2.1 Waterloo 11/11/10 - 29/11/10

Abaissé re-reads the novel in its entirety! All welcome, no matter whether you're reading in French or some other translation. Discussion topics for each step along the way.

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2.1 Waterloo 11/11/10 - 29/11/10

Postby Charlette-Ollie » Thu Nov 11, 2010 12:37 pm

Volume 2: Cosette, book 1: Waterloo

Chapters:
1. Ce qu'on rencontre en venant de Nivelles/What you meet with when you come from Nivelles
2. Hougomont
3. Le 18 juin 1815/June 18, 1815
4. A
5. Le quid obscurum des batailles/The quid obscurum of battles
6. Quatre heures de l'après-midi/Four o'clock in the afternoon
7. Napoléon de belle humeur/Napoleon in a good mood
8. L'empereur fait une question au guide Lacoste/The emperor puts a question Lacoste, the guide
9. L'inattendu/The unexpected
10. Le plateau de Mont Saint-Jean/The plateau of Mont-Saint-Jean
11. Mauvais guide à Napoléon, bon guide à Bülow/Bad guide for Napoléon, good guide for Bülow
12. La garde/The guard
13. La catastrophe/The catastrophe
14. Le dernier carré/The last square
15. Cambronne
16. Quot libras in duce?
17. Faut-il trouver bon Waterloo?/Do we have to think Waterloo was a good thing?
18. Recrudescence du droit divin/A fresh bout of divine right
19. Le champ de bataille la nuit/The battlefield by night

Possibly the most difficult digression in the book, particularly for people like me who know comparatively little about Napoléon and Waterloo. The most important thing with relation to Les Misérables' plot here, is that Thénardier (rather unintentionally) saves the life of Colonel Georges Pontmercy, Marius' father. I'll leave the rest to someone who knows more about Hugo's intentions with this part.

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Re: 2.1 Waterloo 11/11/10 - 29/11/10

Postby MmeBahorel » Thu Nov 11, 2010 4:16 pm

I just want to start by saying how appropriate it is that we start Waterloo on Veterans' Day :)
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Re: 2.1 Waterloo 11/11/10 - 29/11/10

Postby Ulkis » Thu Nov 11, 2010 8:35 pm

That's a neat coincidence. Hugo would approve I'm sure.

I've started reading it a little, and it's fun to think the girl hanging a yellow poster 'perhaps for a fair' read the book and was like, 'hey-what the hell, that was me!'

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Re: 2.1 Waterloo 11/11/10 - 29/11/10

Postby MmeBahorel » Thu Nov 11, 2010 9:44 pm

Notes for Partie II, Livre 1

Chapitre 1
1 (the one who tells this story): V. Hugo séjourna à Waterloo du 7 mai 1861 au 21 juillet (avec de nombreuse interruptions de ce séjour) pour y écrire le récit de la bataille et achever ainsi son roman. Il note, le 30 juin : << J'ai fini Les Misérables sur le champ de bataille de Waterloo et dans le mois de Waterloo. >>
V. Hugo stayed at Waterloo from 7 May 1861 to 21 July (with numerous interruptions to this stay) in order to there write the account of the battle and complete his novel. He notes, 30 June: “I have finished Les Misérables on the battlefield of Waterloo and in the month of Waterloo.”

Chapitre 2
2 (This manor was built by Hugo): On connaît le plaisir qu'avait Hugo de retrouver, ou d'inscrire son nom dans ses écrits comme sur ses meubles – voir aussi Ugolin en III, 7, 2.
One knows the pleasure Hugo had in finding, or in inscribing his name in his writings as on his buildings – also see Ugolin in III, 7, 2.

3 (and I went boom boom): Georgette aura le même << mot >> dans Quatrevingt-treize.
Georgette will have the same “word” in Ninety-Three.

4 (One still counts 43): Chiffre peut-être authentique, mais également symbolique pour Hugo dont la fille Léopoldine s'était noyée en septembre 1843. Les insurgés de la barricade (en IV, 14, 1) seront aussi quarante-trois.
Figure perhaps authentic, but equally symbolic for Hugo, whose daughter Léopoldine was drowned in September 1843. The insurgents of the barricade (in IV, 14, 1) will also be a total of 43.

5 (its ball or its canister shot): V. Hugo note dans ses carnets, le 7 mai 1861 : << Acheté un morceau d'arbre de verger où est incrusté un biscaïen = 2 fr. >>
V. Hugo notes in his notebooks, 7 May 1861: “Bought a piece of an orchard tree where is encrusted a biscayen = 2 francs.” [The lead bits in canister shot are bigger than musket balls but smaller than grapeshot. Canister was usually used in land artillery; grape was primarily naval ordinance.]

