From Gavroche to Huckleberry Finn

Illustration of Gavroche by Émile Bayard from the 1862 edition of Les Misérables.I continue to marvel at the rogue Gavroche and see in him the prototype for Huck Finn. After explaining how he “borrowed” his bedroom furnishings from the beasts at the Jardin des Plantes, Gavroche adds insouciantly, “You crawl over the walls and you don’t care a straw for the government.” Victor Hugo pauses in telling the story inside the Elephant to take the measure of his gaman:

“The two children gazed with timid and stupefied respect on this intrepid and ingenious being, a vagabond like themselves,isolated like themselves, frail like themselves, who had something admirable and all-powerful about him, who seemed supernatural to them, and whose physiognomy was composed of all the grimacesof an old mountebank, mingled with the most ingenuous and charming smiles.” [IV.6.2]

The illustration of Gavroche (left) is by Émile Bayard and from the original 1862 edition of Les Misérables [source Wikimedia Commons]. The gaman appears here in better raiment than is described in the novel, which presents him as clad only in rags. Is he barefoot? I can’t tell from the engraving. Give him a corncob pipe, move the scene from narrow Paris street to muddy Mississippi riverbank, and he could step right into the pages of the 1883 first edition of Mark Twain’s masterpiece.

[A Note on Sources: This text comes from the Project Gutenberg etext of Les Misérables, a 19th-century translation by Isabel F. Hapgood which is now in the public domain.]

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