meta: the ladies

Meta related to characters, plots, or other elements introduced by Victor Hugo in Les Misérables.
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silverwhistle
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Re: meta: the ladies/parenthood

Postby silverwhistle » Wed Aug 04, 2010 1:13 pm

A few thoughts here, entering via NDdP:
Marianne wrote:The Eye of the Storm: The entire plot moves around her, she's the main motivation for most of the other characters, she provides them with an excuse to do really interesting stuff and occasionally kill each other over her... and yet she is a blank slate. Very little personality. Examples: Cosette, Esmeralda, Doña Sol (to some extent)

La Esméralda/Agnès is a bit more problematic than a blank slate. On one level, she's hard to believe: could a girl raised among 15C gypsies and cut-throats have reached 16 that naïve and un-streetwise in many respects?* She's almost 16 at the start of the novel, but gypsies tended to marry at puberty, and some respectable women were running households by that age. (12 was the canonical age for adulthood/minimum for marriage for girls, 15 for boys.) Imagine a mediæval Éponine in the role – never mind Merimée's Carmen!

She's not entirely passive, either. Indeed, a lot of the plot happens because of things she does: her spontaneous kindness in giving Quasimodo water (a casual kindness, balanced by her casual cruelty/thoughtlessness at other times); her going off (without telling Pierre or her other friends) to meet Phœbus. (Again, you have to wonder at her thinking it was to be a 'meaningful relationship', given he'd picked a sleazy 'house of assignation' for a first date!) There's also the fact that the final tragedy (resulting in 4 deaths, including her own) is triggered by her calling "Phœbus!" when her mother was hiding her. There are numerous points when her active decisions determine what happens next, numerous possible get-outs, but she makes wrong decisions. (A more streetwise girl might have used Claude to get her out of prison – he'd be easy to string along on promises – and knifed him once they'd got around the corner!) Although some of the men see her as a romantic ideal, what we have is really a rather shallow, dim girl whose beauty makes people see her as more than what she is. A key point symbolically is the 'emerald' that gives her her name: it's nothing more than a green glass bead. She's not the Tabula Smaragdina incarnate; she's not even a real gypsy. Lives and worlds are put to ruin – not for a new Helen of Troy, but for a whore's daughter from Reims. It's the difference betwen semblance and reality, and that's part of the tragedy. To tweak the L'Oréal slogan: "Because she's not worth it."

Mothers and fathers:
Yes, there's some fascinating stuff going on here in Les Mis and NDdP at least, with whorish mothers and virgin fathers: it's a different slant on his Madonna/Whore complex! Does anyone know more detail about Victor's own parents?

Pâquette is interesting in that, unlike Fantine, one gets the impression she actually enjoyed her work until she was forced to go downmarket, and she only sees it as a sin that merits penance because she loses her daughter, which she probably sees as a divine punishment.

It's interesting that Victor has a strong belief in the parenting abilities of single men. In NDdP, I think there's a case to make that Claude's struggle with his sexuality hits when it does because of "empty nest syndrome". He first became a 'father' at about 19, when his parents died (Aug-Sept 1466) and he was left with Jehan (who, at least, could be shared with the miller's family for wet-nursing), and several months later (April 1467), adopts Quasimodo, who is already about 4-and-a-half, physically disabled and seems to have some learning/developmental disabilities also. Around 1475, he has to teach Quasimodo a sign-language of his own invention because he has gone deaf, and also takes on Pierre (a bright but illiterate 16-year-old war orphan) as a pupil. When we catch up with him in January 1482, Pierre has flown the nest, Jehan is a student who only shows up when he needs money, and Quasimodo, while still dependent, is a boy of 19, no longer a child. And it becomes clear that for at least the last 6 months (since he saw Esméralda) Claude is cracking up. He no longer has the other 'safe' outlets for his ability to love.

*This sometimes happens in 19C fiction because of the notion that the young female lead must be 'innocent', regardless of her background. Tess Durbeyfield is another example, although Hardy does slyly poke fun at the conventions that forced him to make her more naïve than she should be. It's the indirect censorship of publishing and distribution at the time. It just makes characters look hopelessly gormless.
Last edited by silverwhistle on Wed Aug 04, 2010 2:36 pm, edited 2 times in total.
- Entends-tu? je t'aime! cria-t-il encore.
- Quel amour! dit la malheureuse en frémissant.
Il reprit: - L'amour d'un damné.

