2.7 Parenthèse/A Parenthesis 9/1/11 - 16/1/11

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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2.7 Parenthèse/A Parenthesis 9/1/11 - 16/1/11

Postby Charlette-Ollie » Sun Jan 09, 2011 12:57 pm

Volume 2: Cosette, book 7: Parenthèse/A Parenthesis

Chapters:

1. Le couvent, idée abstraite/The convent as an abstract idea
2. Le couvent, fait historique/The convent as historical fact
3. À quelle condition on peut respecter le passé/On what conditions we can respect the past
4. Le couvent au point de vue des principes/The convent from the point of view of principles
5. La prière/Prayer
6. Bonté absolue de la prière/Absolute goodness of prayer
7. Précautions à prendre dans le blâme/Precautions to take in laying blame
8. Foi, loi/Faith, law

In this digression Hugo undisguisedly states his opinion on convents.

A footnote in the Julie Rose translation explains:
Yves Gohin notes that Hugo's Belgian publisher, Lacroix asked him to delete this section from the novel, which was growing to an alarming length. Hugo at first agreed, then protested, "I cannot introduce a convent into Les Misérables only to praise it. There must be some reservations."

Note: I know I've dropped behind again (to be fair it is summer here and I am making the most of it) but to those who have missed a couple of chapters or books, better late than never! The threads are still there and most of us are still here so feel welcome to add to previous disccusions :)

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Re: 2.7 Parenthèse/A Parenthesis 9/1/11 - 16/1/11

Postby MmeBahorel » Sun Jan 09, 2011 3:34 pm

Notes

Chapitre 2
1 (kislar-aga/kizlar agasi): Chef des eunuques noirs du sérail à Constantinople.
Head of the black eunuchs in the seraglio of Constantinople.

2 (Abbey of Villers): Abbaye située à une cinquantaine de kilomètres au sud de Bruxelles. En septembre 1862, Hugo note : << Villers. Revue les cachots de l'abbaye sur la Dyle ; la boîte de pierre à mettre les hommes n'y est plus. […] La chose était dénoncée dans Les Misérables. Il était bon de la faire disparaître. >> (Choses vues, ouv. Cit., 1849-1869, p. 374.)
Abbey situated about 50 km south of Brussels. In September 1862, Hugo notes: “Villers. Saw again the cells of the abbey on the Dyle; the stone box into which men are put is no longer there. . . . The thing was denounced in Les Misérables. It was good to make it disappear.” (Things Seen, op. Cit., 1849-1869, p. 374.)

Chapitre 3
3 (bos cretatus): << Boeuf blanchi à la craie >> (Juvénal, Satires, X, 65-66).
“Ox whitened with chalk”/ “chalked bull” (Juvenal, Satires, X, 65-66).

Chapitre 5
4 (to clear God of caterpillars/to remove the vermin from the garden of God): Le 12 juin 1860, Hugo écrivait à Nefftzer : << Nous contestions sur Dieu autrefois ; je suis sûr que nous serion d'accord aujourd'hui. Il faut détuire toutes les religions afin de reconstruire Dieu. J'entends : le reconstruire dans l'homme. Dieu, c'est la vérité, c'est la justice, c'est la bonté ; c'est le doit et c'est l'amour. >>
12 June 1860, Hugo wrote to Nefftzer[wiki in French only]: “We debated about God once before; I am sure that we would be in agreement today. It is necessary to destroy all religions before reconstructing God. I understand: to reconstruct him in mankind. God is truth, is justice, is goodness, is right, and is love.”

Chapitre 6
5 (a little soaked in fog): Schopenhauer, Le Monde comme volonté et comme représentation, 1819.
Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, 1819.

6 (Change Eden into the Lyceum): Gymnase d'Athènes où enseignait Aristote.
Gymnasium in Athens where Aristotle taught.

7 (this is my blood): Phrase prononcée par Jésus-Christ à la Cène (Matthieu, XXVI, 26) devenue la parole liturgique de la << consécration >>.
Phrase spoken by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26) turned into the liturgy of the “consecration”

8 (to another occasion): Hugo justifie ici l'ajournement des textes philosophique dont il avait entrepris la rédaction en même temps qu'il revenait aux Misérables ; voir Proses philosophiques des années 1860-1865 au volume Critique.
Hugo here justifies the deferment of the philosophical texts whose editing he had undertaken at the same time he returned to Les Misérables; see Philosophic Prose of the Years 1860-1865 in the volume Criticism.

