Thenardier as Napoleon III

Meta related to characters, plots, or other elements introduced by Victor Hugo in Les Misérables.
User avatar
between4walls
Posts: 471
Joined: Wed Apr 13, 2011 8:50 pm
Contact:

Thenardier as Napoleon III

Postby between4walls » Sat Jul 06, 2013 10:13 pm

So, we're all aware of how Hugo wrote the book in exile from Napoleon III and how parts of the book are coded against him. It occurs to me, and someone has probably had this idea already, that Thenardier represents Napoleon III-as-seen-by-Hugo.

1) He trades on the glory of the original Napoleon (calling his inn The Sergeant of Waterloo and spreading stories of his heroism) despite not having been part of the original wars (Napoleon III because he was a kid, Thenardier because he was looting). In this context, the poor painting of the inn-sign symbolizes the poor knock-off of the original that Louis-Napoleon was. Thenardier attempts to force Valjean to buy his painting as a prelude to robbing him. Louis-Napoleon convinced people to vote him in, and later forced his dictatorship on them, for his own benefit. He uses a knock-off replica of his uncle's prestige to do so.

2) Marius, the naive kid of a Bonapartist general, winds up enabling Thenardier due to mistaken ideas about both the original Napoleon and Thenardier's relation to him. a) Marius naively idolizes everything to do with the Napoleonic wars due to his father; at the very end he tells Thenardier, "Waterloo protects you!" b) He mistakenly sees Thenardier as a war hero of the Napoleonic era, which he isn't. And the very fact that there was looting going on at that great battle casts into doubt the romanticization of Napoleon and his wars.
Victor Hugo was the son of a Bonapartist general and gave Marius many similarities to himself. He too was taken in both by the original Napoleonic glory and (at first) by the knock-off glory of his successor.
Marius inadvertently helps Thenardier become a slave-trader. Hugo, by helping Louis-Napoleon get elected, inadvertently helped him become dictator.

3) Thenardier gets the "best" ending, in a worldly sense, but at the expense of others' freedom, as a slave-trader. Napoleon III was still in power when Hugo wrote Les Misérables, so as of then Napoleon III had got a happy ending at the expense of France's freedom. Valjean, the hero, isolates himself; Hugo was in exile.
At the time the book was written, the American Civil War raged and Napoleon III favored the Confederacy.

4) Napoleon III, before coming to power, had a bad reputation as an adventurer and schemer and was jailed under Louis-Philippe but escaped from prison. Thenardier likewise has a bunch of cronies to scheme with and escapes from jail.

5) The Thenardiers are the only "intact" nuclear family in the book, with Mme Thenardier believing in small-r romantic cliches while acting horribly. Napoleon III married Eugenie for love. Eugenie could also be considered somewhat intellectually limited in her conservatism and religiosity (matter of interpretation, but I think Hugo would have thought so). "These beings belonged to that bastard class composed of coarse people who have been successful, and of intelligent people who have descended in the scale..." They had risen from no power to Emperor and Empress, but had also "fallen" from the "proper" aristocracy in Eugenie's case and the original Napoleon in Napoleon III's case.

6) Napoleon III's parents were King and Queen of Holland under Napoleon. Thenardier "we believe had studied in Holland to be an inkeeper." Napoleon III spent a lot of time outside France, to the point where he had a German accent. Thenardier's nationality is ambiguous; he is "some Fleming from Lille, in Flanders, a Frenchman in Paris, a Belgian at Brussels, being comfortably astride of both Frontiers.

7) Napoleon III portrayed himself as socially and economically progressive, borrowing from socialism. He also longed for respectability.
Thenardier misuses progressive ideas to try to justify his attack on Jean Valjean. "It's three days since I have had anything to eat, so I'm a villain! Ah! you folks warm your feet, you have Sakoski boots, you have wadded great-coats, like archbishops, you lodge on the first floor in houses that have porters, you eat truffles, you eat asparagus at forty francs the bunch in the month of January, and green peas, you gorge yourselves, and when you want to know whether it is cold, you look in the papers to see what the engineer Chevalier's thermometer says about it. We, it is we who are thermometers. We don't need to go out and look on the quay at the corner of the Tour de l'Horologe, to find out the number of degrees of cold; we feel our blood congealing in our veins, and the ice forming round our hearts, and we say: `There is no God!' And you come to our caverns, yes our caverns, for the purpose of calling us villains! But we'll devour you!"
But he immediately reasserts his respectability. " I have been a solid man, I have held a license, I have been an elector, I am a bourgeois, that I am! And it's quite possible that you are not!"

