The Long Nineteenth Century

From the enragées to the dreyfusardes.

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With every three steps, he made his old dressing-gown swirl around his skinny legs. Then, his hands crossed behind his back, his legs as though fettered, he mimed the death of Pranzini, whose execution he had seen the day before yesterday.

Gustave Guiches on Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Le Banquet

Ooooookaaaaaaaay, Auguste…

And Vidocq thinks it’s only the women who are weird?

Filed under Villiers de l'Isle-Adam

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I enjoyed that playlist made with Billy Joel songs, so here’s one I made for only about half the songs in Les Mis with Jacques Brel songs! Why Jacques Brel? I don’t know, it’s just what came to mind. (Apologies for the vids without subtitles.)

Prologue=Au suivant
At the End of the Day=On n’oublie rien
I Dreamed a Dream=Ces gens-là
Lovely Ladies=Amsterdam
Who Am I?=Vivre debout
Come to Me=Seul
In My Life=
Mon enfance
A Heart Full of Love=
Je t’aime
On My Own=Madeleine
A Little Fall of Rain=
Le moribond
Drink With Me=
Bring Him Home=Ne me quitte pas
Dog Eat Dog=Tango funèbre
Javert’s Suicide=L’ange déchu
Every Day=Quand on n’a que l’amour
Turning=Les bourgeois
Empty Chairs At Empty Tables=Jojo or Fernand
Beggars at the Feast=Les bonbons
Valjean’s Death=Les vieux
Finale=Fils de…

Filed under Jacques Brel Les Mis playlist

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As much as I enjoy the movie Frozen, stop saying it’s the only movie that teaches girls they don’t need a man to save them. RAPUNZEL FUCKING SAVES FLYNN AND BEATS THE SHIT OUT OF PEOPLE WITH A FRYING PAN.  MERIDA WAS ALL “FUCK YOU I’M 15 AND I DON’T WANT TO GET MARRIED. “ MULAN SAVED THE FUCK OUT OF CHINA, SHE SAVED A FUCKING COUNTRY. So, would you politely shut the fuck up and stop.


I really like the charts in this post which break down exactly how wrong the notion that Frozen is revolutionary is. It’s not the first movie where the heroine saves the day, and it’s not the first movie to deconstruct either “marrying someone you just met” or “true love’s first kiss” (which don’t occur in the Disney canon that often anyway). It’s like there’s some sort of collective amnesia going on.

(via lesgledemeaux)

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The bagne’s penal code

A lot of #Toulon asks I get have to do with the code pénal de la chiourme, so I’ve decided to translate it and have it all in one place. (Take it with a grain of salt, though, because there were more punishments than provided for in the code—cutting off wine rations, for instance—and a lot of infractions in the punishment registers I’ve looked at were not punished in a way that conforms to the code’s rules. Still, it’s an important set of guidelines, in a Pirates of the Caribbean sort of way.) Here it is, pretty much the same in all sources, from Vidocq to Alhoy:


  • The convict who strikes an agent of surveillance
  • The convict who kills his comrade
  • The convict who revolts or occasions a revolt


  • The life convict who escapes (three years in the double chain*)
  • The temporary convict who escapes (three years of prolongation)
  • The convict who steals more than five francs


  • The convict who files his chains or employs any means of escape whatsoever
  • The convict upon whom objects of disguise are found
  • The convict who steals fewer than five francs
  • The convict who becomes inebriated
  • The convict who gambles
  • The convict who smokes in the port or in its locality
  • The convict who sells** or degrades his personal effects
  • The convict who writes without permission
  • The convict upon whom a sum of more than ten francs is found
  • The convict who strikes his comrade
  • The convict who refuses to work or commits an act of insubordination

*Refer to Trompe-la-Mort’s excellent, comprehensive answer to a different #Toulon ask for an explanation of what bastonnade and the double chain are. I also gave an explanation of the double chain here.
**Yes, this happened.

