The French Revolution

Revolutionary Tradition
Revolutionary Tradition and Les Mis
 
Revolution 1789
 
People
--The Monarchy
--Desmoulins
--Robespierre
--Danton
--Marat
--Jacobins
--Sans-culottes
--Napoleon
 
Events
--Tennis Court Oath
--Fall of the Bastille
--October Days
--Varennes
--Declaration of War
--Palace Invaded
--Louis XVI
--Reign of Terror
-- Fall of Robespierre
--At war
--Napoleon
 
 
Timeline
 
1789 in Les Miserables
--The Terror
--The People
--The Students
--Revolutionary
--The Monarchy
--Philosophy
 
Monuments
--Elephant
--Bastille
--L'arc
--Place de Concord
--Pantheon
--Tuileries
--Notre Dame
--Elysées
 
Daily Sites
--Restraunts
--Cafes
--Street Names
--Guillotine
--Children's Names and Games
 
Works Consulted

 

The revolutionary sense is a moral sense. The sentiment of rights, developed, develops the sentiment of duty. The law of all is liberty, which ends where the liberty of others begins, according to Robespierre's admirable definition. Since '89, the entire people has been expanding in the sublimated individual; there is no poor man, who, having his rights, has not his ray; the starving man feels within himself the honour of France; the dignity of the citizen is an interior armour; he who is free is scrupulous; he who votes reigns. Hence incorruptibility; hence the abortion of unoxious lusts; hence the eyes heroically cast down before temptations.

Les Miserables, Saint Denis, Book Seventh, Chapter III

 

 Image of Sans-Culotte taken from Decaux.

This is heroic rendering of a sans-culotte. This man wears the colors of France, is carrying the French flag, and is looking upward. He is standing in the contropasto pose of antiquity. He is the man Hugo's quote: incorruptible, honarable, and dignified.

The idea of the Revolution of 1789 as a moral one is inextricably connected with Robespierre. Robespierre was a lawyer, a member of the Estates general, a radical Jacobin, and a member of several revolutionary governments. Robespierre was even nicknamed "the incorruptible" because of his complete and total commitment to the purity of the Revolution (Spielvogel. 696). Rousseau, an eighteenth century philosophe, had introduced the idea of a social contract. According to Spielvogel:

Rousseau tried to harmonize individual liberty with governmental authority. The social contract was basically an agreement on the part of an entire society to be governed by its general will. If any individual wished to follow his own self-interest, then he should be compelled to abide by the general will. " This means nothing less than his will be forced to be free," said Rousseau, because thergeneral will represented a community's highest aspirations, that which was best for the entire community. Thus, liberty was achieved through being forced to follow what was best for all people because, he believed, what was best for all was best for each individual (611).

Robespierre, whose ideas dominated politics throughout the Terror, had as his gospel the work of Rousseau. The liberty that the French people obtained when the Bastille fell in 1789 was fitful: in the decades that followed they were subjected to starvation, forced conscription, the terror, and many Napoleonic wars. But, as Hugo suggests, the people clung to the idea of freedom, dignity, and honor. These ideas were pure in the midst of the squalor and moral corruption of France during Hugo's life (See The Dangerous Classes and The Bohemian Life). These pure ideas are what the young, idealistic students of Les Miserables are fighting to regain. This quote reminds Hugo's readers of the moral background of the Revolution of 1789, while explaining the mindset of several of his principal characters.