Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Category: Melch Weaver

Melch Reads Les Miserables

S'pose if I'm serious about learning history, I should pick up one of these Will Durant ones.

S’pose if I’m serious about learning history, I should pick up one of these antique Will Durant print books.

It was my aim to learn about the French Restoration by reading Les Miserables. Turns out the book is chock-full of references to people and events, but no explanation of what any of them means. Guess next time I read this book I’ll get the annotated version, not the free one from the very admirable Project Gutenberg. But still, it’s quite a work, and I’m enjoying it a heckuva lot. Take these quotes:

This one shows an interesting view into Hugo’s ideal of womanhood.

She had always been predestined to gentleness; but faith, charity, hope, those three virtues which mildly warm the soul, had gradually elevated that gentleness to sanctity. Nature had made her a lamb, religion had made her an angel. Poor sainted virgin! Sweet memory which has vanished!

You should see this lady later, when she’s taking care of her blind brother.

Course Hugo never holds back from, well, anything, he pretty much says everything about everything, and in a lot of words, but in particular he never flinches from laying out his politics. In this quote, Jean Valjean has served twenty years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his hungry family (and later, trying to escape). He gets out and finds no one will give work or rent a room to a convict, and here he’s musing on his past.

Whether there had not been more abuse on the part of the law, in respect to the penalty, than there had been on the part of the culprit in respect to his fault. Whether there had not been an excess of weights in one balance of the scale, in the one which contains expiation. Whether the over-weight of the penalty was not equivalent to the annihilation of the crime, and did not result in reversing the situation, of replacing the fault of the delinquent by the fault of the repression, of converting the guilty man into the victim, and the debtor into the creditor, and of ranging the law definitely on the side of the man who had violated it.

And later,

He asked himself whether human society could have the right to force its members to suffer equally in one case for its own unreasonable lack of foresight, and in the other case for its pitiless foresight; and to seize a poor man forever between a defect and an excess, a default of work and an excess of punishment.

But there is another side.

The ingenuous police of the Restoration beheld the populace of Paris in too ‘rose-colored’ a light; it is not so much of an ‘amiable rabble’ as it is thought. The Parisian is to the Frenchman what the Athenian was to the Greek; no one sleeps more soundly than he, no one is more frankly frivolous and lazy than he, no one can better assume the air of forgetfulness; let him not be trusted nevertheless; he is ready for any sort of cool deed; but when there is glory at the end of it, he is worthy of admiration in every sort of fury. Give him a pike, he will produce the 10th of August; give him a gun, you will have Austerlitz. He is Napoleon’s stay and Danton’s resource. Is it a question of country, he enlists; is it a question of liberty, he tears up the pavements. Beware! his hair filled with wrath, is epic; his blouse drapes itself like the folds of a chlamys. Take care! he will make the first Rue Grenetat which comes to hand Caudine Forks. When the hour strikes, this man of the faubourgs will grow in stature; this little man will arise, and his gaze will be terrible, and his breath will become a tempest, and there will issue forth from that slender chest enough wind to disarrange the folds of the Alps. It is, thanks to the suburban man of Paris, that the Revolution, mixed with arms, conquers Europe. He sings; it is his delight. Proportion his song to his nature, and you will see! As long as he has for refrain nothing but la Carmagnole, he only overthrows Louis XVL; make him sing the Marseillaise, and he will free the world.

Here’s one more, just for fun. It’s not in vogue these days to speak of people as products of their social class, especially in America, but, strangely, it has a timeless quality, and calls to mind some modern people. Read it and see if if makes you think of anyone you know. (He’s talking about the infamous Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, petty scamming innkeepers.)

These beings belonged to that bastard class composed of coarse people who have been successful, and of intelligent people who have descended in the scale, which is between the class called ‘middle’ and the class denominated as ‘inferior,’ and which combines some of the defects of the second with nearly all the vices of the first, without possessing the generous impulse of the workingman nor the honest order of the bourgeois.

Don’t look at me, I’m just minding my own business, running my little motel out here in Kansas . . . .

Advertisements

What’s next?

RACHEL: It’s time to start the next project. It’s actually past time, as the people who give advice about writing and publishing seem to be in agreement that writers are supposed to be working on the next project before the current one is published. So I’ve already missed the first deadline.

I have tons of ideas, but where to turn at this time? Since this is really Veronica’s space, I thought I’d let her share her opinion.

