Monday, October 21, 2013

In Your Eyes I am Just Like a Child

I am going to have to work diligently to get anywhere close to completion of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables by the end of 2013. Do feel free to scold me for my tardiness.

So, we're in the midst of Volume 3: Marius, and that young man is living the poor but noble life, while his grandfather thinks harsh thoughts about him, and about everyone. Start rubbing your hands together in anticipation now, folks, because here comes:

Coy womanhood! Or, actually,
girlhood, because dang but
does Hugo wax rhapsodic
about teenagers, or what?
Book Sixth - The Conjunction of Two Stars
Not to give too much away, but one of those stars is the affable, attractive Marius, who likes to take morning walks through various public places in Paris. The other first appears sitting on a bench with a white-haired old guy: "a sort of child thirteen or fourteen years of age, so thin as to be almost homely, awkward, insignificant, and with a possible promise of handsome eyes." (p.466) Marius passes them frequently, and doesn't particularly note the duo. "He found the man to his taste, but the girl insipid." (p.466) 

After a couple of years of this - them on the bench, him walking by - things change. This is when you can think about 60-year-old Hugo writing about teenage girls:

  • "The person whom he now beheld was a tall and beautiful creature, possessed of all the most charming lines of a woman at the precise moment when they are still combined with all the most ingenuous graces of the child; a pure and fugitive moment, which can be expressed only by these two words, - 'fifteen years.'" (p.467)
  • "In six months the little girl had become a young maiden; that was all. Nothing is more frequent than this phenomenon. There is a moment when girls blossom out in the twinkling of an eye, and becomes roses all at once. One left them children but yesterday; today, one finds them disquieting to the feelings." (p.467) Does one, Victor? DOES ONE?
  • "As three days in April suffice to cover certain trees with flowers, six months had sufficed to clothe her with beauty. Her April had arrived." (p.467)
  • That not metaphor enough for you? How about a poor person who suddenly has wads of cash? "That is the result of having pocketed an income; a note fell due yesterday. The young girl had received her quarterly income." (p.467)
  • "Her eyes were of a deep, celestial blue, but in that veiled azure, there was, as yet, nothing but the glance of a child. She looked at Marius indifferently, as she would have stared at the brat running beneath the sycamores," despite the fact that he's walking past her bench half a dozen times. (p.468)
  • But then one spring day Marius walks by, and "the young girl raised her eyes to him, the two glances met.  What was there in the young girl's glance on this occasion? Marius could not have told. There was nothing and there was everything. It was a strange flash." (p.468)
  • "There comes a day when the young girl glances in this manner. Woe to him who chances to be there!" (p.468)
  • "It is a snare which the innocent maiden sets unknown to herself, and in which she captures hearts without either wishing or knowing it. It is a virgin looking like a woman." (p.468) Ummmm....

So all of that happens, and Marius goes home and glances in the mirror and is horrified to realize that he's "been so slovenly, indecorous, and inconceivably stupid as to go for his walk in the Luxembourg with his 'every-day clothes,' that is to say, with a hat battered near the band, coarse carter's boots, black trousers which showed white at the knees, and a black coat which was pale at the elbows." (p.468) Ah, that magical moment when a guy realizes that he's making an impression with his appearance.

The next day he gets dandified and heads for his walk. "On the way thither, he encountered Courfeyrac, and pretended not to see him. Courfeyrac, on his return home, said to his friends:- 'I have just met Marius' new hat and new coat, with Marius inside them. He was going to pass an examination, no doubt. He looked utterly stupid.'" (p.469)

Lots of perambulation follows. It would make a great madcap movie montage. Marius strolls by, pretending it's just as usual, but looking sidelong at the girl. He walks closer to the bench some days, further away but slower other days. Sometimes he doubles back, sometimes he hides behind the statues and trees to spy on her, sometimes he sits on a nearby bench, going over his mental catalogue of her every gown and bonnet, and thinking inane things about how she was ignoring him, but she couldn't "help feeling esteem and consideration for me, if she only knew that I am the veritable author of the dissertation on Marcos Obregon de la Ronde," (p.470) and so forth. It even occurred to him that the girl's dad might start thinking his behavior odd.

