Showing posts with label quasimodo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label quasimodo. Show all posts

29 May 2020

Who Knew (that Maupassant was an Objectophile)?


As the clinical sexologist Amy Marsh rightly points out, whilst objectum sexuality is often regarded as a relatively recent phenomenon, it actually possesses a much longer cultural history, as revealed, for example, in classic works of literature, such as Victor Hugo's queer gothic novel of 1831, Notre-Dame de Paris, in which Quasimodo is as passionately attached to the bells of the cathedral, as he is to the beautiful sixteen-year-old gypsy girl Esmeralda: 

"He loved them, caressed them, talked to them, understood them. From the carillon in the steeple of the transept to the great bell over the doorway, they all shared his love." [1]

However, I think my favourite instance of objectophilia in 19th-century French literature occurs in Maupassant's short story Qui sait? (1890) ... [2]


In this tale, the anonymous narrator - confined in a psychiatric unit - confesses that he has always been something of a loner, but possessing no particular animosity towards his fellow human beings: 

"I have always lived alone because of a certain creeping unease I feel in the presence of other people. I don't know how to explain it. I am not averse to seeing people [...] but if I feel they have been near me for any prolonged period of time, even the closest begin to get so much on my nerves that I have this overwhelming, increasingly urgent desire to see them gone or to go off and be by myself.
      It is actually more than a desire. It is a real need, something absolutely essential to me." [275-76]

I used to believe, like the narrator, that there must be many thousands of people who feel this way. But, actually, it turns out that most people don't; they are perfectly content, rather, with being part of a vast, seething mass of humanity. It's only a rare few souls, for example, who cannot travel on a rush hour tube, or step into a crowded lift; and only a queer type of person who finds solitude blissful, rather than a huge, unremitting burden to bear.  

Similarly, despite the narrator's insistence on the perfectly normal nature of his (introverted and solipsistic) psychology, it's actually very unusual - or what we might even term perverse - to become emotionally and/or erotically attached to inanimate objects. (It should be noted that I use the term perverse here without any negative connotation or moral judgement attached.)

The narrator informs his readers:

"My house has, or had, become a world in which I lived a solitary yet active life, surrounded by familiar objects, furniture and bibelots as lovable to me as human faces. Little by little I filled my house with these things and I lived in their midst as happily as in the arms of a beloved woman whose warm, familiar embrace has become a prerequisite to a calm, untroubled existence." [277]

That's very lovely, I think. Unfortunately, the tale takes a bizarre twist when the beloved objects stage a revolt and abandon the amorous subject by one night marching out of his house, whilst he watches with astonishment from the garden:

"What I could now hear was the extraordinary sound of steps coming down the stairway and on to the parquet and the carpets - the sound not of shoes or of human footwear but the clatter of wooden and iron crutches clashing like cymbals, or so it seemed. Suddenly, what should I see waddling over the threshold of my own room but the big armchair in which I used to read. It came out into the garden. Others from the drawing room followed it and were followed in turn by low settees crawling crocodile-like along on their squat little legs. All my other chairs leapt out like goats, with footstools lolloping alongside.
      You can imagine what I felt like! I slid behind some shrubbery and remained crouching there watching the procession continue to pass by, for they were all leaving, one after the other, quickly or slowly, according to size and weight. My piano, my full-size grand piano galloped wildly past me with a musical murmur in its flank; the smallest objects such as hairbrushes and crystal chandelier droplets crawled like ants on the ground accompanied by glass goblets on which the moonlight cast little glow-worms of phosphorescence; curtains, hangings, tapestries spread like pools and stretched out octopus-like tentacles of fabric as they swam past. My desk hove into view, a rare eighteenth-century piece now containing some photographs and all the letters tracing the sad history of my painful love-life. 
      I suddenly lost my fear. I threw myself on it and held it down as if it had been a [...] woman attempting to flee. However, there was no stopping it and despite all my angry efforts I could not even slow down its inexorable progress. In my desperate struggle against this appalling power I was thrown to the ground, then rolled over and dragged along the gravel. In no time, the rest of the furniture [...] began to trample all over me, bruising my legs in the process. When I let go of the desk the rest of the pieces careered over my body as a cavalry charge mows down a fallen rider." [279-80] 

Talk about revenge of the object ...! Is there anything else even remotely like this in all literature?

The tale's English translator, Siân Miles, reminds us that the French composer Paul Dukas used the idea of a "mysterious and threatening proliferation of avenging objects" [3] in his symphonic poem L'apprenti sorcier (1897) and that Bret Easton Ellis also incorporated a scene into American Psycho (1991) in which Patrick Bateman is stalked by an anthropomorphised park bench, but that's really about it (I think, though would love to know of further examples). 


[1] These lines from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, translated by  Walter J. Cobb (Signet Classics, 1964), are quoted by Amy Marsh in her article 'Love Among the Objectum Sexuals', in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, (Vol. 13, 1 March, 2010): click here.

[2] Guy de Maupassant, 'Who Knows?', A Parisian Affair and Other Stories, trans, Siân Miles, (Penguin Books, 2004). All page numbers given in the text refer to this edition.

