Short summary - The Man Who Laughs - Victor Hugo

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Man Who Laughs
Victor Hugo

Prologue
Ursus (Latin for Bear) was a versatile person. It contained a philosopher, a poet, a healer, a street buffoon, and a ventriloquist, capable of accurately reproducing any sound. Ursus traveled throughout England with his faithful wolf Homo (Latin for Man). A small wooden cart made of thin boards, like a box with two doors at the ends, served as a refuge for them. Inside was a large chest, an iron stove, and a small chemical laboratory. Homo served as a horse for the carriage, next to whom Ursus often harnessed. The wolf was not only a draft force, but a full-fledged participant in the performances: he showed various tricks and walked around the audience with a wooden cup in his teeth. One profession of Ursus helped another: a piece written and performed by him gathered people who bought drugs prepared by Ursus.
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“He was short in stature, but seemed lanky. He hunched over and was always thoughtful. " Despite his many talents, Ursus was poor and often went to bed without supper. "In his youth, he lived as a philosopher with a certain lord," but when he met Gomo in the forest, he felt a craving for vagrancy and preferred "hunger in the forest to slavery in the palace." Now “the inner state of Ursus was a constant dull rage; his outward condition was grumpiness. " He was a pessimist and saw the world only from the bad side.
Ursus had a dark philosophy about life. This man never smiled, and his laugh was bitter. He considered the power of the aristocracy to be an inevitable evil, with which one should come to terms. These thoughts, however, he kept to himself, pretending to be an ardent admirer of aristocrats. Two long inscriptions on the walls of the carriage served as proof of this. One described the most complex rules of etiquette that governed the English aristocrats. The second inscription was a list of all the possessions of dukes, earls and barons. This list was preceded by the inscription: "Consolation with which those who have nothing should be content." Opposite the name of Lord Linnaeus Clencharlia, it was indicated that all his property was under arrest, and the Lord himself was a rebel in exile.
Traveling through England, Ursus managed to avoid trouble, although Jacob II had already passed a law. The persecution against them continued during the reign of William and Mary. Comprachikos were the names of people involved in the production of freaks. In the 17th-18th centuries, at the court of any aristocrat, there was always a dwarf jester, and the public in the fairgrounds was entertained by freaks. The Comprachicos bought children and surgically changed their appearance. They turned beautiful, healthy children into dwarfs and funny freaks. Often the services of the comprachicos were used to remove an unwanted heir. These crooks were of different nationalities and usually huddled in gangs. Oddly enough, the Comprachicos were not pagans, but ardent Catholics and "zealously guarded the purity of their faith."
Part 1.
Sea and Night The
winter of 1689-1690 was unusually cold. On one of the coldest January evenings in 1690, in one of the bays of Portland Bay, a Biscay was moored - an old ship with a fastened pot-bellied hull. Some people were hastily loaded onto the urk. One of the obscure silhouettes, the smallest, belonged to a child. He was dressed in rags, while his companions covered themselves with long, wide cloaks with hoods. Having plunged, the people boarded. The child wanted to follow them, but the leader of the gang at the last moment threw down the board, which served as a ladder. Urka set sail, leaving the child alone in the desolate and cold wasteland.
The boy did not have shoes, and his rags and the sailor jacket thrown over them did not warm at all. Having hardly got out of a deep bay with steep slopes, the child saw in front of him an endless and deserted plateau, white with snow. He ended up on the Portland Peninsula. The boy was lucky: he turned towards a narrow isthmus connecting the peninsula with the English Isles. On the way, he came across a gallows. The corpse of the hanged smuggler was covered in tar. This was done to keep the body as long as possible and serve as a lesson to others. The hanged man's shoes were lying under the gallows, but the child did not dare to take them.
Fascinated standing in front of the corpse, the boy almost froze. Suddenly, a gust of wind, a harbinger of a blizzard, shook the dead man sharply. This frightened the boy and he ran. Soon he passed the very dangerous Portland Isthmus, which was "a two-sided slope with a rocky ridge in the middle," and saw smoke - a trail of human habitation.