8. ) Here's where I need more information/other ideas because I'm not at all sure of this one- Thenardier, despite his villainy, is responsible for "saving the day" unintentionally on various occasions. Napoleon III caused Hugo to finally rewrite/finish Les Miserables- he was in exile because of him, the old Paris portrayed in Les Misérables was being demolished. He also pushed along Hugo's political evolution and gave him a role, as it were, as an exile and dissident.

Two linked points:

1) How much of this stuff is in the drafts that were written before Napoleon III was even a likely prospect? How much am I reading stuff in that was already there prior to Napoleon III, and did Hugo deepen the parallels in his final draft?

2) Does the focus on Waterloo portend a downfall for Napoleon III as well? Hugo would hardly say of him "He annoyed God," but if real-but-flawed greatness must fall, then so must its knock-off copy.
Last edited by between4walls on Sat Jul 06, 2013 10:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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.

User avatar
Acaila
Posts: 9986
Joined: Tue Jun 30, 2009 12:44 am
Location: Scotland

Re: Thenardier as Napoleon III

Postby Acaila » Sat Jul 06, 2013 10:30 pm

Ooooh....:shock:
I've never heard of this idea before! I'll admit that I don't know an awful lot about Napoleon III, but I think there are certainly the roots of a valid interpretation in this. Particularly in the earlier points. It would be very interesting to find out about at what point some of these ideas started to make it into the drafts actually!
Revolution: like Christmas come early only with more death
Abaisse Chief/Chef
"Les Amis Fun Package - The Awesome Traits of Each"
"She's basically Enjolras meets Amy Pond"
Sings Stars "way better than Russel Crowe"

User avatar
YoungStudentMarius
Posts: 8158
Joined: Mon Jul 16, 2012 2:43 am
Location: In the library

Re: Thenardier as Napoleon III

Postby YoungStudentMarius » Sat Jul 06, 2013 10:53 pm

My goodness, this is interesting. :shock: I can't say I know too much about it, either, but this is a ridiculously intriguing possibility. I particularly like the physical symbol of the Sergeant of Waterloo sign, especially because Thenardier continued to carry it around with him even after he'd abandoned the inn. That's also a really interesting point, about Holland. I wouldn't have known. But it would seem to be just like Hugo to include so many subtle things like that to accuse through a character, and I'm really curious about those drafts, now, too. Just another reason I want to get my french good enough someday to be able to read them. Thanks for the idea, here, between4walls!
Our chimeras are the things which most resemble us. Each of us dreams of the unknown and the impossible in accordance with his nature.

User avatar
MmeBahorel
Posts: 1773
Joined: Mon Jun 22, 2009 3:12 am
Location: Washington, DC
Contact:

Re: Thenardier as Napoleon III

Postby MmeBahorel » Sun Jul 07, 2013 12:06 am

Going off the Chronology, these are the Thenardier-involving chapters that have portions done during exile while taking part in the pre-exile narrative (which ends with Gavroche profound calculator of distances):
Part I
Book 4, chapters 1 and 2 are from exile, chapter 3 has edits in exile. (first two chapters are an expansion of a page from before exile; chapter 3 has several edits, including the entire paragraph on how important it is being 5 years old)

Part II
All of Waterloo, including the final chapter
Book 3, chapter 1 has edits (dialogue from customers), chapter 2 is wholly exile, chapter 3 has edits (first 3 paragraphs are post-exile), chapters 5 (the long description of the forest as apocalypse), 6 (a couple sentences description of the former preceptor and the paragraphs about telling time by the king), 7 (adds Cosette's line "I don't think I ever had one" [a mother]), 8 (Mme T consults her husband with a look, but dialogue pre-existing, Cosette was nearly 8 but barely looked 6, the paragraph on Cosette's fear coming over her again, last sentence in the paragraph where Cosette jumps back in her hole after Valjean "finds" the lost money), 9 (next to last paragraph added)
Part III
Book 8, chapter 1 has edits (but it's all Marius and M. Leblanc), chapter 4 (heavily worked, no details), 5 (paragraphs 4-6 added which are all about Éponine, 6 (adds paragraph after list of battles, adds paragraph that ends with inscription from Ducray-Duminil, adds the line about the probable volume of the same novel on the floor, adds last two paragraphs of Azelma description, adds from "the man grumbled" to the end of the chapter), chapter 9 (adds first paragraph, adds into Thenardier's rant about the girls from "they have a father" to "do you know what's going to happen tomorrow"), 10 (work on the "Marius fails to hail a cab" section), chapter 14 (adds from "we must have a little Patron-Minette over there" to "I know the wreck"), chapter 16 (adds the verse Éponine sings), 17 (adds the paragraph on the stove giving off no odor and the one on the breath of air dissipating the scent of the stove), chapter 19 (adds the paragraph of Thenardier getting up to get his tavern sign but that takes the place of a previous description of the sign) 20 (general edits to first paragraph, adds the five lines of dialogue about Parnasse's whereabouts, adds "the painting you just saw, which could have been by David" up to "let's finish" in the same paragraph, adds the paragraphs "The master's painting" and the following one of Marius able to see it, adds paragraph on "One of the 'smokers'", adds paragraph "it was evidently an inaccessible soul in astonishment", adds paragraph "It was evident Thenardier avoided naming the girl", adds the two sentences beginning "the hideous and delicate products" and ending with "Villon"), 21 (adds from "The six captured bandits" to "and no one leave!"), 22 (adds "The old woman, stifled with indignation" to Gav's statement that her sort of beauty doesn't appeal to him, edits Gav's song, general edits from "came clamouring after him" to end of chapter).
Part IV
Book 6, chapter 1 is exile, chapters 2 (Gav had originally been pulled in by Claquesous rather than Parnasse, the rest of this chapter is Gav, Parnasse and momes, no Thenardier references), 3 (changes some bandit names around and adds Parnasse, adds the descriptive paragraph on Brujon, adds the paragraph "One cannot always account for the wonders of escape".)
Book 8, chapter 4 is the key one, it has edits (bandit names changed, adds Éponine's full dialogue lines starting "I only have to shout", adds from "While leaving, Montparnasse murmured" to Thenardier's reply "Pardi") (the other chapters are just Marius and Cosette)

