I'm selfishly bumping this thread because I want more R meta. But I do have relevant things to say (perhaps? relevance is subjective).
At the risk of this turning into an essay on Why Grantaire Drinks, I'm going to be really concise and probably a bit vague - and apparently this is the only thing I'm going to be concise about tonight - in saying that the reason it's so hard to pin down is because there are as many reasons for excessive intoxication as there are intoxicated people. I've been through NA myself and the stories I've heard have run the gamut. While people tend to be of the opinion that any sort of substance abuse is a form of coping or escapism, it's not that simple and it's really difficult to explain to someone who hasn't also been through it themselves. Unfortunately it's just one of those things a lot of people aren't going to understand unless they've been there.
But onto the actual meta! To me, Grantaire reads as a very classic nihilist. Obviously I don't mean this in the popular sense that people associate with nihilism - nothing is true, nothing is real, nothing matters, therefore do whatever you want. I think it would be easy to shove R in that box and call it done. Unfortunately, that's not how nihilism works. The framework of nihilism had begun to be developed by someone Hugo most certainly would have been aware of - Immanuel Kant - and was expounded upon by Arthur Schopenhauer and, someone our very own Enjolras would have read, Georg Hegel.
Kant's view of nihilism was that if the assumed consequence of an action was reasonable (meaning it didn't contradict the reason for acting in the first place), then it was moral. So in basic terms: if you kill someone because they broke into your house and tried to murder your entire family, then the murder of the criminal is, itself, a moral act because it prevents a greater immoral act and isn't inherently contradictory. Moral nihilists will go on to say that because the morality of murder (or anything else you want to plug in there) is subjective, then morality doesn't exist at all. Kant also criticized the belief in God because you can't prove a theory with another theory. Belief simply ranked lower to him than logic, and he put reason over religion.
This doesn't have anything to do with anything other than giving some background on What Nihilism Is - which is: while nothing has any inherent value, the individual applies value to a thing by determining how it affects us personally. So one could certainly say with conviction that Grantaire doesn't believe in anything, because what we perceive as having value differs from what he perceives has having value. He might very well find more meaning, more truth, at the bottom of a bottle than he does in revolution. At least at first.
Schopenhauer elaborated on this and also laid the groundwork for men like Nietzsche (who was only slightly past being a contemporary of Hugo's), diverging from Kant and Hegel in that he argued "Man can indeed do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants", which essentially means that human desire is meaningless in the big scheme of things. We would undoubtedly call this cynicism if we didn't agree with the philosophy. Schopenhauer believed that trying to force human will on the universe was the cause of pain and suffering, and the only way to "cure" (in quotes because it's merely a temporary remedy) this suffering was by observing the world rather than taking part in it. The most effective way of doing this was through art.
It's not just any art that will do either; only the art of true genius can take someone away from the pains of being an active participant in experience and give him the escape necessary for a reprieve. The genius that is necessary to create this kind of art is "a person whose exceptional predominance of intellect over Will made them relatively aloof from earthly cares and concerns." They're so fixated on their art that everything else falls away.
I don't know about you, but to me this sounds exactly like Grantaire's relationship with Enjolras. Enjolras is his genius and through watching Enjolras he experiences that escape from the reality of the world around him. When he sees Enjolras' conviction, he sees the artist he's been yearning for and gives him value on that principle. Therefore, Enjolras is valuable because Grantaire values him. There doesn't need to be a greater reason than that. It also explains why he has such an inordinate knowledge of Classics and perhaps even why he chose to pursue art himself. One of Schopenhauer's sterotypical geniuses was van Gogh, who had a similar issue with absinthe (even though he was, again, much after Hugo's time - I'm just drawing comparisons here). Taking this one step further, Schopenhauer developed a pseudo-religion based on this theory, in which these geniuses were seen as priests - and where have we heard the Enjolras-as-clergy reference before?
Schopenhauer also supported homosexuality and "Greek thought" as openly as anyone during the era could without bringing down a lot of criticism on himself and saw it as a perfectly reasonable means of birth control (or "preventing a greater evil" in his words). He wrote a lot about psychology and sex as well, paving the way for Freud's own theories. One of my favorite quotes of his is "The ultimate aim of all love affairs... is more important than all other aims in man's life; and therefore it is quite worthy of the profound seriousness with which everyone pursues it."
Going off topic a little, but Hegel was technically a late Romantic, someone influenced enough by Rousseau that I have no doubt Enjolras was well read on him. One of Hegel's beliefs was that history was made by the "spirit the age", the collective of all men moving together towards a common goal rather than one great man doing one impeccably timed great thing. I sort of see this reflected in Enjolras who, despite being the de facto leader of Les Amis, is perfectly aware that it's the whole that needs to work in unison to make something happen. I sometimes see him as a fatalist (which is a very Romantic ideal) who not only realizes he's going to fail on a personal level, but is willing to put himself on the line and become a footnote in history in order to rally other men to the cause - as opposed to someone like Napoleon who very much wanted to be a figurehead for a movement. He seems to me willing to let his voice get lost in the crowd as long as the crowd is still making noise.
So if you're operating on the theory that Enjolras is Rousseau, you can easily say that Grantaire is Schopenhauer. I think that Schopenhauer's views on aesthetics are Romantic enough in themselves (and I would argue that nihilism and fatalism are as well), that Grantaire and Enjolras compliment rather than contest each other... even if Enjolras may, in his single-mindedness, fail to see any philosophy other than his own as valid.
And *cough* if anyone wants me to move this to its own thread just let me know. :/
Suffering seems to be the inevitable fate of the creative sensitive types. Poverty, disease, death, unrequited love affairs, and disappointments of every sort fan the flame of the artistic spirit. - Henry Miller