thjazi: Sketch of goofy smiling Enjolras (Default)
[personal profile] thjazi posting in [community profile] les_miserables
Carrying on a discussion about Marius with KingEdmundsRoyalMurder from Tumblr!

 

I think part of our problem with Marius-- and by " our"  I mean " you and me"  not some generic reading audience-- is that we are personally VERY MUCH NOT 19C Middle Class Dudes.

Like, we fail to be any of that in any way at all.  And of course many of the Amis are ALSO rocking that social status, but at the same time they're challenging it both politically and in the way they choose to carry out their personal lives, and on the grounds of People Actually Engaging With Social Theory I can recognize them. But Marius is really really not fighting the system on a personal level-- I think the closest he comes is his contentment with his low-paying job for the sake of his free time, but that's more out of the convenience of the moment than any real philosophy--and on a political level, of course, he's totally fine about King Pear until the barricade is suddenly convenient to his drama. Marius to a large extent WANTS the standard package he's been raised to want, and that's not necessarily BAD-- not everyone can Live The Revolution, and all-- but it IS necessarily a whole world of unexamined expectations I can't even access, even with being pretty steeped in the handed-down Lore of The 19th Century Dude.  Which I think may be part of that " seems like an obnoxious customer"  vibe you're getting; he's unavoidably a child of superprivilege, socially, however screwed up his personal family life is. As such, I suspect a lot of his more baffling maneuvers would make more sense to Hugo's expected (I don't say intended, exactly, but you can see in every reference he makes to the reader that he EXPECTED a certain kind of reader with a certain set of social experiences) audience. But for me, and I'm guessing for you too, there's a lot Marius does that is like-- okay, I'm already annoyed with the modern version, and HERE IT IS CRANKED UP TO ELEVENTY, and I CAN'T look at that behavior and recognize myself because I am not an upper middle class (able bodied! well educated!) guy, and it's never been an OPTION for me, so in that line the idea of Marius as any sort of reader surrogate just doesn't work for me at all, and ends up stomping on a lot of the same sore spot I have from dealing with his modern equivalents. 

(Which doesn't at all mean that I'm innocent of The Violence Inherent In The System myself, of course- if ditching it were THAT easy it wouldn't BE The System-- but it  does mean I've had to think about it in a way Marius doesn't  and mostly doesn't choose to, at least not in any way we actually see as opposed to being told about (and I am increasingly not sure that those bits aren't a bit of an affectionate eyeroll from an old guy thinking about his younger certainties). )

Date: 2014-05-01 01:52 pm (UTC)
genarti: Stack of books with text, "We are the dreamers of dreams." ([misc] dreamers)
From: [personal profile] genarti
(Psst, you only put "have a cut" behind a cut, and the rest outside. It's html-style -- put [cut] at the start of the section you want cut and [/cut] all the way at the end of it, only with < and > instead of [ and ]. This is so that you can have multiple cuts in a long post if you want -- it's not like tumblr where you can only do one readmore and everything after that is hidden.)

And yeah, I think this is a big factor. We've had to think about it in some ways, and in some ways the expectations of privilege HAVE changed in the details -- not that it's gone away, FOR SURE, but there are base assumptions of The 19th Century Rich Dude that are different than the base assumptions of The 21st Century Rich Dude, so that's a gap too.

It's the old problem of the everyman reader-surrogate protagonist. If you're not from that group, it can be really alienating, instead of a window in to set you at ease. But in this case there's that historical distance, too, so sometimes it's hard to tell exactly what we're supposed to see as Ah Yes, The Standard Expected Thing and what we're supposed to see as Marius Being The Pontmercy Friend and what we're supposed to see as Marius Screwing Up.

