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Ninety-Three by Victor Hugo

Ninety-Three (original 1874; edition 2010)

by Victor Hugo

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7451412,495 (3.87)46
Authors:Victor Hugo
Info:Qontro Legacy (2010), Paperback, 354 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

Ninety-Three by Victor Hugo (Author) (1874)

  1. 00
    A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel (bibliothequaire, rebeccanyc)
    rebeccanyc: Hugo and Mantel both create fiction: Hugo's is closer to the passions of the time and more philosphical, involving largely fictional characters; Mantel's more distanced and historical. Hugo's novel deals with the counter-revolution in the Vendée, with a detour to Paris; Mantel's with the leaders of the revolution in Paris.… (more)
  2. 00
    Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama (rebeccanyc)
    rebeccanyc: Hugo's work is largely fictional; Schama presents a fascinating historical and cultural history of the French revolution.
  3. 01
    Progress by Charles Stampul (PeerlessPress)

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The back cover of my edition says "such diverse critics as Robert Louis Stevenson and André Maurois" consider this Hugo's "greatest work." While it has a broad scope, and Hugo's trademark usually fascinating digressions and philosophizing, it lacks the brilliant plotting and characterization that made the novels I've previously read, The Toilers of the Sea and The Laughing Man so compelling.

Ninety-three, of course, is 1793, the year of the Terror and, more apropos for this novel, the year of the revolt against the Revolution in the Vendée. Despite my previous reading about the French Revolution, I never bothered to look up where the Vendée is, but this time I did and it is just south of Brittany, where the monarchist rebellion in this novel takes place.

The book begins at sea, and is thrilling in the way that everything I've read by Hugo about the sea has been, and then shifts to land, in Brittany. A local aristocrat and former general (?), the Marquis de Lantenac, who fled to exile in England, has returned surreptitiously to lead the counter-revolution among the peasants. On the ground, the remnants of an elite Republican army unit attempt to track him down. In the battles that follow, three young children are separated from their mother, adopted first by this army unit and then captured by the Royalists. They, and their mother, play a key role in the plot developments at the end of the novel. This section is up to Hugo's best.

But then the scene switches to Paris, and the Convention, and Danton, Robespierre, and Marat, and endless endless conversations among them and discussions of the history of the Revolution. I can see that Hugo was trying to broaden the scope of the novel and its portrait of the horrors (and productive aspects) of Year II of the Revolution, but the novel bogs down considerably in this section and would have been unbearable if not for the end notes provided by the translator and the list of important people in the Appendix. As far as I can tell, the only important plot development in this section is the order of the Committee of Public Safety sending a former priest, Cimourdain, now a blood-thirsty revolutionary, to keep an eye on Gauvain, a Republican army leader in the Brittany region and, it turns out, the grand-nephew of the Marquis de Lantenac. (There is, it turns out, for coincidences abound in romantic fiction, also a personal connection between Cimourdain and the marquis and Gauvain.)

The last part of the novel shifts back to Brittany and the locale of the climactic scenes could not have been more dramatically portrayed: La Tourgue, a tower and attached castle dating back to the Middle Ages. Hugo's description of these structures and their dungeons and escape hatches is brilliant. The mismatched battle between the seventeen defenders and the Republican army arrayed against them offers the opportunity for intrigue, pathos, courage, character, and conscience. However, some of the plot developments strain credulity, and all in all the characters are not as fully developed as in other Hugo novels I've read.

The French Revolution is certainly fascinating, and I'm glad I read this book, but I don't consider it Hugo's best.
5 vote rebeccanyc | Aug 23, 2014 |
bookshelves: winter-20132014, fraudio, published-1874, historical-fiction, france, tbr-busting-2014, revolution, lit-richer, execution, epic-proportions, gr-library, channel-islands, victorian, translation, seven-seas
Read from January 05 to 27, 2014

Description: Ninety-three, the last of Victor Hugo's novels, is regarded by many including such diverse critics as Robert Louis Stevenson and André Maurois as his greatest work.

1793, Year Two of the Republic, saw the establishment of the National Convention, the execution of Louis XVI, the Terror, and the monarchist revolt in the Vendée, brutally suppressed by the Republic. Hugo's epic follows three protagonists through this tumultuous year: the noble royalist de Lantenac; Gauvain, who embodies a benevolent and romantic vision of the Republic; and Cimourdain, whose principles are altogether more robespierrean.The conflict of values culminates in a dramatic climax on the scaffold.

"Was it a Blue; was it a White?"
"It was a bullet"

Trivia: The former priest who is considered by some to be the novel's villain, Cimourdain, purportedly "made a deep impression on a young Georgian seminarian named Dzhugashvili, who was confined to his cell for reading Ninety-Three and later changed his name to Stalin", according to a biographer of Hugo. (wiki sourced)

Daniel Vierge, illus. from "Ninety-three"

Achille-Isidore Gilbert, from Ninety-three vol. 1

Tellmarch. Jules Férat, from Ninety-three vol. 1

Charlotte Corday killing Marat. Frédéric Théodore Lix, from Ninety-three vol. 1

Imânus. A. Lançon, from Ninety-three vol. 2

She walked towards the tower. Édouard Riou, from Ninety-three vol. 2

Wow, this was rich pickings indeed, and delivered in that wry way that Hugo does to great aplomb. A great listen; fully recommended.

5* Les Misérables
3* The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
5* The Man Who Laughs
4* Ninety-Three
TR The Toilers of the Sea

aNobii ( )
  mimal | Jan 27, 2014 |
Hugo was 72 years old when Ninety-Three, his last novel, was published in 1874. It seems the common wisdom is it’s on a par with his other major works, but I found it a step down.

On the positive side, while Hugo is clearly passionate about the topic, at the same time he gives both royalists and republicans an opportunity to “speak”, presenting both views, and showing the royalist leader to be virtuous, noble, and willing to sacrifice himself. In the end, he’s just on the wrong side of progress, and the wrong side of history.

However, I found the role of the three dispossessed children at the center of the plot to be a bit absurd, even for 19th century Romantic fiction. Worse was the excessive detail Hugo launched into in Part II relative to people involved in various ways in the Revolution. At first I was thinking, hmm some footnotes or a map in places would be nice, but then I realized I would simply stop reading them – the barrage of names is disconnected and pointless.

The historical fiction portion where Robespierre, Danton, and Marat meet to discuss the Revolution is interesting, but the narrative leaves them afterwards, and it seems to me the novel would have been better if it had followed these characters later in the book through to their demise.

Not awful but I was glad when I made it to the end, which is never a good sign.

On children:
“…he who has not yet lived has done no evil: he is justice, truth, purity; and the highest angels of heaven hover about those souls of little children.”

On judges:
“The law is immutable. A judge is more and less than a man: he is less than a man because he has no heart; he is more than a man because he holds the sword of justice.”

On politics, and how little it means when you’re hungry:
“’Which side are you on?’ he asked. ‘Are you republican? Are you royalist?’
‘I am a beggar.’
‘Neither royalist nor republican?’
‘I believe not.’
‘’Are you for or against the king?’
‘I have no time for that sort of thing.’”

On the French Revolution:
“At the moment Louis XVI was condemned to death, Robespierre had still eighteen months to live; Danton, fifteen months; Vergniaud, nine months; Marat, five months and three weeks; Lepelletier Saint-Fargeau, one day. Quick and terrible blast from human mouths!”

“Gauvain, learn that it is necessary to make war on a woman when she calls herself Marie Antoinette, on an old man when he is named Pius VI and Pope, and upon a child when he is named Louis Capet.”

“In La Tourgue were condensed fifteen hundred years (the Middle Age), vassalage, servitude, feudality; in the guillotine one year, - ’93; and these twelve months made a counterpoise to those fifteen centuries. La Tourgue was Monarchy; the guillotine was Revolution, - tragic confrontation! On one side the debtor, on the other the creditor. On one side the inextricable Gothic complication of serf, lord, slave, master, plebeian, nobility, the complex code ramifying into customs, judge and priest in coalition, shackles innumerable, fiscal impositions, excise laws, mortmain, taxes, exemptions, prerogatives, prejudices, fanaticisms, the royal privilege of bankruptcy, the scepter, the throne, the regal will, the divine right; on the other, this simple thing, - a knife. On one side the noose, on the other, the axe.”

Lastly, on the smallness of man in the scheme of things, my favorite passage:
“Nature is pitiless; she never withdraws her flowers, her music, her fragrance, and her sunlight from before human cruelty or suffering. She overwhelms man by the contrast between divine beauty and social hideousness. She spares him nothing of her loveliness, neither wing or butterfly nor song of bird. In the midst of murder, vengeance, barbarism, he must feel himself watched by holy things; he cannot escape the immense reproach of universal nature and the implacable serenity of the sky. The deformity of human laws is forced to exhibit itself naked amidst the dazzling rays of eternal beauty. Man breaks and destroys; man lays waste; man kills; but the summer remains summer; the lily remains the lily; the star remains the star.” ( )
1 vote gbill | Feb 12, 2013 |
This book reminds me of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Iliad and The Last Days of Socrates. There're memorable adventures and battles at sea, a ferocious siege that leads to a battle to the death, and finally, in the face of death, a contemplation of meaning, duty, freedom and destiny. Echoes of these contemplations are found in Tolstoy's War and Peace, especially the Epilogue.


If you've read Les Miserables, you would notice a year mentioned throughout the book (although in the background), 93. It was the year of Terror during the French Revolution, when "many times freshly severed heads, borne aloft on the tops of pikes, sprinkled their blood-drops" over the table of the Assembly. It's also the central point of a debate between the bishop and the conventionist: Is bloodshed inevitable in social progress?

Reading this book is like being transported in a time machine to 18th century France during the French Revolution. First on board a battleship in the midst of a raging sea, watching a bizarre yet deadly battle between the sailors and an inanimate but powerful enemy; then to Paris,and the Assembly hall of the Convention, the Olympus, witnessing the intense struggles among powerful personalities, Danton, Robespierre and Marat, the leaders of the Revolution, where orders are issued on which lives of thousands are decided; and finally, to the final battleground, where heroes are destroyed but also born, where battles of the tongue are no less fierce than those of the cannon, but much more hilarious.

How the Heroes are Born

When I read Iliad, I couldn't help but felt depressed by a sense of fatality. Why did the Greeks and the Trojans have to kill or be killed? Both sides wanted peace and attempted a truce but the gods intervened, and the heroes fought to the death. Despite the best efforts of all reasonable and intelligent people, World War II broke out, no less inexorably than the Trojan War. Why all the senseless deaths?

Hugo contemplated these questions in the wake of the French Revolution, and in this book, he re-wrote the ending of Iliad, so to speak. There're a few unexpected turns, i.e., the offspring of free will and choice. It's no less tragic and heroic, but more than that, there're also freedom, joy and hope. Despite the apparent inevitability of events, each hero/person has to make his own choice according to his conscience, and in doing so he attains to freedom, dignity and mastery of his destiny.
( )
  booksontrial | Jan 4, 2013 |
I read this from a volume which also contained the Hugo work Things Done. I finished the volume on April 20, 1975. Ninety-Three is a novel laid in 1793 and telling of Lantenac's dramatic return to France to lead the revolt in Brittaney. SPOILER The general in charge of Republican forces there is Gauvein, his great-nephew. Finally Lantenac and 18 others are beseiged in a fortress. Lantenac escaptes by an unknown passageway, then returns to save three children. Gauvain lets lantenac escape, and is guillotined by Cimourdain, his boyhood tutor, who shoots himself. The story has its memorable moments. It was p[ublished in 1829. ( )
  Schmerguls | Jul 21, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hugo, VictorAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bair, LowellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hogarth, JamesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In the latter part of May, 1793, one of the Paris battalions sent into Brittany by Santerre, searched the much dreaded forest of La Saudraie, in Astillé.
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Dans la terre fatale avait germé l'arbre sinistre. De cette terre, arrosée de tant de sueurs, de tant de larmes, de tant de sang, de cette terre où avaient été creusées tant de fosses, tant de tombes, tant de cavernes, tant d'embûches, de cette terre où avaient pourri toutes les espèces de morts faites par toutes les espèces de tyrannies, (.. .), de cette terre profonde, était sortie, au jour marqué, cette inconnue, cette vengeresse, [... ]
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0786705906, Paperback)

With a cast spanning the doomed aristocracy and the suffering peasantry and including the warring revolu tionary leaders Marat, Danton and Robespierre, Hugo brings t o life the year 1793 - the year of the guillotine '

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:39 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

It is 1793, France, the year of the guillotine. Already Louis XVI has been sentenced to the scaffold, and terror reigns. In Ninety-Three, Victor Hugo's inspired last novel, that tumultuous year's events are woven into an epic masterpiece which captures brilliantly the moment that shaped the destiny not only of France but of all European monarchy.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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