It's really rather fascinating (and kind of hilarious) to read how Hugo describes and justifies the use of slang. It's OMG so evil and that's why it must be dredged up from the ooze, so we can contemplate it in all its horror. To a modern reader, it's pretty damned ridiculous, in part because we are used to realist literature and in part because in modern society, we take our slang from anywhere that strikes us, including the language of the prisons or the inner cities, through rap and hip hop and media that focus on these subcultures. There's also a bit of a translation issue here. If translated directly according to a contemporary dictionary, “argot” is slang and “jargon” would be jargon. It looks as if Hugo is attempting to justify himself by conflating the two. However, in French, the specialised language that certain professions use, is also termed “argot” (while “jargon” in historical dictionaries tends always to be used to refer to thieves slang or the type of language used by outsiders that ordinary people find incomprehensible). So when Hugo says “not everyone will agree with this understanding of the word”, it plays into what in English translation initially looked like a conflation of slang and jargon, but in 19th century French is people not reading the dictionary. (The definition “by extension, the particular words adopted, between themselves, by the people of certain professions” first appears in 1835.) Prior to the 19th century, the word applied solely to thieves' cant, so that when Hugo then refers to “the old acceptation”, he means this usage.
Only after this do we finally get the real justification, the only valid justification (the jargon bit doesn't actually help his case after what we've already seen in the novel): “the study of social deformities and infirmities and attention drawn to them in order to cure them, is not a work in which choice is permissible.” Here is the real key, coming back around to “scientists have to study tarantulas, too” (which sadly ignores that tarantulas are awesome, but I don't expect many people to share that opinion of mine). And then he very nicely argues in favour of social history before going all creepy again.
A few additional notes on his examples:
Montpellier, Marseille – I think they're talking olive oil, as oil pressing/refining is a major shared industry to the cities in the 19th century (Montpellier mostly turned it to candles and other waxen items; Marseille focused on soaps). If earlier, it sounds like woollens, to be honest.Norman law
is followed in the Channel Islands, which is the reason Hugo is using this particular example.
FMA skipped a few elements (missing ones starred and translated for those working off this translation):
Le marchand qui dit : Montpellier disponible ; Marseille belle qualité
l'agent de change qui dit : report, prime, fin courant
le joueur qui dit : tiers et tout, refait de pique,
l'huissier des îles normandes quit dit : l'affieffeur s'arrêtant à son fonds ne peut clâmer les fruits de ce fonds pendant la saisie héréditale desimmeubles du renonciateur
*le vaudevilliste qui dit : on a égayé l'ours (the vaudevillian who says, we dressed up the bear – [bear
: a play that has aged without being produced, if I have managed that definition correctly.])
le comédien qui dit : j'ai fait four
*le philosophe qui dit : triplicité phénoménale (the philosopher who says, phenomenal triplicity [this comes from either Kant or Hegel or both])
le chasseur qui dit : voileci allais, voileci fuyant
le phrénologue qui dit : amativité, combativité, sécrétivité
*le fantassin qui dit : ma clarinette (the infantryman who says, my clarinet)
*le cavalier qui dit : mon poulet d'Inde (the cavalier who says, my turkey)
le maître d'armes qui dit : tierce, quarte, rompez
l'imprimeur qui dit : parlons batioPhrenology
There's also some weird stuff going on with the list of apprentices:
*le peintre qui dit : mon rapin (painter – rapin [technically the apprentice to a painter, also colloquially used for a bad painter, a dauber: note Grantaire's description])
*le notaire qui dit : mon saute-ruisseau (notary – gutter jumper)
le perruquier qui dit : mon commis (hair dresser – subaltern/aid)
le savetier qui dit : mon gniaf (shoe repairman – itinerant [gniaf – colloquial usage for an itinerant shoe repairman or, by extension, a bad bootmaker or cobbler])Hôtel de Rambouillet
I cannot figure out this M. de Montmorency thing.
Sailors: Jean Bart
– highwayman with a famous ballad and a microbrewery (yes, I'm serious on the last one)
La Fontaine's admirable line comes from La Coche et la Mouche
(The Coach and the Fly
Levantine, as language is really Sabir, also known as lingua franca or Mediterranean Lingua Franca
. It is the original lingua franca.
“Romance Romance” is Old Gallo-Romance
Isn't “pharos” for general/prefect/minister probably derivative of the Pharos, lighthouse – something high that looks over everything? Not seeing this one coming out of whole cloth.
What FMA translate as “it's raining pitchforks” is “it's raining halberds”.
“wittier but less grand, something like Racine after Corneille, like Euripides after Aeschylus” - I think we have the answer to Prouvaire's literary preferences, or at least the reasoning: Prouvaire prefers the grand to the witty, as Hugo seems to do here.
