Character and Meaning in the Novels of Victor Hugo

Character and Meaning in the Novels of Victor Hugo

Isabel Roche
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Purdue University Press
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  • Book Info
    Character and Meaning in the Novels of Victor Hugo
    Book Description:

    While Victor Hugo's lasting appeal as a novelist can in large part be attributed to the unforgettable characters that he created, character has been paradoxically the most criticized and least understood element of his fiction. Character and Meaning in the Novels of Victor Hugo provides readers with a deeper understanding of the complexities and nuances that characterize both Hugo's novel writing and the nineteenth-century French novel, and will thus appeal to the specialist and non-specialist alike.

    eISBN: 978-1-61249-110-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    As the overwhelming success of the 2002 bicentennial of Victor Hugo’s birth confirms, none of the distinct personae that Hugo has come to be known by, whether it be the young royalist and romantic poet, the exiled republican, or the genteel, whitehaired grandfather, shows any signs of fading away. Indeed, after two hundred tumultuous years characterized by a vacillation between equally intense periods ofhugolâtrieandhugophobie,Victor Hugo remains the frequent subject of headlines. His life and his work continue to fascinate, both in France and abroad. The musical version ofLes Misérableshad a sixteen-year run on Broadway...

  6. Part 1 Appearance

    • Chapter One The Archetype Transformed
      (pp. 15-32)

      In his review of Walter Scott’sQuentin Durward, which appeared in the first edition ofLa Muse françaisein July of 1823 and was later reworked and republished inLittérature et philosophie mêlées(1834), Hugo provides us with his earliest musings on the novel as a genre. In the review, he both praises Scott’s epic and colorful conception of the form and proposes and promotes—in terms that would become representative of Hugo’s inflated rhetoric—his own developing vision of what the novel should be: “Après le roman pittoresque, mais prosaïque, de Walter Scott, il restera un autre roman à...

    • Chapter Two Hugo Novelist
      (pp. 33-52)

      The unraveling of the archetypal romance model is mirrored and magnified by the transfer and subversion of codes and elements of another mode into Victor Hugo’s novels, that of melodrama, which took root in France at the beginning of the nineteenth century as a stage form in which moral imperatives were emphasized and reinforced through the polarized representation of good and evil. In this ethical or didactic goal, romance and melodrama function similarly, with the quest motif of romance generally replaced by the sensational elements and effects of melodrama. The advent and rise of melodrama is outlined by Peter Brooks...

  7. Part 2 Reappearance

    • Chapter Three Hugo and Type Character
      (pp. 55-69)

      From Flaubert’s sharp judgment thatLes Misérablesput into place “des types tout d’une pièce comme dans les tragédies [. . .] des mannequins, des bonshommes en sucre,”¹ to Théophile Gautier’s observation that “ Hugo ne prend de l’histoire que les noms des temps, que les couleurs générales [. . .] Peut-être ferait-il mieux encore de ne pas mettre de nom du tout et d’appeler ses personnages le Duc, la Reine, la Princesse et ainsi de suite,”² to Zola’s commentary onHernaniandRuy Blasthat “le manque d’humanité des personnages saute aux yeux” (“Nos auteurs dramatiques” 586), the characters...

    • Chapter Four Character as Template
      (pp. 70-101)

      From Phoebus inNotre-Dame de Paris, to M. Myriel inLes Misérables, to Ebenezer and Déruchette inLes Travailleurs de la mer, to Dea inL’Homme qui rit, to Michelle Fléchard inQuatrevingt-treize, the characters in the first grouping of the Hugolian type are all continuously and consistently figured on the narrative level through a central composing element that radiates from them: Phoebus embodies bourgeois mediocrity, Myriel saintly goodness, Ebenezer decency, Déruchette innocence, Dea purity, and Michelle Fléchard maternal sacrifice and devotion. Defined principally by this one dominant trait, characters such as these, as E. M. Forster famously advanced, can...

    • Chapter Five Reconfigurations
      (pp. 102-124)

      Unlike Balzac, who linked his past and future novels together in the 1842 “Avant-Propos” to theComédie humaine, or Zola, who structured in advance from outlines and a fictional family tree a unified series of novels to be calledLes Rougon-Macquart, Hugo never formally connected his fictional works. Indeed, Hugo seemingly never sought to officially relate his novels, either along the way à la Balzac or in a preconceived project à la Zola, so as to emphasize a particular and welldemarcated social or historical vision. While Balzac’sComédie humainepromised, with its pyramidal structure, a process of overarching scientific observation...

  8. Part 3 Disappearance

    • Chapter Six The Poetics of Death
      (pp. 127-150)

      The phenomenon of effacement in Victor Hugo’s novels has generated a great deal of attention from scholars. Indeed, from Suzanne Nash, who remarks that “time [in Hugo’s novels] repeatedly and persistently wipes away the original message” (“Les Contemplations” of Victor Hugo: An Allegory of the Creative Process26), to Brombert, who asserts that “effacement [in Hugo’s works] is always part of a process of transformation” (Victor Hugo and the Visionary Novel91), to Claudie Bernard, who observes that “le travail de l’écriture est indissociablement annihilateur et productif” (“Les Travailleurs de la meret le travail du texte” 45), scholars have...

    • Chapter Seven Decoding Social Exclusion
      (pp. 151-178)

      If the effacement of character in Hugo’s novels serves on a first level to highlight the marginality and exclusion of the heroes in a world that has lost its moral transparency, it serves on a second level, through a process of multiplication and repetition, to accentuate the marginality and exclusion of the mass of others that these heroes come to represent. Indeed, the plural quality of many of the titles of Hugo’s novels—Les Misérables, Les Travailleurs de la mer, Quatrevingt-treize—points to a larger fusion of the novels’ heroes with both other central characters and a multitude of additional...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 179-188)

    From Quasimodo, to Esmeralda, to Jean Valjean, to Cosette, to Gwynplaine, Victor Hugo’s characters have enjoyed an after-life whose longevity is unparalleled in French literature. One hundred and seventy years after the publication ofNotre-Dame de Paris, a musical version of it by Luc Plamondon and Richard Cocciante—first presented in France in 1998 and commercially and critically well received in London, Las Vegas, and Montreal—once again created, in the first years of the new millennium, a buzz around Hugo’s characters, turning them into front-page news in the same way that the musical version ofLes Misérableshad done...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 189-226)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 227-234)
  12. Index
    (pp. 235-241)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 242-243)