Meta: Writing Enjolras, especially slash and romance

Meta related to characters, plots, or other elements introduced by Victor Hugo in Les Misérables.
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Marianne
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Postby Marianne » Tue Jul 21, 2009 5:15 pm

MmeBahorel wrote:Failed utopias seem rather more 19th c. to me - and I don't mean ideal communities but the constant failure of liberal revolutions. Liberalism advancing through top-down rather than bottom-up mechanisms, no meeting in the middle. I'm not quite seeing what you're trying to get at here with a 20th c. historical context. Hungary '56 and Czechoslovakia '68? Imperial repression of liberalism is imperial repression, whether the victim is technically subordinate to the oppressor or whether it is "fraternal assistance". Or straight up Russian revolution as a disastrously failed utopia? I am so confused. Possibly because I have too many different directions go to within what is rather my academic field.


You're confused because I wasn't making much sense. :lol: I drove back from Québec Sunday night instead of sleeping and obviously it took its toll. I'm pretty sure I was thinking straight-up Russian revolution failure, post-WWI disillusionment with 19th century ideas of human progress, communism sliding into dictatorship all over the place, etc. and how modern readers have a hard time taking Hugo seriously when he says things like "the 19th century was great but the 20th century will be happy." I think a lot of weird fanon shows a fundamental failure to connect with what these boys were fighting for, because it either turned scary later on (nationalism, communism--I know the boys weren't communists but the association is still there) or we're used to seeing it happen by non-revolutionary means (democracy) or because people don't understand what they were fighting against and why they thought violent means would work and why it was necessary.

Anyway. Slightly-incoherent attempt at explanation is over. And I also think the active renunciation of the world is important, I just find it incredibly strange that a bunch of nerds of all people would interpret "reserved and not participating in his friends' raucous fun" as "disapproving cranky wet blanket who is perpetually Not Amused By This Bullshit."
[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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Col.Despard
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Postby Col.Despard » Tue Jul 21, 2009 8:42 pm

Marianne wrote:And I also think the active renunciation of the world is important, I just find it incredibly strange that a bunch of nerds of all people would interpret "reserved and not participating in his friends' raucous fun" as "disapproving cranky wet blanket who is perpetually Not Amused By This Bullshit."

Heh. I've got the giggles over that last line - Poor Enjolras! You're apparently either with your friends in their shennanigans, or you're against them.

And while I'm on an intermittent rant...Enjolras doesn't seem to be a grudge bearer, either, sulking off and easily insulted (although, yes, he'll defend Rousseau vehemently). Take the Marius confrontation. A couple of years later, is Marius "that prick of a Buonapartist who left in high dudgeon" to Enjolras? No...it's more a case of "hey, y'know, that guy Marius never seems to come around anymore...pity, I'd have liked to ask him to do something." He isn't worried by the fact that Marius is a dreamer - he'd probably put it in the same category as Courfeyrac's billiards and Joly's hypochodria (or Combeferre's professor mode lectures). It's just how they roll. Mortally offended by the Buonaparte fanboying? Nope, not Enjolras. He doesn't even seem to recall why it was that Marius stopped hanging around. The most you could say is that he's not sensitive to the petal's feelings, but we already know that's not his thing. Go to Prouvaire if you want to talk flowers and emotions. But there's certainly no malice in Enjolras - I think he'd be totally bemused if it was pointed out the cause of the lack of Marius. "What? He's still got a problem with that?"
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Postby MmeJavert » Tue Jul 21, 2009 11:30 pm

I have spent far too much time in the last several days driving and generally not resting, so I probably am not in the vicinity of coherent any longer.

I spent the last half hour or so reading the last ten or fifteen responses to this thread and applauding heartily. Because I admit to not writing Enjolras to quite the level that Hugo did, mostly. And the reason for that is because I have always found it terribly difficult to write Enjolras believably and plausibly within canon AND fit him into the moulds of my own fanfiction "plots" (I use parentheses because I am such a failure at plotting out actual storylines that I avoid it entirely by writing things that don't, ah, require much plot). And whenever I'm trying to be serious and try to keep Enjolras in line with what's written by Hugo, somehow I always seem to fall short. My enormous epic has chapters that have been rewritten ten or twelve times over again and still never posted because I'm still not happy with them, lack of research material on certain points aside.

