Meta: Enjolras being fierce

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Savushkin
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Meta: Enjolras being fierce

Postby Savushkin » Thu Oct 28, 2010 8:15 pm

Excuse me if I'm doing it wrong, and also for the title- I couldn't really think of a better one.

Of all the things that I'd love to discuss, this is the most pressing as I just can't understand this aspect of Enjolras' character: I accept that he is obviously ready to kill if he deems it necessary, but where is that line for him? Combeferre's views on the need for revolution are made quite clear, but such clarity isn't really offered up in Enjolras' case- but I think it can be deduced by Hugo saying that Combeferre corrected and completed Enjolras that they may have been somewhat objectionable in some places.
Okay, so the two things that bother me most are: his execution of Le Cubac- how do you think he justified this?, and how would he see the French Revolution? Admittedly I know very, very little about the French Revolution and how it was viewed in the 1830s and I think this would offer a lot of insight into Enjolras' views.
Sorry if this has been done before, but I couldn't find anything.

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Hannah
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Re: Meta: Enjolras being fierce

Postby Hannah » Thu Oct 28, 2010 8:28 pm

TBH I find Combeferre's views more confusing than Enjolras's. Combeferre totes accepts that it's necessary, he gets involved in a violent uprising against the government and has like 32647234 guns at the time, he participates in the fight against the National Guard, but then he objects when Enjolras aims at a certain guy? I never understood what that was about. Enjolras killed people before that and Combeferre watched, accepted, and admired/was in awe of him and his actions. So what is it about seeing Enjolras aim at that particular man that inspires him to tell Enjolras not to fire?

edit: Sorry to somewhat change the subject! I think your original question is totes valid and stuff too, I just think there's other members besides me who are more suited to answering it in detail :D Though you might want to read some stuff about the Frevolution too! I am not an expert but I quite enjoyed Vive La Revolution which is humorous and very much aimed at beginners (like you & me!)

Savushkin
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Re: Meta: Enjolras being fierce

Postby Savushkin » Thu Oct 28, 2010 8:37 pm

I...don't remember that bit at all. Obviously a reread is in order. I think they're both absolutely fascinating and now I want to understand Combeferre, too, because I refuse to accept that Vicky would allow a book that he put so much effort into would have such symbolic characters not make sense.
Otherwise, the bit I forgot aside, I always saw Combeferre as someone who would try to look for an alternative, but as soon as it was necessary would mow down all in The Causes path, hence Ramboferre. But his objection to Enjolras killing someone has really thrown a spanner in the works for me.

ETA: Not at all! I think that's a really valid point and now I want a Combeferre thread because I like understanding the bits that are hard to understand because they excite me. Like, a lot.

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Marianne
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Re: Meta: Enjolras being fierce

Postby Marianne » Thu Oct 28, 2010 8:48 pm

The execution of Le Cabuc, I suspect, has a lot to do with the general narrative of revolutions as bloodbaths, nobody being safe from revolutionary excesses, etc. Enjolras feels the need to combat this mindset, so he holds everyone there to an extremely strict standard of honor. When Le Cabuc breaks that in the most shocking way possible--the cold-blooded murder of a civilian who resisted the looting of his house--Enjolras has to demonstrate that that sort of behavior will not be condoned under any circumstances. Everyone seems to think it's fair enough that Javert has been condemned to death for spying for the police, and Le Cabuc's crime is so much more egregious that Enjolras really has no choice but to execute him on the spot. Anything less would look like tolerance to looters and murderers, which reactionaries would use as fuel for the old revolution-as-lawless-carnage myths.
[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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Hannah
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Re: Meta: Enjolras being fierce

Postby Hannah » Thu Oct 28, 2010 8:50 pm

Well, the stuff about Enjolras is fairly straightforward but you'd want someone who knows more about the specific honor system of the revolution than I do to lay it out for you, I think @__@ BUT he is so blatantly laid out as ~the spirit of the revolution~ that once you understand those principles there's very little extrapolating to do, at least XD

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Marianne
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Re: Meta: Enjolras being fierce

Postby Marianne » Thu Oct 28, 2010 8:57 pm

Well, once you understand Vic's idea of what the principles of an ideal revolution should be. Which is not always in accordance with historical sources. And revolution alone cannot bring about systemic change to the social structures that create oppression etc., which is why Enjolras can be the spirit of the ideal revolution and still be flawed and incomplete. Kind of like how Valjean as M. Madeleine can be the ideal capitalist and still be unable to create lasting change in Montreuil-sur-Mer.
[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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Savushkin
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Re: Meta: Enjolras being fierce

Postby Savushkin » Thu Oct 28, 2010 9:01 pm

Thank you Marianne! That makes a lot of sense and now it's a lot more simple.
As for the Spirit Of The Revolution...it scares me. Probably because I don't understand it. I have a feeling Enjolras was meant to be frightening, but I'd like to know how he justified the Frevolution, which I think demands more understanding of the time period. I think what I can't understand is how the Revolution, from what I've gathered, did have wonderful ideals at it's heart, but went about achieving them in a really animalistic way- which is kind of how I see Enjolras, and I dont see how that isn't contradictory.

