Victor Hugo of les Miserable was a French novelist. He was the man associated with French romanticism the Romantic Movement. Although there were other powerful influences at work, romanticism was the strongest and the dominant one at least in arts and literature. In other words, romanticism was a reaction against the forms and conventions of the eighteenth century. Romantic Movement was a revolt against classical restraint, intellectual discipline, and artificial standards. The movement put emphasis on feelings and imagination as they believed the feeling was more important than reason. Therefore, Victor Hugo of les Miserable was involved in this movement, and he had perceptions and predictions about the 19th century Europe, which will be discussed below.
Victor Hugo perceives the 19th century European architecture as an expression of history and culture that can be fully explicated through a verbal, literary text. Hugo talked about the decline of the contemporary architecture which is the building of the present day with major ideas, ideologies and projects of different styles. He also talked about the need to preserve historical buildings until there comes an era where this art would be of more value inspiring the nation to love the architectural arts and monuments already in place. Architecture must lose its superior qualities or value that it possessed before the Renaissance. He valued architect that he warned against printing leading to loss of value in the power of architect. He compared architecture as the great book of humanity, the main expression of a man in his stages of development relating textual codes such as letters to the design of the ancient structures. A good example is Jerusalem. Solomons temple, for example, was not only the binding of the holy book, but it was the holy book itself where the priests read to the people, and they followed step by step understanding every chapter of it.
With the printing discovery, architecture lost its power as it could no longer express the society in any essential manner from the Europeans, the indigenous; Gallic it became Greek and Roman. Similar to many critics of the nineteenth century, Hugo admitted of the possibility of modern architecture as he advocated the conservation of old architecture. He talked of the death of architecture, dead without return, killed by printed books and if by accident it revived, it would no longer be the master but submit to the law of literature. Hugo described the richness of texture and time then he stated that the greatest attributes of church and city had been lost to neglect and indifferences just as architecture had lost its central role in human consciousness.
Victor Hugo came up with the word the United States of Europe during a speech at the International Peace Congress held in Paris in 1849. He was in favor of a supreme sovereign senate where he predicted that it would be to Europe what parliament is to England. He also made a prediction that a day would come when the United States of Europe and the United States of America would be face to face reaching out to each other across the seas. United States of Europe would also trade with across open borders with a single currency as Europes capital and the centre of the European family. At the present age, Europe uses a single currency which is very strong and of high value. Trade in this country is also good for Europe exports and imports goods in and out of the country especially with the United States of America, which was one of Hugos predictions. The economic status of Europe is well stable due to her economic activities with her neighboring countries.
He also planted a tree in his residence on the Island of Guernsey predicting that when the tree matured, the United States of Europe would have come into being. Up to this day, the tree is still growing at gardens of Maison de Hauteville, Guernsey. By the tree growing, the European states should preserve peace and end all the criminal empires in the states. During the Serbia discourse of 1876, Hugo even dreamt further by managing conflict between the national states through dialogue. He predicts that on that day, people will feel like having a single thought, common interests, and common destiny. People will hug one another; recognize each other as the brother of the same blood and race with no enemy population but one people. States such as Province, Normandy and Brittany will no longer exist. Bearing the name of war will be long gone but one name and that is of civilization will be there.
In his predictions, he foretold that if they were united, they would put an end to corruption, barriers to prosperity, nationalism, and militarism and finally put an end to the death penalty. To end nationalism, the war had to come to an end. This would mean that the United States of Europe and United States of America would join forces in trade; exchanging of goods, in commerce, industry and arts to better both nations.
The railway according to Hugo has a different perspective. The rail road has brought modern technology, given new ideas, perspectives, and new hopes. For the first time in history, rail road reduced the much work done by humans and animals as it made locomotion easier. It was a symbol of the unlimited potential of science to improve peoples lives. Rail produced a number of new sensory and psychological experiences which were unique in human history. The average speed of the rail was twenty to thirty miles per hour, which was very fast in consideration that they had not used it before. This caused anxiety to people at the thought of the rail speed. People felt helpless, just like the modern aircraft knowing that they have no power to control the machine.
Victor Hugo described the view from the train as an experience that intensified nervous stimulation. The view of the outside was totally differently as the flowers were no longer flowers but flecks which are white or yellow. This is as a result of nervous fatigue or sensory overload. He tried to explain the industrialization of time and space in the nineteenth century. A new appreciation of the importance of time was among change in human consciousness in relation to the process and industrial revolution as time is money. Railroad time became a standard time in which the train would arrive at a specific time, await passengers for a specific time and leave at a certain time which up to date has not changed. They are now regional standard time zones for the train.
A railway road also served as an index of social divisions; this is because the railway passengers are still divided into classes; first and second class. This style created a rift between the wealthy and those of low or middle class. Compartments were also created to provide one with their personal space to reduce the incidence where a stranger enters into one's compartment. Rail travel for middle class passengers was an isolating experience as the passengers were kept in unpleasant conditions or even dangerous situations. Before the development of buses, cars, and street carts, people could not afford to look at each other for a few seconds without saying a word to one another. Modern traffic reduces most of the sensory relations between human beings from sight to speech. According to Hugo, when one is in his/her compartment in a train, car, or airplane, there is no possibility of communication. He said that for some centuries to come, humans in relation to travel will be isolated, and any relations will be long gone.
People often responded to boredom or loneliness by burying themselves and concentrating on the news paper. Some kept their eyes focused on one thing to avoid any eye contact with a fellow passenger. Due to boredom, news sellers began to appear in almost all rail stations selling different articles to minimize boredom in the train. This became a habit until the railway was directly responsible for one's distinct feature in modern life. In the present days, the trend still countries as you will find yourself on a long journey of more than ten hours not having spoken any word to anyone. Reason being the passenger next to you is deep concentrated with his/her phone or some it is just ignorance or ego. That is why Hugo had different perception about the train in the nineteenth century. Railways also caused crime at the rail station causing fear and embarrassment as robbers managed to steal gold from a baggage car on a train- the experience that left everyone in shock.
The railway was a political symbol as it ushered in the political and economic modernization of outdated states in Europe. Railways, express mails, steamboats and all possible means of communication are what any educated person needs. This in relation to the nineteenth century was the perception of Victor Hugo in regards to training in the nineteenth century and his predictions in regards to Europe of the nineteenth century.
Hugo, V. (1994). Les Miserables: Volume 1. U.K: Wordsworth Edns.
Hugo, V. (2001). Les miserables. Nashville: Word Pub.
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