FIRST SKETCH OF TWO UNPREPOSSESSING FIGURES
The mouse which had been caught was a pitiful specimen; but the cat
rejoices even over a lean mouse.
Who were these Thenardiers?
Let us say a word or two of them now. We will complete the sketch
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.
They were of those dwarfed natures which, if a dull fire chances
to warm them up, easily become monstrous. There was in the woman a
substratum of the brute, and in the man the material for a blackguard.
Both were susceptible, in the highest degree, of the sort of hideous
progress which is accomplished in the direction of evil. There exist
crab-like souls which are continually retreating towards the darkness,
retrograding in life rather than advancing, employing experience
to augment their deformity, growing incessantly worse, and becoming
more and more impregnated with an ever-augmenting blackness.
This man and woman possessed such souls.
Thenardier, in particular, was troublesome for a physiognomist.
One can only look at some men to distrust them; for one feels that
they are dark in both directions. They are uneasy in the rear and
threatening in front. There is something of the unknown about them.
One can no more answer for what they have done than for what they
will do. The shadow which they bear in their glance denounces them.
From merely hearing them utter a word or seeing them make a gesture,
one obtains a glimpse of sombre secrets in their past and of sombre
mysteries in their future.
This Thenardier, if he himself was to be believed, had been a soldier--
a sergeant, he said. He had probably been through the campaign of 1815,
and had even conducted himself with tolerable valor, it would seem.
We shall see later on how much truth there was in this. The sign
of his hostelry was in allusion to one of his feats of arms.
He had painted it himself; for he knew how to do a little of everything,
It was at the epoch when the ancient classical romance which, after having
been Clelie, was no longer anything but Lodoiska, still noble, but ever
more and more vulgar, having fallen from Mademoiselle de Scuderi
to Madame Bournon-Malarme, and from Madame de Lafayette to Madame
Barthelemy-Hadot, was setting the loving hearts of the portresses
of Paris aflame, and even ravaging the suburbs to some extent.
Madame Thenardier was just intelligent enough to read this sort of books.
She lived on them. In them she drowned what brains she possessed.
This had given her, when very young, and even a little later, a sort
of pensive attitude towards her husband, a scamp of a certain depth,
a ruffian lettered to the extent of the grammar, coarse and fine at
one and the same time, but, so far as sentimentalism was concerned,
given to the perusal of Pigault-Lebrun, and "in what concerns the sex,"
as he said in his jargon--a downright, unmitigated lout. His wife was
twelve or fifteen years younger than he was. Later on, when her hair,
arranged in a romantically drooping fashion, began to grow gray,
when the Magaera began to be developed from the Pamela, the female
Thenardier was nothing but a coarse, vicious woman, who had dabbled
in stupid romances. Now, one cannot read nonsense with impunity.
The result was that her eldest daughter was named Eponine; as for
the younger, the poor little thing came near being called Gulnare;
I know not to what diversion, effected by a romance of Ducray-Dumenil,
she owed the fact that she merely bore the name of Azelma.
However, we will remark by the way, everything was not ridiculous
and superficial in that curious epoch to which we are alluding,
and which may be designated as the anarchy of baptismal names.
By the side of this romantic element which we have just indicated
there is the social symptom. It is not rare for the neatherd's
boy nowadays to bear the name of Arthur, Alfred, or Alphonse,
and for the vicomte--if there are still any vicomtes--to be called
Thomas, Pierre, or Jacques. This displacement, which places the
"elegant" name on the plebeian and the rustic name on the aristocrat,
is nothing else than an eddy of equality. The irresistible
penetration of the new inspiration is there as everywhere else.
Beneath this apparent discord there is a great and a profound thing,--
the French Revolution.