Chapitre 3
6 (Charras [in footnote]): Dans l'édition originale, Hugo avait écrit : << … à l'autre point de vue par Charras >>. C'était par sympathie envers un ami, son collègue à l'Assemblée nationale en 1848-1851, son compagnon d'exil à Bruxelles et son principal informateur par l'Histoire de la campagne de 1815 : Waterloo, publiée en 1857. Comme il le fait souvent, Hugo signale ses sources, si scrupuleusement suivies que le lecteur n'a pas à mettre en doute, pour l'essentiel, l'exactitude des faits ici mentionnés.
In the original edition, Hugo had written: “. . . the other point of view by Charras”. This was in sympathy toward a friend, his colleague in the National Assembly in 1848-1851, his companion in exile in Brussels and his principal source through The History of the Campaign of 1815: Waterloo, published in 1857. As he often does, Hugo signals his sources, so scrupulously followed that the reader is not put in doubt as to the essential points, the exactitude of facts here mentioned.

Chapitre 5
7 (Quid Obscurum): << Ce qu'il y a d'obscur >>. L'expression complète, << quid obscurum, quid divinum >>, se trouve un peu plus loin, et est citée à plusieurs reprises dans le roman.
“What is obscure”. The complete expression, “quid obscurum, quid divinum”, is found a little further on, and is cited several more times in the novel.

8 (It had rained): Voir les carnets de Hugo (17 mai 1861) : << Un sol marneux, glaiseux, visqueux dans les pluies, qui garde l'eau et fait partout des flaques et des mares. Comme Napoléon mettait pied à terre près de la Belle-alliance et enjambait un fossé, un grenadier lui cria :
- Prenez garde à ce terrain-là, Sire, on y glisse.
On fait plus qu'y glisser, on y tombe. >>

See Hugo's notebooks (17 May 1861): “A marlacious soil, clayey, viscous in rain, which holds water and everywhere makes puddles and pools. As Napoleon set foot on the ground near the Belle-alliance and stepped over a ditch, a grenadier shouted to him:
-Take care in that ground, Sire, a person can slip.
A person can do more than slip, he can fall.”

9 (Salvator Rosa): Gribeauval était, avant la Révolution, directeur de l'artillerie ; S. Rosa, poète et peintre de l'école de Naples au XVIIe siècle, fut un artiste violent et mouvementé.
Gribeauval was, before the Revolution, director of artillery; S. Rosa, poet and painter of the school of Naples in the 17th century, was a violent and stormy artist. [Wiki's intro on him claims him as a proto-romantic.]

10 (Quid obscurum, quid divinum.): << Quelque chose d'obscur, quelque chose de divin >> : formule souvent utilisée par Hugo et déjà notée en 1830 (Choses vues, ouv. cit., 1830-1846, p. 106) : << Il y a, dit Hippocrate, l'inconnu, le mystérieux, le divin des maladies. Quid divinum. Ce qu'il dit des maladies, on peut le dire des révolutions. >>
“Something obscure, something divine”: formula often used by Hugo and already noted in 1830 (Things Seen, op. cit., 1830-1846, p. 106): “There is, said Hippocratus, the unknown, the mysterious, the divine of maladies. Quid divinum. What are called maladies, one could call revolutions.”

Chapitre 7
11 (Ridet Caesar, Pompeius flebit): << César rit, Pompée pleurera. >> Virgile, dans ce vers des Géorgiques, évoquait le triomphe de César sur Pompée à Pharsale.
“Caesar laughs, Pompey will weep.” Virgil, in this vers from the Georgics, evokes the triumph of Caesar over Pompey at Pharsalus.

12 (Scabra rubigine.): Souvenir de Virgil, (Géorgiques, I, 495) : << En labourant son champ, un paysan trouvera des armes rongée d'une rouille rugueuse. >> Virgile imagine là l'état futur des champs des deux batailles qui fondèrent l'Empire romain : Pharsale – César l'emporte sur Pompée – et Philippes – Octave et Antoine défont l'armée des meurtriers de César, Brutus et Cassius.
Memory from Virgil (Georgics, I, 495): “In tilling his field, a peasant will find arms eaten away by a coarse rust.” Virgil imagines here the future state of the fields of the two battles that founded the Roman Empire: Pharsalus – Caesar takes the upper hand over Pompey – and Philippi – Octavius and Antony defeat the army of the murders of Caesar, Brutus and Cassius.

13 (by oxidation for 46 years): Hugo écrit 46 ans après Waterloo, et Napoléon avait 46 ans le 18 juin 1815, comme Jean Valjean à sa sortie du bagne.
Hugo wrote 46 years after Waterloo, and Napoleon was 46 years old 18 June 1815, as was Jean Valjean upon his release from the prison galleys.

Chapitre 8
14 (Lacoste): Ce guide s'applait en réalité Decoster.
This guide's name was actually Decoster.

Chapitre 9
15 (Veillons au salut de l'empire [Let us watch over the safety of the empire]): Hymne patriotique et républicain plus encore qu'impérial, aussi célèbre que La Marseillaise pendant la période révolutionnaire. Il fut chanté à nouveau en 1840.
Hymn more patriotic and republican than imperial, as famous as the Marseillaise during the revolutionary period. It was sung again in 1840.