The little boys don't become Gav's brothers/Thenardier's sons until 1860, thus the addition of that chapter during the exile period, but they were pre-existing characters. In essence, these existing unfortunate children were assigned to Thenardier in 1860.

But as you can see from these edits in the chronology, Thenardier's actions were fully formed by February 1848. Edits to the chapters in which he takes part don't affect him. The important bits are the descriptions added during exile, so that would be where you'd want to concentrate if looking for clues as to where Hugo might have developed something of this nature after realising Thenardier was the character on which he could do this. But definitely beware of where you pull your evidence, since the stuff Thenardier does, rather than the stuff about him, is pre-exile.
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

User avatar
between4walls
Posts: 471
Joined: Wed Apr 13, 2011 8:50 pm
Contact:

Re: Thenardier as Napoleon III

Postby between4walls » Sun Jul 07, 2013 12:29 am

Thank you very much! This is extremely helpful. Where are you getting the chronology from? Is it at GroupeHugo with the drafts? Or is there another site with the drafts?

Waterloo, I.4.i-ii, II.3.ii, and the changes to III.8.19-20 look interesting; I will definitely sit down and go through the edits properly when I have time (alas for schoolwork).

The Holland reference and the Flemish/French/Belgian confusion was added in exile, then.

And the slavetrader ending is definitely exile (and topical) then, though he may have had the idea for it before.

It looks like Katherine Grossman looked at this in "Les Misérables: conversion, revolution, transcendence," but it doesn't have a preview, grr.
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.

User avatar
MmeBahorel
Posts: 1773
Joined: Mon Jun 22, 2009 3:12 am
Location: Washington, DC
Contact:

Re: Thenardier as Napoleon III

Postby MmeBahorel » Sun Jul 07, 2013 3:45 am

It's the one Guy Rosa put together, based on work done by R. Journet and G. Robert in "Manuscrit des Misérables" I have it in the back of my French copy.
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

humanracer
Posts: 322
Joined: Mon Apr 29, 2013 10:02 pm

Re: Thenardier as Napoleon III

Postby humanracer » Sun Jul 07, 2013 10:57 pm

This book might be of interest
books.google.co.uk/books/about/Victor_Hugo_in_Exile.html?id=CFhNYAm_aJgC&redir_esc=y

humanracer
Posts: 322
Joined: Mon Apr 29, 2013 10:02 pm

Re: Thenardier as Napoleon III

Postby humanracer » Sun Jul 07, 2013 11:01 pm

MmeBahorel wrote:It's the one Guy Rosa put together, based on work done by R. Journet and G. Robert in "Manuscrit des Misérables" I have it in the back of my French copy.


I really wish there was a proper annotated English translation.

User avatar
Marianne
Posts: 1724
Joined: Sun Jul 30, 2006 2:20 pm
Location: Paris
Contact:

Re: Thenardier as Napoleon III

Postby Marianne » Sun Jul 07, 2013 11:22 pm

Oh man, this is great. Hugo's hateboner for the Second Empire strikes again.