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Col.Despard
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Re: Meta: Enjolras being fierce

Postby Col.Despard » Thu Oct 28, 2010 9:27 pm

I think you're right, Savushkin, in that an understanding of both the French Revolution and the Republicanism of the 1820s/30s is essential to understanding Enjolras. It is, however, a really broad topic area and I'm struggling a bit to summarise. Am I correct in assuming you come from an English speaking background? If so, you've probably been exposed to a very specific historiography concerning the Revolution...we often talk about it in terms of "A Tale of Two Cities", i.e. a bloodbath in response to a tyrannical monarchy. But it is far more complex, particularly when you get to the reasons behind the Terror. Enjolras is specifically identified with the spirit of '93 which, for Hugo (as for many historians), is a crucial turning point. Hugo tells us that he is violent in response to a violent situation, and that he never wavers on that point. The Revolution in 1793 faced threats from all sides, internal and external, and the Terror is the response...it cannot be understood without the context of that threat. You could read Hugo's novel, "'93", to give you an idea on how he saw this important period, which in turn will help you to understand why Enjolras is as he is.

The RevolutionFR on livejournal has some wonderful sources for English speakers...there's also George Orwell's essay on "A Tale of Two Cities" and sources like this by Hilary Mantel on Robespierre. I don't always agree with Mantel (e.g. with her views on St-Just), but it is an interesting alternative view of Robespierre, to whom Enjolras is likened: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n08/hilary-man ... green-eyes

What happenes to LeCabuc occurs in the setting of a battle, but it is urban warfare. Not only from an idealogical perspective, but also from a practical standpoint Enjolras *must* preserve discipline. The narrative of the Revolution as an undisciplined bloodbath (with images of the September Massacres, the murderous mobs etc) was well established by 1832 - it is up to Enjolras and his men to counter it. There was a sense of this at some of the other barricades, too - Charles Jeanne insisted on chivalrous behaviour towards civilians at the (real) 1832 barricade of St-Mery's, although he wasn't called upon to execute a murderer.

Anyway, you'll probably enjoy diving into the background...it was actually Hugo likening Enjolras to St-Just and Robespierre that caused me to revisit all the ideas I'd been exposed to growing up from the Dickensian "Pyramid of Heads" school of history about the Revoloution. It's a fascinating subject, and I had to delve into a lot of my own biases and assumptions.

I agree with you, Hannah - I can understand Combeferre's humanitarian impulse in not wanting to kill the artillery officer, but his rationale escapes me. Because he is young, good looking, and might have a fiance? Enjolras, we know, regards everyone as his brother (even if, as is established in the deleted Quarry scene, they are not always his friend), but Combeferre singling out this one man just doesn't work for me. He doesn't really offer an alternative to Enjolras other than "don't shoot". Enjolras doesn't really have an option (if Combeferre gave him one, he'd probably take it) - the canon is a real and immediate threat, so they can either surrender or be destroyed. Having already agreed to the decision of the men to stay at the barricades, Enjolras is buying them as much time as he can.
"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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Savushkin
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Re: Meta: Enjolras being fierce

Postby Savushkin » Thu Oct 28, 2010 9:43 pm

My knowledge of the French Revolution is extremely basic, despite coming from England, as my school decided to take it off the history syllabus the year before I was going to study it, so everything I know Ive found through my own research. I have a whole load of books, 93 and ATOTC included, but I've had a pretty bad year during which I've done very little reading, and i've only started getting much from it in the past month or two, though not nearly at the same rate as I used to.
I think the whole time period is pretty intense. By which I mean extremely intense, and leads to a lot of introspection now because I think it can be quite hard to imagine.

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Marianne
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Re: Meta: Enjolras being fierce

Postby Marianne » Thu Oct 28, 2010 10:00 pm

This is where I'm going to do what I always do and recommend Mark Steel's Vive la Révolution as both a crash course in Revolutionary history and an extremely funny antidote to the Carlyle/Dickens/"mindless bloodbath" school of historiography that's quite common in the English-speaking world. It's a really fast read and it will make you pee your pants laughing.