Date: 2014-05-01 02:56 pm (UTC)
bobbiewickham: Kalinda Sharma of The Good Wife (Default)
From: [personal profile] bobbiewickham
Hmm, I don't know. I definitely agree this is a factor, but some of Marius's objectionable behavior is described as being socially weird and earning him the bemusement (and sometimes amusement) of Courfeyrac. Who is a revolutionary, yes, but who is also a haut-bourgeois/aristocratic young man and knows what's normal and what's not. Marius's social isolation in particular is supposed to be strange.

Also, I really think a lot of 19th-century middle class dudes would have been perfectly capable of treating Valjean better at the end of the novel. Yes, there was intense prejudice about convicts. There was also an understanding about the importance of family love, and there were Christian ideas about forgiveness and redemption floating around, and if he had WANTED to accept Valjean he certainly had arguments available at hand to fall back on as support.

tl;dr: yes, it can be hard to tell which of Marius's behaviors are just to be expected and which aren't, but I think a good many of them aren't.

Date: 2014-05-01 04:50 pm (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
Hmm. Okay, there's so much that Is Wrong With Marius that I wnt back and found you tumblr conversation for some context (90% of my Marius Problem, for other people who are as bad at navigating certain tumblr layouts as I am).

I feel like most of the specific things you are discussing there (his tendency to forget to treat people as people, when he's trying to Be The Man His Father Was) are things that I wrote off less as being a 19th Century Middle-Class Dude and more as Being A Boy, tbh. Those are pretty universal Being A Boy problems.

But I also feel like - this is less directly related to what you were discussing on Tumblr - but I think there's also a tendency to see Marius in a harsher light than the other characters because he never really sees himself as that badly off, he sees himself as making free choices, even when he's really just as constrained by sucky life circumstances as other characters, and I think because Hugo's identifying so hard with him, he's given more agency in his bad choices in the narrative, too.

I was thinking about this when brick!club had a tumblr discussion about Marius and Choosing To Be Poor, and how it's not the same at all as Really Being Poor, and in a way, that's true.

But on the other hand, at the same time that discussion was happening, there were *multiple* people in my DW/tumblr circles, most of whom came from what we'd consider middle-class backgrounds, who were asking for donations from the internet to help them escape abusive family situations.

And, you know, if someone I knew right now was telling me about how they got kicked out of their grandfather's after he went through their things and burned their only letter from their father, and then said they could never come back until they agreed with his ultra-right-wing-politics, and then casually mentioned that he'd also been going through their mail to cut them off from the rest of their family, and some of the other stuff that had happened in that house - and then said that their aunt, who also lived there and was terrified of her father, had offered to send them money, but they really didn't want to feel like they were still dependent on that household - we would not accuse him of "choosing to be poor." We would say "OMG Marius stay the hell away from there, do you you need a place to stay for awhile, we will put out a call for donations, here is a list of ways to get low-cost therapy in your area, I understand that you're having trouble working full-time, getting your head together just as important right now."

Marius has ALL THE ISSUES, but he has good reasons for having them, and the thing is, Hugo doesn't use any of the terminology, or write any of the explicit narratives, that we expect for an abuse-recovery story, because those narratives didn't really exist yet, and because that's not really the focus of what Hugo is doing with Marius. So it's easy to see Marius as just being made of Pontmercy. But all the same, it's actually a really realistic description *of* someone trying to recover from abuse without making it the focus of the story. The way it's presented is shaped by the 19th century, but the story itself - well, when I say I've seen people going through the same stuff, I mean the exact same story to a scary level of detail, just with internet fandom as their support network instead of drunk revolutionaries.

Date: 2014-05-01 05:49 pm (UTC)
cahn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cahn
*nods* These are some really good points you're making, here.

I also wrote much of Marius' issues off as Being An Immature Person sort of problems. (Because, I mean, I'm a girl, and I had a pretty inflexible and immature worldview when I was a teenager too! I like to think I've improved since then. And I actually do think Hugo is making a point about how we all have to get through our inflexibilities and immaturities.)

