Wednesday, June 30, 2010

For the French Romantics, theatre tended to be Very Serious Business indeed. The Battle of Hernani was, indeed, the flowering of the Romantic decision that in the debate of whether art reflects, or life reflects art, the answer is 'art is life'.

Certain Romantics were so dedicated to certain performers, plays or ensembles that they reserved the same seats for every performance, every evening at a given venue. For example, at the Théâtre-Italien, Ernest Legouvé reported that there were about sixty or so men of different ages and professions (though mostly lawyers, magistrates and writers), formed a sort of Romantic phalanx whose only law was to never miss a performance. They generally arrived an hour early, to discuss the upcoming performance and compare it with past ones that they had seen, and acted as a sort of jury, leading the rest of the audience in applause or silence.

If someone was so gauche as to start up a round of applause when the Romantic Regulars did not think an actor had merited one, an appointed spokesperson would say, quite sharply, "Is that one of the regulars of the Théâtre-Italien?"

At that point, the applause usually stopped.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hauteville House: An Introduction

The Amateur Historian begs the pardon of her Gentle Readers, as she has been on vacation/various geeky trips, i.e. to see Hauteville House on Guernsey. Hauteville House is, as Hugo and his family describe it, a poem in several rooms.

Unfortunately, that poem is one of Hugo's, so the floor plan has been inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy and is full of somber slogans about the transience of mortal existence, punctuated by skulls, Flemish paintings of peasants beating up the aristocracy, the clergy and the army, Orientalist touches like walls lined with unused crockery and Hugo's favorite interior design choice, carpeted ceilings.

According to the Divine Comedy floorplan, the ground floor is hell, full of somber colors, dark wood paneling and very little light. The second floor is purgatory, which is sumptuously and rather ironically decorated in Napoleon III style, full of silk brocades and metallic tapestries (several of which are, in fact, on the ceiling). The third floor and attic are paradise, with enormous windows dominating each room.

It is unclear, at this time, if there is a link between where Hugo placed people's bedrooms and the floors of his house. For example, Hugo's room is up in the attic, where the light streams in, his sons have rooms on the second floor, his wife and daughter have rooms in Purgatory and his poor, belagured secretary's room was on the first. It is quite possible that Hugo was very gently suggesting to M. Vacquerie to find another job; after all, when one's employer kindly reserves one a room in hell, it is rather a lowering experience.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

An Uncommonly Fun Funeral

If there was one thing that Victor Hugo loved more than himself, it was women. Though a great champion of social justice he was the patron of a number of Parisian brothels. Therefore, during his funeral, the policemen that the French government had brought in to keep the funeral from getting violent were upset that said government wished to shut down all the bars/ billiard rooms/ brothels in honor of Victor Hugo. The government then seemed to realize that Hugo would have wished for the brothels to remain open (some brothels even offered their services for free, in honor of the loss of so great a patron), or, rather, that the riot they wished to avoid would have started if said brothels closed and allowed them to remain open.

They did however, respectfully request all the prostitutes to wear mourning.

FUN FACT: The Place des Vosages, where Hugo spent a significant portion of his adult life used to be called the Place Royale. After the 1848 revolution, the department of Vosages was the first to send their taxes into the republican government, so the government changed the Place Royale to the Place des Vosages. See, good things come out of paying your taxes in a timely fashion!