The Working Classes in Revolutionary France

1848: Hugo's Description of the Barricades

  • 1830 / 1832

  • 1848

    Works Cited

  • Hugo's descriptions of the Barricades in the Faubourges, in Jean Valjean, Book I, allows you to experience the atmosphere of the Revolution of 1848, and, as Hugo points out, the barricades of 1848 bring "before the mind an Ossa upon the Pelion of all the revolutions; '93 upon '89, . . . 1848 upon 1830." Therefore, read the passage and picture yourself as a revolutionary worker.

    "The barricade Saint Antoine was monstrous; it was three stories high and seven hundred feet long. It barred from one corner to the other the vast mouth of the Faubourg, that is to say, three streets;. . . buttressed with mounds which were themselves bastions, pushing out capes here and there, strongly supported by the two great promontories of houses of the Faubourg, it rose like a cyclopean embankment at the foot of the terrible square . . . Nineteen barricades stood at intervals along the streets in the rear of this mother barricades.

    Merely from seeing it, you felt in the Faubourg an immense agonising suffering which had reached that extreme moment when distress rushes to catastrophe. Of what was the barricade made? Of the ruins of three six-story houses, torn down for the purpose, said some. Of the prodigy of all passions said others. It had the woeful aspect of all the works of hatred: Ruin. You might say: who built that? You might also say: who destroyed that? It was the improvisation of ebullition. Here! that door! that grating! that shed! that casement! that broken furnace! that cracked pot! Bring all! throw all on! push, roll, dig, dismantle, overturn, tear down all! It was the collaboration of the pavement, the pebble, the timber, the iron bar, the chip, the broken square, the stripped chair, the cabbage stub, the scrap, the rag, and the malediction.

    It was great and it was little. It was the bottomless pit parodied uon the spot by chaos come again . . . Upon the whole, terrible. It was the acropolis of the ragamuffins. Carts overturned, roughened slope; . . . an omnibus, cheerily hoisted by main strength to the very top of the pile, as if the architects of that savagery would add saucisness to terror, presented its unharnessed pole to unkown horses of the air. . . The fury of the flood was imprinted upon that misshapen obstruction. What flood? The multitude. You would have thought you saw uproar petrified . . . You saw there, in chaos full of despair, rafters from roofs, patches from garrets with their wall paper, window sashes with all their glass planted in the rubbish, awaiting artillery, chimneys torn down, wardrobes, tables, benches, a howling topsy-turvy, and those thousand beggarly things, the refuse even of the mendicant, which contain at once fury and nothingness . . . The barricade of Saint Antoine made a weapon of everything; all that civil war can throw at the head of society came from it . . .

    This barricade was furious; it threw up to the clouds an inexpressible clamour; at certain moments defying the army, it covered itself with multitude and with tempest; a mob of flaming heads crowned it; a swarming filled it; its crest was thorny with muskets, with swords, with clubs, with axes, with pikes, and with bayonets; a huge red flag fluttered in the wind; there were heard cries of command, songs of attacks, the roll of the drum, the sobs of women, and the dark wild laughter of the starving. It was huge and living; and, as from the back of an electric beast there came from it a cackling of thunders. The spirit of revolution covered with its cloud that summit whereon growled this voice of the peoplewhich is lke the voice of God; a strange majesty emanated from the titanic hodful of refuse. It was a garbage heap and it was Sinai.

    "This barricade, chance, disorder, bewilderment, misunderstanding, the unkown, had opposed to it the Constituent Assembly, the sovereignty of the people, universal suffrage, the nation, the republic; and it was the Carmagnole defying the Marseillaise.

    "An insane, but heroic defiance, for this old Faubourg is a hero."