It's been remarked before that the Thénardiers are the only intact nuclear family in the novel, and it might have to do with wider social and legal trends over the course of the July Monarchy and Second Empire that consolidated the bourgeois conception of family as the only legitimate or respectable one. Adoption, in particular, was legally next to impossible, which I think a lot of people don't realize and which is probably important background information in Hugo, considering how prominently adoptive relationships feature in his 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.
- George Sand, Les sept cordes de la lyre

User avatar
Aurelia Combeferre
Posts: 8847
Joined: Mon Nov 13, 2006 9:57 am
Location: somewhere with the abased
Contact:

Re: Thenardier as Napoleon III

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Mon Jul 08, 2013 11:58 am

This blew my mind.

And did Hugo mean anything by making Thenardier's ultimate fate a life in the slave trade? Sounds like something more than a simple backhanded insult/allusion.
"...all aptitudes having equal opportunity; politically, all votes having equal weight; religiously, all consciences having equal rights."

User avatar
Acaila
Posts: 9986
Joined: Tue Jun 30, 2009 12:44 am
Location: Scotland

Re: Thenardier as Napoleon III

Postby Acaila » Mon Jul 08, 2013 12:14 pm

That was something I wondered on reading this for the first time too! Wondered if it was a more significant political allegory.
Revolution: like Christmas come early only with more death
Abaisse Chief/Chef
"Les Amis Fun Package - The Awesome Traits of Each"
"She's basically Enjolras meets Amy Pond"
Sings Stars "way better than Russel Crowe"

User avatar
Aurelia Combeferre
Posts: 8847
Joined: Mon Nov 13, 2006 9:57 am
Location: somewhere with the abased
Contact:

Re: Thenardier as Napoleon III

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Mon Jul 08, 2013 12:19 pm

Perhaps implying the 'legacy' he would leave behind? Not sure if history vindicated Hugo or not; it's up for debate.
"...all aptitudes having equal opportunity; politically, all votes having equal weight; religiously, all consciences having equal rights."

User avatar
between4walls
Posts: 471
Joined: Wed Apr 13, 2011 8:50 pm
Contact:

Re: Thenardier as Napoleon III

Postby between4walls » Mon Jul 08, 2013 11:03 pm

Aurelia Combeferre wrote:This blew my mind.

And did Hugo mean anything by making Thenardier's ultimate fate a life in the slave trade? Sounds like something more than a simple backhanded insult/allusion.


I think there are a whole bunch of things going on there, most of which are not related to N III.

1) I would not underestimate the importance of the then-ongoing American Civil War, though this again runs into the issue of drafts and when it was inserted. It definitely wasn't in the pre-1848 draft as that one didn't get to the ending. And after 1848 and the French abolition, America was the major "advanced" country with slavery. The issue had been coming to a head for years before the Civil War, and Hugo definitely had a strong opinion on it before as he was deeply involved in the (unsuccessful) campaign for clemency for John Brown in 1859. Though there's a chicken-and-egg issue- he was interested in the American situation because he already opposed slavery, so was the Thenardier thing in response to that particular situation or just coming from the same pro-abolition viewpoint that led him to be involved in the American issues?

He wrote an early novel about the Haitian Revolution (Bug-Jurgal), so I suppose there were prior references to slavery in his work.

2) I think Thenardier was always intended to "get away with it" in some fashion. Les Misérables makes epic heroes of the losers and failures of society and history- aside from the obvious case of Jean Valjean, peasant ex-con, as the protagonist, and the way he withdraws from Cosette's world after her happy ending, there's the choice of historical events portrayed- a minor crushed revolt rather than the July Revolution, the defeat at Waterloo as the crucial digression rather than the victory at Austerlitz. In real life, N III is a major example, for Hugo, of immoral success.

Marius and Cosette get a happy ending but that's a separate structural thing. The point is, I think Thenardier was always supposed to finish successfully. Because success and morality are, if anything, negatively correlated in Les Misérables.

And if Jean Valjean is a victim of society's injustice, Thenardier is (eventually) the beneficiary. If he was left as the dregs of society, we might either feel sorry for him (as the whole book shows how much it sucks to be in that position) or feel less well-disposed towards people in poverty and on the wrong side of the law (undoing a lot of the book's point).

3) Considering they pretty much illegally enslaved Cosette at the beginning of the book, it continues that on a larger scale.

[must go now but will continue with some stuff from Hugo's Les Chatiments when I get back]
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.

User avatar
between4walls
Posts: 471
Joined: Wed Apr 13, 2011 8:50 pm
Contact:

Re: Thenardier as Napoleon III

Postby between4walls » Mon Jul 08, 2013 11:17 pm

I should note that if Hugo could easily, given the pre-1848 setting, sent Thenardier to the French Caribbean colonies as a slave-trader. Which argues in favor of the American aspect being a contemporary topical allusion.
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.


Return to “Brick Meta”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

cron