It revolves around a man named Gwynplaine
, whose mouth was mutilated into a perpetual grin at a young age.
MacIntyre, a genre author so removed from literary trends and society that his very name and self-purported biography are questionable.
Everything centers on the extraordinary face of (protaganist) Gwynplaine
, whose wide and mirthless grin inspired the Joker character in the original Batman comic books.
Grossman's discussion of L'Homme qui rit (1869) convincingly links the fall of Cromwell's republic in 1688 to Hugo's views of the 1851 coup d'etat in France, and the uncompromising exile of Gwynplaine
's father, loyal to that republic, to Hugo's similar exile after the collapse of his political career.
In Hugo's L'Homme qui rit Gwynplaine
provokes mockery by his automated laughter (cf.
(14) In this way, for example, in L'Homme qui rit, the narrator at the same time knows far more than the characters are able to know themselves ("le proscrit console dans sa tombe, l'heritier rendu a l'heritage [...]; voila ce que Barkilphedro eut pu voir dans l'evenement dont il triomphait; voila ce qu'il ne vit pas" [14: 275]) and is unable to know everything about them, as with Gwynplaine
during his initial trek to Weymouth: "Sa stupefaction se compliquait d'une sombre constatation de la vie.
And certainly, the presence of Marie changes the static opposition of the two male characters and makes it dialectic, as it were, anticipating the antithetical constructions of Ruy Blas or Les Miserables.(3) For Grossman, though, the changes go further: if Marie is a typical, virginal Hugolian heroine, she is herself opposed to the new character of Habibrah, who is a typical Hugolian villain, related to Han, to Claude Frollo, and to Hardquanonne.(4) A pairing of angel and devil results, like those of Claude and Esmeralda, Marie and Salluste, Josiane and Gwynplaine
.(5) As Grossman has convincingly shown, this construction exemplifies the pairing of grotesque and sublime that was first advocated in the "Preface" of Cromwell (59).
Protagonist orphan boy Gwynplaine
and carnival vendor Ursus who brings up Gwynplaine
make mistakes as well as accomplishing heroic acts.
Dans la suite du siecle, de Rodolphe a Monte-Cristo, de Lagardere a Gwynplaine
, le roman populaire se servira largement de figures qui ne sont pas sans rappeler les protagonistes frenetiques.
Si cette idylle doit, ainsi que le propose Henri Mitterand, "quelque chose de son inconsciente sensualite aux pages de L'Homme qui rit, ou Victor Hugo depeint les amours ingenues et troubles de Gwynplaine
et de Dea" et si elle rappelle egalement, ainsi que je l'ai suggere precedemment, les amours de Cosette et de Marius, elle n'est pas non plus sans evoquer, de par sa conclusion, l'idylle impossible du couple hugolien "Quasimodo/Esmeralda"(13).
The villain Barkilphedro perversely seeks to avenge himself on Duchess Josiane for her many kindnesses to him; Josiane tries to escape boredom by seducing Gwynplaine
, a street performer disfigured as a child to prevent his rightful ascent to the peerage as Lord Clancharlie; Gwynplaine
's temptation by Josiane's material charms threatens to obliterate his devotion to the higher ideals embodied by Dea, the blind girl whom he rescued in infancy and with whom he has fallen in love.
If the association of literary plagiarism with literal abduction seems remote, Suzanne Guerlac, writing of Victor Hugo's L'Homme qui rit (where "a child is kidnapped and disfigured by a band of gypsies who have cut his mouth from ear to ear"), has shown how the child-stealer's crime can derive mythic power from the speaking of its proper and resonantly literary name: the mutilation of the child Gwynplaine
by Harquenonne is called a work of art, and Harquenonne is hanged for it "as a plagiarist".