Friday, 28 December 2018

Les Misérables A Few Pages of History/ Quelques Pages d'histoire V4B1

Well this is a tough book to get through when you're trying to sprint to the end of the volume. A  Few Pages of History, yes. More like Five Chapters of History. Dense, intellectual history that I wish I knew enough to truly appreciate and understand. 

In (very fast) French
but with subtitles

The first five chapters of this book are a history lesson about the two years following the July Revolution of 1830. Much quieter than the well known French Revolution of 1789, the July revolution saw Louis-Philippe installed as King of the French. It seems Victor Hugo was quite the Louis-Philippe fan, even though he said that "the hour has not yet struck when history speaks in its venerable and impartial voice" to pass the "final verdict on this king". Yet he is "one of the best princes who ever sat  on a throne". "He was born a prince and believed that he had been elected king."

Louis-Philippe was a king of total transparency. While he reigned there was press freedom, parliamentary freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of speech.
Louis-Philippe sounds a rather fascinating man. 
He was a bit of a builder, a bit of a gardener, a bit of a doctor. He bled a postilion who fell off his horse. Louis-Philippe went nowhere without his surgical knife, any more  than Henri III without his dagger. The royalists jeered at this ridiculous king, the first ever to shed blood as a cure. 
We now know of course that the last thing a horse rider needs after a fall, and presumably decent trauma is further blood loss, and we would do the exact opposite and transfuse them if required, but the 19th century was interesting times. 

There is just so much detail and knowledge jam packed into every sentence of this book. I have a particular fascination with Joan of Arc, and so I was most interested to read:

One of Louis-Philippe's daughters, Marie d'Orléans, won for her distinguished family's name a place among artists, as Charles d'Orléans had won for it a place among poets. She carved a statue of her soul and named it 'Joan of Arc'.
Fascinating! This statue still exists and is on display at Versailles. I've visited Versailles many times. I don't remember seeing this statue in particular, but will have to trawl through my photos sometime, as I always take a picture of any Joan statue that I see. I'd thought that I'd visited Versailles enough but perhaps I will need to return. It seems the original is marble and there are several bronze replicas about the place (New York, Orleans and Domrémy at least), and there is even a painting by Auguste Vinchon of Louis-Philippe visiting the statue that I now need to see. 

The royal family in front of the statue of Joan of Arc
Auguste Vinchon, 1848

Aaaah, If only I could get to Versailles before February 3 I could see the current exhibition Louis-Philippe and Versailles! Louis-Philippe turned Versailles into a museum, and now 32 rooms not normally open to the public will be open for this exhibition. (There is a magnificent 76 page Press Kit to download from that page for those of us stuck in the Southern Hemisphere, or otherwise not near Versailles)

This book is really quite philosophical as well. 

Some people have wanted wrongly to identify the bourgeoisie as a class. The bourgeoisie is simply the contented section of the people. The bourgeois is the man who now has time to sit down. A chair is not a caste. 
And I think gives us an insight into Victor Hugo's own vision of the future. 
Solve the two problems, encourage the rich and protect the poor, eliminate destitution, put an end to the unjust exploitation of the weak by the strong; curb the iniquitous envy, in the one who is making his way up, of the one who has arrived; set the wages for a job fairly and in the spirit of fellowship, foster the development of childhood with free compulsory education and make knowledge the foundation of manliness, develop minds while keeping hands busy; democratise property not by abolishing it but by making it universal, so that every citizen without exception may be a property owner, something easier to achieve than people think. In short, lean how to produce wealth and how to distribute it, and you will have both material greatness and moral greatness. And you will be worthy of calling yourself France. 
In chapter 6 Enjolras and His Lieutenants we once again get back to the narrative. Enjolras is assessing the strength of numbers.
How many are we?... Revolutionaries should always feel a sense of urgency, progress has no time to lose.
All quotes are from the 2013 Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, translated by Christine Donougher. 


Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

You are such a thorough and deep person, Louise. I admire how you have dug into this book.

Emma at Words And Peace / France Book Tours said...

I recently ended up by chance in a tiny Kentucky old village and inn where I learned Louis-Philippe stopped and stayed for a while, and painted huge frescoes. Unfortunately, most burned about 20 years ago!! It actually seems they were more likely painted by his brother. Then I read Louis-Philippe journal of his travels in the US, when he was exile. they exist both in French and English, fascinating, when you know the places he came to visit

Emma at Words And Peace / France Book Tours said...

another thing. now when you open a video with youtube, you can click on the settings wheel, and change the speed of the video. 0.75 is usually very helpful for most of my students to better understand. if they speak super super fast, you may try 0.5, but sometimes it distorts the sounds

Brona said...

How are you going with your sprint to the end? I hope the barricades don’t block you/bore you as much as they did me.

Louise said...

Thanks Deb, I just find the detail and nuance fascinating.

Emma, I love coincidence like that. It's funny to think of an exiled French king roaming the backroads of Kentucky. That's a great tip about the French youtube videos- I speed up audiobooks sometimes, but hadn't thought of doing that for the videos for some reason.

Brona. Ah you see, I'd be doing quite well if I hadn't totally set it aside completely to binge listen to The Dry in a few days. I do my best work under pressure...