And I think the reason I have so much difficulty with it is the above-mentioned changing ideas on sexuality and identity. You could, in the 1830s, embrace your friends and love your friends and no one would suspect you of amourously ulterior motives-- but today you cannot say you love someone without being suspected of it; today you fit into the mould of straight or gay or bisexual and no one quite believes you if you say you're asexual and/or choose to remain pure out of devotion to another ideal you find more important than anything else. Enjolras could not exist today as Hugo has written him and therefore modern fanfiction authors are invariably going to miss the mark unless they are inexhaustibly, painstakingly careful with every word they write on his behalf.

Which is why I still haven't written my idol_reflections* essay on Enjolras: I have never yet found an example of fanfiction involving him, whether slashy in nature or gen, that is truly excellently written, until Col. Despard's Hang Up Your Brightest Colours. And, uh, I've read a lot of fanfiction, at least until I began avoiding ff.net altogether a few years ago.

I'm still not happy with the way I write Enjolras, because even when I'm not trying to make him sleep with Grantaire, he still doesn't quite seem right to me, and I'm not entirely sure I'll get it right.

I'm not excusing the really shitty characterisations some authors have come up with, but some of the rather less-than-perfect examples I've seen in fanfic I choose to interpret as the author trying their best but failing due to shortsightedness on the part of what Hugo really meant by Enjolras, and limitations due to the incredible differences in gender/sexual identity between the people of France in the 1830s and the modern thinking of the 21st century.




*idol_reflections is a community on livejournal, sister to ship_manifesto. The idea behind idol_reflections is to write an essay defending a certain character's merits, why you love him, why s/he's so important to the story, etc., using evidence from canon to support your points; and an integral part of the essay is the links to fanfiction that support your reasons for liking him. I can't find a well-written Enjolras to save my life and so my essay has languished half-finished for the better part of two years now.
and to this day, she's glided on
always home but so far away
like a word misplaced
nothing said, what a waste

~pearl jam, "dissident"

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MmeBahorel
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Postby MmeBahorel » Tue Jul 21, 2009 11:42 pm

You can interpret that scene as Enjolras calling Marius a flake, but yeah - he has enough confidence in Marius to call him a flake, not to continue harping on the views Marius idiotically parroted once.

(also, who needs Elizabeth Siddal when you have wombats!)

Is pop-psychology the reason I hated that JK Rowling made Tom Riddle a garden-variety sociopath? I was all geared up for really awesome stuff, and then he was torturing small children when he was a small child. And that was just so - boring. I think I expected Enjolraic things from him - he obviously cut to the heart of a valid protest against political and social structures in his community and exploited them for power that devolved to a class, not just to him as an individual (or at least seemed to until he was torturing small children and I just went "oh, that sucked"). The complexity of the magnetic personality coupled with not sleeping with all his followers (because Bellatrix was so obviously not getting what she wanted out of her loyalty/obsession) and a reactionary rather than revolutionary discourse. Flip side of Enjolras. (except JKR sucks - yes, the books are meant for kids, but is "textbook sociopath" really the kiddie-lit solution to the second coming of Nazism?)

Yeah, more than half this comment is rather off-topic. But - wombats! :)
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Postby Euphrasie » Wed Jul 22, 2009 2:54 am

Now, my pitiful input:

I always saw Enjolras having these few things that you should never do in front of him, i.e: insulting Jean-Jacques, or very possibly letting a woman in the cafe, a la Courfeyrac. But for the most part, just let everything else slide.

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Postby MmeBahorel » Wed Jul 22, 2009 4:00 am

And I think the reason I have so much difficulty with it is the above-mentioned changing ideas on sexuality and identity. You could, in the 1830s, embrace your friends and love your friends and no one would suspect you of amourously ulterior motives-- but today you cannot say you love someone without being suspected of it; today you fit into the mould of straight or gay or bisexual and no one quite believes you if you say you're asexual and/or choose to remain pure out of devotion to another ideal you find more important than anything else. Enjolras could not exist today as Hugo has written him and therefore modern fanfiction authors are invariably going to miss the mark unless they are inexhaustibly, painstakingly careful with every word they write on his behalf.


I freely admit that I can't do it. I've got pieces of an Enjolras, but even there, I think I look at times at Hugo as being an unreliable narrator because there are things he just doesn't get, and I think at times that if I'm writing outside the scenes Hugo wrote, I can take the whole "had never kissed another human being" bit with an entire shaker of salt because Hugo's saying it to make a point, not to be wholly truthful. (because really? Really? In Restoration France, to literally never have kissed a human being until he kissed Mabeuf's dead body? Sorry, Victor, you're full of it. It's a nice gesture, but it's not true.)