Chapitre 10
16 (these Dutch grenadiers): Souvenir d'enfance : des grenadiers hollandais faisaient partie de l'escorte où la voiture de Mme Hugo avait pris place pour traverser l'Espagne et ce sont eux qui remirent sur la route sa voiture à-demi versée au bord d'un précipice. Hugo règle ici, équitablement, l'anciens comptes avec Wellington, vainqueur en Espagne de Joseph et du général Hugo, et dont l'avancée avait jeté sur la route du retour en France, avec les autres familles françaises, Mme Hugo et ses deux cadets. Les grenadiers ont changé de camp ; mais V. Hugo lui-même, en 1814 et en 1815, applaudissait l'entrée des Alliés à Paris tandis que son père défendait Thionville contre eux.
Memory of childhood: Dutch grenadiers were part of the escort where Mme Hugo's carriage had taken a place in order to cross Spain and it was they who put back on the road her carriage half-fallen over on the brink of a precipice [I feel like I am mangling that translation – it's the exact same story that came up in I, 5, 6.] Hugo here equally settles old accounts with Wellington, victor in Spain over Joseph and General Hugo, and whose advance had thrown on the road back to France, with other French families, Mme Hugo and her two youngest sons. The grenadiers changed sides; but V. Hugo himself, in 1814 and 1815, applauded the entry of the Allies into Paris while his father defended Thionville against them.

Chapitre 11
17(Blücher survenant): Hugo retrouve ici les accent de L'Expiation (Châtiments, V, 8):
<< Soudain, joyeux, il dit : Grouchy ! - c'était Blücher. >>

Hugo recovers here the tone of the Expiation (Châtiments, V, 8): “Sudden, joyous, he says: Grouchy! - It was Blücher.”

Chapitre 13
18 (Hoc erat in fatis.): << Tel était le destin >> : parodie du << Hoc erat in votis >> : << C'est ce que je souhaitais >>, d'Horace (Satires, II, 5, 1). Transposition pertinente, car le destin est par définition ce qui contrecarre nos projets.
“Such was fate”: parody of “Hoc erat in votis”: “It is what I wished”, by Horace (Satire, II, 5, 1). Pertinent transposition, because fate is by definition that which thwarts our projects.

Chapitre 14
19 (Merde! [Shit!]): On sait que Lamartine, dans son Cours familier de littérature, vit dans le << mot >> de Cambronne pure << démagogie grammaticale >>. Hugo répondit à Lamartine, aux critiques et aux historiens qui contestaient l'authenticité de cet << excrément >> : << Il entrait de droit dans mon livre. C'est le misérable des mots. >>
On knows that Lamartine, in his Informal Course on Literature, saw in the “word” of Cambronne pure “grammatical demagogy”. Hugo responded to Lamartine, to critics and to historians who contested the authenticity of this “excrement”: “It enters by right into my book. It's the wretched of words.”

Chapitre 15
20 (It is forbidden to drop the sublime into history.): William Shakespeare justifiera longuement ce droit au shocking en des termes très proches : << Défense de hanter le cabaret du sublime. […] Un curieux genre pudibond tend à prévaloir ; nous rougissons de la façon grossière dont les grenadiers se font tuer ; la rhétorique a pour les héros des feuilles de vigne qu'on appelle périphrases ; il est convenu que le bivouac parle comme le couvent, […]. [...]un vétéran baisse les yeux au souvenir de Waterloo, on donne la croix d'honneur à ces yeux baissés ; de certains mots qui sont dans l'histoire n'ont pas droit à l'histoire, et il est bien entendu, par exemple, que le gendarme qui tira un coup de pistolet sur Robespierre à l'Hôtel de Ville se nommait la-garde-meurt-et-ne-se-rend-pas. >> (II, 2, 4.) On voit que Hugo ne pardonnait pas à Lamartine d'avoir les pudeurs d'une Mlle Gillenormand aînée.
William Shakespeare will justify at length this right to “shocking” in very close terms: “It is forbidden to haunt the inn of the sublime. . . . A curious person of the prudish type tends to prevail; we blush at the gross manner by which grenadiers are killed; rhetoric has for heros fig leaves that we call circumlocutions; it is polite [agreeable] that the bivouac speak in the same manner as the convent, . . . a veteran lowers his eyes at the memory of Waterloo, we give the cross of honour to these lowered eyes; certain words that are in history have no right to history, and it is well understood, for example, that the gendarme who fired a pistol shot at Robespierre at the Hotel de Ville was named The-Guard-Dies-and-Does-Not-Surrender.” (II, 2, 4). [The gendarme was named Merda.] One sees that Hugo does not excuse Lamartine for having the modesty of an elder Mlle Gillenormand.

Chapitre 16
21 (Quot libras in duce?) [Chapter title]: << Combien pèse le chef ? >> (Juvénal, Satires, X). Hugo aime la formule : voir l'épigraphe du poème XIII des Feuilles d'automne consacré à Napoléon : << Quot libras in duce summo ? >> et, dans William Shakespeare (II, 4, 1) : << Quot libras in monte summo ? >>
“How much does the chief weigh?” (Juvenal, Satires, X). Hugo likes the formula: see the epigraph to poem 13 in Autumn Leaves, dedicated to Napoleon: “Quot libras in duce summo?” and in William Shakespeare (II,4, 1): “Quot libras in monte summo?”

22 (L'iron-soldat vaut l'iron-duke.): Le soldat de fer vaut le << duc de fer >>, surnom de Wellington.
The soldier of iron is equal to the “duke of iron”, Wellington's nickname. [I admit, I think the franglais here is adorable.]

