Notre âme est une bête féroce (FICTION) (French Edition)
In him is the necessary combination of heroic leadership, enlightenment, and rebellion.
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Essential to the Greek mythic hero of mankind is his theft of the divine fire from Zeus in order to give it to mankind, just when Zeus had been ready to destroy his troublesome creation of mortals. In this mythic story, benevolence on one level is tied to rebellion on another; no wonder Christian culture since early times has viewed Prometheus as a curious prefiguration of both Christ and Satan. Essential to our image of Prometheus is also the eternal punishment he receives from Zeus for his theft of the fire and for his kindness to man; he is chained to a rock high in the Caucasus mountains and vultures feed upon his open wounds daily.
His eternal damnation in this lower, mortal world is linked to martyrdom for the sake of mankind. Prometheus's gift of divine fire to man has been broadly interpreted as the civilized arts, domestic science, imagination, and even spirit or consciousness; he is often viewed as a civilization-bringer. His suffering at once resembles that of Christ, for having benefited man, and that of Satan, for having rebelled against God.
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An obvious contrast between these two stories is that Zeus seems an unjust god, whereas God is just and good. The one is indifferent and even hostile to man; the other out of his great love for man seeks to help him. Prometheus is a thief and a rebel thrown out of heaven by the Greek god; Christ is an emissary sent by the Christian god to man. Prometheus was an attractive mythological figure to such Romantics as Hugo, Shelley, Byron, and others, particularly because of this unusual blend of benevolence, rebellion, and martyrdom—all of which corresponded to the Romantics' vision of themselves.
They saw themselves as rebelling against the established powers of their times and attempting to aid mankind with their prophetic visions. They saw themselves somehow as being in touch with the divine and as possessing divine gifts symbolized by the fire like the Greek hero. They could view themselves as having descended from some higher realm. And again like the Prometheus of some versions of the myth, they often saw themselves as punished or martyred for their efforts—even by those whom they had come to help. Romantics, however, cannot be described as rebellious against God but rather against secular powers such as the state, the church, society, or dominant artistic conventions.
The god against which they rebel has been secularized; they still seek a transcendent force or deity, from which earthly institutions and leaders have strayed. The Promethean analogy thus remains a powerful one for the Romantic's concept of himself, his mission in the world, and his relationship to the powers and the people in the world. One Romantic in particular, Jules Michelet, regularly thought of himself and more importantly the people in Promethean terms. In the preface to the Histoire de France , he writes, Translation to come While it is difficult to know how Michelet would have carried out the terms of this analogy, particularly the theft of the divine fire, the people are justly rebellious against secular gods.
At the same time, in their misery they are benevolent to the rest of man because of the basic material goods and services—food, shelter, and clothing—which they supply by their hard, unending labor. As a progressivist, Michelet saw the peuple as slowly freeing itself from its seemingly eternal chains—a turn of events that appears nowhere in the ancient versions of the myth. Again, as it is for the Romantics, the target of plebian rebellion is a secular power and not a transcendent one; in Michelet's view, the people are nearer to God, if not in fact God Himself.
Quite unlike Michelet, Hugo is much more disturbed by the "mauvais peuple," the "canaille," the rabble, or the mob, which he views as the result in great part of miserable social conditions. Hugo does not however become a "naturalist," who views the milieu as all-determining.
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For Hugo, there always remains a divine spark within man that makes possible his redemption. For this to occur, a spiritual enlightener is necessary; the common people, in the depths of their poverty and ignorance, need such a force. Society and its established centers of power, however, are indifferent or even hostile to the lower classes. A Prometheus among the peuple would naturally appear to a society's ruling class as threatening, conspiratorial, and rebellious.
Once the people have been saved from social degradation, they are then ready to band together with their Promethean leader and to attack the root causes of their poverty and social misery. They can become a revolutionary, regenerative, or progressive force only in this way—as an army that has finally found its true leadership.
