - which the Broad Masses do associate with '93, and even more '94), is it (aside from the immediate practical consequences of a loss of leader)? So he claims it would diminish the Republic and its claims to justice not to welcome those who leave their paths to turn towards it, but HEL-LO, Lantenac does not, there is no reason to assume he has changed fundamentally. Even if one holds that a single noble act can measure up against a hundred gruesome ones, he insults the Revolution as best he can when Gauvain visits him (and also mentions that he would shoot him), the basis of all he has done up to that point is completely unchanged, and it all happened deliberately and clear-sightedly, he's not woken up from a previous blinkeredness, and ... yes. Not to mention that the effects of clemency have been shown quite well in the case of l'Imanus. What about familial bonds? They had no relationship whatsoever. It's merely 'the blood' that connects them; to attribute any significance to that is very Royalist, is it not? Grrargh.

(Nonetheless, I think the resolution is probably perfect as it is. Dramatically. Aesthetically, if you like. Cimourdain remains absolute in his conviction, but not immune to humanity, which, in a sense, makes both sides of the prison cell conversation valid.)


Oh, I wish Ms Rand had written more about the actual contents of the book and less about the shortcomings of Victor Hugo's head. But I suppose that would have been 'irrelevant'.

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Postby Col.Despard » Sun Nov 15, 2009 10:51 am

Yes...unfortunately, the ending is wicked-cool as it stands, and I'm afraid that I am a big fan of wicked-cool. But it's hard not to feel more on-side with Cimourdain than with Gauvain at the end, much as we admire transcendent eyes on the future. Lantenac in my translations literally walks away snapping his fingers. Arrrrrgh! Gauvain, no! You're on shaky moral ground, and you're up to your knees in tactical quicksand.
"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 EstelleLaChatte » Wed Nov 25, 2009 4:48 am

*back from the dead, briefly*

Just popping in to say:

1. So glad I'm not the only one who thinks Gauvain's decision at the end, while it may have been farsighted in terms of the grand scheme of history, was incredibly shortsighted in terms of its immediate consequences. Just because he's more likeable than Cimourdain, doesn't mean he's always right.

2. For those of you bemoaning awful 19th century translations, I'm currently working on my own annotated translation of Quatrevingt-Treize, which should eventually be published. So never fear, that particular lacuna is being filled. :wink:

3. I am incredulous that Ayn Rand, of all people, could have been a Hugo fan. I don't think she understood him very well.
"Quand le gouvernement viole les droits du peuple, l'insurrection est pour le peuple le plus sacré et le plus indispensable des devoirs."
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"Homine imperito nunquam quidquam iniustius."
Terence

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Postby Col.Despard » Thu Nov 26, 2009 9:29 am

Hallo EstelleLaChatte - an annotated translation of Quatrevingt-Treize? Brilliant!

And yes, the Ayn Rand thing threw me as well (although she probably approved of Gauvain's proposed taxation scheme).
"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 EstelleLaChatte » Thu Nov 26, 2009 3:10 pm

I only have about fifty pages so far, so it might be several years before the process is through, but that's the idea!

Hm, I don't know about that. She might have understood it that way, but if you're talking about the passage opposing Cimourdain's "république de l'absolu" and Gauvain's "république de l'idéal," it's rather ambiguous, to say the least, what, if any, concrete objections Gauvain has to Cimourdain's proposals, since he seems to be objecting more to Cimourdain's very concreteness (which he seems to perceive as a lack of imagination). He certainly doesn't give any concrete counter-proposals.

I don't know if you've read JP Gross's Fair Shares For All, but if his thesis about the use certain revolutionaries (Romme, for example) made of the concept of fraternité is correct, then Gauvain's comments could just as easily be seen as in support of progressive taxation, if not necessarily of the other policies advocated by Cimourdain.

Hugo did leave this particular passage rather ambiguous, but, on the other hand, Gauvain does say a few lines down that he would like "la misère supprimée" which hardly seems a very Ayn Randian idea. :lol:
"Quand le gouvernement viole les droits du peuple, l'insurrection est pour le peuple le plus sacré et le plus indispensable des devoirs."
Maximilien Robespierre

"Homine imperito nunquam quidquam iniustius."
Terence

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Re: Quatrevingt-treize

Postby Abelarda » Sun Dec 13, 2009 4:59 pm

We (Elwen Rhiannon, me and a bottle of wine) discussed about Quatrevingt-treize last night and we have to admit that we don't agree with you. Again. ;-)

Now, seriously. I do understand what you're talking about (I'm more on Cimourdain's side myself) but Gauvain is not stupid, neither is he childish. Perhaps we (Elwen Rhiannon and me) understand him and his motives more because of the history of Poland: we know what kind of choice did he have to make.

Frédérique wrote:Really, the boy's a dear, but a Doomed Moral Victor? Not so much.

Ah, but frankly speaking, who is a moral winner in the book? Surely not Lantenac. Cimourdain, then? He fails, too. His character shows that, in fact, no man can be an incarnation of anything. Men are just men, after all; and Cimourdain, when he decides to commit suicide, has to choose between the last part of his humanity and him being an inhuman ideal. It was his choice alone, please don't condemn Gauvain for what Cimourdain has done. And technically, Cimourdain could live through Gauvain's death, right? And from that time he could choose being only the incarnation of the Revolution, even more inhuman than before. But see: he chooses differently, by committing suicidee chooses his private moral codex. It's a loss for the Revolution, yes. But perhaps it's the only way to save humanity in Cimourdain? Quatrevingt-treize is a very pessimistic book. I daresay that they all fail in a way or another, but if someone actually is a moral winner, it's Gauvain. Even if I sympathize more with Cimourdain's point of view.

On to Gauvain, now. He is not stupid; what he did is a serious ethical problem (deonthologism vs. consequentialism, I can say more about it if you like, although I'm not a fan of theoretical philosophy's language ;-)). And Quatrevingt-treize is, in a way, a fabularized philosophical tract. We can say that we don't agree with him, of course, but it's not an easy choice to make and therefore, we don't have the right to condemn him. See: he doesn't save Lantenac simply because of the fact it's Lantenac. His reasons are idealistic, right. He wants the Revolution to stay pure, in a way or another, yes... (actually, he reminds me more of Combeferre than of Enjolras here - "the good must be innocent", right?). And it's not that he believes that others will make the same choice as him, no (by the way, somehow his character reminds me of Zbigniew Herbert's poetry, especially this poem, written under the Soviet (communistic) reign here in Poland, when moral dilemmas were exactly the same). Remember about his name: Gauvain, the knight. It's easy to be a knight when your opponent acts knightly, too. But if he is a scoundrel (I hate Lantenac, believe me) and when you act as a knight then, yes, I do think it's a moral victory. And even if it's pursuing one's private moral codex, he does it for (his) Revolution, as this Revolution that he sees, the one that demands killing Lantenac, is not his anymore. You know, Gauvain always reminds me od the real ethical drama of many persons: the Nazis (or the soldiers in general) that refused to obey the orders because they were against their conscience; the insurgents that fought open battles with no chance of winning (we know them from Polish history, as I said before, and perhaps it's the reason why I can understand Gauvain's motives); the Spartans and the Battle of Thermopylae; all the martyrs who could renounce their faith in public and still propagate it in conspiracy. And yes, even Jesus Christ. I repeat once again, it's not an easy choice, especially when the thing one started to believe long ago suddenly becomes something different than one hoped it to be. Should he still pretend by himself that he fights for it, even if he starts to disgust him? Or does he have the right to manifest that he doesn't like the way his idea is changing? It's a moral problem, it's very hard to make and yes, I do think that Gauvain is a moral winner in a way. Not Gauvain's vision of the Revolution, as other people won't do the same as him, but Gauvain himself, as a person. And I respect him for his choice, even if I'm more like Cimourdain myself.
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Re: Quatrevingt-treize

