How did the famous writer Victor
Hugo envision Paris?
If this is your question, hopefully you will find
your answer here. In many of Victor Hugo's works the author gives
the reader physical descriptions of Paris. But how did he view
the city and its people as a whole? Generally, Hugo thinks of
Parisian society as being full of potential. The history of Paris
and its culture are the foundations for the grandeur of the society.
However, he knows that there are those individuals who are not
enlightened, hence his motivation to write Les Miserables.
To discuss this question in greater detail, we will look at quotes
from his great work Les Miserables to find out what he
thought of Paris and why.
Hugo's General View of Paris
"Paris is a
sum total. Paris is the ceiling of the human race. All this
prodigious city is an epitome of dead and living manners
and customs. He who sees Paris, seems to see all history
through with the sky and constellations in the intervals."
Hugo makes this statement in Marius Book 1 Chapter
X. In this book, entitled Paris Atomised, Hugo tours the city
through the eyes of the gamin, or street child that he
labels as the "expression of Paris, and Paris is the expression
of the world" (Hugo, 513). This quote is one of the many
commentaries. He states that Paris is the "ceiling of the
human race" which basically means that he saw Paris society
as the highest attainable limit for all people. He qualifies this
statement by explaining that it is Paris' rich history and customs
that make it such a grand society. This general quote helps to
put Hugo into perspective for the reader. He definitely saw Paris
as being a city of great culture and history. However, Les Mis
as a whole is a commentary on what is wrong with Paris. He brings
into view the destitute members of society, and the problems that
the Paris governmental system causes for these dangerous
classes. There fore it can be said that Hugo holds a very
Rousseau-like attitude towards the city: Paris is inherently good
and can be brought to purification.
Hugo's Representation of the
Growth of the Banlieue
|"To rove about,
musing, that is to say loitering, is, for a philosopher, a
good way of spending time; especially in that kind of mock
rurality, ugly but odd, and partaking of two natures, which
surrounds certain large cities, particularly Paris. To study
the banlieue is to study the amphibious. End of trees, beginning
of houses, end of grass, beginning of pavement, end of furrows,
beginning of shops, end of ruts, beginning of passions, end
of the divine murmur, beginning of the human hubbub; hence
the interest is extraordinary."
This representation on the banlieue indicates the ideas that
Hugo held towards the banlieue. In his opinion, the banlieue is
the ambiguous area surrounding Paris where nothing is completely
rural yet not part of the city. The idea that the banlieue is
a "mock rurality" leaves the impression that Hugo's
idea of the banlieue is negative. Perhaps it is not the actual
banlieue itself which Hugo frowns upon, but the way in which Parisian's
view the banlieue, as being a place of rural purity. This idea
dates to the period of Marie Antoinette and her mock peasant village
on the grounds of Versailles. The idea that one can escape the
"hubbub" of city life and venture into the "divine
murmur" of the banlieue was very popular with the Bourgeoisie.
Hugo seems to be of the opposing opinion that the banlieue should
not be idealized. In fact he calls it "ugly but odd".
He realizes the difficulties of rural society and does not present
them as being part of the pleasures of the city.
The True Parisian Race
|"As to the people of Paris, even
when grown to manhood, it is, always, the gamin; to depict
the child is to depict the city, and therefore it is that
we have studied this eagle in the open-hearted sparrow. It
is in the suburbs especially, we insist, that the Parisian
race is found; there is the pure blood; there is the true
physiognomy; there this people works and suffers, and suffering
and toil are the two forms of men." (Hugo,
Here Hugo again represents the people of Paris in the gamin,
who, in his heart, depicts all Parisians. The child is innocent
and loving, and Hugo sees every person in Paris as possessing
these qualities. At the core of this view of Parisians are the
inhabitants of the suburbs, where their suffering and toil should
be recognized by all people. Their inability to read should be
the concern of society as a whole. Hugo uses the word "Light!"
in many passages of the novel to symbolize literacy and education.
Here, he is making that cry to those who can and are reading his
words. In order for social change to occur, Hugo needs to convince
the audience that the rural populace is worth helping. This quote
exemplifies Hugo's empathy towards the poor of the suburbs and
reminds the newly crowned members of the bourgeoisie that this
is their heritage.