Promethean leadership, which rebels against an indifferent secular power in the interests of the people, is necessary, in Hugo's view, in the additional sense that the people can be false to itself and fight against its own ideals, as Hugo believes it did in the fighting in Paris in June At these moments, Hugo firmly believes that they must be repressed despite their understandable frustrations: Translation to come Thus, Hugo calls on individuals outside of the plebian milieu to go to the people for quite different reasons compared to those of Michelet; he calls on philosophes, social thinkers, those like Marius, to descend among the people despite the degradation of that lower world:.
It is the revolutionary, the enlightened hero who will bring the sacred fire to the common people; once enlightened, they will become the main force, though not the directing force as Michelet thought, in humanity's conquest of the ideal through history: After all, he goes on to benefit humanity at Montreuil-sur-mer and seems eternally damned, for all practical purposes, throughout the novel because of his criminal past.
The chief problem is that when Valjean arrives in Digue—branded as a criminal, exhausted, cold, hungry, and rejected everywhere—he is in no mood to help mankind; in fact, he is full of hate for both man and God. However, Valjean does not steal these—he steals the couverts , the silver place settings.
Only when he is brought back to Myriel by some suspicious gendarmes does the priest give him the flambeaux. When they ask Valjean about the couverts I, p. Thus, the grand symbols of Promethean divine fire, Translation to come Ils sont en argent; mais pour moi ils sont en or, ils sont en diamant" II, p. Upon closer inspection then, Myriel becomes the Promethean figure bestowing the divine fire upon mankind, Valjean, and thus a heroic savior of this one representative of the common people.
Of course, more than this gift suggests the Promethean act here: Myriel's name suggests a certain aereal, soaring, ethereal quality, and. As Myriel's benevolence becomes known, he is given the nickname "Bienvenu," or "welcome"; no doubt, Prometheus was welcomed also by mankind when he brought the divine fire. Myriel is consistently associated with light, warmth and divinity: when Valjean enters his house for the first time, one of the first things Myriel says to him is Translation to come Myriel tells his servant, Translation to come Though there are no chains and the action does not take place in Caucasus, the action at Digne does occur on a particularly cold night in the "Basses- Alpes" I, p.
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When Valjean looks at the sleeping Myriel, indeed he looks divine: Translation to come Of course the question can be raised whether Myriel is not as much a Christ-figure here in these descriptions as a Promethean one. In many respects he is, but the Greek mythic elements, which are quite carefully worked into the narrative, capture more of the spirit of rebellion coupled with benevolence. Myriel is a strangely rebellious sort of bishop: he refuses to wear the rich, sumptuous garb of his office or to enjoy the elegance of the bishop's palace or carriage; he prefers the company of the common peasants, constantly attempting to do them good—all of which scandalizes the elite of the province.
He even goes about on a donkey in plain and simple robes. Once this Promethean priest has sparked Valjean's spiritual transformation, symbolized in the gift of the silver candlesticks, Valjean is then ready to become his own version of the mythological hero—but with a difference. Myriel's efforts to help mankind are limited to the spiritual; the material aid he gives to needy peasants is charitable and is not expected to change the conditions which give rise to poverty.
His generous acts change nothing and have no effect on the social causes of poverty; he is resigned to suffering in the world as an inescapable fact of human existence:. The redeemed Valjean's efforts in Montreuil-sur-mer to relieve the suffering of mankind are, on the other hand, more economic or industrial in nature. He seeks to help the people by giving them good work and good living conditions.
Valjean's attempt to solve man's problems is material or economic as opposed to spiritual. His entry into Montreuil-sur-mer and his success with his factory are portrayed in a part of the novel entitled "La Descente," suggesting Prometheus's own descent from Olympus to the mortal realm. Like the mythological figure too, and also like Myriel, he is a strange "inconnu": Translation to come De son origine, on ne savait rien" I, p.
