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
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
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
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).