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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wednesday Regency: Les Miserables and the French Revolution

Technically speaking, the Regency Era lasted a bare 9 years. The era most writers consider Regency really combines the late Georgian and Regency periods: 1795-1837 when the Victorian Era began.

Les Misérables falls squarely in this time frame, taking place from 1815-1832 yet when I think of Les Mis, I think only of the French Revolution and how the lives of those people, who had little to nothing to do with it, changed (or didn't) because of the Revolution.

I've written several stories that take place during the Revolution; my Hellfire Club Erotique Series deals with the aftermath of the Reign of Terror both in France and England.  Les Mis, however, isn't about nobility escaping the guillotine (like The Scarlet Pimpernel) or about stopping the spread of the Revolution, a fear a great many European countries had.

It's about those people the Revolution claimed to want to help and did not.

To be fair, I find the plot of Les Mis tedious after Jean Valjean rescues Collette. I love the music, it's stirring, evocative, and beautiful. But the plot of the second half of the play/movie is just eh to me and I can't explain why I have no interest in it. It may be that I don't really like Collette. Jean Valjean is a wonderful character with reasons for all he does. Collette is...not.

The Revolution had ramifications that were felt through World War II. It's amazing what ripples can be felt when you examine the causes of things. Putting aside a historical political science lesson, and the universal truths found in the story, Les Mis firmly has its roots in the Revolution--all the working poor and student bodies rising up to demand more.

Most interesting is what I read on Wiki about Victor Hugo's sources. This story was (loosely) based on real people:
Valjean's character is loosely based on the life of Eugène François Vidocq, an ex-convict who became a successful businessman widely noted for his social engagement and philanthropy. Vidocq helped Hugo with his research for Claude Gueux and Le Dernier jour d'un condamné (The Last Day of a Condemned Man). In 1828, Vidocq, already pardoned, saved one of the workers in his paper factory by lifting a heavy cart on his shoulders as Valjean does. Hugo's description of Valjean rescuing a sailor on the Orion drew almost word for word on a friend's letter describing such an incident. Hugo used Bienvenu de Miollis (1753–1843), the Bishop of Digne during the time in which Valjean encounters Myriel, as the model for Myriel.

In 1841, Hugo saved a prostitute from arrest for assault. He used a short part of his dialogue with the police when recounting Valjean's rescue of Fantine in the novel. On 22 February 1846, when he had begun work on the novel, Hugo witnessed the arrest of a bread thief while a Duchess and her child watched the scene pitilessly from their coach. During the 1832 revolt, Hugo walked the streets of Paris, saw the barricades blocking his way at points, and had to take shelter from gunfire. He participated more directly in the 1848 Paris insurrection, helping to smash barricades and suppress both the popular revolt and its monarchist allies.

1 comment:

  1. Love info about the regency era and so apropos when Les Miserables is out now! Thanks!