In some ways, there's both a character and a symbol going on. Sort of how our conversation about "did Hugo really mean Valjean never had a quick roll in the hay when he was seventeen?" was about figuring out the difference between the character and the symbol. Despard has been pulling out a lot of the character elements in this thread; it's the symbol moments that take everything into WTF territory. That he would actually whisper "Patria"? He doesn't need to whisper it - he knows it. It's not done as an answer to Bossuet. But to whisper it is to make an external observer (Hugo) know it even if no one actually there is paying attention. The kiss is obviously a symbol moment. His very busy death scene - a symbol moment. Possibly even his reaction to Courfeyrac winding him up over Rousseau could be a symbol moment. But the way his relationships with other characters play out, and his dialogue, aren't wholly "marble lover of liberty".

And so I admit, I can't take the whole text exactly as written. Not so much as an excuse for Emilie (who I think can work as a chaste courtship that is driven on his side because she is a rather plain "daughter of the people", also because insisting you are going to marry the blacksmith's daughter the moment you turn 22 is a great way to wind up your father when he's asking why you can't take a prettier girl as your mistress) but as an excuse for, well, every way in which Hugo's characterisation of him doesn't quite live up to those symbolic moments. I can't work with the marble lover of liberty. I can't see that ideal as putting up with the very earthly followers he's been given, not even Combeferre. Not in the "shrill harpy" way of crappy fanon, but just in general, I cannot see him bothering with them. They are flaky, they are human, they have minds and ideas of their own and will do things like go to the theatre instead of risk arrest talking to the masons. What difficult clay compared to his marble perfection. And I don't think that's actually the point: he doesn't seem to be suffering them for his work as a monk wears a hair shirt. I just can't make it all the way to "these were the only two kisses he had bestowed in his life".

I may have been with you once, Victor, but there's too much in there of more interest, too much that you put there, for me to take it all. Is this like Jefferson cutting apart the bible? I can believe in the ideas without needing all this metaphor being thrown at me like it's real.

(also, if you want to make your eyes bleed, evidence I have written shrill harpy Enjolras. I was seventeen. There wasn't much of a fic fandom at the time. Les Amis de l'ABC. Chapter 3 is the only Enjolras containing part - the rest is egregious Mary Sue genderswap Feuilly (which is actually accurate, sort of - fan painters were predominantly female in the 18th c, which is why the figures in the Encyclopédie show women in the workshop) and Courfeyrac being adorable because even in crap I wrote in math class when I was 17, Courfeyrac is adorable. Every awful fic trope, from harpy!Enjolras to pansy!Prouvaire to overuse of character names in dialogue. But really, I'm not sure any of us were immune to oversimplified crap in the early flush of OMG!Frenchboys!!!)
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Col.Despard
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Postby Col.Despard » Wed Jul 22, 2009 11:28 am

MmeJavert, I'm amazed and delighted that you thought so much of "Hang Up Your Brightest Colours" . I hope you do write that idol_reflections essay, and oh...what wouldn't I give to read your major tome!

I hope I don't sound at all as if I think that *I've* got the handle on writing Enjolras. I'm certain that I don't. And I must sound rather hypocritical in commenting on the canon-conforming performances of other fanfic writing when my own current scenario has him in a totally non-canonical (and fantastical) situation. First chapter of 'Sleep of Reason' showed him, as was pointed out to me by a very astute reader, in a rather chilly light...mainly because 1.) he's in a situation he's not entirely comfortable with 2.) during which he comes under a vampiric spell and 3.) I'm an idiot who plotted an opening chapter with a whiplash revolving POV. In the second and third chapters he's out for the count, and it's all just character and plot situating. In the fourth, I've tried to work in some character observations relating to the point I made earlier about his friends both as avatars and also as simply friends, with perspectives from Courfeyrac and Feuilly. It's getting easier as the chapters go on, but there's still that tension between writing a character who is so verging on the symbolic as to be almost allegorical, but at the same time given so many suggestive touches of character.

Scary tendency I've noted on my part: the objectification. Okay, Hugo does this, so it's almost canonical, but still...poor guy. He transmutes friends and events into symbols, but it is in turn done to him. He not only accepts, he seems to craft this role...but the objectification, were he aware of it, probably wouldn't go down too well. As long as it's all feulled by a transcendental inner light, I suppose it's okay...sort of...

