“Custom may familiarize mankind with the violation of their natural rights to such an extent, that even among those who have lost or been deprived of these rights, no one thinks of reclaiming them, or is even conscious that they have suffered any injustice.
Certain of these violations (of natural right) have escaped the notice of philosophers and legislators, even while concerning themselves zealously to establish the common rights of individuals of the human race and in this way to lay the foundation of political institutions. For example, have they not all violated the principle of equality of rights in depriving one-half of the human race of the right of taking part in the formation of laws by excluding women from the rights of citizenship? Could there be a stronger proof of the power of habit, even among enlightened men, than to hear invoked the principle of equal rights in favor of perhaps some 300 or 400 men, who had been deprived of it by an absurd prejudice, and forget it when it concerns some 12,000 women?
To show that this exclusion is not an act of tyranny, it must be proved either that the natural rights of women are not absolutely the same as those of men, or that women are not capable of exercising these rights.
But the rights of men result simply from the fact that they are rational, sentient beings, susceptible of acquiring ideas of morality, and of reasoning concerning those ideas. Women having, then, the same qualities, have necessarily the same rights. Either no individual of the human species has any true rights, or all have the same; and he or she who votes against the rights of another, whatever may be his or her religion, colour, or sex, has by that fact abjured his own.”—Condorcet, being really fabulous in On the Admission of Women to the Rights of Citizenship. (via maedhrys)
Takahiro Arai’s manga version of Les Misérables is published monthly in Monthly Shônen Sunday, or “Get the Sun”/”Gessan” for short (it makes sense in Japanese, I promise). So far there’s been one tankobon volume published, incorporating chapters 1–3.
This will be added to as more chapters are released and I get father along in my translation. I break each chapter up for my not-scanlations because of length reasons and to give myself a sense of accomplishment as I finish various parts. Chapter 4 and Chapter 7 don’t have a title or part breakdown because I don’t have copies of them yet.
If you can afford it, please support the creators by buying the manga! It’s pretty easy to get ahold of it. There are a number of stores that ship internationally or import it.
“Earthly existence is nothing other than the slow growth of a human being towards that flowering of the soul that we call death. It is in the tomb that the flower of life opens.”—Hugo, ‘Préface de mes Œuvres et post‐scriptum de ma vie’. To celebrate the life of Victor Hugo on the anniversary of his birth, Oxford Scholarship Online has made this article free: 'Les Contemplations: Life, Death, and the Expansion of Poetry'. (via oupacademic)
Awesome news: I just had a paper proposal accepted for an upcoming conference, this time for a panel specifically on Les Mis and religion! Operation “Beyond Christianity: Hugo, Heterodoxy, and the French Social Gospel” is a go!
So I’ve seen this come up several times in the Grantaire tag and it seems to throw people off—what is the correct pronunciation of that pesky “Don Juan”?
Logic would lead one to believe that it’s pronounced Don Huan—it’s a Spanish name, right, and Js in Spanish make the H sound, so, duh, Don Huan. Why does almost every Grantaire seem to have trouble with this very simple concept?
BUT there is more to the story.
Because Grantaire isn’t just referring to some guy named Juan. He’s referring to the Don Juan, a legendary fictional womanizer, whom many authors have written about. But the specific reference Grantaire is using is Lord Byron’s poem Don Juan, which is a satire—instead of being a master seducer, Don Juan is depicted as someone easily seduced by women. You can see how this ties into the context where Grantaire delivers the line—Grantaire is making fun of Marius for being so lovestruck by a woman whose name he doesn’t even know.
In Byron’s poem, “Don Juan” is rhymed with “true one” (and also “ruin”) indicating that it was intended to have a trisyllabic pronunciation— /ˌdɒnˈdʒuːən/ or Don Jew-an.
In Canto the first you can see:
Till, after cloying the gazettes with cant, The age discovers he is not the true one; Of such as these I should not care to vaunt, I’ll therefore take our ancient friend Don Juan—
So in this case, even though it would make most Spanish speakers wince, the pronunciation of a hard J and splitting “Juan” into two syllables is actually correct.