Is it true that orgue is derivative of sorgue? Or does it just sound poetic? Is it really like saying “trap” is derived from “strap”? I don't actually trust Hugo here, because while he's laying all this out as fact, he's also justifying its study, and making selections from what he knows but also what proves his point that thieves' cant is just as worthy as high-flown poetry, just as beautiful in the same
A condemned man is legally dead, actually. The Napoleonic Code states “Sentence to natural death shall imply civil death” (II, II, 23
). Which alone makes me wonder if it is not merely those who are condemned to death who are referred to as dead before the deed is done, but those with life sentences that include civil death as well – and if these references pre-date any of these legal terms. If the speakers are constantly in and out of the legal system, they are hardly ignorant of the system and will make reference to it in ways those who have little direct contact with the system would not necessarily think of.
Poulailler – a robber. I'm taking this from Harper's Monthly Magazine, 1851
(story begins on page 489). Born in Brittany, he began before the age of 10 or so with theft, fraud following close thereafter, and a little Robin-Hooding on the side. Escapes from the law, beloved by women, supposedly walled up an informer alive (shades of Poe, there), and is generally hella awesome, someone who fills in nicely the void left by the capture of Cartouche. Which is what Hugo is referencing, as opposed to the reality, which was that he was a thief of poultry and livestock, and his “band” of five guys had just graduated to armed robbery when he was arrested. (Violence in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800
, Julius Ralph Ruff, p. 30)
Damn you, JK Rowling, I see “hippogriffs” and start cracking up. The liberator rides hippogriffs – I'm sure Sirius believes in that, but I'm not so sure about the rest of us in any other context *g*. And then you get all porny with Andromeda
. You couldn't just use Prometheus, no, you had to go for the naked chick, because you are Victor Hugo.
The end of this chapter just kind of makes me go “wow”, in that Carolyn Hax “I cannot believe you said something so jaw-droppingly awful” way. We've had all these examples of where slang constructions come from, then the more poetic ones are justified through explication of the metaphors. We have a very distressing picture of the treatment of prisoners under the Ancien Regime. And then, just as we have elevated the language, we drag it back down as a pitiful form of language, a cry of the misérables, and we hope it will be stamped out, in imagery that looks like an overblown flight of fancy, and ends with a hot naked chick tied to a rock. To use Andromeda is to feminise the misérables, to render them weak and helpless; Prometheus is also chained to a rock until he is rescued by a hero who slays monsters, but it is in punishment for having rendered a service, for acting against the overlords on behalf of the weak, and therefore he can't be used here because that would mean the misérables have agency, are capable of action on their own behalf and on behalf of others. And we can't have that, now, can we?
I have no idea what he means here about Restif de la Bretonne. The man wrote a lot of stuff – a lot of random stuff. He comes up in my research in the contexts of prostitution and sewers, as a precursor to Parent-Duchâtelet and companion to Mercier. The problem seems to be that unlike the Enlightenment philosophers/writers, Restif de la Bretonne was leading his lower class readers down a path Hugo despises. The sort of thing that is exemplified in Schiller's The Robbers
. I wonder if this has anything to do with what the wiki writer characterises as Restif de la Bretonne's proto-communism, as opposed to the milder socialism Hugo espouses in his revolutionary chapters. That there's something more “breaking of the altars” and “you have nothing to lose but your chains” than “equitable distribution of wealth”. Because boy does he go off on Schiller for ruining Germany and the rest of Europe.
The bourgeois is coming out very strongly here. Thank god the French Revolution, that embodiment of Enlightenment philosophy, came along when it did to cut off the potential for a peasant uprising. He admits that the anger has cause, but that can all be dissolved with the giving of rights – see how wonderful the people behave in revolutions led by their betters? *gag* Peasant uprisings are dead because peasants have civil rights?
So, instead of uprisings, we have to worry about crime, which is the slow attack on the body politic as opposed to the “apoplexy” of a rising. Our solutions must therefore be top-down, in the ways we believe are needed, and instead of shaking up the hierarchy, we will believe that a rising tide will lift all boats and thus no change in the hierarchy will be necessary. And without acknowledging that education can create wrath should it lack opportunities (as in, if the hierarchy does not enable men to climb but merely assumes that everyone is advancing equally therefore no one is actually getting ahead), we will assume that suffering will end and so will the wrath of the people. “If there is anything more poignant than a body agonizing for want of bread, it's a soul dying of hunger for light.” But that's not what you've been supporting; you'll feed the body, but the soul cries out to be permitted to use the light it is granted, and I'm not seeing that in these paragraphs.
Now for more complaints about Louis-Napoleon.
Boy have we ended up far away from a discussion of slang. It's as if these two chapters don't actually belong here, but here's as good a place as any to stick them. He went on a bit long, got carried away, and never bothered to try to work back around to language. And left his bourgeois ass showing.
The intended audience for these portions is the bourgeois reader, and it make sense that he plays to them. But I don't think he's playing to them so much as that he is them. I wonder what his lower-class readers thought of chapters like these last two, where any agency to better their sufferings is removed from them – they are not even to be partners in their salvation – and given wholly over to those who are already in charge.
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard