Unmasking the Bourgeoise

Romantic Portrayal of Courtship in Les Miserables

A Love Story




Real Life

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"You who suffer because you love, love still more. To die of love is to live by it...Love! A dark and starry transfiguration is mingled with that torment. There is ecstacy in the agony."

--Victor Hugo- Les Miserables(Saint Denis, Book V,iv) 


Romanticism emerged in the 19th century and stressed the importance of feeling and imagination over the conventional literary forms and subjects. Imagination was praised over reason, emotion over logic, and intuition over science. It allowed Romantic writers to create works of greater sensibility and passion than ever existed up to that time. Victor Hugo was one such writer who he broke free from the conservative restrictions of the classical style in his timeless masterpiece, Les Miserables, casting themes of redemption and love against a backdrop of war and revolution. His characters continue to remain with us because they represent the heights and depths that humans can rise or sink to. In Cosette and Marius, Hugo captured the Romantic's vision of Love. It is pure and ideal, and what starts out as an interest turns quickly into an obsession, a necessity as vital as air or water. Marius falls in love with Cosette from afar, through glimpses in a garden where she goes daily with her father. He writes her a letter that expresses with a poets tongue and a philosopher's depth all the stirrings of his heart and later enters her garden under the cloak of night, and with great difficulty, woos her with fragmented speech, sweet only in their sincerity. But her heart is inclined towards him even before he speaks. And in a garden beneath a tree under the nighttime sky:

"They confided to each other in an ideal intimacy, which nothing could augment, their most secret and most mysterious thoughts. They related to each other, with candid faith in their illusions, all that love, youth, and the remains of childhood which still lingered about them, suggested to their minds. Their two hearts poured themselves out into each other in such wise, that at the expiration of a quarter of an hour, it was the young man who had the young girl's soul, and the young girl who had the young man's soul."

And it is only at the end of this that they ask the other's name. This excerpt may seem to suggest that the Romantic's definition of love is overblown and ostentatious, but ideal love is only ideal to those who have never experienced it. To those who have, the expression of a thousand sentiments in a breath or a glance is a familiar thing, and there are times when silence is favored over words not because there is a lack of things to say, but because the many things that can be said can not be contained in mere words. Hugo waxes poetic on the definition of love, but in the end, the Romantics would argue that Love is not a thing of the mind, but of the heart, a feeling, only the lovers themselves can feel.

This situation is idealized in literature of the 19th Century, however, the real life aspect of courtship is quite different in the Bourgeois society.