Hope this clears up some confusion! ^^
FWIW, the Byron reference works great for English speakers/productions, but the original French lyrics have a reference to Molière’s Don Juan (from Combeferre, no less):
COMBEFERRE Eh l’ami, t’en fais une tête C’est quand même pas ta Juliette Qui t’a mis le coeur au trémolo Avec Shakespeare, on craint le pire Joue-nous du Molière, on préfère Dom Juan plutôt que Roméo.
French, naturally, cares not one mite for Spanish phonetics, so pronounces it with two syllables, approximately like the ‘jew-AHN’ that we hear from Grantaire in modern English performances.
Come to think of it, I’m sure this is more-or-less where Byron gets his crazy pronunciation: an Englishman writing about a Spanish guy as filtered through a tradition of French writers.
In any event, I’d be wary of making too much about which version of DJ the current libretto references, since it’s a pretty free-floating allusion - but it is a fun game to imagine how the DJ in Grantaire’s mind affects the tenor of the line.
(Hey, anyone wanna check if Molière is still explicitly referenced in the current French lyrics?)
I’d really love to find out some of the names of the actual students who lead the June Rebellion of 1832. Probably a lost case, don’t know if they ever were registered, but it’s been on my mind a lot lately. It would’ve been so cool to like find the equivalent to Enjolras or something like that. I don’t know, just a silly thought, but if anyone knew where to look of if there’s even a possibility that this was registered then that would’ve been so great.
Most of the leaders in the actual June 1832 revolt were working-class. The most well-known, and probably Hugo’s most direct model for Enjolras’ conduct at the barricade, was named Charles Jeanne, and since he survived he was able to give extensive testimony at his trial and also in a series of letters he sent from prison. I’d point you to sources but AFAIK most of them are in French—I was going to make a project out of translating them to English but kind of got sidetracked. Off the top of my head, the ones that might be translated:
Louis Blanc’s “History of Ten Years” has a detailed account of the whole insurrection
Ditto Heinrich Heine’s “French Affairs,” from when he was a foreign correspondent for the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung
Also Alexandre Dumas’ memoirs
A transcript of the whole trial was published by radical groups who wanted to drum up sympathy for the defendants, under a title that translates roughly to Trial of the Twenty-Two Accused from the Cloister of Saint-Mery, and it might be translated somewhere
In general, look for info on Charles Jeanne and the other combatants from the barricades near the church of Saint-Merry (also spelled Saint-Mery or Saint-Merri)
If you’re interested in the secret societies that might’ve been involved in planning the event, check out the Société des Amis du Peuple/Society of the Friends of the People
and check out my “charles jeanne” and “june rebellion” tags and similar tags on any blogs that appear there—I know the full English text of the Heinrich Heine thing is linked there, and possibly also Louis Blanc, and a bunch of miscellaneous info
also check out some books on the period as well, barricades by jill harsin is pretty great, and pointed me in the direction of the société du les droits de l’homme et du citizen, or the ‘society of the rights of man and the citizen,’ which comes off to me to be even more immediately attachable to les amis, in that they’re more radical than the amis du peuple and were definitely the militant offshoot of adp.
Barricades is great but needs to be taken with ten zillion grains of salt for this exact reason: Harsin devotes maybe half a chapter to the Amis du Peuple and the 1830-32 period, mostly to establish that June 1832 marked a turning point after which the republicans went increasingly militant and underground, and then spends the rest of the book talking about the SDHC and other yet-more-radical groups that all fall on the other side of that 1832 turning point from the Amis. Harsin talks a lot about the consolidation into more and more rigidly-organized cells. Hugo, in “A Few Pages of History,” specifically draws attention to the disorganization of 1830-32, the sense that anything was possible, the tenuous and almost-undocumented links and alliances between groups with different ideologies but common aims, its status as a historical period whose chief interest lies in the fact that we know there was a giant ferment of secret societies, but have very sketchy and incomplete details of what those societies were, who belonged to them, their activities and relative importance, etc. (Just try looking for info on the Société Gauloise, which Charles Jeanne belonged to and was apparently a huge mover behind the scenes, but we know absolutely fuckall about it besides rumors and allegations from people with obvious ulterior motives.) The Amis appear to have connections with a bunch of these shadowy dealings (“I swore to go through fire, not water,” Prouvaire visiting a Masonic lodge, bottles of vitriol supplied by a future attempted assassin of Louis-Philippe), but none of it was cemented yet and what we see of their political opinions is nowhere near as militant as the SDHC and its successors.