Victor Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris

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Re: "yeux comme une tireuse des cartes"

Postby silverwhistle » Wed Aug 04, 2010 1:45 pm

MmeBahorel wrote:Is "yeux comme une tireuse des cartes" a common phrase for that period that ought to have some sort of meaning?

Well, literally, it's someone who draws cards from a pack: but is it just for fortune-telling or is it also for gambling? I do wonder, given the milieu, if there might be a nuance of it that's more like 'card-dealer' or even 'card-sharp'? A girl with the keen eyes of a card-sharp would also make sense.
Last edited by silverwhistle on Wed Aug 04, 2010 1:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
- Entends-tu? je t'aime! cria-t-il encore.
- Quel amour! dit la malheureuse en frémissant.
Il reprit: - L'amour d'un damné.

Victor Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris

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Re: Cosette's psychology

Postby silverwhistle » Wed Aug 04, 2010 1:50 pm

Elwen Rhiannon wrote:That's only my interpretation of the character, but I see the ability you talk about as Cosette's self-defence psychical mechanism. Think about her as a small child: no family, probably no steady home, no father, mother abandoning her in the first (most important!) years of the girl's life with unknown people and neither explanation nor preparation (for a reason, but that's what we know; I do sympathize with Fantine, but let's look at the situation through little Cosette's eyes), abused by Thenardiers, not cared about by anyone, than taken by a strange man and accepting it with no question as she accepted the beatings. Why? Because it has to be like that. Scary and tragic.
Her cheerfulness may be another subconscious defence mechanism: I'm cheerful, I'm happy, cheerful people are liked, you like me too, don't hurt me, don't abandon me, I'm as cheerful and acceptable as I can be.

I think you're right here. The eagerness to please, the need for acceptance: I've seen it in people who have had difficult backgrounds. They are afraid of alienating others, and try to be all things to all people because being liked matters so much. It does make one wonder how she would develop in the long-term.
- Entends-tu? je t'aime! cria-t-il encore.
- Quel amour! dit la malheureuse en frémissant.
Il reprit: - L'amour d'un damné.

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Re: meta: the ladies

Postby MmeBahorel » Wed Aug 04, 2010 4:14 pm

Mostly my question is "What the hell does 'eyes like a fortune-teller' mean?" Because it tends to get conflated, at least in American fandom, with gypsies, while well-known fortune tellers in 19th c. France were French. And therefore we keep getting gypsy Musichetta, which drives me up a wall, but I don't know what the phrase actually means. Is it a physical description that makes little sense if one doesn't know the definition, like "lantern-jawed" or one of those crazy names for colours that make no sense (if you only know "Magenta" as a battle, why would it make any sense that the colour be bright pink rather than a deep red?). Or is it just a simile like it sounds, that Musichetta has deep eyes or piercing eyes? Basically, is it a real phrase with a different meaning than the obvious? Or, how would a nineteenth century French reader interpret the phrase? It's one of the few things we know about the girl, and we don't really even know that about the girl. Yes, she's a detail, but she's an interesting detail to play with.
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Re: meta: the ladies

Postby silverwhistle » Wed Aug 04, 2010 5:17 pm

MmeBahorel wrote:Mostly my question is "What the hell does 'eyes like a fortune-teller' mean?" Because it tends to get conflated, at least in American fandom, with gypsies, while well-known fortune tellers in 19th c. France were French. And therefore we keep getting gypsy Musichetta, which drives me up a wall, but I don't know what the phrase actually means. Is it a physical description that makes little sense if one doesn't know the definition, like "lantern-jawed" or one of those crazy names for colours that make no sense (if you only know "Magenta" as a battle, why would it make any sense that the colour be bright pink rather than a deep red?). Or is it just a simile like it sounds, that Musichetta has deep eyes or piercing eyes? Basically, is it a real phrase with a different meaning than the obvious? Or, how would a nineteenth century French reader interpret the phrase? It's one of the few things we know about the girl, and we don't really even know that about the girl. Yes, she's a detail, but she's an interesting detail to play with.