Meanwhile, a blizzard overtook the Urku crossing the Channel. The crew fought with it for a long time, miraculously avoiding a variety of dangers, but the fight was in vain. When the storm subsided, it turned out that almost the entire crew of the shrimp, led by the captain, washed away into the sea, and the ship itself received a hole and is sinking. The passengers were comprachicos. They hired a ship to escape to Spain. Convinced that the land was far away and there was no salvation, the eldest of the comprachikos wrote a confession, which was signed by the rest. The document was placed in a glass jar tied with willow twigs. The name of the owner was knitted on the braid. The flask was plugged, the neck was greased, and this fragile vessel was thrown into the sea.
The blizzard that raged on the sea swept over the land. Having passed the isthmus, the child noticed human footprints in the fresh snow. Quiet and strange sounds coming from the snowy haze helped him not to lose track. In the end, the boy came across a dead woman, next to which a nursing baby was swarming. The boy picked up the crumbs, wrapped them in his jacket, and with a load in his arms moved on.
Some time later, the boy saw "roofs and pipes covered with snow not far from him." He entered the town, deeply asleep, and began knocking on all the doors, but no one was in a hurry to open it. Finally, he came across a vacant lot, where Ursus's cart stopped for the night.
When the boy knocked, Ursus was about to eat his meager supper. He did not want to share, but the philosopher could not leave the child to freeze. Without ceasing to grumble and swear, he let the boy into the house, changed into dry clothes and gave him his supper. To Ursus's amazement, a one-year-old girl was in the package the boy had brought with him. Ursus gave her milk, which he hoped to feed herself. In the morning, the philosopher discovered that the boy's face was disfigured - eternal laughter froze on it. The girl turned out to be blind.
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Part 2.
By order of the king,
Lord Linnaeus Klencharly was "a living fragment of the past." He, like many other peers, recognized the republic, but after the execution of Cromwell, he did not go over to the side of the restored monarchy. Remaining a staunch republican, Lord Clencharly retired into exile on the shores of Lake Geneva. In England, he left a mistress with an illegitimate son. The woman was beautiful, noble and very quickly became the mistress of King Charles II, and her son David Derry-Moir began his career at court. Klencharly was forgotten for a while.
The old lord, however, retained the title and peerage. He married in Switzerland and had a legitimate son and heir. Having ascended the throne, Jacob II decided to correct the mistake made by the previous king. Old Klencharly had died by that time, his legitimate son mysteriously disappeared, and David became the Lord Peer. Lord David also got an enviable bride, the beautiful Duchess Josiana, the illegitimate daughter of Jacob II.
Time has passed. Anne, daughter of Jacob II, became Queen of England. Josiana and David liked each other, "the sophistication of their relationship delighted the courtyard." He was slender, tall, handsome and cheerful. She is beautiful and noble. However, they did not rush the wedding: both the groom and the bride treasured their freedom, although in 1705 she was 23 years old, and he was 44.
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Like all aristocrats of that time, David and Josiana were satiated with their wealth. The Duchess, a haughty and sensual woman, considered herself a princess, as she was Queen Anne's bastard sister. She did not have a lover only because Josiana could not find the most worthy, she was protected not by modesty, but by pride. The Duchess could be called a depraved virgin, "the personification of sensual beauty." The queen, an ugly and stupid woman, disliked her beautiful sister.
David, the rake and trendsetter, had much more to enjoy himself. He participated in the cruel pranks of aristocratic youth, but he himself was not cruel. He was the first to start making repairs to the victims of entertainment. David attended boxing matches, participated in cockfighting, and often disguised himself as a commoner to stroll the streets of London, where he was known as Tom-Jim-Jack.
The Queen, David and Josiana watched each other. In this they were assisted by a man named Barquilphedro. He was a confidant of all three, while each of the three believed that Barquilphedro served only to him. As a servant of Jacob II, he gained access to Josiana, and through her he entered the royal chambers. After a while, Josiana arranged for her "confidant" to be an "ocean bottle opener" - such a position then existed in the English Admiralty. Now Barquilphedro had the right to open any container thrown ashore by the sea. The outward courtesy and helpfulness of the servant concealed true deceit. Josiana, who patronized him casually, in passing, he hated. All good requires vengeance, and Barquilphedro was waiting for an opportunity to strike Josiana a blow.
