June 27, 2006

Guest Post Warning: Sound And Fury Ahead

This blog is very friendly and The Intended posts only photu-related stuff on his. Therefore, the following post is a guest entry: I take no responsibility for any damage, permanent or temporary, sustained by readers. (Not a very friendly gesture that.)


We live in an era of 160-letter-SMS-attention spans, so stylistic similarities to Hugo is the easiest way to non-readability.

On a lazy Sunday evening, a funny thought crossed my mind. What would be the result if we were to juxtapose the terseness of Shakespeare (sort of, for he wrote in verse – one could argue that so did Homer but let us be granted that verse is usually terse for the sake of argument) with verbosity of Hugo? Over two hundred years separate the two authors, and so we should not expect the authors themselves to have undertaken such an enterprise jointly. But since providence and printing press have connived to erase the eras that separate the two, by putting both their works in my hands, let me attempt it.

The plot for the following text was supplied by Shakespeare on which Hugo erects his grandiose edifice (we use the word plot here a little too literally for comfort).

Without much ado,
I present to you,
Monsieur Hugo’s Macbeth

We introduce Enjloras into the story a little abruptly, and in that he may be considered a digression, but the reader would pardon us for this parenthesis, which, as shall be seen, has a good reason for it. We have in our possession a letter that he addressed to Marquis de Champtercier; wealthy and avaricious old man, who contrived to be, at one and the same time, an ultra-royalist and an ultra-Voltairian, whose contents give us a startling insight into the ocular and oracular practices prevalent in the Paris of 1800s.

Enjolras that evening was restless; on what account, we do not know but we can guess with a reasonable degree of certainty, that nor did he. Such are the inner workings of the mind of a twenty year old. It takes little to upset the order, balance, poise, equilibrium of intellect at that dreamy age. The author, being long past that age, can offer no more conjectures. It occurred to Enjolras at that moment, that perhaps a quick walk would help him regain his composure. He put on his coat, tied a cravat about his neck, took his hat, and went out.

Once out of the house, he went to the Rue de Petit Banquier.

He had almost reached the middle of this street, near a very low wall which a man can easily step over at certain points, and which abuts on a waste space, and was walking slowly, in consequence of his preoccupied condition, and the snow deadened the sound of his steps; all at once he heard voices talking very close by. He turned his head, the street was deserted, there was not a soul in it, it was broad daylight, and yet he distinctly heard voices.

It occurred to him to glance over the wall which he was skirting.

There, in fact, sat three personages, flat on the snow, with their backs against the wall, talking together in subdued tones. What followed next is known to us through the account presented by Enjloras in the aforementioned letter. The first thing that he learned from their voices, although he hadn’t yet picked a single word that he could distinctly comprehend, was that those personages were in fact women. They were clothed in black, with a guimpe, which, in accordance with the prevalent norms of certain orders in the Parisian society at that time, mounted to the chin. A robe of serge with large sleeves, a large woollen veil, the guimpe which mounted to the chin cut square on the breast, the band which descends over their brow to their eyes,--this was their dress.

We know now, from this very vivid sketch his words drew in the letter that these women were a lot more. They were witches of the dark order of Orephia.

They spoke argot.

Argot is the language of the dark. Thought is moved in its most sombre depths, social philosophy is bidden to its most poignant meditations, in the presence of that enigmatic dialect at once so blighted and rebellious. Therein lies chastisement made visible. Every syllable has an air of being marked. The words of the vulgar tongue appear therein wrinkled and shrivelled, as it were, beneath the hot iron of the executioner. Some seem to be still smoking. Such and such a phrase produces upon you the effect of the shoulder of a thief branded with the fleur-de-lys, which has suddenly been laid bare. Ideas almost refuse to be expressed in these substantives which are fugitives from justice. Metaphor is sometimes so shameless, that one feels that it has worn the iron neck-fetter.

That it was Enjloras who stood there at this moment, we owe to providence. For Enjloras, though not adroit with argot, knew enough of the patois of Orephia, for him to divine snatches of the conversation that transpired between the trinity of crones.

The women were at that point discussing a propitious moment for their next rendezvous. Enjloras gathered they had a strange predilection for tumultuous weather phenomenon – for he clearly heard these words pronounced in that dark tongue - mirlababi*, surlababo, mirlition. The first witch, who spoke these words, said them with such a measure of confidence that Enjloras wondered if she was capable of summoning a storm at will.


Of course this would then be followed by a long and winding prose on:

When the hurly-burly’s done
When the battle’s lost and won

And since the couplet concerns a battle, inadvertently, we’ll be taken to the Plateau of Mont Saint Jean, to witness that grand struggle between Bonaparte and Wellington.

-- written sometime in 2006 by an Indian inspired by an original work of an English bard in English and a classic English translation of a French author’s French novel by an English knowing friend of his.

p.s. certain sentences in the above text (in blue) were copied verbatim from Isabel F. Hapgood’s translation of Les Misérables (which can be downloaded from project Gutenberg), a few words come from a translation by Charles E Wilbour, the remainder we owe to the Indian author’s fecund imagination. If you are feeling inclined to reading Les Misérables, and your knowledge of French precludes you from venturing anywhere near the original, I highly recommend Charles E Wilbour’s classic (and somewhat tedious) English translation of the text. The gentleman was a friend of Hugo, and managed to publish his translation in the same year as the original was published in France. Available in a beautifully bound edition in Everyman’s Library, this is as close as you can get to the real thing.


wendigo said...

abbe degree milne ka koi promise na ho to itna lamba cheez nahin padh sakte. precis likh-ke do, 300 words.

Deepak said...

Thankee very much for the plot errr... space!

Deepak said...

@Wendigo: May the original by Shakespeare serve you as the precis. It goes something like this:

When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightening or in rain