One day! Oh, bliss! Marius was sitting on a bench near them, pretending to read, and she and her dad
walked past him! "He felt his brain on fire. She had come to him, what joy! And then, how she had looked at him! She appeared to him more beautiful than he had ever seen her yet." (p.471) It was heaven on earth, natch. "At the same time, he was horribly vexed because there was dust on his boots. He thought he felt sure that she had looked at his boots too." (p.472)

Nevertheless, Marius was on Cloud Nine, and unaccountably merry when dining with his friends. "When the mine is charged, when the conflagration is ready, nothing is more simple. A glance is a spark." (p.472)

Marius (as those of us who spent pages and pages reading his back story know) had this hero-worship thing happening with his father, which "gradually become a religion, and, like all religious, it had retreated to the depths of his soul. Something was required in the foreground. Love came." (p.473) On with the madcap montage, now with less pacing and more of Marius crouching behind pedestals trying to look grand for his lady love while being unnoticed by the dad.

"Sometimes, he remained motionless by the half-hour together in the shade of a Leonidas or a Spartacus, holding in his hand a book, above which his eyes, gently raised, sought the beautiful girl, and she, on her side, turned her charming profile towards him with a vague smile. While conversing in the most natural and tranquil manner in the world with the white-haired man, she bent upon Marius all the reveries of a virginal and passionate eye. Ancient and time-honored manoeuvre which Eve understood from the very first day the world, and which every woman understood from the very first day of her life! her mouth replied to one, and her glance replied to another." (p.473)

Papa starts playing mind-games with the dumb boy - walking to another bench while leaving his daughter at the original, to see which of them Marius follow, coming to the park alone to see if Marius would spy on Papa alone. Marius is goofy enough to fall for his traps.

And here's my favorite love-struck stupidity story: one day when Papa and the girl leave the park, Marius finds a handkerchief on the bench embroidered with "U.F." and instantly snatches it up, decides her name must be Ursule, keeps it by his heart during the day, on his pillow at night, and decides it embodies her soul. "This handkerchief belonged to the old gentleman, who had simply let it fall from his pocket." (p.474) So then Marius spent days kissing the handkerchief in front of "Ursule" in the park. "The beautiful child understood nothing of all this, and signified it to him by imperceptible signs. 'O modesty!' said Marius." (p.474)

Let's ogle teenagers with fancy language again, shall we? One windy day Ursule and Papa walked past Marius and he got up to follow. "All at once, a gust of wind, more merry than the rest, and probably charged with performing the affairs of Springtime, swept down from the nursery, flung itself on the alley, enveloped the young girl in a delicious shiver, worthy of Virgil's nymphs, and the fawns of Theocritus, and lifted her dress, the robe more sacred than that of Isis, almost to the height of her garter. A leg of exquisite shape appeared. Marius saw it. He was exasperated and furious." (p.474)

"Alas, the poor child had done nothing; there had been but one culprit, the wind; but Marius, in whom quivered the Bartholo who exists in Cherubin, was determined to be vexed, and was jealous of his own shadow." (p.474)

So jealous dumb Marius is watching Ursule, who glances at him. He "darted a sullen and ferocious glance at her. The young girl gave way to that slight straightening up with a backward movement, accompanied by a raising of the eyelids, which signifies: 'Well, what is the matter?' This was 'their first quarrel.'" (p.474) (Because it's totally kosher for guys to get mad at gals for being blown about by the wind and glare at them and them to not question it but just to be saddened.) (I'm sarcastic, but check out Hugo's further commentary: "Marius' wrath against 'Ursule,' just and legitimate as it was, passed off. He finally pardoned her; but this cost him a great effort; he sulked for three days." (p.475))

Eventually, Marius follows the duo home. He asks the porter lots of nosy questions, gets info about which floor they live on, that he's not rich but does good works with what income he has, and leaves feeling that he'll get the guy's name out of the porter soon. But the next day, when Marius follows them home, Papa sends Ursule inside and stares down Marius, who's standing in the street.

For the next eight torturous days, no Ursule or Papa in the Luxembourg gardens. No sign of them at them coming or going from their house. Eventually he goes to the house and there's no light in the window. He asks the porter.

They'd moved out the day before. No forwarding address.

Poor dumb love-struck Marius.

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