Postby EstelleLaChatte » Sun Dec 13, 2009 8:24 pm

First of all, I agree that Gauvain is not stupid and from the way he constructs his arguments, one can understand his decision, even if it is not the one any given reader (myself included) might have made in those circumstances. What I was arguing against is the rather simplistic reading of Gauvain as Everything-that's-good-in-the-Republic incarnate and Cimourdain Everything-that's-wrong-with-the-Republic incarnate. The most convincing argument I've read on the subject is that for Hugo, Cimourdain represents the kind of republicanism that was needed in 1793, while Gauvain's ideals are closer to what Hugo would advocate for the present. This would be, according to this reading, a way of distancing himself from the Commune, many of the ideals of which he agreed with, but would supposedly have failed because it tried to apply mentalities more appropriate to 1793. I don't necessarily agree with that assessment of the Commune, but it seems to fit with Hugo's way of thinking. In this sense, neither Cimourdain nor Gauvain is really absolutely right in all contexts; it varies with the circumstances with what Hugo would probably consider the progress of history. And thus, Hugo can show us the disastrous consequences of a point of view which he consideres good, if not the best possible, for the 1870s in the different circumstances of 1793.

So I don’t disagree with you about the potential validity of Gauvain’s point of view, but I can’t agree with some of your examples. Leaving aside self-interested considerations, since they don’t seem to have much influence on him, Gauvain is in a situation where he must choose the lesser of two evils. Each decision he can make at this point has, morally, both good and evil components to it. With the decision he ends up making, he is able to offer Lantenac the chance of redemption, however infinitesimally small that chance might be, objectively speaking and to free a man the immediate cause of whose execution would be having risked his life to save three small peasant children. On the other hand, for all Gauvain knows, he has doomed the Republic, both by setting Lantenac free and by depriving it of one of its best defenders, himself (leaving aside Cimourdain, since Gauvain could not have predicted his suicide). If he had made the opposite decision, the opposite would have been true, still leaving some good and some evil on both sides.

However, in the case of the Spartans, their only options during the Persian war were really a) to fight at Thermopylae, as they did, historically, b) to fight at some other, less strategic point, or c) to accept Persian rule. The second option really would have been very stupid, so let’s leave it aside. Now, as far as the Spartans were concerned, there could never possibly be anything whatsoever moral about surrendering to the Persians without a fight. The only thing it would have gained them were their lives, which, at least in theory, they were supposed to value less than the Spartan state. Thus, the decision of whether or not to fight is not really a moral dilemma for them. It’s not really a dilemma at all; the ethic their state was built around would not allow them to surrender to Persian rule without a fight.

Ditto with the dissident Nazi. Let’s say the order was to round up a group of Jews and shoot them. If he shoots them, he lives, but from a moral perspective he doesn’t deserve to live. If he doesn’t shoot them, the other Nazis find someone else to shoot them and shoot him as well. Thus, in the first scenario, the Nazi is a living, immoral person and in the second he is a dead moral person. He cannot live without becoming immoral and if he would murder one group of innocent people to save his own life, he would probably be willing to do so again. While it’s true he cannot save said group of innocent people by refusing to shoot them, but morally speaking, he has nothing to gain by shooting them himself. Thus, from a moral perspective, there is only one feasible choice here, which is not at all the case with Gauvain’s dilemma.
"Quand le gouvernement viole les droits du peuple, l'insurrection est pour le peuple le plus sacré et le plus indispensable des devoirs."
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"Homine imperito nunquam quidquam iniustius."
Terence

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Re: Quatrevingt-treize

Postby Elwen Rhiannon » Sun Dec 13, 2009 10:39 pm

I think you're both puting the novel in two totally different perspectives: Estelle in a historiosophical one and Abelarda (& me) in a wider, ethical one (Estelle, above all - I don't think that your reflections are incorrect, but it seems to me that you're both talking about two totally different things). You, Estelle, are researching Spartan and Nazi historical background, which in my opinion is not the point here. As Abelarda already wrote, I think that the book is actually a treaty on ethics, axiology - the study of values. Many people pointed out that the actual plot is almost non-existent in the extremly developed "background", and I think Hugo did it on purpose (could as well write a scholar dissertation, but being a writer, he couldn't resist fictionalizing it).

The problem of valuing human actions is old, and Abelarda, with whom I already talked, does not state what is "good" and what is "bad", but actually puts together various way of seeing it, one of them being Gauvain's and another one Cimourdain's. The essence of their conflict is a few hundred years old conflict, nowadays called, in a simplification, a conflict between deonthologism and consequentialism. Both points of view had the support of the greatest minds of the human kind (I may do a more detailed research, in a case someone's interested). Utilitarism states that morally an action is the more valuable, the more benefits it offers either to an individuum or to a group (social utilitarism), ergo, one should always consider what are the consequences or one's actions and value human actions from this point of view. Though not every utilitarism is a consequentialism, as the consequences don't have to be measured with actual benefit. To simplificate, an action is morally good, when its result is either increase of good or decrease of evil: in other case, it's morally bad (let's omit moral indifference here).

The results of leting Lantenac go will be disastrous. Gauvain's decision was morally bad, and Cimourdain's supposed action (executing Lantenac and calming the land) was morally good. The decission of not surrending the barricade in Les Misérables was also morally wrong, as - focusing only on Les Amis - the society was disposed of a group of its potentially worthy members.

Yet deonthologism sees it in a different way: the action is morally good when a definite moral obligation is fulfilled. The results may be small, non-existent or even bad, but it's the intention that matters, the will to follow certain moral code, fulfilling what one considers a moral duty.

After Lantenac returns out of his free will to save the children, Gauvain considers it his moral duty to save Lantenac, accepting the fact that he will probably pay for this action with his life (and he does). Cimourdain's idea of executing Lantenac for "practical" reasons, no matter how he may personally admire his action, is therefore morally bad. And continuing a hopeless battle at the barricade to make the deaths of the defenders a symbol of their protest is morally good.

Who is right and who is wrong? Depends on what school are you following.

The other ethical conflict I can see in Quatrevingt-treize is the one between code and situational ethics. A code is a certain stated bunch of rules one follows as moral authority - either Qur'an, Decalogue, Hippocratic Oath, penal and civil code of one's country, Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen, or anything of the sort. Moral intuition often fails, especially when a person is young and doesn't have enough life experience, it praises subiectivism and moral voluntarism. That's Cimurdain, the follower of the Déclaration, talking to Gauvain. Situational ethics bases on independent decisions, moral autonomy of an invidual, stating that codified rules (which are not always declined!) don't allow exceptions and therefore may not work as moral rules in concrete situations. Codes lead to routine and mechanical following of the rules, killing individualism, initiative and moral sensitivity, sooner or later becoming dead codes, more discrediting for moral rules and estimates than estabilishing them because of the conflict between verbal acceptation of the rules and lack of respect for what was their essence. That's Gauvain's response - one may accept his point of view or not. The conflict appears also in Les Misérables, when one confronts two man with, as the author particularly stresses in the novel, the highest respect for law: Javert and Enjolras. Theoretically, the ethics of each of them are worth of respect: each one can be put above another, depending on the philosophical option you choose too look at the characters from.
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Re: Quatrevingt-treize

Postby Abelarda » Sun Dec 13, 2009 10:46 pm

EstelleLaChatte, I have a feeling that we're talking about two completely different things here. But again, I'm not a fan of the language of theoretical philosophy, as I said it before, and maybe that's why you misunderstood me.

EstelleLaChatte wrote:What I was arguing against is the rather simplistic reading of Gauvain as Everything-that's-good-in-the-Republic incarnate and Cimourdain Everything-that's-wrong-with-the-Republic incarnate.

