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LES CONTEMPLATIONS of Victor Hugo: An Allegory of the Creative Process

LES CONTEMPLATIONS of Victor Hugo: An Allegory of the Creative Process

Copyright Date: 1976
Pages: 246
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    LES CONTEMPLATIONS of Victor Hugo: An Allegory of the Creative Process
    Book Description:

    Victor Hugo's work presents the reader with a paradox nowhere more apparent than in the collection of more than 150 lyric poems entitledLes Contemplations. Although he insisted upon structural unity, his complex artistic creations often seem disordered and digressive. Suzanne Nash examines this contradiction, and she proposes here a new approach toLes Contemplationsthat reveals how it may be read as a unified allegory of Hugo's understanding of the creative process.

    The author's reading heightens the subtleties of individual poems by placing them within the context of the collection. She clarifies the poet's use of rhetorical devices and. illuminatingLes Contemplationsas a metapoetic creation, shows how it can serve as a guide to Hugo's other works.

    The first two chapters present evidence of Hugo's narrative intention, place his work within an allegorical tradition, and describe the structure of the allegory. One poem,Pasteurs et troupeaux, is analyzed as a paradigm for the whole, and a single theme, that of Léopoldine as sacrificial muse and figure for poetic language, is traced through the six books. The author demonstrates Hugo's narrative purpose in his use of rhetorical forms and examines (according to predominance of themes, images, and technical devices) the six chapters as steps in the religio-poetic allegory.

    Originally published in 1977.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7050-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-2)
    (pp. 3-12)

    When Victor Hugo died in 1885, “France unburdened itself of a man, a literary movement, and a century.” Thus, in terms implying an almost visceral relief, Roger Shattuck describes the beginning of a new era of conscious modernism in French poetry.¹ Cynical admiration often characterizes the tone modernists adopt when referring to this poet who was for them too prolific, too popular, too much the official poet of the Republic. They cannot reconcile the dazzling originality of Hugo’s art and the adulation he always enjoyed from the crowd and officialdom alike. Critics have consistently struggled to split Hugo in two,...

    (pp. 13-33)

    Hugo’s intention thatLes Contemplationsrepresent a work greater than the sum of its lyric parts is immediately apparent from a reading of his preface and a glance at the narrative format: Part i—Autrefois, 1830-1843; Part ii—Aujourd’hui, 1843-1855. Each part contains a further, tripartite division: in Autrefois i—Aurore, ii—L’Ame en fleur, iii—Les Luttes et les rêves; followed by iv—Pauca meae, v—En marche, and vi—Au bord de l’infiniin Aujourd’hui.¹

    The reader is informed in the preface toLes Contemplationsthat he is to read the collection as abook(“Ce livre doit...

    (pp. 34-51)

    Like the metaphysical scheme described in “Ce que dit la bouche d’ombre,” the chapters inLes Contemplationsmove from the light ofAurore(Genesis) to the darkness and imprisoned forms ofLes Luttes et les rêves(Sodom and Gomorrah) and back to the light of the final revelation inAu bord de l’infini(Salvation).¹

    This is the structure of the new Romantic mythology that posits the redemptive power of language. It also corresponds visually to Léopoldine’s symbolical drowning-descent, which Hugo placed at the center of the book.

    Dante (iii,i) leads the narrator into the death experience, announced in the preface....

  7. III Léopoldine—Mediating Angel
    (pp. 52-78)

    The real, historical origins of his allegorical message are inscribed into the very center of Hugo’s book. “4 septembre 1843,” the date of Léopoldine’s drowning, is the “poem” around whichLes Contemplationsis structured. An examination of Léopoldine’s transposition from a figure in Hugo’s life into the fictional space of his work demonstrates how the poet’s perception of his daughter’s death began the creative process that ended withLes Contemplations.

    The choice of Léopoldine as the real-life source for his central poetic figure must have been largely due to the configuration of events that surrounded her drowning and Hugo’s subsequent...

    (pp. 79-107)

    To begin at the beginning is a great challenge to the critic who would demonstrate a highly developed ordering ofLes Contemplations. We know that, in true initiatory fashion, Hugo reserved the key to his order until the end and that he wished to establish a parallel between his own biographical adventure and the reader’s experience of the book. Correspondingly, to the reader setting forth, this first section appears as a chaos of forms—an incoherent but dazzling array of separate works. Tone, point of view, mood, and theme change radically both within individual poems and within the chapter itself....

  9. V L’Ame en fleur
    (pp. 108-123)

    In the preceding chapter it became clear that the relationship of the poet-narrator to the poet-allegorist provides a thematic thread that helps clarify the seemingly paradoxical presence of both idyllic and apocalyptic voices. Because of this poetic doubling,Aurorecan be considered both part and totality of the general narrative. As part it has a particular focus that can be termed idyllic or naive. The poet-narrator and, correspondingly, the reader setting forth are, in a sense, seduced by that which evokes familiar reality in themselves.

    In the second book ofLes Contemplationsthis encounter between the subjective consciousness and the...

    (pp. 124-135)

    WhereasAuroreand the beginning ofL’Ame en fleurseem to stress the narrator’s response to the sensuous world outside himself,Les Luttes et les rêvesreveals him thrust into a painful awareness of his own isolation. The subjective dating of Book ii is replaced by objective, journalistic time. The narrator’s historical self—a being burdened by the weight of his past, now represented poetically byAuroreandL’Ame en fleur, separates him from the natural world of cyclical duration. Indeed the nature ofAurorerecedes into a fading echo of itself in the last lines of “Melancholia”: “O forêts!...

    (pp. 136-149)

    Pauca meaeis the book of mourning that, with Book iii, marks the turning-point in Hugo’s allegorical narrative. “Autrefois, Aujourd’hui. Un abîme les sépare, le tombeau” (Préface). Both iii, which ends Autrefois, and iv, which begins Aujourd’hui, stress man’s suffering, mortality, and sense of alienation from God. Thus doubt constitutes the very center of the supreme contemplative experience. The narrator is torn throughout both parts by the effort to separate Providence from Fatality. He repeatedly questions the God whose divine justice seeks out the most innocent and virtuous victims. The dead child in the poem at the center ofLes...

    (pp. 150-170)

    The transformation of Léopoldine and Charles into guiding stars at the end of Book iv heralds a new level of experience which autobiographically corresponds to the exile years. Hugo the man will now become a disembodied prophetic voice speaking to his times from the other side of the shore. The first poem in Book v, “A Aug V,” explicitly develops an analogy between Léopoldine’s drowning and Hugo’s own exile:

    Poëte, quand mon sort s’est brusquement ouvert,

    Tu n’as pas reculé devant les noires portes,

    Et, sans pâlir, avec le flambeau que tu portes,

    Tes chants, ton avenir que l’absence interrompt,...

    (pp. 171-193)

    At the end of Book v the reader and the narrator are ready for the special knowledge of the poet-seer. In “Ce que dit la bouche d’ombre,” the final poem of the concluding section, Hugo outlines the cosmological structure within which man must operate.

    Le spectre m’attendait; l’être sombre et tranquille

    Me prit par les cheveux dans sa main qui grandit,

    M’emporta sur le haut du rocher, et me dit:

    “Sache que tout connaît sa loi, son but, sa route;

    Que, de l’astre au ciron, l’immensité s’écoute;”

    Just asAurorewas a foreshadowing of the total scheme, Book vi is...

  14. X A celle qui est restée en France
    (pp. 194-204)

    Hugo did not end his collection with “Ce que dit la bouche d’ombre.” In April of 1855 he decided to add an epilogue entitled “L’Absent à l’absente,”¹ later changed to “A celle qui est restée en France.” This final poem does not seem to reflect the new voice ofAu bord de l’infini; indeed, in many respects it is more reminiscent of the nostalgic voice ofPauca meae. The narrator reassumes the role of a flesh-and-blood father and speaks to a specific child rather than to an abstract phantom.

    Mets-toi sur ton séant, lève tes yeux, dérange

    Ce drap glacé...

    (pp. 205-208)

    The sheer immensity and willfully digressive nature of Victor Hugo’s works would seem at first to preclude any attempt to define too closely the structure of his universe. Yet it is certain that although he wanted the task of decipherer to be a difficult one, the reader has failed to enter Hugo’s world if he does not seek to discern a providential order behind the formal irregularity that characterizes Hugo’s art. If the design of Hugo’s work is obscure, it is because for him the divinity at its center has become invisible to modern man. Hugo repeatedly uses architectural analogies...

    (pp. 209-222)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 223-229)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 230-230)