The Jean Valjean of Writers

By Yevtushenko, Yevgeny | UNESCO Courier, November 1985 | Go to article overview

The Jean Valjean of Writers


Yevtushenko, Yevgeny, UNESCO Courier


The Jean Valjean of writers

THERE are writers without whom the history of literature is inconceivable. There are those without whom history itself is inconceivable. Victor Hugo is among their number.

In his novel Les Miserables, there is a significant episode in which Jean Valjean, a former convict known for his prodigious strength, who has carefully concealed his criminal past and made a new life for himself as a "respectable, honest man', witnesses an accident in which a man is trapped under a cart. With a superhuman effort Jean Valjean lifts the cart to release the victim knowing that in doing so he will betray his true identity. If my memory from childhood days, when I read the novel, serves me correctly, it is at this moment that Police Inspector Javert, who for years has been on the track of Valjean, knows that at last he has found his man.

There are similarities between Victor Hugo himself and the hero of his novel. On more than one occasion he had the opportunity of resting comfortably on his laurels, and at such times he skilfully concealed his rebellious nature under a veneer of conventional literary respectability. But the sight of his fellow-men being oppressed, rather than arousing in him the instinct of self-preservation, evoked a noble attitude of protectiveness towards them. As stubborn an inquisitor as Javert, Hugo was a scrupulous, methodical, high-principled professional who did not shrink from plunging into the underworld of Paris in pursuit of an objective. Yet, at the same time, he was always on the side of the hunted, not the hunter. His was a dual, indeed a many-sided nature, capable of encompassing the characters not only of an Esmeralda or a Quasimodo, but of all the curious, teeming fauna of Notre-Dame de Paris. Like Jean Valjean, Hugo could not prevent himself from struggling to "lift the cart' even if this might mean being crushed under its weight himself.

In so doing he assumed the burden of history.

Hugo has been accused of being melodramatic and grandiloquent, and there is some truth in this accusation. But we can forgive every excess in return for scenes such as that in which the street-urchin Gavroche falls asleep in the belly of a statue of an elephant. For Hugo was Gavroche as well, drowsing from time to time in the impressive but hollow belly of his fame, knowing, like Gavroche, that his refuge was being nibbled away by mice, yet ready at the first sound of gunfire to leap down and take his place at the barricades. To the end of his days Hugo remained something of a Gavroche, a Paris street-urchin.

When, in his poem Le Proces a la Revolution (The Revolution on Trial), taken from his book L'Annee Terrible, he wrote, "O juges, vous jugez les crimes de l'aurore (Judges, you charge the very dawn with crimes), he was defending not only the Revolution but also himself. And in another poem, Ecrit sur un exemplaire de la Divina Commedia (Words written on a copy of The Divine Comedy), he wrote:

Puis je fus un lion revant dans les deserts

Parlant a la nuit sombre avec sa voix grondante. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Jean Valjean of Writers
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.