Then again, the grain of salt itself needs to be taken with a grain of salt, because Hugo uses June 1832 as a foundation for a sort of mythic layering of All The Revolutions on top of each other—1830, 1832, 1834, 1848, 1851. And his hints at an embryonic SDHC are a clear tie to the more radical republicans of the later 1830s, just as Feuilly’s internationalism is explicitly tied to 1848. Hugo’s Amis are not rigidly bound to the Amis du Peuple any more than they are to the SDHC—but there’s a reason he explicitly patterned them after the one and not the other, and it probably has to do with that post-1832 sea change.
(For more on the Amis de l’ABC and the Rue de la Chanvrerie as a sort of pan-historical canon divergence AU of history, existing in the same fictional universe as the historical people and events they’re patterned on but confined within a liminal space all their own that allows a wide variety of influences—in other words, allowing Hugo to embellish and take liberties with history without actually fucking with the facts of the events at Saint-Merry—see this meta.)
(And for barricade warfare itself I cannot recommend Mark Traugott’s The Insurgent Barricade highly enough. Especially if you want statistics. There’s an appendix almost as long as the book itself full of facts and figures on every documented instance of barricades going up in pre-20th-century Europe that the author can lay his hands on.)
Hello! Before I asked anything, I just really wanted to tell you that all of your commentaries and research are so valuable to me:) I just get lost on your website! Your post on Jean Prouvaire, poetry, God and politics is just outstanding and is one of my favorites! (^ ^) Thank you so much for what you do! Forgive me if you have said this before, but may I ask: What got you into researching Les Mis? And also, do you have a favorite character to analyze? Thank you very much again and have fun!
Yay, thanks! That’s the kind of response that makes this so worthwhile for me. <3
I found LM through the musical, but then like so many of us got sucked into the novel by lurking around the fandom. It was pretty small at the time, but had a group of people who were really drawn to the research-y side of things (among other less reputable interests, hah), and I knew that I wanted to be a part of that. So I lurked for a few months and then went for it. I was incredibly lucky that the stars aligned in college such that I could use what I’d picked up from the fandom and then make it my own. It was a very natural progression, but it’s left me in dual worlds that can be weird to navigate.
As for characters… Honestly, the way I feel most distant from the fandom today is that I don’t currently have the razor-sharp interest in specific characters or relationships which drives so much of fan interactions. I still have my favorites (Enjolras, Bishop Myriel, Valjean, Combeferre), but I need to engage with them through Hugo’s digressions, not just via the plot. If that makes me sound dry and fussy…I kinda am. XD
Javert’s sense of duty and devotion is not directed at the letter of the law. It isn’t directed at some personal ideal of justice either. If it were, he would’ve broken far sooner than he did: a core belief that the letter of the law is always the highest form of justice would get utterly annihilated before long in an era of political instability and high regime turnover rate. What happens when the new regime makes laws that contradict the previous set? What happens when he witnesses an injustice or an overreach on the part of the police?
Javert’s primary belief system is at once much simpler and much more adaptable than either of those: he is devoted to authority.
I’m just going to quote Hugo here, because it’s one of the first things he tells us about Javert and his beliefs:
This man was made up of two very simple sentiments, and within reason very good ones, which he rendered almost bad by taking them to extremes: respect for authority and hatred of rebellion. And in his eyes theft, murder, any crime, was simply a form of rebellion. He looked on any state official, from the prime minister to the rural policeman, with a deep-seated blind faith. On anyone who had once crossed the legal threshold of wrong-doing he heaped scorn, loathing and disgust.
The reason Javert is able to placidly endure so many changes to the letter of the law and keep his mouth shut about whatever abuses he witnesses is because both of those things are subordinate to his guiding principle, which is: society in the form of legal authority is always in the right, and those it punishes and casts out are always in the wrong. They are unpeople, and more than that, they are a threat to respectable society.