[3] Siân Miles, Notes to 'Who Knows?', by Guy de Maupassant, in A Parisian Affair and Other Stories, ibid., p. 320. Miles mistakenly claims that Dukas composed his work twenty-five years earlier than Maupassant wrote his short story, but, as a matter of fact, he only completed it in 1897, i.e., seven years after Qui sait? was first published. The Sorcerer's Apprentice, as it is known in English, was, of course, based on Goethe's poem Der Zauberlehrling written in 1797. 

Those interested in knowing more about the role of objects in fiction and the manner in which inanimate things infiltrate our desires, fantasies, and concepts of self, might find Babette Bärbel Tischleder's The Literary Life of Things (Campus Verlag, 2014) worth reading. I agree with the book's central argument that one of the most important things about literary texts is that they "encourage us to see our practical, emotional, and imaginary engagement with the nonhuman environment in modes that resist any clear-cut distinction of subjects and objects, the physical and the metaphysical, the animate and the inanimate" [18]. 

6 Jul 2017

Hot Gypsy Girls 2: Esmeralda - Trope Codifier and Fraud

Maureen O'Hara as Esmeralda 
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

Esmeralda is the teen Gypsy in Victor Hugo's famous Gothic novel, Notre Dame de Paris (1831). Able to bewitch men of every description, including handsome soldiers, lecherous priests, and hunchbacked bell-ringers with her dancing, she is rarely seen without her faithful goat Djali by her side.

Despite being the codifier for the trope of the Hot Gypsy Girl (i.e., a kind of template that all other examples of the type then follow), Esmeralda is actually something of a fraud. The illegitimate child of a prostitute and a handsome young nobleman, she was of French origin, not Romani. Christened with the name Agnès when born - meaning pure or chaste - she was kidnapped by Gypsies who left the hideously deformed infant Quasimodo in her place.

This explains why even after having grown up amongst the Gypsies, Esmeralda retains an innocence about her; she is more the sweet-natured, kind-hearted ingénue than the worldy young pricktease that her suitors might have expected and hoped for. Her swaggering, hand-on-hip sluttishness is always countered by her innate virtue.

And, ironically, as with Sade's Justine, it's her virtue that leads to her misfortune and an untimely death upon the scaffold for a crime she didn't commit. A canny young Gypsy girl would never have got herself into such a compromised - and fatal - situation; never have allowed herself to be the hapless victim of men and circumstance (even if, as a Romani, she'd happily be a lover of fate). And a true Hot Gypsy Girl would never go the gallows wearing a white dress; she'd be defiantly dressed in gold and scarlet for sure!

No wonder then that Disney were able to so easily co-opt the figure of Esmeralda and turn this faux-Gypsy girl into a caring-sharing social justice warrior, whose greatest wish was to see social outcasts like Quasimodo and persecuted ethnic minorities like the Romani accorded equal rights (something almost guaranteed to make male viewers lose their erections). 

To read part one of this post - On the Racial and Sexual Stereotyping of Romani Women - click here.

To read part three of this post - On Carmen and Her Seduction of a Famous German Philosopher - click here

3 Jul 2017

Why Was I Not Made of Stone Like Thee? (Notes on the Hunchback of Notre Dame)

Charles Laughton as Quasimodo in 
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

It's interesting to recall that when Victor Hugo wrote his great Gothic novel, Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), he was - as the title indicates - more concerned with celebrating the Cathedral and preserving medieval architecture from modern redevelopment, than with the romantic story of poor Quasimodo, a deaf, half-blind, inarticulate hunchback and Esmeralda, a beautiful young Gypsy with a heart of gold and the power to enchant handsome soldiers, lecherous clergymen, and monstrous bell-ringers alike.   

But modern movie-going audiences didn't give a damn about the work's magnificent setting or Hugo's views on the aesthetics and politics of building design; they paid to see a freak crowned King of the Fools and swing down on a rope in order to save the sexy Gypsy girl as she is being led to the gallows for a crime she didn't commit ...

As most readers will be aware, there've been many adaptations for the cinema over the years, including, for example, the 1923 version starring Lon Chaney as Quasimodo and Patsy Ruth Miller as the lovely Esmeralda - a production that became Universal's most successful silent movie. But probably the most famous film version was released in 1939, starring the classically trained English actor Charles Laughton and the Irish-born beauty Maureen O'Hara. It's certainly the case that whenever I think of Quasimodo, it's Laughton's pug-ugly mug that comes to mind.

Mention should also be made of the 1956 Franco-Italian version starring Anthony Quinn as a far less monstrous Quasimodo and Gina Lollobrigida as a far more voluptuous Esmeralda than previously imagined. It was the first film adaptation of the story to be made in colour and also one of the very few that remains faithful to Hugo's original ending set in the graveyard where Quasimodo goes to be with the body of his beloved Esmeralda - joining his corpse bride in a deathly embrace (an ending that the 1996 Disney version unsurprisingly chose not to go with).

For me, however, the attempt to downplay Quasimodo's deformity and disability in this production is fundamentally mistaken. For as Zarathustra says, if you taketh the hump from the hunchback, you rob him of his soul.       

See: Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Book II, section 42.