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.
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.
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.