Steel's views on the Terror can pretty much be summed up as "Of course I am not in favor of killing people, but the historical context here is really important. Condemning Robespierre et al for the Terror without taking context into account is kind of like condemning somebody for cannibalism without looking at the context that he'd just spent two weeks in an open boat in the Pacific."
[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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Re: Meta: Enjolras being fierce

Postby MmeBahorel » Fri Oct 29, 2010 1:28 am

The Combeferre thing I think is more a reminder of the essential humanity of the men on the side of the government in a moment when that would otherwise be completely lost. People on both sides will die, and that is the greatest tragedy, that men must be mown down for the betterment of all other men. Combeferre won't let himself forget that, but he won't let Enjolras forget it either, which is more important. Combeferre is described as completing Enjolras in the humanitarian sense, in the application of the grand abstract philosophy of revolution to the actual salvation of mankind. It's just Hugo illustrating what he said before, but now in the context of the heat of battle. It's to humanise Enjolras, too, because there's a nineteenth century literature emo-tear to accompany the pulling of the trigger. Literary illustration of Combeferre's humanism and its effect on Enjolras.

As for Enjolras, and revolution in general, there are many things one has to keep in mind when coming at it from a 21st century POV and little background in the period. High mortality rates, high levels of starvation among the working class (if bread prices go up too much, eventually you can no longer afford to eat enough at your current rate of pay, and getting a raise in a recession is no picnic today), very obvious differences in appearance between classes and little geographical division between classes (rich and poor often lived in the same buildings, unlike later when the poor were exiled to their own exclusive neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city), and the sheer number of times the government changed hands. The French Revolution worked in overthrowing the King. Structurally, the reason one cannot compare it to the American Revolution is that the American colonies had a long tradition of local elective representative government, while the French state was centralised, it was up to the King to call together a parliament of the three estates, and one had not been called in a very long time. Thus, when the head of state was removed, there wasn't a structure already in place to take over governance. Also, Americans were a lot wealthier and the social structure a lot more flat, so that you didn't have issues over loyalty to crown vs. loyalty to people aligning with economic arguments.

Since you're in the UK, Savushkin, you're probably not getting all the "yay American Revolution" that we of course get over here, but I do wonder if the way the history is taught varies in a similar way. That because the American Revolution was fought army to army, it was legitimate, while the French Revolution involved socioeconomic as well as political questions and the wholesale condemnation of an unproductive class brings up too much Marxism for comfort even now and therefore is still treated very carefully. Plus Napoleon sucked because Wellington ended up kicking his ass, and the whole snobbery of how can a grocer's son set up his entire family as kings across Europe? Since Bonaparte is a direct result of the French Revolution.

While in France in the 1820s, the left was split between liberals who thought the Empire rescued but perverted the Revolution and Bonapartists who thought Bonaparte was the exemplar of the Revolution. A lot of nostalgia almost straight away, since with the economy plunged into the toilet (bad harvests in 1816 and 1817, plus a royal regime that was not so into ostentation depressed the luxury trades in Paris, also too possibly because Italy and Germany and Spain were now open to British goods again), foreign soldiers occupying Paris, the psychological depression of having had to surrender the capital of the nation, it was easy to forget the difficulties of the wars that went on for a generation: the conscription, the deaths, the blockades, the taxation to pay for it all. Hugo's generation watched it all collapse as they were coming to adulthood, and there seemed to be nothing for anyone in the Restoration, as all greatness had ended with Bonaparte and the King was pushed around by ultraroyalists who somehow thought they could clamp down on everything and it would return to the old regime, the revolutionary genie back in the bottle and bonapartists to whom he had promised to be fair.

When people die all the time, and Bonaparte's armies are still looked at as heroes, it's a lot easier to consider dying for something rather than just dying anonymously. And since it had been proved that kings can be overthrown, the revolution simply needs some fine tuning based on the lessons learned from the Terror. Which is how we get to 1830. Where everyone on the left got screwed. They retrenched and tried again in 1831. Didn't help. But, in 1832, we get the cholera in Paris, which is a brand new disease that kills people grotesquely and without warning and no one knows how it spreads and it's killing more poor people than rich people. Wouldn't you rather try to overthrow the government who is doing nothing in the face of this brutal disease than wait around to die from it yourself? Also, apparently (if I believe Graham Robb), there were legitimists involved, too, who hoped to topple Louis Philippe and restore Charles X or his grandson to the throne. Like 1830, it was a coalition of groups with disparate political aims who could all agree that Louis Philippe needed to go.

That's, very briefly sketched, much of the context that led up to 5 June 1832.
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Aurelia Combeferre
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Re: Meta: Enjolras being fierce

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Fri Oct 29, 2010 4:25 am

Coming from a country with a very controversial history of revolution (we Filipinos are still struggling to come up with a good narrative of 1896 AND 1986...), and a family that has dealt with accusations of being "radical", "irresponsible" or whatever else thanks to political activities, I think I can somehow understand how Enjolras' fierceness can be coupled with humanity: the tear and the sending away the men with dependents, vis-a-vis the Le Cabuc incident.