But also, on your last point: on my last reread I remember feeling a sort of horrified sympathy for kid!Marius, who was isolated from anyone even slightly his own age and got no affection whatsoever. I mean, it rather makes perfect sense that he had a lot of trouble interacting with his peers, that he really had no idea how to carry on any kind of relationship at all (be it friendship, romantic, or familial), and that he had an odd and inflexible worldview in general.

Date: 2014-05-01 06:30 pm (UTC)
nami_roland: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nami_roland
Oh, I have infinite sympathy for kid!Marius. Kid!Marius is tragic and I just want to sweep him up into a hug and lead him away from that house and install him and his dad in a nice house somewhere with a garden and some friends and let them heal. And that's part of why I'm not quite comfortable with how much I just can't handle adult!Marius, because I *get* where he's coming from, I really really do. I have no issues with him not taking the money (or even really with him not taking Courfeyrac's money, which I know other people really do. That, I think, is a really super cultural thing and I wasn't raised in that kind of culture) and if he were a tumblr friend of mine I would totally be begging him to please get out and stay out and do whatever it takes to never go back. And I understand why it is that he wouldn't be good at seeing people as people. (I don't really buy Because He's A Boy as an excuse, just because I don't think it should be allowed to be.) I just can't like it and as a result I have yet to be able to like *him*. (And I'm not sure I want to? Like, he does things that actually kind of terrify me wrt Cosette and that's just... no. It goes way beyond 'please stop' territory into 'do not do that please god do not do that no seriously i am going to call the cops on you if you keep doing that she is a person not a possession goddammit pontmercy.')

Date: 2014-05-01 06:56 pm (UTC)
cahn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cahn
So -- I don't like Marius (except, okay, sometimes when he's with the Amis I just want to pat him on the head), but I do recognize myself in him (especially with respect to the Valjean stuff) and it infuriates me -- which I think is Hugo's intention. (More on what I thought about this here.

But yeah, the whole Cosette thing, can't help you there. I mean, I'm still willing to give him some "yes, you have no practice in actual human interaction" slack, but the narrative seems to think what he's doing is fine, which... not so much.

Date: 2014-05-01 08:08 pm (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
Oh, I don't think Being A Boy is an *excuse*, but I think as an *explanation* it covers most of it without having to bring in stuff that's really specific to time and place.

And, yeah, it's totally okay to look at a person, and say, "This person is an abuse survivor and they are working very hard to Be Better and also they terrify the shit out of me and I'm going in the other direction." I have known plenty of people like that, too.

Date: 2014-05-01 07:44 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I think some of it is just general immaturity? I mean, when I was Marius's age, I don't think my political opinions were any better thought out. But I think some of, especially the way he thinks he needs to be Honorable and a Protector and Win His Bread, and the way he's weird about girls, is specifically associated with masculinity in ways that haven't changed as much as we might wish since the 1860s. Masculinity + immaturity = the horror of Being a Boy.

(or maybe I've just been subjected to more than my fair share of modern boys who are trying to be antique gentlemen. That is definitely a possibility.)

Date: 2014-05-01 08:02 pm (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
..The above was me, oops

Date: 2014-05-01 05:54 pm (UTC)
bobbiewickham: Kalinda Sharma of The Good Wife (Default)
From: [personal profile] bobbiewickham
Yes, I'm uncomfortable with the "choosing to be poor" description for all the reasons you say here. I think Marius is meant to be deeply affected by his background and a lot of his questionable behaviors come from that, not from general 19th-century dudeness. Some of it is from Being A Boy, I agree. But the amount of value he places on being like his father must be because of Gillenormand's horrible behavior, and the way in which he's been set up as this pawn in a larger contest between Gillenormand and his dad's memory.

