Victor Hugo's L'Homme qui rit (1869) presents a powerful, nightmarish vision of human longing and corruption. Recurrent imagery of aspiration and asphyxiation ties the romantic subplot, which focuses on the protagonist's divided affections, to a much wider vortex of desires. At the same time, the use of similar topoi to figure polar opposites calls into question the antithetical relationships themselves. This essay looks at the ways in which desire operates in Hugo's text, inscribing the struggle between good and evil within more global social issues. Whereas the representation of women might appear to adhere to the virgin-whore dichotomy, and so to reflect an anti-feminist stance, this dichotomy is deconstructed by Hugo's use of metaphorical lattices and multilevel symmetries to figure his own unspeakable (republican) yearning. (kmg)


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pp. 371-384
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