Everything is forgiven if you write adorable Courfeyrac, MmeBahorel! And you've long since exorcised any hint of shewish Enjolras - your tantalising glimpses of him have made me want to read him in scenes you write since I first read BOTM.

I agree with you about the absolute double-take on reading "only kissed a corpse" - even when written, that scene would have raised an eyebrow...because it seems to preclude not only amorous, but even filial kisses. So he never, even as a small child, kissed his parents? If he was orphaned (and there's sure no hint of that), he never bestowed a sloppy smacker on his nurse when he was three? He might be the Revolution itself made manifest in human form and be fulfilling a fate he was destined for, but he'd be a lot colder than he's depicted if that were the case. And he's actually a surprisingly tactile person (to be honest, he seems to use touch to communicate more than I do - it doesn't come naturally to me). In some instances it could be a calculated gesture, as when he puts his hand on Marius' shoulder at the conclusion of the Smackdown, but there's also that beautiful moment with the uniforms when he communicates with Combeferre with just a touch on the shoulder...not to mention reaching out to Grantaire at the end.

The moment that I think relates to your point of symbolism vs reality is the death of Prouvaire. That amazes me - he has essentially passed judgement on Javert on behalf of the Republic, and has stated that he will be executed. The one thing we are told continually that he is, is inflexible in his methods and ideals. But when it comes down to it, he doesn't even hestitate - he immediately puts the life of his friend above that of his principles Although he concedes he is still set on the latter, he explicity states that Prouvaire's life is more important to him. Given time to expound, perhaps he'd justify it in terms that related to his ideals (and if Hugo wanted him to have that time, he'd have given it to him), but I think it is the only instance in which he alters the course he had laid down.

I amused myself on the bus commute this morning wondering how the Marius Smackdown would have played out if written by many of the fanfic authors.

Something like Marius making a mild observation on Napoleon, Enjolras leaping to his feet, shrieking that Marius needs to take back every word, that he won't have such things uttered in his precious cafe. All backed up with the lethal glare. Possibly a pout, too. Someone, most likely Combeferre, would attempt to intervene on Marius' behalf. The scene might end with either Enjolras storming out, or everyone else doing so, commiserating with Marius on what a jerk Enjolras is.

How does the scene actually play out? Well, we all know...but it's essentially Enjolras - who has been silent while his comrades get up to all sorts of stuff around him - addressing a rather clever single line remark to Combeferre on a topic under discussion. Marius then proceeds to march up theatrically and make a challenging statement. Enjolras responds, without looking at Marius, with a succinct and blunt statement. Okay, the looking into the middle distance is perhaps a bit contemptuous, but it's not exactly the abyssal glare of legend, is it? He then gets treated to a rant. Time for the abyssal glare yet? Surely a bitchy comment? Um, no...he bows his head and is silent (which is evidently not pointed enough for Marius to get the message, although, mind, this is Captain Clueless we're talking about). More ranting ensues. Now, surely, he's going to deliver the icy cutting remark of fanon...

Um, no...the guy usually universally acclaimed as Mr Nice Guy in fanon delivers the smackdown. And the follow up.

So, Enjolras has one last chance. Everyone else is out of the room. It's time for the death blow...the icy, disdainful stare, the cutting remark, the abusive harrangue.

Errrr...funny, that isn't how it pans out. Enjolras looks at him gravely, puts a hand on his shoulder, and gives him a single line statement of his passionate conviction. He's not trying to quench him and grind him under foot - he's trying to reach Marius so he understands.

Which is not to say that he doesn't have an icy demenour at times, that he isn't capable of a sharp remark, or that he doesn't have a death ray glare to deploy when necessary (useful not only for keeping fangirls at bay, but also in driving a burly, armed man to his knees in submission or holding back a dozen National Guardsmen when one is unarmed). He just doesn't use them willy-nilly and direct them at his friends on a regular basis.

If he has to be depicted as a negative character, I'd like to see him written on the scale of how you wished Voldemort had been depicted, MmeBahorel - not a twisted psychopath or a mean little demagogue, but rather more akin to Milton's Satan.
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Postby MmeBahorel » Wed Jul 22, 2009 1:09 pm

he bows his head and is silent


The facepalm had not yet been invented :)
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Postby Col.Despard » Wed Jul 22, 2009 9:47 pm

Heh. I'm sure Marius must have been one reason why it was created.