Chapitre 8
9 (Deo erexit Voltaire): << Élevé à Dieu par Voltaire >> : inscription gravée sur l'église de Ferney (1770).
“Erected to God by Voltaire”: Inscription engraved on the church of Ferney (1770).
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Re: 2.7 Parenthèse/A Parenthesis 9/1/11 - 16/1/11

Postby Ulkis » Sun Jan 09, 2011 7:17 pm

Yves Gohin notes that Hugo's Belgian publisher, Lacroix asked him to delete this section from the novel, which was growing to an alarming length. Hugo at first agreed, then protested, "I cannot introduce a convent into Les Misérables only to praise it. There must be some reservations."


Of course Hugo thought reservations meant about 50 pages worth of them, heh. That said, I have found these last two books pretty interesting.

It was good to make it disappear.”


Here does he mean that it was good the torture boxes disappeared or the Villers Abbey in general?

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Re: 2.7 Parenthèse/A Parenthesis 9/1/11 - 16/1/11

Postby MmeBahorel » Mon Jan 10, 2011 1:33 pm

Villers Abbey as an institution collapsed during the Revolution, but some of the buildings still exist as a tourist site today. Hugo was touring the ruins and it seems a section of cells had, between his visits, been removed. (Some of it was pulled down in the 1850s to make way for a rail line.) So in the context of the note, he means the physical destruction.
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Re: 2.7 Parenthèse/A Parenthesis 9/1/11 - 16/1/11

Postby Ulkis » Mon Jan 10, 2011 6:27 pm

Thank you!

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Re: 2.7 Parenthèse/A Parenthesis 9/1/11 - 16/1/11

Postby method in madness » Fri Jan 14, 2011 1:12 am

Hugo's discussion of the Dual Infinities, God and the Soul, and prayer placing them in contact with one another strikes me as a very Romantic way to explain the phenomenon...Which is maybe why I like the description so much.
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Re: 2.7 Parenthèse/A Parenthesis 9/1/11 - 16/1/11

Postby MmeBahorel » Sat Jan 22, 2011 8:54 pm

This was a lot less of a slog than I was anticipating. I think, in large part, because I'm concentrating on each book at a time and not reading it straight through as a single coherent novel (I'm going "oh god, I need to get caught up!" and only reading what I need to for each book for this discussion).

This book struck me, through most of it, as Hugo having no real conception as to what the convent, as opposed to the monastery, means. He touches on it at the end, thank god, because I kept going "But Victor, there is freedom for the woman in not being preyed on by people like you!"

The second chapter, The Convent as Historical Fact, talks horribly about the convents of Italy and Spain - but it never goes into what women's married lives were like in Italy and Spain in the medieval and Renaissance heyday of convents. I'm far from an expert in the period, but when even I know that in Renaissance Venice, you had more freedom as a courtesan or a nun than you did as a married woman when it came to education, intellectual hobbies, writing, art - can you blame those women who elected the convent rather than prostitution? (Mère Innocente, in the next book, strikes me as a relic from that earlier period - in 1824, she has options outside the convent to exercise her mind, but within the convent, she has been permitted both study and leadership; she seems to see herself as subordinate to no man.)

Some of Hugo's objections are also based very much in his society though he tries to justify them as universal. Chapter 3 begins, "Monasticism, as it was in Spain, as it is in Tibet, is a disease to civilisation. It cuts off life. In a word, it depopulates. Incarceration, castration." Now, that last sentences goes straight to Hugo's personal issues, that a man who loves sex as much as he does cannot imagine a world without it as at all good. The depopulation thread, however, is interesting: France has a long history of fear of depopulation. Population growth throughout the nineteenth century was rapid, but France was always comparing itself demographically to Britain and Germany and felt itself coming up short even when it had better population growth than its perceived rivals. So the monasteries and convents, keeping people out of the breeding population, were dangerous for the future, even though they did not much take in the peasantry and served as a release valve for "overpopulation" of the upper classes, allowing the consolidation of estates by putting collateral heirs outside of the need for an inheritance. Hugo acknowledges this, but his insistence that monasticism depopulates, which it does not do to a meaningful degree (or even have a meaningful retardation of the growth rate, as opposed to creating a negative growth rate as he implies), is very much a production of nineteenth century social thought.