Valjean's innovations are indeed much like those practical and domestic arts Prometheus brings to mankind. His arrival in Montreuil-sur-mer revolutionizes life there just as the demi-god's arrival among mankind revolutionizes the life of the species.
Conspicuously Promethean is Valjean's arrival:. He arrives in a burst of fire; he can save the children almost as if fire had no effect upon him. Subsequently Translation to come Under his alias, Madeleine, he continues to live in Montreuil-sur-mer in seclusion and isolation, obviously hiding his criminal past. To the inhabitants of the town, he is a mysterious man I, p. One other element links Valjean to Prometheus: he is eternally damned—not in this case by God but by the state, the secular god. Late in the novel Valjean wonders, Translation to come Equally suggestive of the myth is the description of Javert as a vulture, the very creature that visits Prometheus daily to gnaw upon his flesh.
Although Javert is compared to many evil things in the course of the novel, the chapter in which he is captured by the revolutionaries and turned over to Valjean is entitled Translation to come The spiritual help offered by Myriel is not enough to solve the socio-economic problems of the people; however, Valjean fails in precisely the opposite way: the material benefits he provides the people are lacking in the spiritual. In the beginning he actually intends to outdo Myriel in good works for mankind, but he will only provide one half of the solution.
In the critical moment when Valjean is wrestling with himself internally, struggling to choose between his evil self and the good one shown to him by Myriel, he thinks. His efforts fail for a number of reasons: after he is forced to leave, the factory community lapses into egoism and falls apart, implying that it had been held together only by the force of Valjean's moral character rather than by any permanent structural improvement of society. He fails to transform the people spiritually; all the economic betterment in the world, cannot make up for that lack:.
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Madeleine dominait tout, et dirigeait. I, He fails also because he has become distant from the townspeople; his isolation is particularly evident in his ignorance of Fantine's problems. Unlike his usual omnipresence among the people, Valjean has completely missed how poverty has forced Fantine, the mother of Cosette, to sell everything including her body to pay for the care of her daughter.
Fortunately for mankind, Prometheanism does not end at this moment—the failure of the model factory community at Montreuil-sur-mer. Valjean continues to be "eternally damned" by the state and continues to possess the candlesticks. At the very end of the novel, he passes them on to Marius and Cosette. Leading up to this moment, Marius also requires his own version of enlightenment, supplied in this case by the great moral example of Valjean. Once this process is complete, the structure of the novel implies that Marius will be prepared to act out his own Promethean projects for mankind in the future that lies beyond the last pages of the novel.
And, these projects, the novel suggests, will build upon, combine, and even go beyond those of Myriel and Valjean. In the latter portions of the novel, particularly in his relationship with Marius and Cosette, he begins to take on the appearance of a Christ-figure. It is difficult to disentangle the figures of Prometheus and Christ as they are suggested by the novel: both descend to earth to help mankind and both suffer for their efforts. Although there are a number of overt parallels drawn between Christ and Valjean, it is ultimately more fruitful to view him as developing from a rather satanic individual into a veritable saint—that is, a mortal—with human failings who through the power of his faith and his unrelenting struggles with his soul achieves moral and spiritual greatness in his lifetime and therefore must be admired.
The fact that Valjean must continually grapple with the unregenerate elements of his soul—for example, his feelings toward Marius who eventually takes Cosette away from him—indicates how inappropriate it is to view Valjean's life as something other than a pilgrim's progress. Brombert, Victor. Victor Hugo and the Visionary Novel. Paris: Minuit, Charles, David. Chatman, Seymour. Story and Discourse. Cocteau, Jean. Paris: Grasset, Collot, M. Culler, Jonathan. Structuralist Poetics. Demetz, Peter.
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Douglas, Wallace W. John B. Ducrot, Oswald, and Tzvetan Todorov. Dufour, Philippe. Ferguson, Priscilla Parkhurst. Paris as Revolution: Writing the 19thCentury City.