The impact of the Marginal Character
“Every man has three characters - that which he exhibits, that which he has, and that which he thinks he has” – (Alphonse Karr).
Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables takes place during the tumultuous time of the French Revolution. A period of radical, social, and political upheaval in France, a time when one’s true character is revealed. “French society underwent an epic transformation as religious, feudal, and aristocratic privileges evaporated under a sustained assault from liberal political groups and the masses on the streets. Old ideas about tradition and hierarchy succumbed to new enlightenment principles of citizenship and inalienable rights” (World News). People of the 1700s lived through the storming of the Bastille, multiple constitutions, and changes in the role of women, the system of government, and the hierarchy of the Estates- General. The French Revolution became a symbol of change, of ideals, a mark on history. Through deeper explication of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, the intersections of the ideals of society, government, class, religion, and individuality, extremely prevalent throughout the French revolution, clearly manifest themselves in the actions of the marginal characters often overlooked. Through his setting and minor characters, Mademoiselle Baptistine, Madame Magloire, the Bishop, and Javert, Hugo clearly expresses his beliefs on the interaction of ideals in one’s life and the resulting effect on one’s character.
Accordingly, Mademoiselle Baptistine, as a marginal character, is often overlooked, but if deeper explicated, she proves to unmistakably represent the intersection of the ideals of society, religion, and individuality so ubiquitous in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables. When introduced into the story, Mademoiselle Baptistine is presented as a woman who, “fully realized the idea which is expressed by the word ‘respectable’; for it seems as if it were necessary that a woman should be a mother to be venerable”(Hugo 12). Mademoiselle Baptistine has no children, and must therefore overcompensate in her character to secure a place in society. Mademoiselle Baptistine’s actions show unity between the ideals of society and her individuality; she feels she will not be respected because she does not hold a motherly role in society as expected of women then. Furthermore, her actions also connect with religion; not being a mother results in her not fulfilling her Christian role in the world in connection to the Virgin Mary. Moreover, in relation to her brother the bishop, it is said she, “loved and venerated him unaffectedly; when he spoke, she obeyed; when he acted, she gave him her co-operation. Madame Magloire, however, their servant, grumbled a little” (Hugo 14). In contrast to the strongly opinionated maid, Mademoiselle Baptistine does not have her own opinions; she follows the word of her brother as if he were God. These characteristics depict the intersection between society,...