23 (60,000 dead): Chiffres donnés par le journal L'Étoile belge du 6 juin 1861.
Figures given by the newspaper Belgian Star on 6 June 1861.

24 (plains of Philippi): Voir, plus haut, la note 12 du même livre.
See, earlier, Note 12 of this book.

Chapitre 17
25 (20 March 1815): Date de l'entrée de Napoléon dans Paris, premier des Cent-Jours.
Date of Napoleon's entry into Paris, first of the Hundred Days.

26 (postilion on the throne of Naples and a sergeant): Le postillon désigne Murat, fils d'aubergiste mais qui n'avait jamais été postillon. Le << sergent >> est Bernadotte, sergent-major en 1789.
The postilion describes Murat, son of an innkeeper, but who had never been a postilion. The “sergeant” is Bernadotte, sergeant-major in 1789. [For “postilion”, note I, 7, 5, the stable boy sent with the extra horse.]

27 (Foy): Compagnon du général Hugo en Espagne, blessé à Waterloo, Foy fut le principal orateur de la gauche libérale à la Chambre, de 1819 jusqu'à sa mort. Le peuple de Paris lui fit, en 1825, des funérailles grandioses. Dans l'histoire, et dans le roman, il fut relayé par le général Lamarque (voir IV, 10, 3).
Companion of General Hugo in Spain, wounded at Waterloo, Foy was the principle orator of the liberal left in the Chamber, from 1819 until his deat. The people of Paris gave him, in 1825, a grandiose funeral. In history, and in the novel, he was succeeded by General Lamarque (see IV, 10, 3). [This leaves out the whole “and by the way, Thiers used the occasion of 100,000 people at the funeral to turn it into a mega protest against the right-wing laws passed in that year: new law for indemnisation of émigrés and the infamous law on sacrilege.” Also, “students kidnapped the body and took it to Père Lachaise themselves”.]

28 (of Father Elysée): Médecin de Louis XVIII.
Louis XVIII's doctor.

Chapitre 18
29 (Trestaillon): Surnom de Jacques Dupont, un des chefs de la Terreur Blanche à Nîmes. Victor Hugo avait contribué à répandre sa << gloire >> par un article du Conservateur littéraire de 1820.
Nickname of Jacques Dupont, one of the heads of the White Terror in Nimes. Victor Hugo had contributed to the spread of his “glory” with an article in the Literary Conservative in 1820.

30 (non pluribus impar): Nec pluribus impar était le devise de Louis XIV : << incomparable >>.
Nec pluribus impar was the motto of Louis XIV: “incomparable”.

31 (article 14): Cet article avait dans la Charte << octroyée >> le rôle de l'article 16 dans notre constitution actuelle.
This article had in the Charter “granted” the role of article 16 in our actual constitution.
[Best I can tell: Article 14 reads “Le Roi est le chef suprême de l'État, il commande les forces de terre et de mer, déclare la guerre, fait les traités de paix, d'alliance et de commerce, nomme à tous les emplois d'administration publique, et fait les règlements et ordonnances nécessaires pour l'exécution des lois et la sûreté de l'État. (The king is the supreme head of state, he commands the forces of land and sea, declares war, makes treaties of peace, alliance, and commerce, names to all the employments of public administration, and makes regulations and ordinances necessary to the execution of the law and security of the state.)” This conforms with Article 16 of the 1958 Constitution that set up the Fifth Republic. Wikipedia suggests “Toute loi, toute action à venir, se doit de respecter les termes de cette Charte. Le roi, comme tous ses sujets, doit s'y plier dans les faits. Certains royalistes interprètent cependant la Charte comme inférieure à la personne du roi, puisque c'est lui qui l'a octroyée. All law, all action to come, has the duty to respect the terms of this Charter. The king, like all his subject, must submit to it in what he does. Certain royalists however interpreted the Charter as inferior to the person of the king, since it was he who had granted it.” So I think reference requires the full text and interpretation rather than one line, damn, you Guy Rosa.]

32 (se répandit dans le monde): Le poème des Châtiments << Aux morts du 4 décembre >> (I, 4) était déjà construit sur cette abiguïté du mot << paix >>.
The poem in Chastisments “To the dead of 4 December” (I, 4) was already constructed on this ambiguity of the word “peace”.

33 (to the towers of Notre-Dame): Écho de la proclamation de Napoléon quittant l'île Elbe le 25 février 1815 : << La victoire marchera au pas de charge ; l'Aigle, avec les couleurs nationales, volera de clocher en clocher jusqu'aux tours de Notre-Dame. >>
Echo of Napoleon's proclamation on leaving the isle of Elba on 25 February 1815: “Victor will march at the pace of a charge: the Eagle, with the national colours, will fly from bell tower to bell tower all the way to the towers of Notre-Dame.”

Chapitre 19
34 (sic vos non vobis): Début d'une épigramme de Virgile contre un plagiaire où le poète se compare – et s'adresse – à ceux qui travaillent pour d'autres : << Oiseaux, vous édifiez des nids, mais ce n'est pas pour vous... >>
Beginning of an epigram by Virgil against a plagiarist where the poet compares himself – and address himself – to those who work for others: “Bird, you build nests, but it's not for you . . .”

35 (vespertilio): Chauves-souris.
Bats. [Actually, specifically, Parti-coloured bats.]

36 (we do not speak of the present time): L'auteur ne s'abstient pas sans quelque ironie de commenter le comportement des armées de Napoléon III. Les Châtiments, eux, disent, violemment, que depuis 1830 l'armée a perdu, en Algérie, toutes ses traditions d'honneur.
The author does not refrain, without some irony, from commenting on the comportment of Napoleon III's armies. The Chastisements, themselves, say, violently, that since 1830 the army had lost, in Algeria, all its traditions of honour.

37 (put the Palatinate to fire and blood): Le Palatinat ayant été ravagé en 1693, Turenne, mort en 1675, n'y fut pour rien. Mais il est vrai qu'il << tolérait le pillage >>.
The Palatinate having been ravaged in 1693, Turenne, dead in 1675, had nothing to do with it. But it's true he “tolerated the pillage”. [and now I make up with Guy Rosa for the snarkiness of this note. *g*]
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Re: 2.1 Waterloo 11/11/10 - 29/11/10

Postby MmeBahorel » Fri Nov 12, 2010 10:58 pm

There isn't a girl hanging a poster, there's a girl weeding or hoeing in a field where there's a yellow poster flapping in the wind. Which is too bad, because I like your idea of some recognisable reality entering into the scene.

Because what's striking to me about how this book begins is that Hugo starts with something of a lie. He frames it as the traveler coming across the field of Waterloo rather than making a deliberate pilgrimage to it. But by the same token, he never directly asserts that he just happened upon Waterloo, so there's some plausible deniability there. It reminds me of landscape painting of this period: we've moved beyond fantasy landscapes (like Poussin) into real ones, but Turner, for example, would make lots of sketches in the field but construct his watercolours sometimes months later, in the studio, selecting elements for the most pleasing composition even if it meant changing things around a little. It's still, say, a painting of Norham Castle at Sunrise, but that cow might not actually have ever been there. You see this with Constable, that things are often not quite right compared to where they were supposedly painted, but the composition of the painting as a whole is better for it. That's what Hugo's doing here, for me: he implies he is painting a pretty picture, seemingly as he happens upon it, but in reality, he has a distinct intention and careful composition to reinforce that intention. (We see this again in Chapter 3, when he says he's just giving impressions, that he's not a historian. There's still an implication here that we should take his impressions as factual rather than merely artistic.)

So what we have here is a painting of Waterloo, a subjective creation lightly masquerading as objective - Hugo tells us several times that you cannot have an objective painting of an entire battle, but he definitely wants you to follow him and believe him.

We also have a painting of the collapse of an era more than of a man. I first see it with the last line of Chapter 2, "et tout cela pour qu'aujourd'hui un paysan dise à un voyageur : Monsieur, donnez-moi trois francs ; si vous aimez, je vous expliquerai la chose de Waterloo !" (and all that so that today a peasant can say to a traveler, "Monsieur, give me three francs; if you like, I'll explain to you the thing that is Waterloo!"). What you've got here is Waterloo happened so that a man can beg three francs off you. It is glory sold for profit; business over honour. The Empire is what enabled the July Monarchy and Second Empire where you see the rise to utter supremacy of the bourgeoisie. This is a theme more explored by Balzac than by Hugo, but it's also so much in the air that it keeps coming in as an undercurrent in Hugo's work. Hugo would rather talk about morality and God, I think, but note that Valjean became an industrialist and Fantine's issues were economic. You can't separate out the threads in a capitalist society that grows steadily more market-oriented. (I'm definitely wondering how alliances and wars affected the Spanish market that was the major export market for the fake jet of M-sur-M.) These are issues that, with Valjean living in retirement in Paris for most of the rest of the book, don't get much play in my memory as issues tend to turn to the moral and political rather than the economic and industrial, they aren't major themes to the novel, but it comes up in Waterloo, of all places. And that has to be important, because if everything is revolving around Napoleon, and Waterloo is so important to the novel that it is the last portion written and must be completed on the battlefield itself, then Waterloo has to be a thematic key to the whole thing. Otherwise, it's the most ridiculous digression in the whole novel.

And this is a visible through-line, I think - the rise of the bourgeois way of thought is marked not just by a peasant making money off tourists as the most important result of Waterloo, but also at the end of Chapter 9. Here, it isn't so much about the economic basis of society, but that Bonaparte's time was over precisely because he had changed society so much. all the suffering is laid on him, but within it all, what Bonaparte did was create a system of social mobility and a different set of markets that enabled the expansion of the bourgeoisie as an upper class. Bonapartists who felt disenfranchised by the Restoration created the July Monarchy and they pushed the Second Empire. Bonaparte created too much suffering, he annoyed God, for the sake of humanity it was time for him to fall. But his creation did not fall, and its apotheosis is in a Belgian peasant cashing in on a battle fought possibly before he was even born. If the purpose of Waterloo is to enable that peasant (and yes, Hugo is being sarcastic here, but it's a sarcasm born of sadness that so many died and the only benefit he can find is three francs to a tour guide), and there's the hidden argument of Napoleon III throughout this whole book, then God's "decision" with Waterloo to bring down Napoleon has had the contrary effect of bringing up to greater heights the upper-class bourgeoisie that he created. "Waterloo is not a battle; it is the changing face of the universe." Waterloo gives us the men who gave us Napoleon III.