(also, thanks for digging up the Tumblr link)

Date: 2014-05-01 06:22 pm (UTC)
nami_roland: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nami_roland
I wonder if it some ways part of why it's so hard for me is that I *do* kind of recognize him? Like, I come from a decently well off background and I'm well educated and all that jazz and so I'm coming from the perspective that none of that is really any kind of excuse. Like, obviously I'm not a 19th C aristo, but I do come from a place of privilege and I demand better of myself than to give in to the push to just accept that with closed eyes. Which is why I align myself way more with the Amis who, as you say, actually do have their eyes open and recognize the ways that the myth they've been handed is very much Not Okay. As opposed to Marius, who doesn't really examine it much. And he's not a bad person, he just never had to think about things and when he was presented with the opportunity to start doing that he turned and ran away and that frustrates me so much. I don't even care about his politics, I care about his people skills or, rather, his lack of people skills. (Like I said in the original post, what I can't handle is his inability to really see that other people are not just bit characters in the drama that his life. Which I can only assume is actually a pretty common attitude, because if you don't see people as bit characters than it's really hard to not, like, respect them as people? And people are really bad at respecting people as people? I dunno, this has confused me for years.)

And if it's affectionate eyerolling from Hugo then, honestly, it's all kind of going over my head. Not that that might not be what he's doing, it's just that it's a bit too Old White Dude for me to see, much less appreciate.

Date: 2014-05-01 07:02 pm (UTC)
cahn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cahn
I care about his people skills or, rather, his lack of people skills. (Like I said in the original post, what I can't handle is his inability to really see that other people are not just bit characters in the drama that his life.

Yeah, I'd argue that Hugo agrees with you: that he's showing the terrible, horrible, consequences of thinking that way. Because what happens to Valjean is, in fact, horrible, and it's in some sense the first time Marius has had to confront that his life outlook has consequences.

But yes, it's pretty common not to understand people who aren't like oneself. I mean, that probably accounts for the vast majority of the drama in the world in general, right? (I may be sensitive to this because my mom regularly does the "But of course no one can think about this at all differently from the way I do," by which I mean, many times a day, about things ranging all the way from general philosophy of life to her specific taste in kitchen decor.)
Edited (took out personal issue that is not, in fact, relevant) Date: 2014-05-01 07:36 pm (UTC)

Date: 2014-05-01 10:27 pm (UTC)
other_paths: (Default)
From: [personal profile] other_paths
Hmmm. Marius. I really do think he's supposed to be messed up by his awful upbringing, and he has problems connecting with people because nobody ever really treated him as a person until he met Les Amis. And there are times I feel very sorry for him. I think the difficulty for me is that while his being stuck in this rut is believable I don't find it very satisfying to read about.

His story is structured like a coming of age tale, but he doesn't seem to learn much. After four years of being friends with a revolutionary, after seeing abject poverty first hand, after going through the barricade, he still reacts to Valjean's story like a conservative bourgeois. If it happened early in his story, if we saw how much he had to learn, then saw him learning, I'm sure I'd feel differently, but it's the end of his on page story. Maybe he does learn a vital lesson, but we don't get to see it, and that feels like strange storytelling.

And as others have said it's hard to be sure how much of his behaviour we're supposed to find wrong. I don't think we're meant to be on board with how he treats Valjean, but some of the stuff with Cosette I just don't know if it's meant to be messed up, or if Hugo thinks it's fine and that makes for uncomfortable reading. Either way I find I'm not very confident about their future at the end.

Date: 2014-05-03 03:47 pm (UTC)
printfogey: Toby Ziegler, West Wing. Quote: "Voices of better angels" (toby better angels)
From: [personal profile] printfogey
After four years of being friends with a revolutionary, after seeing abject poverty first hand, after going through the barricade, he still reacts to Valjean's story like a conservative bourgeois.

I'm curious now what the general attitude towards common criminals was among the republicans of his time. From what I can remember earlier on during the French Revolution there was a strong judgmental strand among many radicals towards them, but perhaps in the 1820s and 1830s things had changed.

Date: 2014-05-06 06:52 pm (UTC)
other_paths: (Default)
From: [personal profile] other_paths
Good question, and I'd like to know the answer, although I think for the purposes of Les Mis, Les Amis' views were pretty much Hugo's views.

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