When I began quoting and commenting on Les Misérables in September — I’ll call it blog-reading — I didn’t know exactly why I was doing it or where it would lead. I needed content to work with to learn the ropes in WordPress. I was experimenting with text editors in pursuit of “pure text” uncorrupted by hidden Microsoft gremlins. I’d just finished reading Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture. It was a conversion experience, and I was fired with a zeal to work with texts in the public domain as an affirmation of the Creative Commons. Project Gutenberg’s Les Mis fit the bill on all those counts, and it led to sweet serendipities along the way.
Before I launch the blog-reading of another book, I should stop and take stock of what I learned from Gavroche in Les Misérables IV.6.1-3. First, what a character! If my karma leads to reincarnation, I don’t want to come back as Marius or Jean Valjean. I want to be Gavroche. He is the direct literary forbear of Huckleberry Finn. Said another way, Huck translates Gavroche into the American idiom. A graduate student who needs a dissertation project would find much grist to grind in a comparison of Gavroche and Huck, the gaman in Old World and New, Victor Hugo and Mark Twain, literary legends and filthy lucre in Third Empire and Gilded Age publishing. Second, the scene inside the Elephant in the Place de la Bastille is a proto-Surrealist marvel. I had the same response to sculptures at the Roodin Museum the last time I was there, notably a beguiling table-top marble titled “Sister of Icarus.” Rodin was a Surrealist before Surrealism was a movement or manifesto. Those we call Surrealists were descendants, not originals. And finally, Victor Hugo may sound like a titanic mono-didact much of the time, but he also crafted deft narrative substructures. There are technical subtleties in IV.6.1-3 that I missed the first time I read it and would have missed again without blogging the excerpts listed below.
In terms of text management, I realize now that blog navigation gives me several ways of following this thread, but only in reverse chronological order. That may work for “in the moment” reading at the top of the blog, but it’s no way to look back and get a sense of the whole. For convenience, I have hand-sorted the following list into the proper narrative sequence. When I master CSS coding, I hope to do this more efficiently.
- A Sou’s Worth of Bread
- The Elephant in Place de la Bastille
- Two Views of Place de la Bastille
- Storming the Bastille
- “The beasts had all these things”
- From Gavroche to Huckleberry Finn
- “Mice which ate cats”
- “The Paris brat ain’t made of straw”
[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.]