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Rescuing the bride from boredom, Lord David showed her Gwynplaine - this is how they began to call the boy who was once saved by Ursus. The blind girl, who turned into a beautiful girl, like an angel, was called Deya. Ursus adopted both children. For fifteen years they had traveled the roads of England, amusing the mob. Gwynplaine was incredibly ugly. His face resembled "the head of a laughing Medusa," and his coarse and thick hair was dyed a bright red. His body, on the other hand, was beautiful and flexible. The guy was not stupid: Ursus tried to convey to him everything he knew himself. The youth's ugliness was not natural; his face was reshaped by comprachikos. Gwynplaine, however, did not complain. Looking at him, the people laughed until colic, and then paid well. Thanks to Gwynplaine's appearance, his companions did not need anything.
Beautiful Deya was sixteen years old, Gwynplaine turned 24, they loved each other and were infinitely happy. Their love was pure - they hardly touched each other. For Dei, Gwynplaine was the most beautiful person in the world, because she saw his soul. The girl did not believe that her beloved was ugly, and people were laughing at him. Gwynplaine idolized Day. Ursus looked at them, rejoiced and grumbled. Over the years, they got hold of a new large van, the Green Box, with the middle section replacing the stage. Homo no longer had to carry the house on himself, the wolf was replaced by a donkey. An old cart, placed in the corner of the van, served as Dee's bedroom. Ursus even hired two gypsies who took part in the performances and helped with the housework. A sign on the side of the van told the story of Gwynplaine.
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Having traveled all over England, Ursus decided to go to London. The comedians settled in the Tedcaster Hotel, located in one of the suburbs of London. The square courtyard of the hotel turned into a theater hall, where Ursus performed the play Defeated Chaos, written by him. The most ardent admirer of the play was Tom-Jim-Jack. "The Man Who Laughs" was such a success that he ruined all the surrounding booths. The owners of the booths filed a complaint against Ursus, the priests joined them, but Ursus managed to get out of the water again this time, and the scandal only increased the popularity of the "Green Box".
One day a beautiful and distinguished woman attended Ursus' performance. It was Josiana. Gwynplaine's ugliness startled her. The Duchess decided that only this king of freaks deserves to become her lover. One evening Gwynplaine, as usual, was walking outside the hotel. An elegant page boy approached him and handed a letter from the duchess, in which there was a recognition and appeal. Even at the performance, Gwynplaine was impressed by the beauty of the woman, but he did not cheat on Dee. Without saying anything to anyone, the young man burned the letter.
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Meanwhile, Deya, fragile as a reed, was getting weaker and weaker. Ursus suspected she had an incurable heart disease. He was afraid that the first violent shock would kill the girl.
On the morning that Gwynplaine burned the Duchess's letter, a rod bearer appeared at the Green Box. In the 18th century, this man performed police functions, arresting criminals, suspects or witnesses. In his hands he held an iron rod. The one to whom the iron rod touches had to silently follow the rod-bearer, without asking questions. That morning, the rod touched Gwynplaine. Deya did not understand that her beloved was gone, and Ursus did not say anything to her, fearing for the girl's health.
The old philosopher followed the rod-bearer. He brought Gwynplaine to prison. Ursus spent the entire night outside the prison, but the prison doors did not open. Gwynplaine was taken to an underground cell, where a man was tortured - he was crucified and crushed by a lead slab. Seeing the young man, the man recognized him and "burst out with a terrible laugh." After this, the judge who was present here stood up and named Gwynplaine Lord Fermen Clancharly, Baron, Marquis and Peer of England.
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This transformation was due to Barquilphedro. It was he who opened the flask with a confession written by a gang of comprachicos before his death. He learned that the boy, abandoned by them on the shore, was the rightful heir of the exiled Lord Klencharly, who was sold to the comprachicos by order of King James II. The mask of laughter on Gwynplaine's face was created by a certain Hardkwanon. They found him, tortured him, and he confessed. Lady Josiana was engaged to Lord Clencharly, not to a man, but to his title. If the title changed owner, then the duchess had to change the groom. Barkilphedro realized that he had in his hands the long-awaited instrument of revenge. The Queen supported her faithful servant. Together they reinstated Gwynplaine.
Stunned by this news, the young man lost consciousness. He woke up in a beautiful palace, where Barquilphedro brought him. He explained to Gwynplaine that his life had changed dramatically and he should forget the Green Box and its inhabitants. Gwynplaine was eager to inform Ursus about everything, to take him the money, but Barquilfedro did not allow. He undertook to divert a substantial sum himself and left, locking Gwynplaine in the palace.
