elsane: Yeo Kyeung and Wan from Capital Scandal in full revolutionary garb (revolution!!)
[personal profile] elsane
I need a Les Miserables icon. Sadly none of the famous 1860s art features Combeferre.

(I have, however, found this screamer, courtesy Pont Au Change, which is apparently supposed to be Enjolras:

Thus demonstrating that the perennial author's lament about cover art has a venerable tradition. The buck teeth. And are those muttonchops?)

You guys, I have just spent 113 pages hanging out with an elderly bishop and his household, an ex-convict, and a very opinionated author, and I am having the time of my life. I love this book.

The Bishop of Digne, it turns out, is based on a real person: Bishop de Miollis, who, for his charity, was gifted by his congregants with the name of Monseigneur Bienvenue, and who resisted Napoleon at the Council of Paris (though probably not by pointedly commenting on how nice the furniture was). Surely Hugo has exaggerated his saintliness, but he has also exaggerated his contradictions. Miollis, like Myriel, fled to Italy to avoid the revolution. But Miollis did so to avoid taking the "France first!" oath that the Republic demanded of clergymen, while Myriel, son of privilege, flees to avoid the tumult, and - for reasons Hugo pointedly refrains from speculating on - returns as a priest. That Hugo has chosen to give him a worldlier background is fascinating, and this emphasis on contradiction at the core of character is part and parcel of why I am liking the book so much.

(This is intriguing and hysterically funny, a letter from Miollis' nephew waxing indignant that Hugo has slandered, slandered his uncle by having Myriel kneel at the feet of the conventionary G.)

The moment when I knew I would love this book, as opposed to simply finding it highly entertaining, came when our friend the Bishop goes to visit the dying conventionary, and his priestly hackles rise like those of a much pettier man, and the tension comes to a head when the Bishop drops to a seat and demands an accounting.

I love old G; he comes across as both an individual personality grown into idiosyncracy with age and isolation and a force of nature, resigned but unbowed. (I would like to figure out how Hugo does this. A lot of it is just being unafraid of coming straight out and saying things, but it's the right things that have to be said, and in the right order.) "Conscience is the quantity of innate science which we have within us," G. says, directly, and I was stunned.

I therefore wanted to blow great quantities of raspberries at Hugo when it transpires two pages later that our most saintly of clerics can reconcile himself to all of this revolutionary freethinking provided that the conventionary believes in God. It is a blatantly transparent attempt at having one's cake and eating it too. If the divine is liberty, and immensity, and foremost of all compassion, and not doctrine; if wonder is to be found in the stars at night; if conscience is innate within us; what does it matter if the infinite looks down, or if the many Is of the infinite are the ones looking up into the stars, and marveling?

In any case, we're barely in and Hugo's thesis is already clear (pending the vast complicated footnotes about Napoleon still to come). God is critical, but the church is at best neutral and at worst complicit; the tendency of revolution toward excess is acknowledged and deplored, but (and this is a fascinating sentiment to me) a necessary risk to run as the need to clear the debris of the ancien regime runs deeper; and compassion exercised in the old artisanal manner, person by person, case-by-case, is simultaneously the single most important thing that a human being can do, and entirely inadequate when the entire structure of society needs to be changed. It's a much more nuanced worldview than I had expected, to be honest, and I'm intrigued.

I really do need to go to bed, so I'll just mention that I love how human and three-dimensional the Bishop's long-suffering sister and maid are, though I have huge amounts of "..." about the reality of being a non-voting member in the household of Monseigneur Myriel, and I will never not be amused by the narrative voice.
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elsane: clouds, brilliance, and the illusion of wings. (Default)

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