A bit later, as he's ranting, he says, "The persistence of superannuated institutions in striving to perpetuate themselves is like the obstinacy of a rancid perfume clinging to the hair, to the pretension of spoiled fish that insists on being eaten, the tenacious folly of a child's garment trying to clothe a man, or the tenderness of a corpse returning to embrace the living." I think this phrase is also generally political - it's one of those phrases that may have been written with Louis-Napoleon half in mind, though it also screams "Ultraroyalism" in the 1820s, the party of Charles X.

Chapter 4 is where we finally get a bit of appreciation for the ideal under which the communities were originally founded. "Where community exists, there likewise exists the true body politic, and where the latter is, there too is justice. The monastery is the product of the formula, 'Equality, Fraternity.' Oh! How great is Liberty! And how glorious the transfiguration! Liberty is enough to transform the monastery into a republic!" This is straight Enlightenment political thought that you'll see in both Locke and Rousseau. And it is perhaps true of the monastery. But Hugo continually makes no distinction between monastery and convent, and the very difference between male and female, at his period and in the past he is describing, is tremendously important.

Skipping to Chapter 6, I actually start to get caught up in Hugo's religious issues. "To set up a theory that lacks a source of truth in an excellent example of blind assurance." He's trying to use this to castigate atheists, though it is one of those truisms of religious discussion that both sides lack a source of truth that the other side will accept. He goes on, "There are, we know, illustrious and powerful atheists. These men, in fact, led back again toward truth by their own power, are not absolutely sure of being atheists; with them, the matter is nothing but a question of definitions, and, at all events, even if they do not believe in God, they prove God, because they are great minds." Kind of makes you want to smack him, doesn't it? With science still in an infant state, can you really blame the Deists for accepting a non-interventionist God when they feel the story of Creation is crap but they cannot prove otherwise? Can you blame the agnostics for being certain that they are uncertain? That logic and reasoning and science tells us all this doesn't hold up, so it's probable that there may be another explanation? Shut up about the moles, Victor - they pity those poor creatures who talk about something that can't exist. You're a creature of the underground, too - why do you believe in the difference between sun and bonfire when you only know the warming and cooling and have no view of what causes it? (Atheists living a century and a half after this was written were not Hugo's target audience.)

Chapter 8 ("Faith, Law"), has some pretty bits at the beginning about mental labour, and at least he backpedals a bit from his ranting: "We blame the Church when it is saturated with intrigues; we despise the spiritual when it is harshly austere to the temporal; but always we honor the thoughtful man." But it's only here that we at last get any recognition for what the convent itself means, as opposed to the monastery. "for woman suffers most under our system of society, and in this exile of the cloister there is an element of protest" - why is this, the most important part of the whole damned thing, this beginning of understanding the purpose and long existence of the convent, a mere parenthesis? If you understand that protest, and respect that this protest against women's condition is good, why leave it a mere parenthesis? This isn't just Hugo being a product of his society and his usual other not-so-advanced views on women. Because he does get it. But it isn't important to him, even when supposedly describing the convent. And that drives me nuts. Not because I expect better of him in feminist terms, but because this whole parenthesis is supposed to be about the convent, and it isn't. It is never about the convent, it is about the monastery, and the only acknowledgment of the difference comes in a parenthesis at the end and undermines a large part of his argument. Women have no liberty in the outside world, so mightn't they consider the rule of a convent freer than the rule of men? He's moved into generalities here rather than just the Bernardine-Benedictines, so I suppose I can, too, in my critique of his poorly stated argument.

If he's going to argue against the convent, as he claims he will do at the beginning of this book, then he should argue against the convent. Not the monasteries, for they are not the same, being constructed by men, for men, ruled by men. The convents, many orders being founded by women, but always for women and ruled by women, have always been different because they are a women's institution that provides a respite from a society that is men's institution! Make your argument, Victor; don't just pretend you will and then argue something else! And yes, I am arguing from the perspective of the founders of orders and the women who chose to enter these institutions; sadly, they often served as a place to imprison "wayward" women, those who refused marriages or were not "ideal" wives or came from families that could not afford dowries and thus had to dispose of their daughters (or at least their younger or less attractive daughters as they could not provide for all). There is plenty to be angry about re: convents, but the lack of sex and the lack of "liberty" aren't exactly the arguments to be made here.