This is why Javert doesn’t bother finding out who’s at fault for the fight between Fantine and Bamatabois. It’s not an oversight and it’s not just a bias in favor of the respectable property-holder’s version of events (which he doesn’t even bother to obtain in the book); he doesn’t give a shit about how it started, he refuses to give a shit about how it started, because that is 100% irrelevant to him. He has no desire to be ‘fair’ to a streetwalker as though there were two sides to this story. The only thing that matters to him here is the distinction between citizens and ‘undesireables,’ and there is no provocation or circumstance that could excuse a whore attacking a gentleman. He doesn’t bother to find out whether Bamatabois was in the wrong because there’s no way for Fantine to have been in the right. This “us vs. them” distinction is so important to him that he will make unfair and excessive use of his discretionary powers*, refuse to give a single shit when M. Madeleine tells him Fantine wasn’t the one who started the fight, stand up to an authority figure who he thinks isn’t giving proper respect to authority, and balk and squirm about standing down when he has the letter of the law flung in his face, all in order to defend that distinction against a perceived offense.
(* Side note: Fantine is not a criminal, but she is a legal outcast. Prostitution was legal but heavily regulated; upon registering as a prostitute, Fantine would have lost most of the few civil rights women had at the time and been subject to arbitrary arrest and detention for anything the police deemed “a breach of the regulations.” Javert’s hatred is not exclusively for those who’ve broken a law, it’s for the entirety of the criminal and quasi-criminal underclasses.)
Now, this is not to say that Javert doesn’t care about the letter of the law. His devotion to upholding social order is coupled with a sense of personal duty towards the rules that it’s set up to govern itself. He’s aware that his integrity is the one thing separating him from the abyss, from the “them” he hates so much, and so he is punctilious about never overstepping the boundaries that have been laid out for him. He has made irreproachability (according to the letter of the law) an essential part of his identity. But when the law gives him leeway, he uses it in the service of his guiding principle, which is “protect the ‘us’, punish the ‘them’ and keep them in their place.”
And his ultimate line between the two isn’t even wrongdoing, precisely—it’s the official confirmation, the mark of Cain the legal system stamps on anyone it’s deemed a transgressor. Granted, part of his job (in addition to keeping the ‘scum’ in line) is to identify formerly-law-abiding people who’ve committed crimes, arrest them, and pack them off to join the ranks of the transgressors, but what his suicide note reveals is that he’s been turning a blind eye to a thousand little forms of wrongdoing and injustice when they’re committed by authority figures against the dregs of society.
So… Javert is only partly about whether the law represents justice. His ultimate devotion is not to the law itself but to his role as a dog protecting the sheep from the wolves. And his ultimate dilemma isn’t simply “wait the law might not be entirely just all the time ERROR ERROR SEGMENTATION FAULT ERROR BSOD,” it’s about whether the legal system is really a reliable way to separate the wolves from the sheep, and whether people really are irrevocably one or the other, and whether Javert’s first brush with moral duty and divine justice completely invalidates the duty towards law and society that he’s devoted his entire life to.
tl;dr people’s perception of Javert/his value system focuses too much on the act of breaking the law and not enough on the status of being a person outside the law
Aaaaahahaha. Apparently coming up with tall tales and wacky theories about which ancestors, locations, incidents, etc. might have been the inspiration for some part of Les Misérables is a pastime-bordering-on-cottage-industry in Montreuil-sur-Mer. NOT ACTUALLY SURPRISED AT ALL.
OMG. I just found this in a heap of unsorted bookmarks. I have no idea where it came from or who passed the link along (if it was you, come forward so I can give you a hug, seriously). I guess I must have passed over it and filed it away for later because I assumed it only dealt with the First Republic era? BUT NO they have pages for a whole bunch of eras right up through the 20th century.
What is it? It’s a HUGE database of historically-significant places in Paris, their modern and historical addresses, what happened there (or who lived there), the people involved, and the relevant dates. The thing is that although its main focus is revolutions and opposition figures, it’s absurdly detailed and not at all narrow in scope: if you want to know when Victor Hugo moved to the Place des Vosges and where he lived before that, or the addresses of prominent opposition newspapers, or where various Romantic authors/painters/composers lived, or every minor street disturbance in the early 1830s, or completely random shit like the location of the last public washing-house in Paris or the names and addresses of fashionable hat shops, or even which streets still have architecture characteristic of a particular era, they’ve got you covered. It’s like someone’s been picking at my deepest, darkest, most embarrassingly nit-picky and overdedicated desires re: research and Paris nerdery.
