Emotions of Love and Lust in the Works of Victor Hugo
Victor Hugo is easily one of the major figures of world literature. Hugo has been responsible for painting some of the most compelling portraits of the struggle of the human condition and how certain emotional conditions continue to subsist among untold levels of depravity and suffering. One can examine The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables as portraits of not only human suffering but as literary demonstrations of how even lust can continue to subsist throughout the human condition even when under intense strain. This paper will examine how Hugo is able to showcase the carnal longings of humanity throughout those works.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame demonstrates two different types of lust, emotional lust and sensual lust (Chris, 2010). Emotional lust in this case is first represented by the words and actions by the gypsy Esmeralda and the most common form of lust is represented via the soldier Phoebus de Chateaupers and the Archdeacon of Notre Dame, Claude Frollo. Throughout the book, amid the suffering and loneliness which pervades the text continually, the reader is still presented with the constant base lusting after Esmeralda; even amid the differences of their desires, the fundamental value of carnal longing is what is most pervasive. "Phoebus wants instant gratification. His thoughts of Esmeralda are shallow and fleeting. He wants to use her the way he has used countless other women. In fact, comically and disgustingly, he can't even get her name right… even as he promises her undying fidelity if she'll give herself to him" (Chris, 2010). One of the aspects of Phoebus's lust for Esmerelda that Hugo takes great pains to make clear is that it does not exist with love. To Phoebus, Esmerelda is just another woman to be had; to him, it's almost as if she's a number or just another conquest. Hugo demonstrates in many ways that this is the basest form of desire, as it's riddled with emptiness.
On the other hand, Frollo's desire for Esmerelda has longevity, but even so Hugo demonstrates that even in this longevity, the lust does not redeem him in any way. This lust for Esmerelda essentially annihilates Frollo. Consider the following excerpt that Frollo says, "I wanted to see you again, touch you, know who you were, see if I would find you identical with the ideal image of you which had remained with me and perhaps shatter my dream with the aid of reality" (Hugo 115). This quote demonstrates a certain out-of-touchness with reality already, as if Frollo's lust has already caused a certain amount of separation within him on the realness of things vs. The fragrant mirage of his own lust.
The fact that these two distinct characters have such acutely negative experiences in conjunction with their lust is no accident: Hugo is making a strong case and a compelling argument about the nature of lust and how it is both invasive and destructive. Moreover, Hugo is demonstrating how this carnal emotion can sometimes thrive during times of suffering and distress, preying on the absence and lack of humanity within all that as. In this case, it almost appears as if Hugo is indicting all human emotions, deeming them unreasonable and as partly connected to suffering and distress. Consider the following: "Love is like a tree: it shoots of itself; it strikes it's roots deeply into our whole being, and frequently continues to put forth green leaves over a heart in ruins. And there is this unaccountable circumstance attending it, that the blinder the passion the more tenacious it is. Never is it stronger than when it is most unreasonable" (Hugo, 213). In this case love is likened to a thing which is somewhat uncontrollable and which does not really benefit humanity, but seems to cause more drama and complications for all involved. Love causes entanglements: it is like the ivy which causes buildings to deteriorate. In certain respects, one can say that Hugo is making a strong indictment of love and all things connected to love.
The emotional lust of Esmeralda, one could say, is more revelatory of the destructive forces of human emotion. Emotional lust in this case is the desire to...
Esmeralda was presented in a chaste and pure manner, and protective of these aspects of herself, but even so a sense of lack and absence persisted: "She so longed to be loved that she convinced herself that the buffoon Phoebus cared for her. She was blind to his carnal desires, his fickleness, his selfishness, all because she longed for his affection. And eventually her emotional lust brought her to the verge of succumbing to his sensual lust, if only to avoid losing him (whom she never had)" (Chris, 2010). Essentially, Hugo shows us what happens when Esmeralda drops her guard to gain Phoebus's affection: things begin to unravel and all that prevails is disappointment and disillusionment. An intense longing for affection was what has underscored Esmeralda's dismissal of common sense and one sees in a terrifying and infuriating way exactly what happens when an intense longing for affection is allowed to take over common sense. Phoebus was driven by sensual lust and Esmeralda was driven by a need for affection. Ultimately, both experienced a certain degree of unraveling.
Fantine is one of the most tragic figures in Les Miserables, and lust has a strong factor in her demise. Fantine is a character that one sees as being both a victim of circumstance and who is also trifled with by human emotions and the factor of love. Fantine falls in love with an older student who only takes advantage of her, abandoning her when it is discovered that she is pregnant. This is a very strong message that Hugo delivers: human emotion, particularly the emotion of love is often met with massive disappointment. Love offers failure to the human heart. The way that lust operates upon Fantine is that she uses the lust of others to attempt to earn money: she falls into prostitution. In this case, Hugo is demonstrating just what lust is doing to Fantine, as it represents how she is selling the final shreds of herself. The reader has already watched as Fantine has sold her hair and teeth to provide money to her innkeeper. There is no mercy for Fantine: after prostitution, she is thrown in jail. Even so, Hugo seems to attempt to be making a strong case for the importance of love throughout the novel, claiming that love is the only pearl in the darkness, the only sense or source of refuge for the individual.
However, by demonstrating the difficult fate of Fantine and how love often doesn't persist for her or exist in her case, Hugo seems to be pointing to the undeniably fickle quality of love and the unreliability of it all. Consider the following remark made about love: "The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved in. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only" (Hugo, 203). In certain respects, Hugo is arguing that love is fleeting, even as beautiful and meaningful as it might appear. Fantine was one who experienced the flood of love, but it was just a flush of ephemeral emotion, and only something which ultimately represented the first step on the downward spiral. This is something that Hugo returns to acutely: through the novel Les Miserables, it becomes apparent that love is not something which can be trusted or relied upon; it is just something that sways an manipulates human judgment, turning it into something which is warped and which causes human misery. Consider the following statement: "When love has fused and mingled two beings in a sacred and angelic unity, the secret of life has been discovered so far as they are concerned; they are no longer anything more than the two boundaries of the same destiny; they are no longer anything but the two wings of the same spirit. Love, soar" (Hugo, 313). However, this is not a fate that Fantine ever becomes lucky enough to know. It is one of the things which seems to happen all around her, but it is not something that she is lucky enough to experience on her own. In this respect, there is a cruelty to life that Hugo explores. Les Miserables is full of all these inspirational meditations on the potential and the possibility of love, while the characters of the novel are befallen with some of the most profound suffering .
Ultimately, this paper has attempted to explore how lust pervades throughout both The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables. Hugo deftly uses lust to showcase the fallibility of another human experience -- love. Hugo uses the…
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