Of course, then he pulls around all Romantic on us to describe the "certain majesty" of the cloister: "This monastic existence, austere and gloomy as it is, of which we have indicated a few characteristics, is not life, for it is not liberty; it is not the grave, for it is not completion; it is that strange place from which, as from the summit of a lofty mountain, we see, on one side, the abyss in which we are, an, on the other, the abyss where we are to be; it is a narrow and misty boundary separating two worlds, at once illuminated and obscured by both, where the faint ray of life mingles with the uncertain ray of death; it is the twilight of the tomb."

The man can drive me crazy when I'm looking for logical, reasoned analysis, but damn, his writing can be beautiful :)

ETA: I also wanted to add a link to this article from the International Herald Tribune: Bringing a Monastery Back to Life, about the Erdene Zuu monastery in Mongolia. Not that Hugo had even this much info, I suspect, when talking about monasteries in Tibet (Mongolia practices Tibetan Buddhism).
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Re: 2.7 Parenthèse/A Parenthesis 9/1/11 - 16/1/11

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Thu Oct 10, 2013 10:17 pm

October 11, 2013

The Convent as an Abstract Idea

http://www.online-literature.com/victor_hugo/les_miserables/130/

(anyone still here?)

Hugo explains his reason for digressing: to highlight another important player in the book.
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Re: 2.7 Parenthèse/A Parenthesis 9/1/11 - 16/1/11

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Sat Oct 12, 2013 3:05 am

October 12, 2013

The Convent as a Historical Fact

http://www.online-literature.com/victor_hugo/les_miserables/131/

The appalling practices of the past and what place they have in the present milieu.
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Re: 2.7 Parenthèse/A Parenthesis 9/1/11 - 16/1/11

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Sun Oct 13, 2013 12:24 am

October 13, 2013

On What Conditions One Can Respect the Past

http://www.online-literature.com/victor_hugo/les_miserables/132/

Putting a practice into context.
"...all aptitudes having equal opportunity; politically, all votes having equal weight; religiously, all consciences having equal rights."

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Re: 2.7 Parenthèse/A Parenthesis 9/1/11 - 16/1/11

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Mon Oct 14, 2013 2:04 am

October 14, 2013

The Convent From the Point of View of Principles

http://www.online-literature.com/victor_hugo/les_miserables/133/

Can liberty, equality, and fraternity translate into the monastic life?
"...all aptitudes having equal opportunity; politically, all votes having equal weight; religiously, all consciences having equal rights."

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Re: 2.7 Parenthèse/A Parenthesis 9/1/11 - 16/1/11

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Tue Oct 15, 2013 2:30 am

October 15, 2013

Prayer

http://www.online-literature.com/victor_hugo/les_miserables/134/

To meet the Infinite.
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Re: 2.7 Parenthèse/A Parenthesis 9/1/11 - 16/1/11

Postby humanracer » Tue Oct 15, 2013 2:39 am

Aurelia Combeferre wrote:October 11, 2013

The Convent as an Abstract Idea

http://www.online-literature.com/victor_hugo/les_miserables/130/

(anyone still here?)

Hugo explains his reason for digressing: to highlight another important player in the book.


Hi! Sorry I am am behind as I have been a bit busy lately. I am not on this part of the book yet but I wanted to say that this digression was cut from the the original edition of the British translation by Wraxall.

There seems to a read through on tumblr at the moment which is far more active. I stubbornly refuse to create a tumblr account though as I don't like the site at all. It is a shame more people aren't contributing. Perhaps someone could promote this forum on tumblr or maybe that isn't allowed. Regardless thanks for your continued efforts and let's hope the discussion picks up again soon.

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Re: 2.7 Parenthèse/A Parenthesis 9/1/11 - 16/1/11

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Tue Oct 15, 2013 5:15 am

Been thinking about the tumblr thing, but I also have my personal reasons for staying away from the site. Haven't been able to contribute much either since life has been nuts lately.

I think it's the subject matter; I expect things to pick up when we hit Marius' end of the book!
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Re: 2.7 Parenthèse/A Parenthesis 9/1/11 - 16/1/11

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Tue Oct 15, 2013 10:59 pm

October 16, 2013

The Absolute Goodness of Prayer

http://www.online-literature.com/victor_hugo/les_miserables/135/

The aim of such a measure.
"...all aptitudes having equal opportunity; politically, all votes having equal weight; religiously, all consciences having equal rights."


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