When did I say something like that? Now you have me shocked, because my intention was to show that both Gauvain and Cimourdain had their opinions, and there are some situations in which it's not easy to establish if someone is right or wrong, or maybe who is more right. Do you think so because I said that Gauvain is a moral winner? He is, because he sticks with his beliefs to the end. On the other hand, Cimourdain throws away his earlier beliefs while commiting suicide. So it seems that Gauvain managed to change Cimourdain and not the other way around. And, in fact, I never said that being an incarnation of the Revolution is bad and being a humanistic idealist is good; they are different, that's all. As far as I remember, I even said that I understand Cimourdain more...

I didn't want to analyze the historical background while giving my examples (and of course, you're are right with the cultural and historical references about the Spartans and Nazis, but it was totally not my point); I wanted to show the differences between some schools of philosophy and their interpretations of the same facts. And the opinions would differ greatly whether a philosopher would be a deonthologist or a consequentialist. What one would condemn, the other would praise, and so on. Anyway, I was merely trying to suggest that almost every person in this thread is more of a consequentionalist (even me, I guess), but there is another and completely opposite way of analysing their behaviour. And it would be too easy to state that consequentionalism is the only proper way of judging others' choices. There are always many points of view, and I consider Quatrevingt-treize to be a fabularized philosophical tract; I said it before, too. I guess I was completely taken aback that almost everyone condemned Gauvain, watching from only one perspective, and with my examples I wanted to show that there are many situations that aren't easy to interprete. Philosophical tracts are not intended to have the only one proper explanation, they are much more complicated, and there are many situations that may be seen differently, depending on the method that we see fit.
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Re: Quatrevingt-treize

Postby Frédérique » Sun Dec 13, 2009 11:52 pm

Hmm. I don't think "Quatrevingt-treize" has any definite moral victor, but that Gauvain was meant to be one in theoretical design but possibly failed to fully become one due to the practical circumstances of the plot - or, as EstelleLaChatte has just suggested, because he and his approach were not actually suited to the realities of 1793, but only to 'the future' (which, from the point in time at which Gauvain speaks of it, can refer to Hugo's own time).

It seems (to me) that one of the main things the book sets out to show is that goodness and innocence combined, while a commendable concept (hint, hint, says Hugo, possibly: make it your concept), were and possibly still are (hint, hint: establish a system where an individual applying the concept has a chance) bound to fail, destroyed by friends and enemies alike - which, coming from some writers, would have resulted in a hopelessly cynical book, whereas Hugo at least tries to get something inspiring out of it (whether or not he succeeds depends on how applicable you find Gauvain's ideas for the future to your vision, I suppose).
Nonethless, it has no successful example of the good-and-innocent, if 'the good' is read to mean 'those with the "right" ideas', and 'innocence' is to be stretched to include 'mere' clemency (both I believe to be in accordance with Combeferre's meaning). Cimourdain is one of 'the good', but not innocent (and the 'giants' with him); Michelle Fléchard is innocent, but (though I don't mean to say she is 'not good' in any other sense!) does not actively associate with 'the good'.
Gauvain is the only prominent example who does try to reconcile the two traits, and therefore (this is my impression) comes closest to being set up by the author as a Doomed Moral Victor (I use the capital letters in loose reference to the TV Tropes entry, which obviously was not known to Hugo ;)), a type bound from the offset for a tragic end which is a consequence of and serves to emphasise his being the (sole) defender of the right (and thus not only a character one may or may not agree with, but a device for creating suspense that works regardless of the individual reader's opinion). Possibly Hugo did not mean for him to be seen in this way; it was, however, my impression when I read it, and if it was so, I don't think he quite accomplishes it. On the dramatic level (creating and relieving tension and engaging the reader's emotion) it works - Gauvain is (for want of a better word) adorable, and his death is tragic in all its aesthetic perfection, and why yes, it would be nice if his don't-kill-'em-all approach caught on, generally speaking. But (and this is why I think it does not work in terms of presenting him as one whose example could have inspired a positive change in his own time) it is oh so evident to the reader that it does not and will not - unless, of course, everyone in the present learns their lesson nicely from reading the book - and also (whether or not Hugo was entirely aware he was showing that - part of me doubts he actually wanted the reader to consider the immediate practical consequences of Gauvain's and Cimourdain's deaths, not least since to the reader '93 having passed the way it did without there ever having been a Gauvain and a Cimourdain in the first place is a fact, and to this fact the novel returns with their deaths) actually had negative effects in the immediate context.