To the bemusement and mild horror of many of his fans, Victor Hugo is recognized as one of the most important saints in the intentionally combinatory Vietnamese religion known as Cao Dai.
I’ve had trouble trying to figure out exactly how important he is - if he’s one saint among many or specifically one of an official ‘top three’ - but he’s definitely recognized as a major religious figure (who I think may have allegedly communicated with them from beyond the grave via their spiritualist practices).
Sound too wild to be true? Here he is sporting a halo and writing on divine tablets:
Should you wish to officially worship at the Church of Hugo, you don’t have to make a pilgrimage to Vietnam. Apparently there are a fair number of churches around California, and they take great pride in their openness to people of all backgrounds.
in the course of my thesis research on contemporary reception in the press to the publication of les misérables, i discovered a pretty interesting story whose thread i was able to trace throughout the course of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth.
in august 1879, the gazette de france, an old legitimist newspaper, published a story by a journalist named armand de pontmartin that appeared to establish the veracity of jean valjean: there had, in fact, been a real ex-convict by the name of pierre maurin who’d had an encounter with monseigneur miollis, widely recognized as the model for hugo’s bishop myriel.
Completely torn between “Merry Christmas and a happy New Year guys I added a bunch of content to my website” and “I COULD DO SO MUCH MORE *clutches update announcement jealously to chest until even more new stuff is added*”
(added since the Wordpress revamp: tour guide pages for Carnavalet, St-Jacques-du-Haut-Pas, Les Madelonnettes, miscellaneous locations, a bunch of photos of Digne, absurdly detailed pages on Petit-Picpus and “A Dark Chase for a Silent Pack”, the new Czech, Polish, and Spanish cast recordings, a beta version of a “further reading” list with websites and print books, Hugo’s deleted prostitution digression is now translated up through chapter 4 of 7, links to full PDFs of “Les Misères” and all 12 volumes of the 1830-1834 series of “Les Révolutions du XIXe siècle,” a couple of historical resource posts I originally drew up for Tumblr, a high-res version of Marville’s Rue Rambuteau/Rue Mondétour photo, an absolute fuckton of new high-res maps of Paris, the Paris metro area, and Montreuil-sur-Mer)
(in the works: extensive galleries of period images of Paris including all the Marville photos sorted by neighborhood, a bunch of A.M. Potémont engravings, and some hilarious slice-of-life lithographs from the 1820s; full texts of as many fictional and nonfictional accounts of June 1832 as I can track down, including parts of Charles Jeanne’s version from À cinq heures nous serons tous morts; more additions to the “further reading” list; a proper tour guide page for Digne instead of just a gallery; possibly incorporating some of the period images of Paris into the tour guide; if the flatbed scanner I asked for for my birthday ends up being a thing, I will start scanning public-domain images from Gaillard’s Paris au temps de Balzac and Carnavalet’s Paris au temps des Misérables)
Hi and happy new year to old friends and new readers. I make little secret of how much I dislike tumblr’s transient nature, so to make this blog more accessible, I just went through 70-odd pages of archives and tried to impose some sort of order on my tags. Hooray for improved searchability!
“With his seemingly unrepresentative life, his egocentrism, his isolation, and his bizarre, patchwork religion, Hugo had produced the most lucid, humane and entertaining moral diagnosis of modern soicety ever written. For all the sniggering about his cranky predictions and self-serving idealism, it should now be said, 135 years after the novel appeared, that he was as close to being right as any writer can be, that a society based on the principles dredged by Hugo out of the sewers of Paris would be a just and thriving society, and that, were biographers not far more prone to the petty professionalism commonly ascribed to Hugo, readers should be advised immediately to put down this book and go read Les Misérables.”—Graham Robb, Victor Hugo: A Biography (via hernaniste)
“[Bishop Myriel said] “Have a care of the manner in which you turn towards the dead. Think not of that which perishes. Gaze steadily. You will perceive the living light of your well-beloved dead in the depths of heaven.” He knew that faith is wholesome. He sought to counsel and calm the despairing man, by pointing out to him the resigned man, and to transform the grief which gazes upon a grave by showing him the grief which fixes its gaze upon a star.”—
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables 1.1.4 (trans. Hapgood)
This is 100% Victor Hugo continuing to try to make sense of the 1843 death of his daughter Léopoldine. You will never be able to convince me otherwise.
I’m endlessly entertained by the number of people who are reblogging pictures of Hugo, MN with comments to the effect of “BRB I’M MOVING TO GRANTAIRE STREET” when lol, it’s in Michele Bachmann territory, and houses in that bland exurban neighborhood are easily $400k+. Not exactly tumblr’s dream community.
So. Apparently the existence of Actually Published Louise Michel/Victor Hugo History Fanfiction is something that interests people?
Well, HERE IT IS on Google Books. Written in 1999 by some French guy. (Yes, it’s in French.) But WHY SPEND FIFTEEN DOLLARS when you can READ MY AMAZING SUMMARY RIGHT HERE?!
Louise Michel and Victor Hugo and the story of their love. They were in love. They definitely were. They were in love because, damn it, I SAY they were, and I am the author of this history-fanfiction, and by God, I will write what I want.
Also she had his child. Once again, no actual evidence (shhh) but it’s A STORY, COME ON.
Louise and Victor are in Paris. The Paris Commune is about to happen, but, of course, nobody knows that, because it hasn’t happened yet. Victor is having feelings. Louise is having feelings.
Louise is Enjolras. Except she is a lady. Also, she is not an actual living metaphor. Except she totally might be. So does this mean that Victor is in love with Enjolras? Anyway, going on…
Victor is thinking about the time they first met. Louise was just a girl then. Which is not creepy at all. She wrote him love letters for years.
"Do you remember when we met?" says Enjolras, who is actually Louise, but who is totally Enjolras.
"By the way, I had our child," said Enjolras.
"Oh my God!" said Victor Hugo.
And here my free preview of the book ran out. But I think I’ve learned all I need to know.
O vision of the coming time!
When man has ‘scaped the trackless slime
And reached the desert spring;
When sands are crossed, the sward invites
The worn to rest ‘mid rare delights
And gratefully to sing.
E’en now the eye that’s levelled high,
Though dimly, can the hope espy
So solid soon, one day;
For every chain must then be broke,
And hatred none will dare evoke,
And June shall scatter May.
E’en now amid our misery
The germ of Union many see,
And through the hedge of thorn,
Like to a bee that dawn awakes,
On, Progress strides o’er shattered stakes,
With solemn, scathing scorn.
Behold the blackness shrink, and flee!
Behold the world rise up so free
Of coroneted things!
Whilst o’er the distant youthful States,
Like Amazonian bosom-plates,
Spread Freedom’s shielding wings.
Ye, liberated lands, we hail!
Your sails are whole despite the gale!
Your masts are firm, and will not fail—
The triumph follows pain!
Hear forges roar! the hammer clanks—
It beats the time to nations’ thanks—
At last, a peaceful strain!
‘Tis rust, not gore, that gnaws the guns,
And shattered shells are but the runs
Where warring insects cope;
And all the headsman’s racks and blades
And pincers, tools of tyrants’ aids,
Are buried with the rope.
Upon the sky-line glows i’ the dark
The Sun that now is but a spark;
But soon will be unfurled—
The glorious banner of us all,
The flag that rises ne’er to fall,
Republic of the World!
Unfortunate Lamarque ! how much blood did this funeral cost ! And those were not forced or bribed gladiators, who massacred one another to exalt the idle display of mourning by combats. It was a blooming and inspired youth which sacrificed its blood for the holiest feelings, for the most generous dream of its soul. It was the best blood of France which ran in the Rue Saint-Martin, and I do not believe that there was better fighting at Thermopylae than at the mouth of the Alley of Saint-Méry and Aubry-des- Bouchers, where at the last a handful of some sixty Republicans fought against sixty thousand troops of the line and National Guards, and twice beat them back ! The old soldiers of Napoleon, who understand fighting as well as we do — perhaps — Christian dogmatics, mediation of extremes, or acting (Kunstleistungen einer Mimin), declared that the fight in the Rue Saint-Martin was one of the most heroic events of modern history. The Republicans did marvels of bravery, and the few who remained alive in no wise asked for mercy. All the researches which my occupation exacted, and which were conscientiously executed, confirm this. They were for the greater part bayonetted by the National Guard. Some Republicans, seeing that all resistance was useless, rushed with bared breasts before the enemy, offering themselves to be shot. When the corner-house of the Rue Saint-Méry was taken, a pupil of the Ecole d’Alfort climbed with a flag on the roof, cried Vive la Republique! and fell down drilled through with bullets. To a house, of which the first storey was held by Republicans, there came the soldiers, who pre- vented retreat by breaking away the stairs, and as the insurgents would not fall alive into the hands of their enemies, they all committed suicide, so that all which was taken was a room full of corpses. This was related to me in the Church of Saint- Méry, and I was obliged to lean against the image of Saint Sebastian to prevent my falling to the ground from deep inward emotion, and I wept like a child. All the tales of heroes over which I, as a boy, had already wept so much, came into my memory, but I especially thought of Cleomenes, King of Sparta, and his twelve companions, who ran through the streets of Alexandria calling on the people to fight for their liberty, but finding none to respond, slew themselves to escape the tyrant’s followers. The last of them was the beautiful Antaos, who first bent over his friend the dead Cleomenes, kissed his dear lips, then fell upon his sword.
Damn. I wanted to do a thesis about Les Misérables’ adaptations. Damn. :( (But I have another Les Mis-related idea, so it’s fine. :P )
Hey, this is a HUGE HUGE HUGE field that’s sadly under-explored. I’m sure there’s room for your work! The fact that it’s in vogue right now will just make whatever you’re thinking of all the more relevant. :)
…I just spent over 3 hours eating and chatting with a pair of Hugo scholars who are separately working on books about adapting Les Mis.
Hot damn, I don’t which gods of fate I bribed to get this lucky.
(In other news, I just learned about a conference with a panel on Hugo and religion that should theoretically be perfect for me, but the premise of which is 100% stupidly and irresponsibly wrong. I’m trying to figure out if I can send them an abstract explaining this fact in such a way that they’ll still let me on said panel. Life.)
I recently watched the special features on the Les Mis Blu Ray and there was this bit where they talked about how Hugh Jackman prepared for his role. And Tom Hooper said about him that Jackman ended up recreating the rations a convict would have gotten at the time (or similar) and that got me wondering: What does that actually mean? What were the rations for convicts? Is that lot? Thank you.
You are 100% correct to be suspicious. Taken literally, what Hooper said there was “He ate well, although his diet was unbalanced and too high in carbohydrates”. In other words, if Jackman actually ate to lose weight, he ate less than a 19th century convict. At least, that’s very likely.
To give you some numbers
I have info on the rations from 1817, which is close enough:
917g of fresh black bread (or 700g of sea biscuit), 30g of cheese, 120g of dried beans, 4.9g of olive oil (or 8.82g of butter), 48cl of wine and 10g of salt.
As you can see, there’s enough carbohydrates, but there might be a lack of proteins and there’s definitely a lack of vitamins.
Later on, convicts got fresh vegetables and meat on Sundays, but that was the 1830s and 40s, so Valjean didn’t profit from that.
To your third question. Is that a lot? Let’s try and find out, shall we?
My first impulse was to try and put it into numbers. How many calories does this have? And how many does a person need?
That was harder than imagined, because the food energy of something like bread, cheese or dry beans varies strongly with the type. Therefore, there’s always an upper and a lower border. The values I found (several sources spread over the entire internet) in kcal per 100g are:
Black bread: 210-350
Dry beans: 272-473
Olive oil: 930-950
That gives the total ration somewhere between 2420 and 3987 kcal. If you’re like me and have no feeling for how much a calorie is, here are Kilojoule: 10067kJ-16693kJ. You’re welcome.