Y'know...interesting thing about that scene...Enjolras' remark is specifically addressed to Combeferre (at least in the translation I'm looking at). Yes, Bossuet's mention of 18 June, 1815 was in response to something Combeferre said, but then it's Courfeyrac who follows up with the observation on 18 as Napoleon's fatal number. And yet, when Enjolras breaks into the conversation, it's Combeferre he addresses, not everyone generally. Is this the correct translation? It almost reads as a private joke intended for Combeferre's hearing rather than everyone in general.

And the wombats! I forgot to mention the wombats in last night's ramble. Dear old Rossetti (even if did manage to kill or let most of his exotic pets die). I love that sketch he did of Jane Morris in full-blown pre-Raphaelite mode, with a halo on her head, leading a wombat with also equipped with halo.

Have you ever run into one? They're the narkiest animals imaginable - built like kegs on (stumpy) legs, they'll barrel through anything and are pretty unafraid. Don't get between one and either his burrow or a food source.
"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 Eppie Sue » Wed Jul 22, 2009 10:08 pm

Col.Despard wrote:Y'know...interesting thing about that scene...Enjolras' remark is specifically addressed to Combeferre (at least in the translation I'm looking at). Yes, Bossuet's mention of 18 June, 1815 was in response to something Combeferre said, but then it's Courfeyrac who follows up with the observation on 18 as Napoleon's fatal number. And yet, when Enjolras breaks into the conversation, it's Combeferre he addresses, not everyone generally. Is this the correct translation? It almost reads as a private joke intended for Combeferre's hearing rather than everyone in general.

Combeferre? As much as my OTP-heart wants to believe that, in the French Wikisource it says:

"Enjolras, jusque-là muet, rompit le silence, et adressa à Courfeyrac cette parole :

— Tu veux dire le crime par l’expiation."

... and it says so, too, in my German translation. and it's just a correction of Courfeyrac's "que le commencement y est talonné par la fin." (Enjolras changes it to "que le crime y est talonné par l'expiation.", or, in English, "that the crime treads close on the heels of the expiation")... I might be mistaken, though.

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Postby Col.Despard » Thu Jul 23, 2009 10:07 am

Ah, sod it! Thank you, Eppie Sue - I'd be guessing you're absolutely correct. It did occur to me that it might be a typo in the on line translation I was looking at, as he's obviously responding to Courfeyrac...serves me right for falling in love with the idea of Enjolras sitting there passing on observations on the conversations to specifically to Combeferre (albeit in a loud enough voice to carry to Marius). I was wondering why I hadn't noticed it before...then had a look at Denny (the print copy I use) and see that he doesn't note the remark as being addressed to anyone in particular, just that it was the first time Enjolras had spoken. This seems to go to my belief that Denny does not understand the extreme importance of recording each and every utterance about Enjolras in its entirety.
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Re: Meta: Writing Enjolras, especially slash and romance

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Thu Feb 25, 2010 7:12 am

*bringing up the thread because of her planned rewrites of her formerly atrocious fics*

One thing that I've been wondering of late: what could have been Enjolras' turning point in the sense that he decided to become a radical?

I do wonder what would convince a bright, wealthy, and promising student in 19th century France, with all kinds of clear material advantages to turn his back on the system which so obviously benefited his family and turn to the ideals of 1893. In "fanon", it seems as if Enjolras was "born" that way, or always precocious, or had simply read too much. I don't know if these explanations hold water though. Very few people have ever given a good explanation as to why Enjolras feels so strongly about his ideals.

What would be yours?
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Re: Meta: Writing Enjolras, especially slash and romance

Postby MmeBahorel » Fri Feb 26, 2010 1:32 am

I think the real question here is what would hold water for you? There are hundreds, thousands of people in history who have done things that were not on the radar for other people of their social group. What pushes anyone? Bear with me as this will get involved.

"It's Russia. A landowner's estate is reckoned not in acres but in adult male serfs, and the agent of reform is not the rebellious slave but the repentant master. What a country! Napoleon had to drag us into Europe before our embarrassment at ourselves put seditious thoughts of reform into the heads of the returning army officers. I was thirteen at the time of the December revolt. One day, not long after the Tsar celebrated his coronation by hanging the Decembrists, my father took my and Ogarev for a drive into the country. Until I met Nick I thought I was the only boy like me in the whole of Russia. At Luzhniki we crossed the river. Nick and I ran on ahead, up to the Sparrow HIlls. At the top you could see all the roofs and cupolas of the city shining in the setting sun . . . and we suddenly embraced and made a sacred vow to dedicate our lives - yes, sacrifice them if need be - to avenge the Decembrists. It was the hinge of my life."

