Monday, October 28, 2013

A Breath Away from Hell

And now is the part of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables where Hugo gets philosophical.

Well, another one of the parts.

But this time about depravity, so that's always fun! Let's see what Volume 3: Marius has to tell us about the human condition, in:
I'm halfway through this novel,
I've seen the stage production
and a film, and I've yet to see
why they made a book cover
featuring a lot of shoes.
Book Seventh - Patron Minette

Well, diving right into it: "Human societies all have what is called in theatrical parlance, a third lower floor." (p.477) So: up top, all those "great political, revolutionary, and philosophical" folks discussed in Book Fourth. Nobility of thought and action, etc. Progress. 

Below that, normal everyday schlubs.

Below that is "the great cavern of evil." (p.478) Nothing redeeming here. Nothing good. "Its name is simply theft, prostitution, murder, assassination. It is darkness, and it desires chaos.Its vault is formed of ignorance." (p.479) (I think Hugo disapproves!)

And in that evil place: "A quartette of ruffians, Claquesous, Gueulemer, Babet, and Montparnasse governed the third lower floor of Paris, from 1830 to 1835." (p.479) Now, Hugo does a gorgeous job of describing these four evil dudes, and since this chapter is exactly half-way through the book, I encourage you all to just go read it for fun. My favorite part: "[Claquesous] was a ventriloquist. Babet said: 'Claquesous is a nocturne for two voices.'" (p.480)

Possibly not the Proteus
Hugo meant.
So you've got these four baddies. They "formed a sort of Proteus, winding like a serpent among the police," (p.480) making it impossible for the police to pin anything on any one. "These four men were not four men; they were a sort of mysterious robber with four heads, operating on a grand scale in Paris; they were that monstrous polyp of evil, which inhabits the crypt of society." (p.481) And the underworld called them Patron-Minette. Plus lots of other things; Hugo makes a list. It is long.

Basically, he's not big on gray areas here. There is black, and there is white. These four: black. "What is necessary to cause these spectres to vanish? Light. Light in floods. Not a single bat can resist the dawn. Light up society from below." (p.482)

Presumably, the next long chapter will proceed to do just that.

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