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Quatrevingt-treize Reading Club
and other '93 fandom natter
Discussion post: 3.2.7
Discussion post: 3.2.7
Today's chapter is "Les deux pôles du vrai," or "The Two Poles of (the) Truth." Discuss away!
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2014-06-12 04:19 pm (UTC)
"there was nothing else talked of in the country of Fougères, except two men who were opposed to each other, and who, nevertheless, were doing the same work, that is to say, fighting side by side in the great Revolutionary struggle." Okay, one, our characters’ exploits really get around. Look how many people have heard about Michelle and her kids! Except, frustratingly, for anyone willing to talk to Tellmarch. Two, "opposed to each other" in this context makes me immediately think of Gauvain and Lantenac. I mean, they’re super-opposed, right? They’re not fighting side-by-side, admittedly, but Lantenac is still a part of the struggle—even if he doesn’t realize it, he’s a part of history that’s already receding into the past. Anyway, that’s not what this is about, but that was my first take this time around.
"but a singular complication had unexpectedly arisen." Oh, come on, this is not "unexpected" at all, what have we been doing these last two books.
"One of these two men, the delegate, had formidable support;" From where, though? We know he has the central government of Paris behind him, but out here in La Vendée, he’s the main representative. Do the soldiers like him? What do Radoub and the rest of the Bonnet-Rouge make of him? We don’t really get to see their perspectives at this point.
"Let one imagine Orestes compassionate, and Pylades merciless." Oh where have we heard of these two?! But it’s clear that Cimourdain and Gauvain are not an Enjolras and Grantaire style duo—they’re actually both as politically engaged and hard-working for the republic as you can be! Maybe not the republic, maybe different conceptualizations of republic, but we’re definitely not headed for any “I’m getting drunk and skipping your uprising” scene. Hooray.
is from the house of Atreus we talked about a few chapters ago. [Edit: I think we talked about it, it sounds familiar, but now I don't remember where. Maybe I was looking at random Greek myth stuff on my own.] He had to kill his mother to avenge his father’s death. “In Aeschylus’s Eumenides, Orestes goes mad after the deed and is pursued by the Erinyes, whose duty it is to punish any violation of the ties of family piety. He takes refuge in the temple at Delphi; but, even though Apollo had ordered him to do the deed, he is powerless to protect Orestes from the consequences. At last Athena receives him on the acropolis of Athens and arranges a formal trial of the case before twelve judges, including herself. The Erinyes demand their victim; he pleads the orders of Apollo. Athena votes last announcing that she is for acquittal; then the votes are counted and the result is a tie, resulting in an acquittal according to the rules previously stipulated by Athena.”
"Let one imagine Ahriman the brother of Ormuzd." Now Hugo’s dipping into some Zoroastrian theology. I’m really skimming the details here, so I’m probably missing A LOT, but it looks like
is the supreme creator, the first spirit, foremost divinity, etc. Subordinate to Ahura Mazda, however, are opposed forces—a benevolent spirit (
), and a destructive spirit (
). The binary contrast between the two spirits was really popularized, especially among Western scholars, in 1884? Which is too late for Hugo to have gotten into it.
But as importantly, there’s another (now extinct) branch known as
, which postulates exactly what Hugo alluded to; Ormuzd and Ahriman as twin brothers, opposing forces of good and evil! I don’t know what Hugo had in mind exactly and I’m leery of stepping in, but the overall impression is of mirror forces, good and evil, linked by family bonds.
"was affected at the sight of barefooted children," I like this detail, in the middle of the barefoot army Cimourdain’s still invested in improving the future. He’s ready to fight for the republic he believes in, and work hard to bring it about; Gauvain’s ready to skip ahead and start enacting it even in the middle of a war.
"It was impossible for this secret war not to burst forth. One morning the battle began." Maybe this explains why there’s been so many mentions of personal rivalries among the republican leaders, interfering with their actual work. Cimourdain and Gauvain are the best of friends and are never going to be distracted by one trying to outshine the other, but the clash of principles could interfere with their battle plan.