(did any of that make sense? I'm only halfway through - Waterloo requires far more effort than plot does because I'm having to pull threads out to make sense of them.)

I also want to pull out in Chapter 4, "La tyrannie suit le tyran" (Tyranny follows the tyrant). This paragraph, for me, is precisely the difference in politics between Marius and his friends; it's a succinct statement of what I come back to when considering the Empire. Marius isn't entirely wrong, but Combeferre is more right: from a military standpoint, you need a tyrant, someone of firm conviction and iron discipline who can bring men to his side and prevail even through deprivation and death. A great general is often going to be a tyrant when applied to a civilian population. Bonaparte was a great soldier, even in some ways a great man, but he did not give up the tight reins when he should have. Tyranny is what happens to civilian populations in the thrall of a powerful soldier who does not know how to let go of the reins to permit freedom. Civilians need freedom just as a military needs discipline.

TL;DR. Basically, I think Napoleon III is behind this somewhere, and a certain amount of Marxist history and Balzac are skewing my lens on what the key themes are. Also, I've only re-read the first 9 chapters so far, so I could always change my mind on the last half. (now, to scrub bad memories of Sharpe's Waterloo out of my head.)
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Re: 2.1 Waterloo 11/11/10 - 29/11/10

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Mon Nov 15, 2010 2:38 am

Juxtapositions here: Waterloo is the end of an era, so to speak, the same era which features the length of Jean Valjean's imprisonment. How interesting that this rendering of a battle should coincide with the ending of one of the most horrific realities depicted in the novel. From glory to ashes, juxtaposed with ashes to grime?

The one thing that strikes me the most now is the appearance of the man Thenardier on the scene of the battlefield. Is Hugo trying to make a statement here about the aftermath and ironies of such struggles? That despite the seeming glory of it all, it does not do much to redeem the dregs of society? Hmm...
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Re: 2.1 Waterloo 11/11/10 - 29/11/10

Postby Ulkis » Mon Nov 15, 2010 4:15 pm

I don't know if that exactly because even if Thenardier was there only for himself, he did end up doing a good deed. I suppose there's also a "fate can use you unwittingly for good" theme there. (How did Thenardier get into the army in the first place, I wonder? Was he conscripted?)

Because what's striking to me about how this book begins is that Hugo starts with something of a lie. He frames it as the traveler coming across the field of Waterloo rather than making a deliberate pilgrimage to it


I should've re-read that part more carefully because while I thought that everything happened on the field of Waterloo in 1861 just as he wrote it, it never even noticed that he tried to give the impression that he just wandered there by chance.

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Re: 2.1 Waterloo 11/11/10 - 29/11/10

Postby MmeBahorel » Mon Nov 15, 2010 6:17 pm

The first chapter begins with (I'm paraphrasing), "The traveler going from Nivelle to La Hulpe took this road, passed Lillois and Bois-Seigneur-Isaac; he noticed the weird shaped steeple of the church at Braine-l'Alleud and was looking around at random buildings." It begins with the impression of a different journey, one from Nivelle to La Hulpe or points further on. Then, it's a nice day, he's wandering, and he goes off the main road and finds the old manor house. Notably, he lets the woman tell him what the wound in the stone is, and he has to ask her what this place is. He does not know he has reached Hougomont until she tells him. After all, if he were describing straightforwardly 'My trip to Waterloo', and had done the background reading, he would have twigged that the manor house he was to look for was Hougomont and would not have to ask for confirmation, as it were. It is this questioning of the woman that strikes me as making the trip a happenstance rather than a description circling around the obvious fact because he wants to maintain the reveal at the end of the scene. If he were looking for Waterloo, he would be looking for Hougomont and have enough description to identify. Since he cannot identify it on its own, he is not looking for Waterloo.

But that's my logic as a reader who is deliberately ignoring what she knows of his motivations for going to Waterloo in the first place. Hugo might discount this reading entirely.
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Re: 2.1 Waterloo 11/11/10 - 29/11/10

Postby Jes » Tue Nov 23, 2010 9:30 pm

...aaaugh, guys, I'm really trying here; I'm reading through for the first time and I don't want to become another statistic, just one more reader lost at the Battle of Waterloo... but I'm really beginning to struggle! :|

OK, end pointless comment, back to work. ..help?

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Re: 2.1 Waterloo 11/11/10 - 29/11/10

Postby Ulkis » Tue Nov 23, 2010 10:21 pm

Hee. Well if you're guilty I'm guilty too.

Unless one has an interest in the battle of Waterloo I cannot blame anyone for not making it through.

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Re: 2.1 Waterloo 11/11/10 - 29/11/10

Postby MmeBahorel » Tue Nov 23, 2010 10:23 pm

Chapter a day? I've still got 18 pages left. And I still think the major theme is "Louis-Napoleon SUX" rather than anything more directly related to, you know, the plot or major themes of the novel it's in.