This is Tom Stoppard's words for Alexander Herzen at 22 explaining his radical involvement to a fellow radical. I use Stoppard because it's quick and punchy and when I heard these lines spoken on stage, my jaw dropped because I had never known Herzen before yet this was the very background, in general, I had already assigned to Enjolras and Combeferre. What Stoppard leaves out, however, is incredibly interesting: Herzen's father was not married to his mother. The surname Herzen is invented. The father was called Ivan Yakovlev, he was a landowner who brought his German mistress back to Russia with him but never married her. But as Yakovlev never married anyone else, no one actually cared that his family were technically illegitimate. Herzen was well-educated, his father was obviously in favour of certain aspects of the West, his mother was German, and so he grew up reading the romantic literature of the day and got in trouble for reading Rousseau's Confessions when he was 16. He went off to university at 17 and increased his radical activity to the point that he was arrested, imprisoned for nine months, and banished to the Urals when he was 22. Yes, radical activity in Russia was discussing socialism and emancipation, and sometimes Hegelian dialectics, but it's still deliberate action to prepare yourself to go against the government in even larger ways. He left Russia in 1847 and was never permitted to return, spending the rest of his life writing and arguing for socialism and a Russian revolution.

Beside him, his friend Mikhail Bakunin. Excellent family, wealthy, Bakunin was at the artillery school but started making a fuss over Poland more to make a fuss than anything else. His father tried to get him to either stick with the military or join the civil service, but he went to Moscow to study German Romantic philosophy instead. He became obsessed with Hegel, made it to Berlin (living off loans from friends, since his father wasn't going to pay for this rubbish), and only there discovered socialist thought. He jumped from thinker to thinker, finally alighting on socialism, which got him a demand to return home. He didn't return voluntarily, had his property confiscated (his father had lately died), and started bouncing around the German-speaking states instead, until he happened to end up in Dresden in 1848 and helped out in their revolution, which got him arrested by the Austrians who then sent him back to Russia for real punishment.

So what is the cause? Hundreds of men of this generation had the money and travel permission to go to the West, but most did not return with the idea of creating a socialist Russia. Stoppard tries to explain a bit, it's part of the point, but what is the explanation for someone not only deciding at thirteen that they are going to avenge the Decembrists but holding to that idea, those ideals, for 45 years? Is it the way Herzen's mother stuck to her lover, leaving her home when she was 16 and following him to a foreign country, remaining by his side until his death? It can't be the way his father abandoned a military career because he preferred to sit at home and be cared for and indulge in some hypochondria. Bakunin bounced from one thinker to another, but the constant was always that his father was oppressing him (by expecting that he get a job that paid money or else taking over the management of the family estates) and he had to get out to the West where everything was awesome. His actual implementation of revolution involved a lot of really bad plans, of letters written in code with the key sent in the same envelope, of helping Wagner burn down the opera house in Dresden because Wagner was pissed off at the director. Marx broke with him because Bakunin was all enthusiasm and no sense. But was the cause that his father wanted a normal life for him and quit giving him money to throw away? His family adored him. Was it that he was thrown in to military life so young? It pushed him towards Schelling and Fichte and Hegel - at the time Herzen was in prison for talking socialism, Bakunin was trying to get to Moscow to hang out with his philosopher friends. There's only a two year age difference here - they're exact contemporaries, friends, on generally the same side of history. But Herzen set his path at thirteen and became known only as an intellectual; Bakunin didn't discover that he even wanted to undo everything in Russia, as opposed to his own family and anything that annoyed him personally until at least the age of 28, but he participated in multiple risings, escaped from Siberia, and was known as a participant as much as the thinker who created anarchist thought.

How does one decide the cause? Obviously both men are very different, were very different as children, but came from the same social milieu with all the same benefits, and, unlike other men from the same social class, ended up leftist thinkers who paid a legal price in their home country for daring to speak what they thought.

