Case in point, I’m trying to finish Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (as God as my witness, I will!) and come upon this little scene. Cosette, a young lady, daughter of sometimes prostitute Fantine and adopted daughter of Jean Valjean, wakes in the morning. All in white and in a white room. Hugo then says,
One may, in a case of exigency, introduce the reader into a nuptial chamber, not into a virginal chamber. Verse would hardly venture it, prose must not.First he says, we can’t discuss the virginal chamber and then goes on to describe buds, and half-nudity, and shivers of modesty. Come on, Hugo, you don’t fool me. You’re talking about sex. I’ve noticed that 19th century dude-writers are obsessed with virgins. Alexandre Dumas, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Victor Hugo. They can’t write about a virgin without waxing poetic about her milky white skin (no dark virgins, obvs), her lowered eyelashes, her shy gaze. Blah, blah, blah. And they’re all so good! So good and stupid! (Ugly virgins are old spinsters, like Marian Halcombe. They can be intelligent.) Let’s have a scheming virgin, boys!
It is the interior of a flower that is not yet unfolded, it is whiteness in the dark, it is the private cell of a closed lily, which must not be gazed upon by man so long as the sun has not gazed upon it. Woman in the bud is sacred. That innocent bud which opens, that adorable half-nudity which is afraid of itself, that white foot which takes refuge in a slipper, that throat which veils itself before a mirror as though a mirror were an eye, that chemise which makes haste to rise up and conceal the shoulder for a creaking bit of furniture or a passing vehicle, those cords tied, those clasps fastened, those laces drawn, those tremors, those shivers of cold and modesty, that exquisite affright in every movement, that almost winged uneasiness where there is no cause for alarm, the successive phases of dressing, as charming as the clouds of dawn,-- it is not fitting that all this should be narrated, and it is too much to have even called attention to it.
Give me a Scarlett O’Hara, a Becky Sharpe. Even poor Fantine was more interesting than her kid.
I need a break from 19th century lit.