Words and Pictures: There were no men left

The racket was indescribable; trapped and burning smoke almost blanketed the fight in total darkness. No words can express horror at that pitch. There were no men left in that now infernal struggle. It was no longer a matter of giants versus colossi. It was more like something out of Milton and Dante than Homer. Fiends attacked, specters resisted.

It was the heroism of monsters.

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), tr. Julie Rose
Image, Edouard Manet, The Barricade, found here

In my year-long chapter-a-day reading of Hugo’s novel, today’s chapter “Inch by Inch” (from which this quotation is taken) concerns the fall of the barricade defended by several of the novel’s main characters in a doomed 1832 insurrection.

Did Hugo know that this chapter would correspond to the today’s date, November 11, the day of St. Martin, a soldier who put down his arms to follow Christ? He didn’t know, of course, that today would mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War, which created so much pointless bloodshed. But the horror of violence was much on his mind — along with the nobility of some who attempted to use it in a good cause.


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