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young man did not sleep all night. In his soul, there was a "displacement of the greatness of the moral by the thirst for the greatness of the material." He, as in delirium, reveled in his power and wealth all night, but when the sun rose, he remembered Deya.
Ursus did not return home until morning. He did not dare to tell Dea that Gwynplaine was missing, and put on a whole show, imitating Gwynplaine's voice and the noise of the crowd. However, he could not deceive the blind girl - she felt that her beloved was not next to her. Towards evening, a policeman came to the hotel and brought Gwynplaine's clothes. Ursus rushed to the prison gates and saw the coffin being carried out. In it lay a comprachicos who had died from torture, but the philosopher decided that it was his pupil who was being buried. Returning to the hotel, Ursus found Barquilphedro there, accompanied by a bailiff. He confirmed that Gwynplaine was dead and ordered the philosopher to leave England.
Recovering himself, Gwynplaine began to look for a way out of the palace, which resembles a labyrinth. He soon found himself in a room with a marble bath. Adjacent to the hall was a small room with mirrored walls, in which a half-naked woman slept. She woke up, and the young man recognized the duchess. She began to seduce Gwynplaine. He almost gave up, but at that moment a letter came from the Queen, from which Josiana learned that Gwynplaine was her future husband. She instantly lost interest in her new toy, declared that her husband had no right to take the place of her lover, and disappeared into the labyrinth of the palace.
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Later that evening, Gwinnplaine went through a full peerage ceremony in England and found himself at a meeting of the House of Lords. He considered himself a messenger of the lower classes of English society, hoped to reach out to the minds and souls of those who ruled England, to tell about the poverty and lack of rights of the common people. There was already a rumor in London about the rise of the fairground buffoon, and the lords who had gathered for the meeting spoke only about this. They did not notice Gwynplaine until he stood up and made a fiery speech. With an inhuman effort, he managed to get rid of the grimace of eternal laughter from his face. Now he was serious and terrible. For some time Gwynplaine managed to capture the attention of the lords, but soon returned to his face "a mask of despair petrified in laughter, a mask that captured innumerable calamities and forever doomed to serve for fun and cause laughter." Gwynplaine's laughter personified all the "troubles, all the misfortunes, all the catastrophes, all the diseases, all the ulcers, all the agonies" of the poor people. The lords burst into Homeric laughter and began to throw insults at Gwynplaine. The meeting had to be closed. To know, who received the buffoon with applause, rejected the lord. Gwynplaine's aspirations were "destroyed by laughter."
В вестибюле юноша встретил лорда Дэвида, которого знал, как Том-Джим-Джека. Тот защищал Гуинплена, оказавшегося его сводным братом. Юноша решил, что наконец-то обрёл семью, но лорд Дэвид вызвал его на дуэль — в своей сумбурной речи Гуинплен оскорбил его мать. Это был удар, разрушающий последние надежды юноши, “он бежал из Лондона”. Теперь он хотел одного — видеть Дею.
Гуинплен вернулся к гостинице и обнаружил, что она закрыта и пуста: хозяина арестовали, а Урсус продал “зелёный ящик” и уехал. Ярмарочная площадь тоже внезапно опустела. Увлечённый призраком власти и богатства, юноша потерял всё, что имел. Ноги привели его на берег Темзы. Теперь Гуинплену незачем было жить. Он уже разделся, собираясь броситься в воду, но вдруг “почувствовал, что кто-то лижет ему руки”. Это был Гомо.
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Заключение. Море и ночь
Волк привёл Гуинплена на голландское судно “Вограат”. Там юноша нашёл Урсуса и Дею. Девушка была совсем слаба, и философ уже ничего не мог исправить — Дея умирала от тоски по Гуинплену. Юноша бросился к возлюбленной, и на миг она ожила, на её бледных щеках выступил румянец. Это продолжалось не долго. Дея уже смирилась со смертью любимого и его внезапное возвращение вызвало потрясение, слишком сильное для больного сердца девушки. Она умерла на руках Гуинплена. Юноша был страшен в своем горе. Он вскочил на ноги, и, словно следуя за каким-то невидимым существом, подошёл к краю палубы. Судно не имело бортов, и ничто не помешало Гуинплену броситься в воду. Когда Урсус очнулся, рядом с ним не было никого, только Гомо “жалобно выл в темноте”.