In each of these books, one after another, there has been some departure from the traditional canons of romance; but taking each separately, one would have feared to make too much of these departures, or to found any theory upon what was perhaps purely accidental. The appearance of "Quatrevingt-treize" has put us out of the region of such doubt.
Victor Hugo's romances occupy an important position in the history of literature; many innovations, timidly made elsewhere, have in them been carried boldly out to their last consequences; much that was indefinite in literary tendencies has attained to definite maturity; many things have come to a point and been distinguished one from the other; and it is only in the last romance of all, "Quatrevingt-treize," that this culmination is most perfect.
Quatrevingt-treize is a monument of its author's finest gifts; and while those who are happily endowed with the capacity of taking delight in nobility and beauty of imaginative work will find themselves in possession of a new treasure, the lover of historic truth who hates to see abstractions passed off for actualities and legend erected in the place of fact escapes with his sensibilities almost unwounded.
This is what has been done by "Quatrevingt-treize" for the earlier romances of Victor Hugo, and, through them, for a whole division of modern literature. We have here the legitimate continuation of a long and living literary tradition; and hence, so far, its explanation.
There is no hero in "Notre Dame": in "Les Misérables" it is an old man: in "L'Homme qui Rit" it is a monster: in "Quatrevingt-treize" it is the Revolution.
Sometimes they are almost lost sight of before the solemn isolation of a man against the sea and sky, as in "Les Travailleurs"; sometimes, as in "Les Misérables," they merely figure for awhile, as a beautiful episode in the epic of oppression; sometimes they are entirely absent, as in "Quatrevingt-treize."
The episode of the mother and children in "Quatrevingt-treize" is equal to anything that Hugo has ever written. There is one chapter in the second volume, for instance, called "Sein guéri, coeur saignant," that is full of the very stuff of true tragedy, and nothing could be more delightful than the humours of the three children on the day before the assault.
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