A Laugh that Hides Sadness: French Romanticism and Victor Hugo

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Fabio Calzolari


Romanticism (also known as Romantic era) was a cultural movement originated in Europe (starting in the 17th century with the German “Sturm und Drang”) that exalted (mostly polarized) feelings as loci of aesthetic (αίσθησιs) experience. In France, this multifocal movement (embodied in literature, visual, science and social studies) promoted spirituality over rationality, unpredictability against order, distancing itself from the previous “Siècle des Lumières”. The Romantic era framed a literary turnover where boundaries are blurred by juxtapositions of styles and narrative structures. During this era, societies started promoting autonomous national thrusts and reciprocal cultural independence; this momentum was noteworthy expressed by J.G. von Herder in his “Auszug aus einem Briefwechsel über Ossian und die Lieder alter Völker” (1773). In Herder’ analysis, poetry and epos create the cultural substratum in which nations are built; poems are instruments of ethical subjectivism and nationalism. Henceforth, Romanticism moved against Weimar Classicism, wherein cultures were interpreted as parts of a common framework. One of the greatest interpreters of this epoch was Victor Hugo, a French dramatist and playwright (1802-1885). Knowing the philosophical magnitude of his work, I would like to introduce the reader to a romance or rare beauty: “The man who laughs”. It is a moving fictional work on medieval English society and its ethical fallacies. It is a tale of love, struggle and humanity. Victor Hugo was a fierce republican activist and his opera reflects clearly his thought and aversion for inequalities and injustice, thereof the book can be interpreted as a political work. The prose is complex and set on a specific historical framework, the 17th century, where poor peasants fought in a social uprising against a corrupted royalty. The tale can be read by everyone but a complete understanding needs background knowledge of European history and philosophy; readers should always be conscientious about the cultural gap between Asian and Western societies.

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Calzolari, F. (2015). A Laugh that Hides Sadness: French Romanticism and Victor Hugo. Connexion: Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 4(2), 140–165. Retrieved from https://so05.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/MFUconnexion/article/view/241378
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