"For my part," said Gauvain, "I am for military death." <- He’s still 100% committed to killing Lantenac. Lantenac is the enemy. But he’s going to spar with Cimourdain over something as symbolic and impractical as how to do it. From Hugo’s perspective, this digression might be a waste of time.
"And for hatred a woman is equal to ten men." Both Gauvain and Cimourdain have slightly…dated ideas about womenhood? But they pan out slightly differently.
"An old priest is worse than a young one." Cimourdain’s got a point here! He’s the one to talk! IDK Gauvain is my adorable baby so I’m trying to give Cimourdain the benefit of the doubt here to make this chapter a little fair, because I’ll otherwise be like *keyboardsmash* Gauvain <3.
"Keep your eye on the tower of the temple." On the other hand, come on, Cimourdain, you know your protege well enough by now that you shouldn’t allude to children imprisoned, what did you really think Gauvain was going to say about this.
"My master, I am not a politician." <- Gauvain’s just dodging at this point. Cimourdain knows perfectly well that Gauvain’s a sage and capable of coming up with his own conclusions, Cimourdain taught him all that rhetoric himself.
"the rebel Jean Treton"
; the dude’s nickname was “Silver Leg!” Warning, this page quotes a later paragraph of Ninety-Three where he gets namedropped again, so maybe just skim the intro.
"Because one does not set fifteen hundred men to kill a single man." We’ve seen Gauvain fight as the underdog, using fifteen hundred men to successfully defeat six thousand. We haven’t seen him when his troops outnumber his opponents drastically.
"the Vendéan, Joseph Bézier" Guess what, he’s actually named Jean. Of course he is. (
: this just quotes the dialogue we’re in right now.)
"and shoot your pistol into the air?" Gauvain is from the Jean Valjean school of execution. Although, why is Cimourdain not ever taking arms during battle?
"Because as Bonchamp had pardoned the Republican prisoners, I wished to have it said that the Republic pardoned the Royalist prisoners."
, supposedly pardoned a bunch of republican prisoners before he died. This is where we’re really getting back to the guy who tried to kill Gauvain—Gauvain is desperate to take the higher ground, and show that the republic is on the morally superior side. Women, old men, children can be pardoned because they’re not the typical combatants, but when it comes to pardoning soldiers, he wants to do it on principle. Also, he wants people to talk about “the Republic,” not him specifically (again, the personal rivalries aren’t an issue for these two, it’s a question of ideals).
"No." <- And here’s where Gauvain is just done with Cimourdain and his questioning, and starts using Cimourdain’s own logic. Lantenac, unlike maybe everyone else mentioned so far, is an experienced soldier who wants to make this a serious, international war fought by real armies. For the sake of France, he needs to be killed first.
"The Revolution exterminates royalty in the king, aristocracy in the noble, despotism in the soldier, superstition in the priest, barbarity in the judge;" See, kings and nobles are really bound up in royalty and aristocracy respectively—we have to exterminate kings, altogether (or at least, that was the argument made by over fifty percent of the convention voting on Louis XVI’s death). Although they are keeping around some nobles and some priests to do their work for them. I’m not sure about "despotism in the soldier"—in order to be good soldiers from Cimourdain’s perspective, they have to put up with terror, but maybe as long as it’s not a king bossing them around it’s okay.
"ask Bœrhave what he thinks about it." Bœrhave was, uh, some kind of doctor all right. Can’t tell whether he has any metaphors about the importance of surgery, but he’s
in the 1798 text “A Physical View of Man and Woman in a State of Marriage: With Anatomical Engravings.” I’m sure it was a hit.
"These lions are consciences, these lions are ideas, these lions are principles." There’s a hashtag for you.
"It is not necessary to do evil in order to accomplish good." Gauvain’s thesis statement of this chapter in one line. I should say for him, so far it’s working! He’s pushing Lantenac back and has him on the run. Not even Cimourdain needs to be fighting. So while the overall book is going to make pretty good arguments on both sides, the actual results of the battle are bearing Gauvain’s argument out, even in the midst of the terrible year of 1793.