One thing that comes up in revolutions (it comes up in 1793, 1896, and even in more recent uprisings) is that both sides are aware that it's their fellows/brothers who they're fighting and killing. Enjolras is quite similar to other revolutionary leaders in his awareness and abhorrence of the fact. He's not proud of killing Le Cabuc, or of shooting the artillery seargent. Yet he knows that it has to be done because they are there. At the given point in time, lines are drawn: men risk being shot by either throwing their lot in with the insurgents or the National Guard. By going into battle on either side, it is a given that lives will be risked, and inevitably people will be sorry for it. Usually the question is of survival, whether it's personal survival or simply maximizing the chances of people who are on your side. That's one way to look at Robespierre, and even of the people who followed him. It is only when the gunfire dies down that people can actually focus on what was really risked, and how to "compensate" or repair the damage. '

The only real "safe" route is non-participation, but that's another story altogether. This is something that becomes clearer usually in the aftermath of revolution. The truth is, we are lucky to be living in our times today: it is not completely necessary for the young and idealistic to risk building a barricade in order to promote change or a set of beliefs. This was the 19th century that Hugo wrote about: there were few ways to be heard, or to make change last. Class structures were more rigid and the definitions of rights and just war were still being argued. To our 21st century eyes, their actions look quite backward and animalistic at times, indeed.
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Savushkin
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Re: Meta: Enjolras being fierce

Postby Savushkin » Sat Oct 30, 2010 8:02 pm

Thank you for the recommendation, Marianne. I'll add that to my Christmas list. As for now, I've decided to jump into the deep end by reading a biography of Robespierre. Probably not a wise decision, but I'll see how it goes.
I think part of my problem with the Frevolution is that I was approaching it from a modern angle of knowing that it failed, and that I really don't know what it was like because the idea of people starving is really alien (not to say that I don't know it goes on, just that I don't see it first hand on a day to day basis), and I really need to shake that off in order to really understand it all. Basically reiterating what you just said, Aurelia.

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MmeBahorel
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Re: Meta: Enjolras being fierce

Postby MmeBahorel » Sun Oct 31, 2010 1:32 am

But it didn't fail. Louis XVI was gone. His brothers who succeeded him many years later had to contend with an elected legislature and public opinion. The legal code was entirely re-written according to revolutionary precepts and that code was maintained throughout the Restoration.

What was the purpose of the Revolution? To remove king, church, and aristocracy from the top of the heap and permit the voice of the people in the direction of government? That absolutely happened. That was never undone by the Restoration, even with the Chamber of Peers, because there remained the Chamber of Deputies. The Restoration structures were a compromise - one has to remember that prior to 1789, no matter how rich you were, how much industry you controlled, you had no more say in government than the unemployed beggar you passed in the street. The Church never returned to the supremacy it had prior to 1789 - Bonaparte forced Rome into an agreement whereby he would sign off on all bishop appointments himself. The Church was subordinated to the state and it never fully came back, even though a lot of people tried really hard to restore it.

The French Revolution was not the success it could have been (again, I wonder if it keeps getting compared to its wholly successful predecessor in America - though even that sort of ignores that Britain didn't fully understand what had happened until the War of 1812), but that doesn't mean it was a failure. The French Revolution was not just the Terror, after all.
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: Enjolras being fierce

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Sun Oct 31, 2010 8:01 am

The impact of the French Revolution is best looked at as the precursor/beginning to a whole series of events, shifts in outlook, and advances that were not just felt in France, but in other countries. The very *concept* of doing away with a monarchy structure in favor of a Republic was almost inconceivable until 1789.

Back to the topic: this thread reminds me about a discussion that a friend and I had about Enjolras' fierceness, and what place would such a trait have in a society like the Philippines (political situation bears strong parallelisms to the 1830s because of the presence of leaders who were installed after a popular uprising, but did not follow through with their promises). My friend insisted that he could not possibly look up to Enjolras simply because "now is not the time for barricades". I countered with the fact that maybe our times don't require such violent activity, but they require the same depth of conviction.

Many of the issues that were present in the Revolution are still around today, but being fought on different fronts. It is difficult to understand the spirit of 1793 or even of the 1830s because those were times when structures were only beginning to shift or establish themselves. It was necessary in those days to use force to prop up and ensure the survival of new systems of governance. Which, I suspect, Enjolras would have seen as well; if he and his companions were to be part of whatever change there would be in the system, there would come a time when they would have to fight tooth and nail for it. The difference was that they had learned from the Terror, how to avoid its excesses and hopefully at the same time avoid compromising their principles.
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