Herzen and Ogarev bear a resemblance to my Enjolras and Combeferre (Ogarev was life-long friends with Herzen, is known as a revolutionary poet, and was one of Herzen's collaborators until his death). This was completely accidental, as I had drawn the outlines of that relationship in the couple of years before I ever heard of the Russians. But it's obviously a thread connected to real life, that it is possible to come to something early, without direct parental support (Ogarev's father was conservative, appalled by Herzen's arrest, and when Ogarev was sent home under police supervision decided that the boy could be cured of politics by setting him up with women instead). The linguistic ability and availability of Western literature in the home certainly made it possible, but that's very different from being a direct cause.

I almost think youth is a requirement here, that these things be taken up early if a person have a fixed character, or that a man's character require some of the changeableness and fixation of youth (Bakunin was sometimes, in later years, referred to as "Big Liza", after one of Herzen's daughters who was a toddler at the time, because he seemed to have that same mentality of putting all his energy into five different things in five minutes and expecting everyone else to follow these jags with the same utter intensity). That something must be discovered young and never dropped. But a fixity of character, a purpose that lasts for 45 years despite huge setbacks, are things that may be innate rather than developed, or that come from family rather than external forces.

So I'm not sure a "why" is possible. (Despard can go into Irish examples: we could start with Michael Collins being born to a Fenian, but his father died when he was six, and had retired to the country to set aside politics and start a family in any case. But he had local influences, teachers, in addition to a family tradition that he would one day do great things for Ireland. But how many people end up never living up to deathbed wishes? How many men who are lucky enough at 60 to marry a 23 year old have really managed to select a woman who will raise his children in the exact mode he would have done? Collins had to have the interest in the first place to be susceptible to teachers outside his family, and it was those outside influences that were the ones he remembered.)

But that's all really about how one comes to a particular set of beliefs that are considered radical by the people with whom you grew up. There's also how one takes setbacks, situational changes, calls on one's time - how one sticks with something that brings only emotional pain in the hope that eventually, it will all come right.

And there's also how one characterises both the system and a particular position within it. I don't think the things Enjolras is fighting for are going to affect his real material position - he's not a full-on socialist. As with Herzen, if reform is from the top down, Enjolras is the repentant master, and I have no doubt that if he had lived long enough to have estates or enterprises under his control, he would have made them into models of reform (or probably had Combeferre make them into models of reform). Proof that it can be done, that it isn't an unattainable goal. So the risk Enjolras runs is to his immediate life - that the risks are imprisonment or death - but not to his position or even very much to his wealth depending on how that wealth comes to him. If he even bothers to think about it (I think here of Stoppard's characterisation of Bakunin as not realizing that his father's farm is an agricultural business - it's just so easy for rich young men to think that money grows on trees because they've been able to be sheltered from the day-to-day dealings of their fathers).

anyway, this is a v. long way of saying "this is why I think what I have works, if anything can be said to work". And that the question is incredibly complex, this web of family and teachers and what can and cannot be perceived about inequality, and how the family is placed within the social context, how the political situation is framed both by the family and by the larger local society. I've tried to bring a few real people in so that one can see how complicated it is in real life. (also because if you want influences, I think my Bahorel is turning out to have a few Bakunin-like qualities. Although at least my Bahorel understands that his father's farm is a business that one of the boys is going to have to run someday.) I see it as an early interest in political issues (possibly from overheard conversations) compounded by someone pointing out the results of said political issues, and the encouragement of an outside party that such interest is to be applauded and indulged. Combeferre and Enjolras essentially manage to continue egging each other along, in the way I've constructed this. But it's a consideration for every single character, not just Enjolras even if he is the leader. What makes them willing to go to jail, to forfeit their privileges, for the rights of man? It's the part of the character building that is so often either ignored or too heavy-handed in response to how it's usually ignored. But it's also necessary to know the political context and what is actually being fought over. And that's always been pretty fuzzy, too, so of course the motives are fuzzy. (and Enjolras the Marble Lover of Liberty sprung fully formed from Marianne's forehead doesn't help.)
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Aurelia Combeferre
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Re: Meta: Writing Enjolras, especially slash and romance

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Fri Feb 26, 2010 3:00 pm

Yeah that sort of thing with grounded explanations would be good. I could easily read and believe in a characterization of Enjolras that had him learning from someone's example, or because of direct contact with the abased. I'm just tired of seeing all that not-so-nice fic with Enjolras being the idealist just because he is, or because he's pissed off at his parents (WORST explanation as in practice, it does not usually conclude into a willingness to die for Patria).
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Abelarda
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Re: Meta: Writing Enjolras, especially slash and romance

Postby Abelarda » Fri Feb 26, 2010 9:25 pm

Since MmeBahorel has already given a wonderful historical and sociological explanation of possible reasons of Enjolras's decision, I'm just adding some of my observations and notes, which I use to write Enjolras, and because he was always my favourite character right from the start, I tried to make a good, believable psychological background for him (and I'm still not sure if I succeeded).