(admittedly, I got halfway through this time and just poking around Facebook is more interesting. And I had no problems pushing through it the first time I read the novel!)
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Re: 2.1 Waterloo 11/11/10 - 29/11/10

Postby Ulkis » Wed Nov 24, 2010 1:04 am

And I had no problems pushing through it the first time I read the novel!


No, neither did I, although I might have heaved a sigh once or twice. But the first time, you actually think it's going to lead somewhere. Although of course as our good friend Norman Denny says it is a good piece of writing in and of itself (which is the reason he gave for not sticking it in the back of the book like he did with "An appendix [on convents]" and "argot").

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Re: 2.1 Waterloo 11/11/10 - 29/11/10

Postby hazellwood » Wed Nov 24, 2010 1:12 am

(I'm not even close to being here yet.)

UHM I actually really liked it the first time I read the Brick, but the other two times I read it I was really bored, and the times I was reading it just for the heck of it I was like "Eh. This is boring. The convent part is so much better." because I am a crazy person like that? But Waterloo is really interesting if you aren't, like... idk focusing on getting to other parts, I guess, for me anyways.

So, um, my two sous. //slinks out

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Re: 2.1 Waterloo 11/11/10 - 29/11/10

Postby Ulkis » Wed Nov 24, 2010 1:40 am

I'm actually really looking foward to rereading the convent part. The first time I read it was the second to last book I read (because of the aforesaid books Denny took out and stuck in the back as 'extras') and I was quite confused because I didn't realize it was actually a part of the book.

So, um, my two sous. //slinks out


There's no need to slink out! Seriously, no one feel bad for coming in here and saying anything, even if it's just, "I hate/love this chapter."

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Re: 2.1 Waterloo 11/11/10 - 29/11/10

Postby MmeBahorel » Thu Nov 25, 2010 8:37 pm

The rest of Waterloo (I swear, this wasn't so hard the first time through, maybe because I just kept pushing through knowing plot would come back and I had no frame of reference for the thing at the time):

Chapter XV: Cambronne
This one is fairly straightforward - Hugo is finally no longer talking about Louis-Napoleon or Bonaparte-as-Icarus (maybe?) but is now talking all about himself. "To apply the sublime to history is prohibited. Screw that!" This is full-on Romanticism: "sublime" in the Romantic sense is that gulf between the lofty and the low, the comparison of which gives detail and shade to both aspects. To lift the coarse and grotesque to the height of the angels is what he means here and what he is doing with Cambronne. This is why Cambronne is the victor of Waterloo - Hugo has fallen into the trap of battle as glory (battle itself is sublime in this sense - it is dirty and raw and painful in real life but never so poetry, and Hugo is above all a poet), and therefore to shout "Fuck you!" at your enemy as you are about to lose to divine will (because Hugo is certain that God, not Wellington, was Bonaparte's downfall) is to bring in the most base of words to the most beautiful of actions. We'll see some of this again with Argot, where Hugo faces his critics who were less than enthusiastic about his use of street slang in Claude Gueux and pretty much says "Hey guys, I was right and you were wrong". This chapter is the first look at that theme.

Chapter XVI: Can I roll my eyes at you, Victor? "Charras alone . . . has perceived the characteristic contours of that catastrophe of human genius struggling with divine destiny." Characteristic contours? As in, this happens frequently enough that there's an identifiable pattern? *headdesk* But what is fascinating here is Hugo's comparison of Wellington and Bonaparte: Wellington is business, watch in hand, foresight and plan after plan, while Bonaparte is the Romantic soul, inspiration married to knowledge but taking the far larger role. Is it also the stereotype of the English against the stereotype of the French? And then he gets into the English-bashing - "your people are great, really, except for that attachment to aristocracy". I don't quite understand why he's bringing the Glorious Revolution into anything, and he's making false comparisons, in any case, because he believes so much in the revolutionary nature of the French people (which is really the working classes of the major cities, as the peasantry was wholly reactionary and thoroughly in line with the English peasantry that had to fight at Waterloo).

It's such a weird chapter, though: it goes from assertions of destiny to bashing England while upholding mildly socialist principles of nationalism (the "people" rather that the hierarchy are what make England England even though he's all "yay Byron!") to death counts. I feel like he's completely on the wrong track if we're to consider this an expression of history rather than an expression of his own personal thought, but I also have absolutely no background in military history of the period. But, if Bonaparte's downfall is God, and Hugo is going for the leftist interpretation of that, then Wellington, who was the son of an Earl, was simply too high in the social hierarchy to be an appropriate instrument of God and therefore God had to be diffused through "the people", both to avoid an association between God and earthly hierarchies and to ennoble the people through divine association.

