La Légende des Siècles eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 268 pages of information about La Légende des Siècles.
perhaps beyond the power of any single poet to accomplish, and was certainly one for which he was not altogether well fitted.  He did not possess that capacity for taking a broad and impartial view of history which was needed in the author of such an epic as he designed.  His strong predilections on the one hand, and his violent antipathies on the other, swayed his choice of subjects, narrowed his field of vision, and influenced his manner of presentment.  The series cannot therefore pretend to philosophic completeness.  It is a gallery of pictures painted by a master-hand, and pervaded by a certain spirit of unity, yet devoid of any strict arrangement, and formed on no carefully maintained principle.  It is a set of cameos, loosely strung upon a thread, a structure with countless beautiful parts, which do not however cohere into any symmetrical whole.  The poems are cast in many forms; allegory, narrative, vision, didactic poetry, lyric poetry, all find a place.  There is little history, but much legend, some fiction, and a good deal of mythology.  The series was not designed as a whole. La Chanson des Aventuriers de la Mer was written in or before 1840, Le Mariage de Roland, Aymerillot, and La Conscience in or about 1846, and other pieces at intervals between 1849 and 1858, the date at which the poet appears to have begun the task of building these fragments into an epic structure.  Nor is there in these poems any dispassionate attempt to portray the character of the successive ages in the life of the race.  For Hugo there was no ‘emancipation du moi.’  The Legende is less a revelation of history than it is a revelation of the poet.  His choice of themes was dictated less by a careful search after what was most characteristic of each epoch than by his own strong predilections.  He loved the picturesque, the heroic, the enormous, the barbarous, the grotesque.  Hence Eviradnus, Ratbert, Le Mariage de Roland.  He loved also the weak, the poor, the defenceless, the old man and the little child.  Hence Les Pauvres Gens, Booz endormi, Petit Paul.  He delighted in the monstrous, he revelled in extremes, and he had little perception of the lights and shades which make up ordinary human character.  Neither his poems nor his romances show much trace of that psychological analysis which is the peculiar feature of so much modern literature.  Child of the nineteenth century, as he was in so many respects, in many of the features of his art he belongs to no era, and conforms to no tendency, except that of his own Titanic genius.  He could see white and he could see black, but he could not see grey, and never tried to paint it.  He does not allow Philip II even his redeeming virtues of indefatigable industry and unceasing devotion to duty, while in his Rome of the decadence would assuredly be found scarce five good men.  His vision is curiously limited to the darker side of history; he hears humanity uttering in all ages a cry of suffering,
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La Légende des Siècles from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.