I'd take it to mean a quick, sharp eye for details… Remembering that card-reading is essentially the art of "cold reading" people, it suggests to me a girl who is very quick and good at reading people.
- Entends-tu? je t'aime! cria-t-il encore.
- Quel amour! dit la malheureuse en frémissant.
Il reprit: - L'amour d'un damné.

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Re: meta: the ladies

Postby Marianne » Wed Aug 04, 2010 7:05 pm

Yes, but consider that "des yeux comme une tireuse de cartes" wasn't an omniscient-narrator description but a bit of dialogue in the mouth of the guy who's got designs on her. So for want of any other explanation, I'm guessing he meant "knowing" and slightly mysterious. If it's being used as a figure of speech, it probably means the air the fortune-teller wants to convey, not the cold hard details of how she works.
[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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Re: meta: the ladies

Postby Roses for Ophelia » Wed Aug 04, 2010 7:15 pm

You know what had always bothered me about Cosette? The fact that she speant the first eight years of her life in such a horrible situation, and has NO memories of it besides some sort of shadow. She never speaks of it, never thinks of it, i suppose you could say she repressed memories, but i doubt it's exactly easy to completly forget the first EIGHT years of your life! Cosette's probably got some seriouis problems under the surface, despite her normal girl exterior, and no one ever thinks about that! Even Hugo sort of hand-waves it away by saying she was so happy she forgot her misery. In fic and even in the Brick itself, Little Cosette and Cosette sometimes seem to be two different people.
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Re: meta: the ladies

Postby hazellwood » Wed Aug 04, 2010 7:28 pm

You'd be surprised how well people can repress memories. I knew a girl who had been sexually abused for the first ten years of her childhood, and she remembered next to nothing about those years of her life. (Since then she's gone through therapy and is doing well, from what I hear.) People can do surprising things to block out memories of certain situations. Cosette's situation is a tricky one, though, I agree with you, and I think there is a possibility of somewhat of a Stepford Smiler complex there.

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Re: meta: the ladies

Postby silverwhistle » Wed Aug 04, 2010 7:35 pm

Roses for Ophelia wrote:You know what had always bothered me about Cosette? The fact that she speant the first eight years of her life in such a horrible situation, and has NO memories of it besides some sort of shadow. She never speaks of it, never thinks of it, i suppose you could say she repressed memories, but i doubt it's exactly easy to completly forget the first EIGHT years of your life! Cosette's probably got some seriouis problems under the surface, despite her normal girl exterior, and no one ever thinks about that! Even Hugo sort of hand-waves it away by saying she was so happy she forgot her misery. In fic and even in the Brick itself, Little Cosette and Cosette sometimes seem to be two different people.

It's suppressed, yes. She's blocked it as a protective mechanism. One just wonders what might come out if she had any life-problems later?
- Entends-tu? je t'aime! cria-t-il encore.
- Quel amour! dit la malheureuse en frémissant.
Il reprit: - L'amour d'un damné.

Victor Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris

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Aurelia Combeferre
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Re: meta: the ladies

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Thu Aug 05, 2010 6:43 am

Actually the minor sign of trouble I spotted with Cosette as a teenager was how overly solicitous she was towards Marius, M. Gillenormand and Valjean. She struck me as too eager to please, especially in her interactions with Marius. I suppose this could arise from some of the things that happened in her past.

Not to say that she is incapable of having her own will. Cosette *does* prove (even in passing) that she can be defiant when she really wants to be: she does protest when Valjean wants to move out of the Rue Plumet, and she even contests Marius' idea of sending her out of the room while he and Valjean talk. However for the most part, it seems to suit her to accede to everything, for the sake of avoiding conflict.

Also, I think Hugo may have wanted to underscore that some of Fantine's inherent virtue and character might have been passed on to Cosette, thus giving her the means to see through everything with a sunny outlook. Did he say something about mother-daughter characteristics in the book?
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Re:

Postby LadyEponine » Thu May 23, 2013 6:27 pm

Marianne wrote:...well. I know Musichetta is practically a blank slate, but I wouldn't mind seeing fic authors incorporate a little bit of what we do know about her:

"Yes. Ah! my poor Bahorel, she is a superb girl, very literary, with tiny feet, little hands, she dresses well, and is white and dimpled, with the eyes of a fortune-teller. I am wild over her."