Chapter XVII: Should we approve of Waterloo? is a really stupid question. I usually agree with Fahnestock-MacAfee, but in this case, the real question, "Faut-il trouver bon Waterloo?", might be better expressed as "Should we appreciate Waterloo?" "Should we find Waterloo to be a good thing?" These are better questions. The answer to them I think is slightly mistranslated as well - "Il existe une école libérale très respectable qui ne hait point Waterloo" is not exactly the same as "There is a much-respected liberal school that admires Waterloo"; to "not hate" something is hardly the same as "to admire" something. But it's interesting to see Hugo, who had rather tried to deny his youthful Royalism, here praise Waterloo as the beginnings of liberty because the Bourbons came back with the Charter after all these years of Bonaparte's dictatorship. A dictatorship of equality, as his nominations to foreign thrones made clear, but a dictatorship all the same (since we have before Waterloo the earlier works of Bonaparte destroying old monarchies and Spain never gets mentioned, and "Napoléon était involontairement révolutionnaire" - Napoleon was involuntarily revolutionary). It's really kind of funny that this chapter is mostly an excuse for Hugo to go on about the importance of Progress and Tomorrow, but it's rooted in the Charter, which was an incredibly weak document even from the beginning.

Chapter XVIII: I'm very confused by the beginning of this chapter. "the barbarism of 1815, which should be called by its special name, the counterrevolution, was short-winded, soon out of breath, and quickly over." Does this refer specifically to the White Terror, in which case it's barbaric but very incomplete (shouldn't most of Charles X's reign count for counterrevolution?), or is Hugo fiddling with the numbers, or is he counting the fact that through the Restoration the liberals maintained just enough power that enacting counterrevolutionary reforms was far more difficult than anything Bonaparte had to deal with? The Empire didn't even get 11 years; if you count Bonaparte's time as first Consul, then we can credit 15 years. But the Restoration got the same amount of time if we count both monarchs, and if we only count Louis XVIII, he got a good nine years and was more liberal at the beginning of them then at the end. His imagery has me absolutely going in circles, too: if the end of the Empire, because of the tyranny of the dictatorship, had been like twilight or even night, "This disappearance of the night had the effect of an eclipse", the disappearance of the night would be the final end of the Empire, Waterloo, putting an end to the dimness, and if the dimness disappears, it has the effect of an eclipse, which, uhm, is dim. I am so lost. Particularly because this is true:

"This 1815 was a sort of gloomy April. The old unhealthy and poisonous realities took on new shape. Falsehood espoused 1789, divine right masked itself under a charter, fictions became constitutional, prejudices, superstitions, and mental reservations, with Article 14 at heart, put on the varnish of liberalism. Serpents changing their skins.

"Man had been both enlarged and diminished by Napoleon."

I don't get the eclipse metaphor because of what Hugo said next. Because this is true, and the eclipse makes me go WTF. Liberty comes out of the counterrevolution, and the counterrevolution comes out of the tyranny that came out of the revolution, it's history in zigs and zags and Hugo was on the wrong side of half of it and kept trying to pretend that he was always on the right side, once he figured out what the right side was through hindsight.

We do, here, come back to Louis-Napoleon at last: "The people, however, that cannon fodder so fond of the cannoneer, looked for him. Where is he? What is he doing? . . . Imagination deified this prostrate man. The heart of Europe, after Waterloo, was dark. An enormous void remained long after Napoleon's disappearance." But at least this is much more vague than in some of the earlier parts, and it is in the context of explaining Bonapartist Liberalism. But it's very much the explanation of Louis-Napoleon - nothing had filled that void, so the people thought perhaps it was the name that was missing.

It's a very weird few chapters here, in that it feels like Hugo is going back and forth through his own political alliances and can't entirely make up his mind. Bonaparte was brought down by the divine will, acting through English soldiers, and this much is clear to Hugo, but the Restoration itself he's trying to justify. (It reminds me of Belinsky and Herzen discovering Hegel's theory of history: for Belinsky, he's just finding out that all the crap is real, rational, and necessary; for Herzen, Hegel has it upside down and history moves by zig-zags because when the people get fed up, they storm the Bastille, not that people storm that Bastille through the zig-zag imperative of history. I'm feeling zig-zags here with Hugo unable to decide which way is up.)

At least we finally get plot again!

Chapter XIX: Some wishful thinking here, even as Hugo claims that he's not one of those people who pretty-up the battle into a burnished tale of glory without any ugly bits. "Who are these pickpockets plying their trade in the wake of glory? Some philosophers, Voltaire among others, say they are the very ones who achieved the glory. . . . As for us, we do not believe this. To gather laurels and to steal the shoes from a dead man seem to us impossible for the same hand." Yes, it deliberately sets Thénardier outside society and a fraud, but it's also patently false because of course the bodies get stripped of usable goods whenever possible, whether it be a search for valuables, the acquisition of a better pair of boots, or just the removal of all firearms for safety. "let us place the soldier, especially the contemporary soldier, beyond this charge." Ok, if you say so, but it completely undermines any authority you have even as it paints a distinct picture of Thénardier.

And, speaking of odd metaphors, it's interesting that Hugo first compares Thénardier's movements to a nocturnal wading bird - it's innocuous and slightly ridiculous - before going on to call him a jackal. Because the descriptions are within the same scene and so close together, it makes the jackal comment rather ridiculous, which Thénardier in fact is.

Somehow, I actually managed to do this chapter in about two days, but it felt like a very hard slog. It just keeps going and going.
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard


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