The problem with the amount of calories needed is that I quite simply cannot find two webpages that agree. One did ask me the ask amount of hours spent doing a certain task and gave me values of up to 7000kcal in case I weigh 90kg, but that webpage, to make up for it, didn’t take age into account, which, according to some other webpages, can make a difference of as much as 25%. I quite simply have no idea what to believe anymore. Also, while it originally seemed to make sense to peg hard labour as the maximum amount of physical activity, I then remembered one of the most common complaints about hard labour from the time: it was a common claim that free workers actually worked harder than convicts. So should I bring this down to not-quite-as-hard physical activity?
The webpages that agreed slightly pegged the daily requirements somewhere between 1500 and 3600 kcal, depending on weight and age. I used the extremes of 50kg/90kg (arbitrary) and 16 years/70 years of age (actual age minimum/maximum after 1791). Should this be correct, then the calories found in that diet are anywhere between “just alright for a middle aged man of mean weight” and “definitely enough for everybody”. Should the other mentioned website be correct with its claim of 3700-7100kcal, then the rations would only have been sufficient for the smallest convicts in Toulon.
Clearly, that approach is getting us nowhere. So let’s try and get a feeling for ourselves…
I weighed the near fresh loaf of black bread I got yesterday and as you can see it weighs about 780g. I put the bread knife for scale, because the blade happened to be 19cm long and that amused me.
A slice of this bread weighs about 50g and my scales aren’t precise enough to show a difference between this slice and the slightly larger next slice.
A little back-of-the-envelope calculation revealed that the full loaf weighed approximately a kilo. So, take the loaf you see there and imagine that you add the three slices I cut before the picture was taken. You should be close to a day’s bread ration.
Beans were a little harder, simply because I don’t have any. So here’s a picture from the internet with a line drawn. Left of the line should be close to 120g of dry beans.
Now let’s take a picture of 30g of cheese. It’s on the bread slice for scale. This is a cheese from the island of Mull, so definitely not what French convicts got, but I don’t think that there are huge differences in density of hard cheese (as long as there are no holes, but that’s Swiss cheese).
Since I’m nearly out of olive oil, I went for approx. 9g of butter. Again, the preciseness of my scales makes that about +/- 5g, but I guess that’s close enough. So here’s a picture of that little piece of butter joining my lunch.
I guess you don’t need a picture to imagine 48cl of wine. Imagine half a litre-bottle.
Finally, here’s 10g of salt. If you think that’s a lot, keep in mind that you probably eat much more salt every day without noticing.
Now put that together. I guess you will agree with me that it seems like a lot of food. It’s about six slices of bread per meal, plus two meals with an okay amount of soup and a little cheese. The salt and olive oil where most likely put in the soup as well.
Finally, as an experimental physicist, my solution for everything is experiment, in other words, try it out. And I actually did that one some time ago… Because I asked myself exactly the same question when one of these “behind-the-scenes” videos was first published.
The boundary conditions: I was 23 at the time, therefore my requirements are still among the highest. It would also have placed me in the tied second most common age group (31-40 was most common and 21-30 and 41-50 have very similar numbers) in the bagne. I’m 1.75m, therefore quite a bit above average height for the time and also, I presume, above average weight. I don’t drink, so wine got substituted with grape juice. And I was a pretty useless cook then, so I took bean soup from the can and therefore weighed off 120g of “wet” beans, rather than dried beans. Finally, the physical activity aspect. The best I could do was leave a week’s worth of household and garden chores for a single day and top it off with two hours Judo practice.
The result? No chance. I was left with about 600g of bread that I just couldn’t eat anymore. Maybe that is still down to the lack of appropriate physical activity, but I actually have a hard time imagining the amount of activity needed to make up that much food.
There you have it. Three different attempts at trying to get an idea how much food there was. As a final word, I should add though, that everybody who ever visited the bagne usually commented that the food was decent. No mention ever of it being not enough (unless you count Claude Gueux, which is a different story).
Can you name the characters who die in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables? Quiz by Applejack
Definitely the best Sporcle quiz. Makes me think of that comic where someone summarizes Les Mis by showing a huge cast of characters and then having the winds of death blow them all away except Marius, Cosette and Thénardier.