VERONICA: Well, naturally, I’d love to see more writing about us Caryatids. Tell about the ways we’ve adapted to survive, and the birthing of babies, and the Goddesses who watch over us. You could tell about the Deva that lives in Melch’s hill, though he’s not strictly a Caryatid, but he’s a neighbor and integral to our larger community. Here’s an idea: a collection of short stories, each named for a Goddess, and each about a different character, and how that person embodied some qualities of his/her respective Goddess. They could all be interwoven, and maybe altogether they’d show the character of the community, moving through some particular period or event in the life of the group, or the place.

Anyone else?

STARLA: I think your idea about conspiracy theories and mind control and the healer talking to aliens is cool. And all the links to external sites. You and Kevin would have a lot of fun collaborating on that project.

MELCH: That one would be an opportunity to explore some essential questions about knowing and consciousness, how we judge information, the nature of reality. But your reservations, Rachel, might be well-founded, that your novel-writing skills may not be developed enough to pull this one together. You’ll have many years to write, what’s the rush?

Why not tell us more about Starla, and her history? Apparently she’s not going to tell us on her own.

STARLA: Don’t listen to him, you can do anything you set your mind to! Though my story is pretty juicy . . . .

CAL: What about me? You left me in the middle of a flood. C’mon, I’m a great character. Admit it, you liked writing me. Don’t you wanna know happens to me, after Maeve– well, okay, I won’t spoil it. But seriously, think about it. About me.

CHELSEA: You all make me sick, with your me, me, me. I’m going to tell you something about ME. I’ve been languishing on Rachel’s mental back burner since before she even met some of you, trying to hold things together in this bleak wintery world, while the men are hiding from environmental estrogen in their cushy underground bunkers, leaving the women on the surface struggling to survive on turnips and peas and whatever we can barter, while Granny Rachel (yes, one and the same) rocks in her chair, blathering on about the old days and how the rumble of cars on the highway never ended, people paid for their lodging with money that you could take to Emporia and use to buy foods from anywhere in the world. Well, Rachel, write me or don’t. Won’t change a thing either way.

RACHEL: Oh Chelsea, I’m so sorry you feel that way. Everyone else, thanks for your input. Shall we open it up to our readers?

Unsupported musings on the history of war, by Melch

I’ve been thinking about history, about certain threads that run through the weave of it, not events but rather sorta big ideas, or deep ideas, underlying motives, maybe. It’s about war and how people fight.

At least the box turtle could get out of some mud, if she wanted to.

In the middle ages, much of conflict was based in strong defenses. You placed your castle in a high place where you could see and defend against the enemy. Castles got bigger and more complex and became places where a whole village could hole up for weeks or months, to wait out their enemies within thick stone walls. Conflict on the ground also emphasized defense. Sure, soldiers had ridiculously long lances, and crossbows, but they were wearing so much armor that if they fell off their horses they couldn’t get up. If they fell face down in a mud puddle they’d just drown there. Least that’s what I’ve heard.

So you can see the limits of this defensive approach to war and battle. The people in the castle had to wait for their attackers to leave, while the enemy could go round up some friends, or go out for tea, pick up some groceries and a video, grab a beer at the local pub, and come back to the castle refreshed and ready for battle, should the inhabitants finally get tired of sitting inside with nothing to do. (Don’cha like how I work in a reference to the twentieth century?) Because of this problem, castles were eventually abandoned altogether, and the offensive approach to war rose to dominance. Firearms were invented, so people could shoot one another without getting too close. Then tanks, which took the defenses of the castle on the offense. Airplanes were developed to drop bombs and warheads on people from the sky. Biological and chemical weapons took advantage of the physical vulnerabilities inherent in the human body. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, offensive attacks were so sophisticated that a man could sit in a comfortable office and with a few keystrokes send unmanned craft over oceans and continents to target a particular person or place and destroy it/him/her. They probably never knew what had hit them.

Around this time, some people were starting to wonder if any of this was really a good idea after all. They figured they had a choice, to continue on an endless path to nowhere and develop ever-more-sophisticated ways to attack and kill people, or to rethink the whole idea of war and conflict altogether. Maybe getting along was underrated. Did anybody in any of these wars really know what they were fighting for, after all? Sure, everybody likes to talk about freedom, or security, but how free, or secure, is anyone, when drones can find you, anywhere in the world, and kill you in your house while you sleep?

So that was the choice people had, in the early twenty-first century. To keep up the good fight, the expensive, dangerous, never-see-the-end-of-it fight, or to figure out how to quit fighting, to find better things to do, to choose cooperation over conflict. To commit to peace. And here I am, at the other end of the century looking back, sitting at what used to be a crossroads in those days, and what did they choose? Well, look at the history, and you tell me.

Respectfully, Melchisedek Weaver, Strong City, Kansas

%d bloggers like this: