Anonymous asked: What do you think Tolkien's Dwarves' religion looks like?



like Terry Pratchett’s, but taken seriously.

But Terry Pratchett’s is taken seriously. Like, a lot. And it’s basically all darkness-and-stone mysticism, there is nothing else.

I mean of course they have songs that go ‘gold gold gold’ and the right to kingship is handed down via a petrified loaf of bread with someone’s butt imprinted on it.

But in the same breath you’ve got the knockermen, who go down mine-shafts with no source of light on them to face fatal explosions, and the ones who come back are regarded as exponents of sainthood, because they’ve done the impossible. And they talk about what they’ve seen down there, and everyone knows seen has nothing to do with the senses, but with the kinds of things that come to you when you are alone in the silent bowels of the earth with no light. Which. If this doesn’t sound like the perfect setting for the birth of mysticism and religion, I really don’t know, man. 

And this, this seen, changes the profession from something dangerous and full of fear into something sought-after, that young dwarves volunteer for. And then you’ve got an entire category of people believed to walk between life and death at all times and not really part of the mortal order of things. You enter this profession, your family will kiss you goodbye and think of you as if you’ve left this world. 

And then there’s something that Tolkien doesn’t have - religion as politics. By tradition successful knockermen become kings. And other knockermen become fundamentalists to the point where they decree that the amount of time you spend above ground dictates whether or not you’re a dwarf. Like, literally this one thing would bring into question your own nature and, more importantly, whether or not you would belong to a community. You’ve got debates on modernity and traditionalism, the generational effects of immigration and who should rule an entire people and why. There are mentions of social practices that sound an awful lot like religion - like how when a dwarf dies their tools should be melted so they can never be used by a living one, or the fact that it does not matter if you are literally six feet tall, you can still be a dwarf if you performed certain rituals.

And the fact that all of this happens in one of the City Watch books and is pitted against champion doubter Sam Vimes and it still leaves you as a reader kind of speechless and wowed, is saying a lot. 

I will argue this always and forever: compared to Terry Pratchett, Tolkien is a pretty lazy writer. A lot of what he did strikes you as extraordinary because he tried to do it systematically and on such a sweeping scale. But going into the smaller details of his world-building, I think the only things he’s ever taken 100% seriously are genealogies and made-up grammar. Tolkien does a lot, and I say this as someone who grew up as a fan of his work. But at the level of story-telling, he builds histories, not societies. He writes with the underlying assumption that we as an audience understand how his world works, because we’ve read what he’s read and have some notions that the Shire is pre-industrial England and the whole War of the Ring thing is basically feudal warfare blown out of proportion etc. etc. Tolkien’s world is fixed, lives in its own past, moves on in forms but not in substance. ‘The King has returned’ is really more of an end of history thing, because past that point evil has been vanquished and everyone will live in peace in an ordered world. 

In Terry Pratchett’s writings history only shows up if it has to, sometimes as exposition, rarely as plot, mostly creeping up on you in the form of remarks like ‘Ankh-Morpork is built on Ankh-Morpork’. And this is because Terry Pratchett writes societies, with all that writing societies entails, including religion.

I have actually rarely encountered an author of fiction who takes religion more seriously, because what Terry Pratchett does is treat it as a source of world-organizing principles and by extension of political power. Which, underneath its substance of faith and hope and consolation, is what religion actually evolved as.

tagged → #yes good #mcu



Joly and Combeferre shopping for corpses at the local morgue. Because there are those who actually *wanted* to see this. O_o

You people. What shall I do with you all.

No doubt this post is to blame for it all.



Get to know me meme — [5/5] favorite tv shows: Spartacus

A man must accept his fate or be destroyed by it.

tagged → #spartacus #yes good


I already made a post that’s sort of about history in Cap 2, but it turns out I have even more thoughts, this time about the role of and portrayal of public history in the film.

Most historians I know hate the idea that history is taught so that we can learn from its mistakes. That’s an idea taken from an aphorism by George Santayana, which is usually mangled and misattributed: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And the reason that the historians I know hate it is that it reduces history to a set of facts to be memorized for the explicit purpose of guiding policy. It does not attribute any value to history as history; it values history only insofar as it can shed light on the present and the future we may face. It devalues history as one of the humanities, i.e. one of the academic disciplines that teach us what it is to be human.

I liked the Smithsonian exhibit in Cap 2 precisely because it does not take that view of history.

Read More


Sebastian Stan feat. reactions to Bucky being called evil/a villain


I’ve been seeing a lot of (perfectly understandable, I didn’t know before I read the comics too) miss-tagging of comic Captain America images lately, so I figured I’d take the time to make a little infographic on how to tell who it is behind the shield for those of you new to Marvel fandom! :)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: grimdark is lazy, good is hard work and Jewish American superheroes


First I know nothing about Marvel comics: all my context I got from the films Thor (delightful) and Avengers Assemble (remember very little except it had good jokes and the final action scene was too long), and reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

I went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier last night because of this which I saw a few people reblog:




(okay and also all the gifsets of Sebastian Stan crying. I WAS MIS-SOLD ON THIS FOR THE RECORD, THERE IS LITTLE TO NO CRYING AND ALSO HIS HAIR IS AWFUL.)

If Kavalier and Clay taught me anything it’s threesomes are the best solutions to love triangles Jewish-American cartoonists in the 1930s and early ’40s were all over inventing subversively American heroes to fight Hitler, and I was very unsurprised when I got home and looked it up to learn that Captain America was created by two Jewish guys too. (I know this is really basic comics history stuff and I’m sure fifty people have written dissertations on “He’s A Mensch: The Jewish Identities of Captain America and Superman” or whatever.) What really slotted everything into place was realising that Captain America was created and entered on a cover punching Hitler in the face before America had entered the war.

Basically (right?) Captain America was created by two Jewish-Americans to shame the US into properly fighting Hitler.

Like, I am Captain America, the America you say you want to be, and I challenge you to put your money where your mouth is and actually do something about it. And yes he’s over-the-top and tacky but that’s where the challenge is, right? The chest-thumping American patriotism says “We are good and spread liberty! And also freedom!” and Captain America is like “great! I am that, and I have to point out you are not actually doing that”.

AND I think this is Jewishly on purpose, and here’s why:

Judaism has this important phrase/concept/slogan/life motto from the third-century-ish text Pirkei Avot, which goes: Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor (it’s not to you to complete the work of repairing the world) v’lo atah ben chorin l’hivatel mimena (but neither may you desist from it). You won’t be able to fix the world by yourself, or in your lifetime, but that doesn’t absolve you of responsibility to work towards it.

I feel like grimdark/anti-heroes are a response to the fact that the world is neither good nor moral, like “well if the world isn’t like that, I won’t be either”. But they’re also excuses for not working towards fixing the world: I won’t bother because it’s all fucked anyway. Lo alecha and Captain America say, yes, it is fucked, but you still have to work towards fixing it anyway. And yes, it’s hard, that’s why it’s called work.

Which is why I think saying “Oh, if Captain America represents the US he should be a dick, because the US is a dick” or “Captain America is an imperialist symbol of US superiority and is therefore bad” are both off base and a dodge of having to do that hard work.  

"If Cap = America then Cap = dick because America = dick" is basically just throwing hands up and going "right but guys have you noticed that actually America is imperialist and horrible? DO YOU SEE?!” and implying “so what can you do about that, right?”. Captain America says, “Try to make it better! is what you can do!”

And about saying he’s a symbol of US imperial superiority, I mean, he is a symbol of America but aimed as a criticism at real America.  He’s the American ideal cranked up to five million - for the purpose of shaming America for not living up to what it says it wants to be. And he is aimed at Americans, so I can see a criticism for him being US-centric in that metanarrative sense, but he’s yelling at America to sort their shit out and I think him yelling at non-USAmericans to sort their shit out would be much worse? But I definitely don’t think Cap is supposed to be about how great America is, he’s about pointing out exactly in what ways and how much America is failing to be great. And then saying “but, that doesn’t mean you get out of trying harder!”

Also, how great is it that his ‘weapon’ is a shield.

so um that’s what I thought about when I saw The Winter Solder last night. that and biceps.




I’ve seen Elementary fans claiming their Sherlock is better than Sherlock’s because ours is an asshole and theirs is ‘sympathetic’ and ‘kind’.

I have nothing against Elementary, but may I just remind you - Sherlock is an asshole, because Sherlock is canonically an asshole. He was described as being cold, dispassionate and arrogant - not kind.

oh dear.

From 'The Adventure of the Three Garridebs', when Watson is shot: “For the first time, I had a glimpse of a great heart as well as a great brain.”

From 'The Adventure of the Six Napoleons', when Lestrade pays Holmes a sincere and heartfelt compliment : “And as he turned away, it seemed he was more nearly moved by the softer human emotions than I had ever seen him.”

From 'The Problem of Thor Bridge', when a rich client explains how he tried to seduce his children’s governess: “this young lady was in a sense under your protection…you have tried to ruin a defenseless girl who was under your roof. Some of you rich men have to be taught that all the world cannot be bribed into condoning your offenses.”

From 'The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger', after hearing the tragic story of a woman whose face was mauled by a lion; “Then Holmes stretched out his long arm and patted her hand with such a show of sympathy as I had seldom known him to exhibit, ‘Poor girl!’ he said, ‘Poor girl! The ways of fate are indeed hard to understand. If there is not some compensation hereafter, then the world is a cruel jest’ “

From ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’, when speaking with a client whose father is physically abusive: “Five little livid spots, the marks of four fingers and a thumb, were printed upon the white wrist. ‘You have been cruelly used,’ said Holmes.”

Also, in "The Adventure of Abbey Grange," he helps a young man escape, who intervened to prevent an alcoholic aristocrat from beating his wife.

In "The Adventure of the Second Stain", Holmes goes out of his way to shield Lady Hilda from her husband’s anger, even though the husband was Holmes’ client.

In "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" he lets a pathetic petty criminal go free because he doesn’t think making him a ‘jailbird’ will help.

There are many other instances of Holmes showing kindness, empathy and even breaking the law to help people gain justice.

Other phrases and words Watson uses to describe Holmes at various times:

"quiet, genial."

"without a harshness, which was foreign to his nature."

"he had a remarkable gentleness and courtesy in his dealings with women."

Holmes may have displayed a certain impatience for social affectation, but he maintains a strong moral compass and asserts this fact several times, in various situations, towards various people.

This idea that Holmes is a “sociopathic” asshole is quite a contemporary reading and, might I add, a lazy one that’s as ignorant of mental illness as it is offensive to those of us who’re tired of white men getting to stomp all over people in the name of ‘genius’ and ‘anti-hero’ status. BBC Sherlock’s reading of Holmes is one that’s built on popular cultural tropes, and succeeds because of it. ‘Elementary’ reads Holmes with a fuller attention to the complexities of his character.

Anytime someone says ‘well Holmes is an asshole’ as a conclusive fact, I know that your canon knowledge is either limited or deliberately misinterpreted.

Do some re-reading.




Did you ever notice how in the Bible, whenever God needed to punish someone, or make an example, or whenever God needed a killing, he sent an angel? Did you ever wonder what a creature like that must be like? A whole existence spent praising your God, but always with one wing dipped in blood. Would you ever really want to see an angel?

tagged → #angels! #yes good
"Two of his [Saint-Just’s] closest friends noted, independently, that in private and in public he was two different men. In private he was friendly and even gay, courteous, moved easily to pity, a singer of light airs, a good talker, with all the attraction that youth and beauty could give. In public he was grave, disdainful, insensitive, impassible, exercising a self-control almost inhuman, indifferent to pleasure, unapproachable. Even his face, which was the face of a voluptuary and a poet, became, in the tribune or at the Committee, hard and terrifying. He cultivated, in public, an arrogance that many found repulsive, and he appeared to be (what he most certainly was not) a man without feelings."

—J.B Morton on Saint-Just in his 1939 biography ‘Saint-Just’ (via unspeakablevice)

See, that’s one thing about the Revolutionaries. They’re far easier to turn into a caricature than their royalist counterparts. Their humanity is far too-easily stripped away, leaving nothing behind but marble pillars for their biographer to press his or her impressions on. 

On the flip-side, we all know Louis XVI loved making locks. We all know the story of Marie-Antoinette’s agonizing separation from her homeland. We all know Louis and Antoinette were more than their absolutist political opinions, that they were very human, that they were much Like Us.    

Their personal lives are precisely recorded and it can be difficult to eschew human sympathy for their plight just because 1789 rolls around.This is perhaps why thy Royal Family garners sympathizers even from those who find Royalism to be an evil ideology. Humans sympathize with other humans and the evidence of the royals’ humanity is abundant. Men like Saint-Just, however, left little evidence of the person beyond the politician. If one finds Jacobinism to be an inherently evil ideology, it can be difficult to see through the lens and find anything human in the men who adhered to it.  

But a lack of evidence is not evidence of a lack. And as Morton points out, although the documentation is sparse, it is not nonexistent. 

(via bunniesandbeheadings)



First, I apologize for the length of this post, and second, I apologize for my frankly lazy mostly Wikipedia-citations, because they’re a lot more accessible, and hence more useful, than tracking down the original book citations that absolutely no one on Tumblr would hunt down anyway, so you’d still have to take my word for their reliability.

This is a selection of a few notable black people who spent time in France between the late 18th and late 19th centuries. Some were born there, some moved there, some were educated there, and some lived there temporarily as expats. Their stories also make clear that that there were other black people in France at the time—members of regiments recruited from Haiti and Africa during the French Revolution [x], students at the Sorbonne in the 1830s [x], abolitionist literary and political circles [x], and amongst the bourgeoisie, as well as servants and other lower-class workers. Continental France was not isolated in a bubble from its colonies—people moved back and forth between them, particularly those with education and money, neither of which was limited to white people at this point in time. It was not uncommon for well-off black and mixed race colonials to be educated in France, particularly in the 19th century.

Was France an anti-racist paradise? No. Many of the people here encountered racism in multiple forms, and “white-passing” or almost-passing Créole women in particular were often exoticized and stereotyped, and this is also the same period when Khoikhoi woman Saartjie Baartman was exhibited in Paris as a sideshow attraction. Even successful and respected multiracial authors such as Alexandre Dumas encountered prejudice. But there were black and mixed race people living in France in this period and earlier, in notable numbers. This is well-documented historical fact. For each of these people, I found several more people with names and documented stories, but no accompanying portraits—soldiers, politicians, and abolitionists in particular, as France in this period had thriving abolition societies.

And for each of them, how many ordinary black people in France—shopkeepers and lady’s maids and stonemasons and bankers—were not recorded in historical records? 19th century fiction authors such as Victor Hugo occasionally mentioned the race of minor characters in Parisian settings as “black” or “créole” without further elaboration, suggesting that the presence of black and mixed race people in Paris was not worth great remark. [x]

(Please note that this post uses 19th century racial terms which may or may not still be in use today, such as “octoroon” and “mulatto.” These are the terms by which the people would have been identified in their time period. Some of the historical sources quoted also use the term “Negro.” I do not personally endorse throwing these terms around sans historical context.)

1. Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George (December 25, 1745 – June 10, 1799), was a noted composer, violinist, and conductor, and prior to the French Revolution, he was also known as a swordsman and equestrian. Originally from Guadelupe, he was born to white French plantation owner Georges Boulogne de Saint-George and a former slave, Nanon. In 1749, the family moved to Paris, where Joseph quickly excelled at physical and musical arts. Although selected for appointment as the director of the Royal Opera of Louis XVI, he was refused when three Parisian singers petitioned the Queen, refusing to sing under the direction of “a mulatto.” Although a noble and a member of the court of Versailles, during the French Revolution, Boulogne commanded a regiment of one thousand “colored” volunteers, but was denounced and imprisoned due to his aristocratic background. He adjusted poorly to life as a commoner and died in 1799, age 54. The portrait is by William Ward (1788), after an earlier painting by Mather Brown. [x]

2. Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (March 25, 1762 – February 26, 1806) was the highest-ranking person of color of all time in a continental European army. He was born in Saint-Domingue, Haiti, to a white French father and a black mother; because slavery was illegal in continental France, he became free by default when his father brought him to France in 1776 (his father sold Thomas-Alexandre’s three siblings in Haiti). Thomas-Alexandre grew up in a suburb of Paris, where he received the education of a young nobleman. By 31, he commanded 53,000 troops as General-in-Chief of the French Army of the Alps. The painting is by Olivier Pichat and dates to the 19th century. [x]

3. Sally Hemings (c. 1773 – 1835) was an enslaved woman of mixed race owned by U.S. President Thomas Jefferson. In 1784, when Jefferson moved to Paris as the American envoy to France, he took Sally and her older brother James Hemings, along with some of his other slaves. There he had James trained as a chef in French cuisine, while Sally accompanied Jefferson’s teenaged daughter, Polly. In France, slavery was illegal, so Jefferson paid Sally and James (minimal) wages. Both studied French Sally may have accompanied Jefferson’s oldest daughter Martha to formal events as a lady’s maid. Under French law, both Sally and James could have petitioned for freedom and remained in France; however, they returned to Virginia with Jefferson. As no portraits of Sally Hemings survive, the miniature portrait is of her daughter Harriet, most likely Jefferson’s daughter. [x]

4. Cyrille Bissette (July 9, 1795  January 22, 1858) was a monarchist politician from Martinique, born to Charles Borromeo Bissette, a black man from Marin, and his free Métis wife, Bellaine Melanie Elizabeth. Due to his abolitionist views, he was banished from the French colonies for ten years by the Court of Guadelupe. After Bissette moved to Paris, he founded the abolitionist journals la Revue des colonies and la Revue abolition[n]iste, as well as wrote a book refuting Schoelcher, Réfutation du Livre de M. V. Schœlcher sur Haïti. He was a member of the National Assembly, representing Martinique, from 1848-1851. Print by François Le Villain, 1828. [x]

5. Jeanne Duval (c.1820 – 1862) was a Haitian-born actress and dancer of mixed French and black African ancestry. In 1842, she moved to Paris, France with poet Charles Baudelaire, where she lived for 20 years. She remained in a stormy relationship with Baudelaire and inspired much of his poetry, including Le balconParfum exotiqueLa chevelureSed non satiata, Le serpent qui danse, and Une charogne. Baudelaire’s friend Édouard Manet painted her in 1862, when she was already blind from the syphilis which killed both her and Baudelaire. Sketch by Charles Baudelaire c. 1850. [x]

6. Alexandre Dumas, père (July 24, 1802 – December 5, 1870) was son of Alexandre-Thomas Dumas, is probably best known as the writer of The Three Musketeers and Count of Monte Cristo. His many historical adventure novels have been translated into over 100 languages, making him one of the most widely-read French authors of all time. Although most of his work does not touch on race, his short novel Georges (1843) addresses race and colonialism, and when insulted about his ancestry he once replied:

My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends.

Dumas was a friend of Victor Hugo, and they moved in the same artistic circles. The sketch is by Achille Devéria, 1829. [x]

7. Louisy Mathieu (June 17, 1817 – 1874) was a politician from Guadelupe who served in the French National Assembly from 1848 to 1849. He was a slave before the 1848 French Revolution, which made all citizens of French colonies free; after that he was elected to the Assembly [x]. He is mentioned briefly in Victor Hugo’s memoirs [x]:

There were about fifty Representatives present that evening. The negro Representative Louisy Mathieu, in white gloves, was accompanied by the negrophile Representative Schoelcher in black gloves. People said: “O fraternity! they have exchanged hands!”

Official portrait from the French National Assembly, 1848 or 1849 (Bibliothèque de l’Assemblée nationale).

8. Pierre-Marie Pory-Papy (May 3, 1805 – January 27, 1874) was a lawyer and politician from Martinique, son of a free man of color and and a later-freed woman, Antoinette. After earning his baccalaureate in 1834 in Aix-en-Provence, France, Pory-Papy studied law in Paris; in 1835 he returned to Saint-Pierre, Martinique, to practice. During his political career, he served as a city councillor, deputy mayor, and mayor, of Saint-Pierre, and member of the National Assembly for Martinique (1848-1849 and 1871-1874). It’s unclear to me how much of this time he lived in France, but he died in Versailles. Photograph date unknown. [x]

9. Victor Séjour (1817 – 1874) was an American expatriate writer who worked in France. Born in new Orleans to a free mulatto father from Santo Domingo and Eloisa Phillippe Ferrand, a free African-American octoroon born in New Orleans, he was well-educated in a private school. At nineteen he moved to Paris to continue his education, where he met members of the Parisian literary elite, including Cyrille Bissette, whose abolitionist journal La Revue des colonies published Séjour’s short story ”Le Mulâtre" 1837. "Le Mulâtre," which heavily critiqued slavery, is believed to be the first published fiction by an African-American writer. Séjour later became a playwright. Caricature from Diogène, 1857. [x]

10. Alfred-Amédéé Dodds (February 6, 1842  July 18, 1922) was a French general of Senegalese origin who commanded French forces during the Second Franco-Dahomean War. An octoroon and Métis, he was admired in the African Diaspora of the early 20th century, despite his involvement in the destruction of one of Africa’s most powerful pre-colonial states, Dahomey (now Bénin). He died in 1922 in Paris, France. Portrait from the cover of L’Illustration, 1893. [x]

Finally, I apologize for the lack of woman in this historyspam: for various unsurprising reasons, I couldn’t find many examples of named women with extant portraits, although if you know of any I’d love to hear about them—I found way more men then I could use, so a second historyspam is a definite possibility.

h/t greencrook and voksen for suggesting Jeanne Duval

Very very very important meta, everyone read.

(also that remains my favourite Dumas quote ever)

tagged → #yes good #history #long post






Captain America in a turban

I wore that costume to challenge the way New Yorkers think about superheroes — and bearded Sikhs like me

I settled on a rock in Central Park, the New York skyline behind me. A glassy new skyscraper neared completion in its stretch toward the skies. I was striking a few poses in my superhero costume when a young boy perched higher on a rock chimed in.

“Captain America does not have a turban and beard,” he said. He had a child’s curious tone. No malevolence.

“Why not?” I asked him. “I was born here. We could have a new Captain America who is Sikh or black or Hispanic.”

He thought about this. Finally, he conceded that yes, maybe a black or Hispanic Captain America would be OK. But his brain couldn’t make sense of it: Captain America in a turban? Captain America in a beard? He’d never conceived of such a thing before.

That’s exactly what brought me to this park on a beautiful summer day. To make fresh neural connections in our collective consciousness. To leave a new image on the hard drive of that boy’s mind.


This is my favourite thing today, it makes me want to do fanart of him and that is a rare thing.

EDIT: You can also buy prints of the Sihk Captain America here.

Seriously this guy is such a beautiful human being <3

this dude wins halloween

I fucking love this. I feel like fucking Captain America would love this haha. You know if he was a real person…

steve rogers would 100000% support this. heck, it would probably even make him cry.

bahorel the flâneur


so today, people were wondering why victor hugo wrote that bahorel served as the bond between the amis and other groups in paris, when feuilly (a member of the working-class who was explicitly interested in internationalist, cosmopolitan causes) seems a more obvious candidate.  i have an idea based on bahorel’s characterization, but i didn’t want to derail the thread from being about feuilly, so i’m posting it separately.

(ps i apologize if this is all stuff people have said before!)

here’s a selection from hugo’s infodump on bahorel (all english quotes from project gutenberg’s free hapgood translation, which has the lovely benefit of being searchable):

Bahorel was a good-natured mortal, who kept bad company, brave, a spendthrift, prodigal, and to the verge of generosity, talkative, and at times eloquent, bold to the verge of effrontery; the best fellow possible; he had daring waistcoats, and scarlet opinions; a wholesale blusterer, that is to say, loving nothing so much as a quarrel, unless it were an uprising; and nothing so much as an uprising, unless it were a revolution; always ready to smash a window-pane, then to tear up the pavement, then to demolish a government, just to see the effect of it; a student in his eleventh year. […] He wasted a tolerably large allowance, something like three thousand francs a year, in doing nothing.


Bahorel, a man of caprice, was scattered over numerous cafes; the others had habits, he had none. He sauntered. To stray is human. To saunter is Parisian. In reality, he had a penetrating mind and was more of a thinker than appeared to view.

He served as a connecting link between the Friends of the A B C and other still unorganized groups, which were destined to take form later on.

now, reading this, you get the sense of a good time guy: gregarious, outgoing, the life of the party, always up for fun or a fight. there’s a contradiction there, too — hugo makes it clear that he’s more thoughtful than we’d assume, despite his actions.

there’s a key word in that description, but you’d only spot it if you read the french — “flâner,” which hapgood translates as “to saunter,” but might be better as “to stroll.”

the noun form of “flâner” is “flâneur,” which technically just means, someone who strolls. a flâneur, though, is a hugely important figure in nineteenth-century french culture and literature. he’s the original urban explorer, who wanders the city at his leisure with a keen eye and observes his surroundings. there’s a ton of scholarship about this concept, most famously walter benjamin’s work connecting the flâneur with the alienation of capitalism, but a dip into the term’s english language wikipedia page is all you really need to see that it comes up again and again in the nineteenth century. (note: a lot of what the page describes is more characteristic of the flâneur concept in the late nineteenth century, but it definitely existed earlier; i have a book i am desperately trying to find that talks about the flâneur pre-1851.)

i’m convinced that hugo means for bahorel to be an archetypal flâneur, especially given the next sentence: "In reality, he had a penetrating mind and was more of a thinker than appeared to view."  the flâneur's nonchalance and lack of direction makes him seem lazy, but he’s anything but; his strolls allow him to make sense of the urban maze. baudelaire famously referred to him as “the botanist of the sidewalk.” when hugo says that bahorel wastes his allowance “doing nothing,” this comment is also in line with how people criticized flâneurs. indeed, even his scarlet waistcoats and preoccupation with fashion fit the mold, since the idea of the flâneur is closely tied to another nineteenth century archetype, the dandy.

who better than a flâneur, then, to connect the amis to the rest of the city?

spare observations:

  • grantaire is also described in the text as being very knoweldgable about the city, but he’s way too negative to be a proper flâneur.
  • many later scholars have assigned negative characteristics to the concept of the flâneur, but i’m not sure how much of that was contemporary to hugo. certainly, whatever critical distance or alienation might have been part of the flâneur generally was  undercut by hugo’s description of bahorel’s personality.
  • the flâneur is sometimes seen as the urban equivalent of the 19th century romantic solitary wanderer — and indeed, hugo uses the word in jean prouvaire’s description as well, one of many moments of implicit connection or symmetry between the two characters. prouvaire, however, strolls through field of wild oats and blueberries, rather than paris. (i swear this is not just a backdoor way for me to pimp one of my favorite ships. honestly.)