Filed under Bagne of Toulon Bagne of Rochefort Bagne of Brest bagne

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Reading Guillotine: Its Legend and Lore by Daniel Gerould. It’s not the most in-depth analysis—actually, it’s little more than an annotated bibliography—but man, if you want a near-exhaustive list of practically every significant literary reference to the guillotine in the nineteenth century, check it out. For instance, I’d never heard of Thoughts and Visions of a Severed Head by Antoine Wiertz…or that Villiers de l’Isle-Adam had some Deep Thoughtz about scaffold ritual (i.e., ”Don’t put the guillotine level with the ground!!! What are you, vulgar?”)…and did you know that Hugo channeled André Chénier during one of his séances?

Filed under Hugo guillotine book review

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spiderfire47 asked: Hi! I have a Toulon ask. In modern prisons, inmate on inmate violence is a significant problem. Was that true in the 19th century bagnes as well?

Yes, both fighting and sexual violence were common. Just as prisoners are exploited by their cellmates today (at least in the popular imagination; I don’t know the real statistics about who is most likely to assault whom), forçats were vulnerable to coercion and abuse from their chainmates. The journal of Jean-Joseph Clémens (you know, the guy who sprung himself from Rochefort with an art project) contains this aphorism on the subject: “A convict’s greatest torture is to be badly coupled.” It’s evocatively illustrated with a watercolor of a guy with a bloody nose being whaled on by his chainmate.

Maurice Alhoy claims that equality between members of a couple was very rare, and one almost always threatened and dominated the other (actually, what he literally claims is that equality is impossible and domination is inevitable, but one must take this with a grain of salt because at times he does describe ideal partnerships): “The human race, no matter its place of habitation, has instincts of domination; where there are two beings, there must always be a master and a slave. Slavery within slavery is the fate of one-half of all couples. Thus, what small tyrannies suffered by the martyr, what muffled and unperceived struggles in the association!” This abuse is coded as sexual: “It is a torture added to a torture, this life for two that the vocabulary of the bagne calls ‘coupling.’ This community of the chain is a servitude imposed upon the weaker for the profit of the stronger or more perverse; it is often en exhortation to the most shameful penchants: impure unions that certain administrators did not shy away from using to their own advantage.” Alhoy can slip from the vocabulary of actual violence, to the vocabulary of simple corruption. To him, it’s all the same.

Convicts also fought with each other for any and all reasons, whether they were chained together or not. The punishment for fighting was flogging (fighting with another prisoner, that is—the punishment for assaulting a guard was death), but that didn’t stop them. The punishment registers Trompe-la-Mort and I looked through in the Toulon archives are full of fighting incidents.

Filed under Toulon asks spiderfire47

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revolutionaryshoe asked: Hi, I'm not sure if this is the right place to ask, but I wondered: what was the penalty for a convict killing another convict in the galleys? Because in 'Splendours and Miseries' Balzac says that Theodore Calvi is imprisoned for killing eleven people at the age of eighteen (presumably vendetta-related); but when he is sentenced to death for the murders of the widow and her servant at Nanterre, we're told that makes eighteen people he's killed. So I was wondering about the other five.

According to the bagne’s internal penal code, the punishment for killing another convict was death (as was the punishment for striking a guard).

I would guess that the other five murder victims were either fellow criminals whom Calvi killed in underworld dealings, or civilians killed in the course of the commission of a crime. Or anything else, really. For looking at him funny. Calvi doesn’t really need a reason to kill you. I would guess, however, that they were committed anywhere but in the galleys, because:

The five missing murders themselves are a lot easier to account for than the fact that he hasn’t been guillotined already. Why was he imprisoned for life instead of sentenced to death for those first eleven? Eighteen years old is plenty old enough to be sentenced to death. Also, it’s hard to argue that there was no premeditation (which could separate a life sentence from a capital one) when there were eleven murders. Vautrin tells Calvi that they’d both been sent to Rochefort as an off-the-books way of executing them (the swamps around the Charente were malarial); however, I see no reason why Calvi—unlike Vautrin—couldn’t simply have been guillotined.

Filed under Toulon asks revolutionaryshoe