And this is probably the point where some of the present company (myself, at least) lost a bit of patience with Gauvain. He is not stupid or thoughtless on the whole, and he is less reproachable as a human being than Cimourdain, perhaps even (this is hugely debatable) than Enjolras - cf. the 'absolute'/'incomplete' line from LM referenced somewhere upthread. He clearly differs from the stereotypical spirit of 1793, getting all the 'epic' and little to none of the 'redoubtable'. Which comes across as a good thing for the nineteenth century reader and still for many today - holding high the ends while rejecting some of the means, he makes it easier for a reader raised on tales of green-skinned bloodsuckers to consider, accept, and respect the pure and noble ideals that fueled them - but is a point of criticism for those who no longer need to be coaxed into viewing the French Revolution as a largely positive event/development, and, while no strangers to the superior appeal of less violent reform, hold, perhaps, with Enjolras (even after he has been softened by C.), that 'a violent situation being given', the immediate means can or even must (under '93 conditions) be violent. Perhaps our [my] fault is that in reading the book and Gauvain, we have entered a 1793 mindset, which Hugo did not write him to correspond to; the standards by which a reader judges Gauvain probably depend wholly on whether the book is read as 'a story set during the French Revolution' or as 'fabularized philosophical tract' (WHICH I've just seen you and Elwen Rhiannon have already pointed out while I slowly-slowly typed ... so this reply is now ninety percent redundant. Alas.), and on whether we assume that Hugo wanted him to be
1. a positive example (and if so, either in concrete political terms or simply for Sticking Invariably To A Set Of Principles)
a)retrospectively, for 1793
b)for the 1870s
c)for all time
or
2. a negative example (either ... see above), retrospectively, for 1793,
a)because he is a positive example for the new circumstances of the 1870s
b)because his ideals, while admirable in all times, are too high ever to be applied to full positive effect in sad reality
or
3. 4. 5. 6. 7. entirely different things still. It seems we already have a dozen points of divergence in identifying the demands we then consider him to meet or not (as a character-as-in-a-writer's-creation and as a character-as-in--an-acting-person).

Whether it means to or not, the book demonstrates with devastating effectfulness how futile the good-and-innocent concept was when put to practice in the given situation, firstly hopeless, secondly potentially disastrous in consequence - not only for the individual in question. In theory, this can be held against all the others who didn't follow the same noble, pure vision of the Revolution as Gauvain, and he can be admired for following his conscience above his professed (and honest) loyalties. (There is surely a comparison to be made with "A Man for All Seasons", but I don't feel quite up to it.) In practice, with a cold eye cast onto, as EstelleLaChatte says, the 'immediate consequences' rather than the 'grand scheme of history', onto the progress of 'the good' - who are not innocent, but Lantenac is neither good nor innocent - he does behave if not stupidly (since he is aware of the dilemma and explains his reasoning) then, after a fashion, selfishly - in as far as he only really acknowledges (and accepts) the negative consequences his decision has for himself. No, 'selfish' was a bad word. Hugo does not depict him as a deliberate martyr, walking into an open knife expressly to make a point; he shows no concern for his own image, only for that of the Revolution - but it's precisely that which should have stopped him from letting Lantenac go (for the reasons already mentioned repeatedly on this thread)!