Heh.


I'm so glad you posted that quote because it literally sparked a lot of inspiration for my Joly x Musichetta fic!
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Re: meta: the ladies

Postby Morgan » Sat Jun 29, 2013 3:20 pm

(Sorry, I know what I'm replying to is super old, but...)

Marianne wrote:the takeaway message is that a mother is always a mother and nothing else, and a father can channel all his affection into the parental bond to become father, mother, sibling, friend, teacher, etc. to the child he's raising. Examples: Valjean, Cimourdain, Claude Frollo, Triboulet)


I think what's interesting from what I've read (only Les Mis and Quatrevingt-treize so far) is that also neither Cimourdain nor Valjean is the biological father of the child he's raising.

The fact that Michelle and Fantine would move heaven and earth for their children has a lot to do with the fact that they gave birth to them and that they breastfed them. Hugo portrays this really intense maternal love as very much tied to giving birth (as well as giving birth as the natural function of a woman).
Valjean and Cimourdain are fathers by voluntary adoption: the only way they aren't fathers to Cosette and Gauvain is biologically. The love they have for the children they raise can't be treated as if it's part of the reproductive process the way Michelle's and Fantine's can, and in fact is explicitly set apart from it by the fact that they have not reproduced at all and are both old virgin types. (And judging from what little I know of Notre Dame, the same would apply to Frollo?)

I think that's definitely something that's worth adding into the equation, because at least in the instances I'm familiar with it's not simply mothers vs. fathers, it's biological mothers vs. adoptive fathers. It pushes motherly love as a natural instinct directed towards your own flesh and blood, and fatherly love as something less automatic/organic.
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Re: meta: the ladies

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Sat Jun 29, 2013 3:22 pm

And what of his perspective on adoptive motherhood---specifically Mme. Thenardier vis a vis Magnon?
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Re: meta: the ladies

Postby between4walls » Mon Jul 01, 2013 9:16 pm

Morgan wrote:The fact that Michelle and Fantine would move heaven and earth for their children has a lot to do with the fact that they gave birth to them and that they breastfed them. Hugo portrays this really intense maternal love as very much tied to giving birth (as well as giving birth as the natural function of a woman)....
I think that's definitely something that's worth adding into the equation, because at least in the instances I'm familiar with it's not simply mothers vs. fathers, it's biological mothers vs. adoptive fathers. It pushes motherly love as a natural instinct directed towards your own flesh and blood, and fatherly love as something less automatic/organic.


The, for want of a better word, more corporeal nature of the mothers links to something I was mentioning to Aurelia earlier. Hugo doesn't so much have a Madonna/whore complex as a Madonna-whore complex- all the loving mothers prostitute themselves at some point- Paquette in Notre Dame (though in her case, not for love of the child, but prior to becoming a mother), Fantine obviously, and Michelle sells herself in exchange for food and directions on the road to find the kids.

Mme Thenardier notably has the natural instinct for some of her kids and not for others, despite giving birth to all of them.

In none of these cases is the biological father much involved in the kids' lives. In Gauvain's case, his biological father-figure (not a father, but a male blood relative) doesn't feel a strong connection to him, but Gauvain does come to feel a connection to his relative.

Cosette is an interesting case because she experiences both types of love, from the biological mother and the adoptive father, but with only the briefest overlap between them. The all-consuming love doesn't occur when there are two active parents.
Here day embraces night, and says: I will die with you and you will be reborn with me. From the heavy embrace of all desolations springs faith.

The real name of devotion is disinterestedness.

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Re: meta: the ladies

Postby between4walls » Mon Jul 01, 2013 9:28 pm

Re: Musichetta, do any fics deal with her name/more likely, nickname? It's an Italian word, not an actual name, meaning, as far as I can tell with my bad Italian, an easy tune, like background music or a jingle rather than serious music. (I need to check the nuances, but that seems to be the jist of it). It's pronounced "musiketta."

So, what's up with her and how did she come to be called that?
Here day embraces night, and says: I will die with you and you will be reborn with me. From the heavy embrace of all desolations springs faith.

The real name of devotion is disinterestedness.


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