Hull relates the history behind ‘Les Misèrables’
|1/21/2013||Mary Ann Beahon|
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||(573) 592-1127|
By Jenny Finch
Reflected in the pools of blood and demonstrated by the ringing gunshots throughout the movie, “Les Misèrables” is the long and tattered history of the French people and their fight against their monarchy.
“Les Misérables” is a French historical novel by Victor Hugo, first published in 1862, that is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century. It has been popularized through numerous adaptations for the stage, television and film, including a musical and a 2012 film version of that musical.
Nominated for eight Oscars, “Les Misèrables,” has finished its run at Fulton Cinema, but can be seen through Thursday at Hollywood Stadium 14 in Columbia. Show times are 12:30 p.m., 4:25 p.m. and 8 p.m.
During a lecture last week at William Woods University, Dr. Shawn Hull, associate professor of history, recounted the events surrounding “Les Misèrables” and the facts of the story itself.
"What prompted me to do this," he said, "was that I was deeply unsettled because I didn't know when the story took place."
Hull, who is also the chair of the behavioral and social sciences division, originally believed the story to have taken place during the revolution of 1830, when in fact the movie cites it as taking place during the revolution of 1832.
He pointed out, though, that France was awash with revolutions from about 1789, when the famous French Revolution began, until 1848, when Napoleon the Third came to power.
However, Hull's speech did not revolve around the failures of each revolution, but the heart of the revolutions themselves.
"Obviously there's something going on in France. Why do people keep having revolutions?" Hull asked at the beginning of the presentation. The silence of the audience is deafening, and after a moment he replies, “Liberty, equality and fraternity."
Fraternity, Hull explained, is a sense of nationalism, or the brotherhood of mankind.
Hull used Liberty Leading the People, a painting by Eugène Delacroix, during the presentation as an example of these concepts and their popularity among the French people at the time.
The central figure of the painting is a woman adorned in tattered clothing and grasping the French revolutionary flag. Hull described her as a "metaphoric figure ... much like the Statue of Liberty." This powerful painting depicts the events of the revolutions of 1830, but could have depicted a number of scenes from that troubled era.
The revolutions of France began after the reign of Louis the XIV, whose economic troubles and the resulting unhappiness of the French people led to his beheading in 1793.
The following years were characterized by gruesome deaths and haphazard politics until 1815, when most of the crowned heads of Europe attempted to regain their thrones.
Against their better judgment perhaps, these nobles ignored the French Revolution and attempted to carry on as though it had never happened. Nevertheless, the unease of the people, coupled with the rise of industrialization, made Europe into what Hull described as a "bubbling cauldron" on the brink of explosion.
On July 26, 1830, the pressure that had been building in France finally exploded, resulting in a revolution that lasted only a few days and caused the abdication of Charles X, who had come to power in 1824. This marked a shift in power from a constitutional monarchy to a liberal constitutional monarchy, ruled by Louis Philippe.
"Even though the people risked their lives on the barricades, the politicians did not really trust them," said Hull, explaining that the country's previous bad experiences with democracy left its leaders suspicious.
Despite this, the slums of Paris where much of “Les Misèrables” takes place, were filled with a sense of community.
"There was a sense that the revolution had been stolen from them," explained Hull.
Movie goers who watch “Les Misèrables” will see not only a portrayal of the Revolution of 1832, but also a depiction of the sewers in Paris during the period. These are more important scenes than many observers realize.
While the revolution of 1832 was temporarily successful, its success was slowed by an outbreak of cholera, during which 18,000 people died. Cholera, a disease transmitted through fecal matter, causes its victims to "lose all of their bodily fluids and shrivel up like raisins," Hull said. It was rampant throughout Europe in the 1830s.
Louis Philippe finally lost his throne in 1848 during yet another revolution. But this revolution was different and resulted in the successful election of Napoleon III, whose famous uncle conquered a large portion of Europe.
Three years later, Napoleon III staged a coup and declared himself “President for Life.” Despite this, Napoleon III proved to be a successful leader, partially because of Haussmannization, which was essentially a reordering of the city.