Victor Hugo “Russia 1812” from L’Expiation
Victor Hugo was born on February 26, 1802 in Besançon, France. He was born into a military family; his father was an officer in Napoleon’s army. His parents separated when he was twelve. Hugo attributed this to their difference in political views: his father supported Napoleon while his mother was a monarchist. Hugo lived with his mother, and thus adopted her political opinions. Later in life, he began to be more of his father’s opinion. Biographical Information
His acceptance of his father’s political views grew stronger; eventually, Hugo himself became a staunch republican. When Napoleon III took power and reestablished the monarchy, republicans like Hugo fled the country. While in exile, Hugo wrote Les Miserables, a prominent social commentary, and Les Chatiments, a book of poetry that includes the work you read, “Russia 1812”. Biographical Information Cont.
“Russia 1812” is a part of “L’ Expiation” which is a section of Hugo’s satirical book of poetry, Les Chatiments. Les Chatiments is a ruthless satire on Napoleon III, who Hugo- now a dedicated republican and socialist- loathed for the coup d’etat which brought about Hugo’s exile. “L’ Expiation” is a comparison of Napoleon I to Napoleon III. Unlike Napoleon III, who throughout the poem is depicted as doomed, Napoleon I still has a chance to redeem himself. Les Chatiments
“L’ Expiation” shows Hugo’s ambivalence about Napoleon I. It chronicles the major accomplishments of the great general’s military career. At the end of each section of “L’ Expiation”, Napoleon asks God if the events just experienced were his expiation, or punishment, for his sins. Each time, Napoleon receives a negative answer until the final section which shows Napoleon having just awakened in his tomb because of the beginning of the Second Empire. “Russia 1812” is a section of “L’ Expiation” that chronicles Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. “L’ Expiation”
I know, I know…but they make Scrabble so much fun! “Les chatiments” = the punishments “L’ expiation” = the expiation Expiation = atonement, compensation for sins Caissons = wagons used for transporting ammunition Picket = a soldier stationed to guard against surprise attacks Grapeshot = a cluster of small iron balls fired from a cannon Rimes = frost “qui vive?” = who lives? Dervishes = Ascetic Muslims devoted to a life of chastity “Lèse-majesté” = treason Vocabulary (for funsies )
Tone Ambiguous regarding Napoleon Compassionate towards the soldiers Utilizes the first person: “White ghosts would wrench away our guns” (Line 44, pp. 1019). Imagery “Past each white waste a further white waste rose” (Line 6, pp. 1017). “They were no longer living men and troops, but a dream drifting in a fog, a mystery, mourners parading under the black sky” (Lines 22-24, pp. 1017). “The oak already trembling from the axe, watched his glories drop from him branch by branch” (Lines 50-52, pp. 1019). Hugo’s use of literary elements
My favorite quote: “Victor Hugo was a madman who thought he was Victor Hugo” Hugo’s enormous ego is justifiable: his influence on France and French literature “exceeded anything short of the Bible itself” In literature: His poetry influenced the French Romantic Movement and contemporary French poetry as well. He showed an artful mastery of imagery. He refreshed the Alexandrine style of poetry by utilizing caesura (an audible pause that breaks up a line of verse) and enjambment (the continuation of one line of verse into another). In modern culture: The play Les Miserables was inspired directly by Hugo’s epic novel by the same title. ♥ Hugo’s Impact ♥
Begin at 12:03 (with 3:20 remaining) and continue through to 14:22 (with 1:01 remaining) 1812 Festival Overture was composed by the Romantic composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1880. It tells, fairly literally, of Napoleon’s campaign throughout Russia (but from a Russian viewpoint as opposed to Hugo’s French perspective). The section played in class is Tchaikovsky’s depiction of the French retreat. In the selection, instruments are utilized to make it seem as if there was a blizzard, thus illustrating the snowy conditions through musical imagery. Note emotions experienced through the clip. (I suggest that you write these down for later reflection.) 1812 Overture
“Russia 1812” chronicles the defeat of man by nature. However, it is only a section of a poem which tells of a campaign during man to man combat: Napoleon’s attempted conquest of Europe. Which is more ruthless: nature or man? To consider: nature’s unpredictability and man’s savage nature. Try to incorporate textual evidence and other specific examples. (And no, you are not allowed to use the excuse “man is part of nature” to take a neutral stance.) First Discussion Question
The poem describes the loyalty of the Grand Army to its commander, Napoleon. Is the general, on a campaign fueled by French nationalism, deserving of this fidelity, or has he gone too far by leading a suicidal march through the ravaged lands of Russia in the dead of winter? If the soldiers were disloyal, would this be justifiable? Second Discussion Question
You have now read and listened to two different artistic interpretations of the same incident. Now, you will see a visual expression of the retreat. Upon contemplation of these three distinct versions, in your opinion, which best captures the Grand Army’s withdrawal from Moscow? In general, with which medium (words, music, or paint) do you most identify? Which most successfully depicts poignant events? FINAL DISCUSSION QUESTION!!!