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The Underworld

Montparnasse: Hugo's Beautiful Scoundrel.


The System

Famous Crime






"Montparnasse was a child; less than twenty, with a pretty face, lips like cherries, charming black locks, the glow of spring in his eyes; he had all the vices and aspired to all the crimes. The digestion of what was bad gave him an appetite for what was worse. He was the gamin turned vagabond and the vagabond become an assassin."

(Hugo, 625)

(Illustration from Les Miserables)

Montparnasse is described as a striking young dandy with a flair for murder:

"Few prowlers were so much feared as Montparnasse. At eighteen, he had already left several corpses on his track. Frizzled, pomaded, with slender waist, hips like a woman, the bust of a Prussian officer, a buzz of admiration about him from the girls of the boulevard... such was this charmer of the sepulcher." (Hugo, 625-6)

Hugo introduces him as one of four heads of a crime organization called Patron-Minette. To give us some idea of their prominence, Hugo claims that once the great scoundrel Lacenaire denied a crime, and when asked who else could be responsible, he replied that it was the work of Patron-Minette. (Hugo, 627)

Indeed, with the gory nature of his crimes and his impressions on the ladies, Montparnasse seems to mirror the notorious Lacenaire. Hugo is not as sympathetic of this sort of "career criminal" as he is to the unfortunate, but he does give glamour its due.

• On the one hand, Montparnasse is the sort of exciting figure that would titillate those repressed bourgeoisie. He emphasizes the grace and poise of Montparnasse, and after the initial scare of death tolls, Hugo tries to make him likable and appealing.

• On the other hand, Montparnasse would also be an admirable hero for those underclass members who aspired to a more indulgent lifestyle, or who so resented the upper classes that this scoundrel was a sort of role model.