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Character and Meaning in the Novels of Victor Hugo

by Isabel Roche

Publication Year: 2007

While Victor Hugo's lasting appeal as a novelist can in large part be attributed to the unforgettable characters that he created, character has been paradoxically the most criticized and least understood element of his fiction. Character and Meaning in the Novels of Victor Hugo provides readers with a deeper understanding of the complexities and nuances that characterize both Hugo's novel writing and the nineteenth-century French novel, and will thus appeal to the specialist and non-specialist alike.

Published by: Purdue University Press

Series: Purdue Studies in Romance Literatures

Title Page

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List of Abbreviations

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p. viii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I would like to express my gratitude to Claudie Bernard of New York University, who, as my dissertation director, was tireless in her commentary and served as a model for sound practices.Charles Affron and Nancy Regaldo, also of New York University, were wonderful resources, and the gift of their time was much appreciated....

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pp. 1-12

As the overwhelming success of the 2002 bicentennial of Victor Hugo’s birth confirms, none of the distinct personae that Hugo has come to be known by, whether it be the young royalist and romantic poet, the exiled republican, or the genteel, white-haired grandfather, shows any signs of fading away. Indeed, after two hundred tumultuous years characterized by a vacillation ...

Part 1. Appearance

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Chapter One. The Archetype Transformed

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pp. 15-32

In his review of Walter Scott’s Quentin Durward, which appeared in the first edition of La Muse française in July of1823 and was later reworked and republished in Littérature etphilosophie mêlées (1834), Hugo provides us with his earliest musings on the novel as a genre. In the review, he both praises Scott’s epic and colorful conception of the form and proposes ...

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Chapter Two. Hugo Novelist

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pp. 33-52

The unraveling of the archetypal romance model is mirrored and magnified by the transfer and subversion of codes and elements of another mode into Victor Hugo’s novels, that of melodrama, which took root in France at the beginning of the nineteenth century as a stage form in which moral imperatives were emphasized and reinforced through the polarized ...

Part 2. Reappearance

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Chapter Three. Hugo and Type Character

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pp. 55-69

From Flaubert’s sharp judgment that Les Misérables put into place “des types tout d’une pièce comme dans les tragédies [...] des mannequins, des bonshommes en sucre,” 1 to Théophile Gautier’s observation that “Hugo ne prend de l’histoire que les noms des temps, que les couleurs générales [...] Peut-être ferait-il mieux encore de ne pas mettre de nom du tout et...

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Chapter Four. Character as Template

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pp. 70-101

From Phoebus in Notre-Dame de Paris, to M. Myriel in Les Misérables, to Ebenezer and Déruchette in Les Travailleurs de la mer, to Dea in L’Homme qui rit, to Michelle Fléchard in Quatrevingt-treize, the characters in the first grouping of the Hugolian type are all continuously and consistently figured on the narrative level through a central composing element that...

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Chapter Five. Reconfigurations

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pp. 102-124

Unlike Balzac, who linked his past and future novels together in the 1842 “Avant-Propos” to the Comédie humaine, or Zola,who structured in advance from outlines and a fictional family tree a unified series of novels to be called Les Rougon-Macquart, Hugo never formally connected his fictional works. Indeed, Hugo seemingly never sought to officially relate his ...

Part 3. Disappearance

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Chapter Six. The Poetics of Death

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pp. 127-150

The phenomenon of effacement in Victor Hugo’s novels has generated a great deal of attention from scholars. Indeed, from Suzanne Nash, who remarks that “time [in Hugo’s novels] repeatedly and persistently wipes away the original message” (“Les Contemplations” of Victor Hugo: An Allegory of the Creative Process 26), to Brombert, who asserts that “effacement ...

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Chapter Seven. Decoding Social Exclusion

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pp. 151-178

If the effacement of character in Hugo’s novels serves on a first level to highlight the marginality and exclusion of the heroes in a world that has lost its moral transparency, it serves on a second level, through a process of multiplication and repetition, to accentuate the marginality and exclusion of the mass of others that these heroes come to represent. Indeed, the plural ...

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pp. 179-188

From Quasimodo, to Esmeralda, to Jean Valjean, to Cosette, to Gwynplaine, Victor Hugo’s characters have enjoyed an afterlife whose longevity is unparalleled in French literature. One hundred and seventy years after the publication of Notre-Dame de Paris, a musical version of it by Luc Plamondon and Richard Cocciante—first presented in France in 1998 and commercially ...


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pp. 189-226

Works Cited

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pp. 227-234


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pp. 235-241

About the Author

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pp. 242-254242

E-ISBN-13: 9781612491103
E-ISBN-10: 1612491103
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557534385
Print-ISBN-10: 1557534381

Page Count: 242
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Purdue Studies in Romance Literatures

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Characters and characteristics in literature.
  • Hugo, Victor, 1802-1885 -- Characters.
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