So, first of all: my vision of Enjolras's personality, which is important as I'm going to speak about his internal motivations. Speaking in terms of the theory of archetypes, I always considered Enjolras as a person having many traits that belong to an archetypical Scorpio. I'm not sure how many of you are familiar with astropsychology and theory of archetypes, so I'll try to explain this in short words: the "bold as fire and cold as ice" part, written by Hugo, is probably one of the best summaries of Scorpio archetype in literature; because, as you can see, as much as he seems reserved and detached, Enjolras actually is emotional, but his emotionality is totally different from what Prouvaire and Grantaire represent. Enjolras's emotionality is hidden and closely guarded, and there are but a few moments in which he's actually showing his feelings (I do believe that his approach to sexuality is caused by the mechanism of repression, and the proverbial Scorpio's sexual energy is being transferred into his political activity). Anyway, if I tried to find a keyword describing Enjolras, it would be the word "intense", followed by some others: "charismatic", "uncompromising", "secretive", and also, quoting Hugo once again, "cold, fanatical and sad" (I could actually write more about Enjolras and Scorpio archetype, but I'm afraid I would drift out of topic again, as I always do). But in my opinion, the most important thing when it comes to understanding his passion for the Revolution is his ability to rebirth.

I don't know if any of you read Przedwiośnie, a novel by Stefan Żeromski (I'm sorry that I'm giving an example from Polish literature, but right now I can't recall any similar example from English or French or any other literature that most of you would be more familiar with). Anyway, the protagonist, Cezary Baryka, represents a Scorpio archetype, too: an intense, passionate loner with the overbearing need for transgression. And as much as he's far more immature than Enjolras, I do see some resemblances between the two of them. Baryka is constantly burning all the bridges behind him, making himself more and more lonely, and in the end, losing everything he ever had. Driven by an inexplicable force (and in my opinion, by the need of rebirth), he steps into the revolutionary demonstration, taking up the flag, and passionately leads the crowd to fight against the government (and then the novel ends). Plus, I heard of exactly the same behavior pattern from one of my friends - it was during the martial law in 1981 in Poland, and it referred to one of his relatives (also having many Scorpio traits), whose wife died not long before the beginning of the martial law and therefore he, having nothing more to lose (at least in his opinion), got involved in political activities with all the passion that he could muster (Scorpio archetype is not used to being passive: he searches for any kind of activity, even using very drastic methods). And it was a long-term passion, not a momentary burst of energy, as Scorpio, one of the fixed signs, is patient and consequent, even to the point of obsession: when he gets engaged in something, he gives his all.

Now, let me come to the conclusion. Archetypical Scorpios are suspected to possess great sources of inner energy that needs to be channelled into any direction, but the direction chosen by them is usually inspired by something that shaked them personally. No, I'm not talking about the naive idealism that is taken from out of nowhere: I'm talking about experiencing an event that would accelerate the process of his inner transgression. And then the personal experiences can be converted into an abstract. I'm almost sure that whatever drove Enjolras to his radical views, it had to have a great impact on him personally, and the political activity proved to be a transgression of some sort, a way to a symbolical rebirth. The key event didn't have to be connected with politics; it was more like something of great importance for him, a tragedy, perhaps; then (possibly) the period of stagnation; and then the long-term passion. My Enjolras starts from the point that Baryka arrived at: at first he joins one of the Parisian manifestations led by his instincts, like Baryka, and later it slowly becomes the very sense of his existence. And the radical part... Scorpio archetype lives by "all or nothing" and it would be a natural archetypical consequence of the mechanisms that I tried to describe in the previous paragraphs.

But it's only my opinion, anyway, and I'm sure that every reader or fanfictionist will find their own answer. :-)
Last edited by Abelarda on Sat Feb 27, 2010 7:38 am, edited 1 time in total.
Tell me, I've still a lot to learn,
Understand, these fires never stop,
Believe me, when this joke is tired of laughing,
I will hear the promise of my Orpheus sing...
(David Sylvian)


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