But there we simply have different intepretations (on top of different approaches), again - you speak of 'all the martyrs who could renounce their faith in public and still propagate it in conspiracy', which is simply not the vibe I got from Gauvain; I'm not under the impression that he had concluded that 'the thing one started to believe long ago suddenly becomes something different than one hoped it to be', or not until the very end. Quite possibly this is a fault in my memory and someone who has more recently read the book will correct me. For the most part, I don't recall him thinking that his once-magnificent revolution had already taken a wrong turn (implying that its triumph, if it came to that, would not at all correspond to his vision, and that he only carried on under its banner for the public eye; on the contrary I seem to remember him always trying to act in the best interest of the Republic - not only his ideal Republic, but the real and present Republic - and not thinking that he had turned against it or nursed a secret wish to distance himself from it), but only fearing whether it would ever come to fruit at all. But, yes, I might be remembering that all wrongly (it's been a while now).

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EstelleLaChatte
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Re: Quatrevingt-treize

Postby EstelleLaChatte » Mon Dec 14, 2009 1:08 am

EstelleLaChatte wrote:
What I was arguing against is the rather simplistic reading of Gauvain as Everything-that's-good-in-the-Republic incarnate and Cimourdain Everything-that's-wrong-with-the-Republic incarnate.
When did I say something like that?

You didn't. I'm sorry if I wasn't clear, but I was referring to my previous posts and not to my response to you which followed. I was combating it, in any case, because it's a far-too-commonly held belief about that book, rather than because anyone on this board had such a reading of it. I certainly don't espouse the opposite view, or think that Gauvain is unequivocally wrong just because I personally would not have let Lantenac go. I think the reader is supposed to appreciate both sides of Gauvain's dilemma, and that strengthens the human tragedy with the moral tragedy that a choice had to be made and neither option is really a good one. (By the way, I don't agree with the school of thought that says a text should be analyzed in isolation. I believe Hugo's intentions and the context the book was written in are both important for fully understanding the text. That said, a lot of people seem to think it was Hugo's intention to make Gauvain represent the "good" side of the Republic and Cimourdain the "bad", which I certainly don't believe. Other considerations aside, Hugo was much better at subtlety than that....)

I think the issue here is that I was never trying to determine which of the two was "right" and I agree with you, Elwen Rhiannon and Abelarda, that whether one would side with Cimourdain or Gauvain is largely a matter of one's personal philosophy. On the other hand, there may be multiple reasons for choosing a given side. For example, one might say, as a Javert-like character would, that letting Lantenac go was wrong simply because it was against the law, or one might say that it's wrong because of its consequences for the Republic. Similarly, a character less devoted to republican ideals than Gauvain might let Lantenac go simply because he's family, but that is obviously not Gauvain's motivation.

You, Estelle, are researching Spartan and Nazi historical background, which in my opinion is not the point here.

I think it is the point if you're going to use them as examples. Examples are only useful if they're relevant.

Also: I agree with everything Fréddie just said, so there's really no point repeating it. Well, except for one thing (which is, admittedly, rather nit-picky); if your definition of innocence includes clemency, then Michelle Fléchard can't be innocent because clemency, unlike forgiveness, implies power, and that's one thing she certainly doesn't have.
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Re: Quatrevingt-treize

Postby Elwen Rhiannon » Mon Dec 14, 2009 8:32 am

For example, one might say, as a Javert-like character would, that letting Lantenac go was wrong simply because it was against the law, or one might say that it's wrong because of its consequences for the Republic


... or wrong because of consecuences for people in general, as Lantenac will probably continue to burn, kill the witnesses not involved in the conflict, not hesitate to order executions of breast feeding mothers who weren't a danger to anyone and take small children as hostages. But we more or less agree.

You, Estelle, are researching Spartan and Nazi historical background, which in my opinion is not the point here.
EstelleLaChatte wrote:
I think it is the point if you're going to use them as examples. Examples are only useful if they're relevant.


Indeed, but I think you misunderstood or perhaps I didn't state it clearly: neither me nor as far as I know Abelarda wanted to analyze the reasons and consequences of that two historical decisions, Leonidas' and the anonymus Nazi rebel's, but just say that from two extreme points of view these decisions can be estimated in extremly different ways, either as clever (brave, moral etc.) acts of strength or unconsidered acts of foolish idealism leading to nowhere.
"Believe in the future. Combeferre does."


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