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Attention conservation notice: this showed up on Tumblr already. Absolute and utter crack, also Hugo pastiche flash-fic. My apologies to the Quartier de Picpus, though as one folk etymology of the name is pique-puce (flea-bite) I feel octopi are an improvement.

A snippet that Hugo’s editor didn’t make him cut from the convent chapters





Concerning the origin of the name «the Petit Picpus»

...In that time there was a man who returned from the Petite Antilles bearing in a jar a small specimen of that species of creature known as octopus, or devilfish to the sailor, who is in his confined discomfort cruel to all things which move more freely. The octopus belonging to the former sailor was not the small brown type found in the waters to the north, nor yet the terrible devilfish that dooms ships and pursues its prey on land, but rather was small and delicately rosy, like the ear of a young girl, and uncommonly cunning. It would stretch out its grasping appendages to appropriate any small thing left by unwitting visitors near the jar where the former sailor housed it, and was apt to crawl out of the jar in search of greater horizons when the lid was left unsealed. This surely indicates a creature more adventurous than wise, but in this we may salute a brave and kindred spirit, and observe that even the dumb creatures of the earth may be moved by an innate impulse against confinement.

The former sailor, who had conceived an uncommon degree of affection for this creature of the deep, did not wish the octopus to die of desiccation in a far corner, and took thought on diversions for his strange pet. He was acquainted with an artist, who supported himself by painting girls for their lovers and saints for the church, and who left his brush fatally within tentacled reach of the octopus one day. It so transpired that the octopus saw fit to experiment with the brush, and rendered a creditable scribble upon the table, which would challenge the skill of most children under four years of age; it further transpired that the octopus, marvellous creature that it was, would select a brush with enthusiasm, from among all objects placed within its reach, and was observed to choose between colors, and to all appearances deliberately composed its scribblings.

Is it strange that a creature so far removed from us should seem to understand art, however dimly, and seek it out as the consolation, nay, the transformation of its durance? Surely this is not more strange than that a man may give himself over to song when confined to the cloister, or mortgage his eyes and his hands to the illumination of books. Art is free when the soul is imprisoned. In the octopus we may read the distillation of man.

This octopus, which gained a certain reputation in the quarter, the former sailor began to exhibit for a sou. He claimed the octopus would paint what it saw, and the credulous looked at the scribbles the octopus made, and were pleased to see, in their optimism, the faces of their best beloved, if not their own, and pay for this privilege. In this manner the former sailor made a living for himself, and the octopus, being a scientific marvel, garnered a certain amount of fame as the small octopus that drew [le petit pic-pus].

Worn by weather and hard usage, the sailor died while still young, and bequeathed his octopus to the convent, in the hope that it would have the charity to maintain the creature; whereupon it was incumbent upon the mothers vocal to decide what to do with a creature which partook of deviltry and yet exhibited a disconcerting sensitivity to the higher nature of art....
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