"Besides, I only know how to fight, and I am only a soldier." Again, that’s a dodge.
"the conversation of the sword and the axe." Still both instruments of violence. Even Gauvain is still a soldier, ready to make war.
Innnn conclusion do we all have feelings about these two yet? Yes? Good.
2014-06-12 04:23 pm (UTC)
2014-06-13 03:07 am (UTC)
The basic difference between Gauvain and Cimourdain, and the two republics they represent (the republic of terror, the republic of mercy), is that Gauvain sees everyone in France (maybe all of humanity?) as part of the capital-R Republic. Even if they hate the Republic, they’re still part of it. So he can’t kill everyone who is plotting to overthrow the republican government (and kill all the republicans who get in their way). He still needs them, France still needs them, they are still required. Killing them all would defeat the purpose. He will kill them if they’re actively and presently trying to kill him—the Republic won’t abolish the right of self-defense. But if they’re not current, direct threats (the cornered or injured men) or if they’re classed in his mind as incapable of being current, direct threats (women, old men, children), then he not only won’t kill them, he sets them at liberty. Even if they’re going to just go right back to plotting. Even though Gauvain knows there’s a good chance they’ll waltz away and become the chiefs of rebel bands. Doesn’t matter, they’re still part of the Republic unless they’re actually shooting at him and have a chance at hitting (or unless their threat-capacity is magically invalidated by their gender, I guess). Or unless, like Lantenac, they make a deliberate choice from a position of power and agency to be an enemy of the Republic.
Gauvain is not right about everything. It’s easy to argue with his description of Louis XVI as a mere hapless sheep among lions, or his blanket refusal to treat women or old men as real threats. I’d have some of Cimourdain’s concerns. But Gauvain is still basically right, both morally and practically. The Vendée is a civil war, and Gauvain’s forces are invading to bring the region under the republican national government. The only moral justification for such a war is that the Vendée residents are and will be full citizens of France, with all the rights that entail, which means you have to treat them as such. You can’t treat them like foreign invaders and just shoot at them till them leave. They’re not going to leave. You don’t even want them to leave. Unless you’re prepared to kill them all (which is first of all genocidal butchery and second of all pointless), you need to get them on your side. You do not do that by massacring three hundred prisoners just because the norms of war technically allow you to. The only sensible plan is Gauvain’s: take a hard line with the guy at the very top, give everyone else as much mercy as possible.
Even in Lantenac’s case, Gauvain wants to have him shot (a military death) rather than guillotined (a civilian, revolutionary death). I think I can see why: a military death emphasizes the wartime and self-defense aspects of his death. It reflects the fact that Lantenac has literally taken up arms against his country and died like a soldier. A guillotining is not an execution by a battlefield commander, it’s an execution by the civilian government. Shooting Lantenac classifies his death as a result of war, a war in which Lantenac himself was an aggressor. Guillotining him not only taints the civilian government with his blood, it also implicates the peacetime functions of government (like the judiciary) in his death, and Gauvain doesn’t want that. He wants death to be reserved for war.
I note that Gauvain and Cimourdain are compared to Orestes and Pylades respectively. It makes sense. Orestes and Pylades, like other classical pairs of male warriors, are a younger, more impulsive warrior and an older or more prudent man sent both to be his comrade and to counterbalance some of his more hotheaded or immature ideas. (Which is partly why Grantaire is an unaccepted Pylades in Les Mis until the end—he has no substantive counterbalance to offer Enjolras for the most part—and why Combeferre, who “completes and corrects” Enjolras, is his actual Pylades until Combeferre’s death).
I like the poetic contrast between the merciful soldier and the murderous priest. The first only kills on the battlefield, very effectively, and is humane elsewhere; the second only heals on the battlefield and never kills there, but is disturbingly fond of the guillotine elsewhere. It’s very yin and yang.
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