Extortion. It’s nothing new to anything, really, and it still runs rampant in developing worlds today and like Ken said in his own blog, it’s easy to forget our roots, to forget where we came from and how we’ve taken two steps forward yet one step in equal labour laws, in wage laws regarding men and women, and even child labour. Poets and authors alike, such as Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Eliza Cook, Letitia Elizabeth Landon and others, wrote in protestation of the labour laws at the time, which is where works like Les Misérables, Oliver Twist, “Cry of the Children,” and “The Factory” come from.
Personally, what I love about all of these works is that: 1) they don’t sugarcoat the situation that the characters face, especially Hugo’s Les Mis, 2) they’re realistic for the time period whereas historical fiction today tends to romanticise the Victorian era (see Clare’s The Infernal Devices series) and 3) the works grip your attention and hold you by the throat until you put the book down, in awe of the language and in awe of the image that is now fixated in your mind.
“The Cry of the Children” and Les Mis both do that for me. The imagery is astounding (“The old man may weep for his tomorrow/Which is lost in Long Ago;/The old tree is leafless in the forest,/The old year is ending in the frost” (lines 15-18) and “The woman, a sad-dressed phantom walking backwards and forwards in the snow, made him no answer, did not even look at him, but still continued silently and with a gloomy regularity her walk, which every few minutes brought her under his sarcasm, like the condemned soldier running the gauntlet” (page 144)), the reality that Hugo and Barrett Browning paints in their readers’, in our, minds is harshly honest and the language grips you right by the throat. Hugo and Barrett Browning take your attention and don’t give it back until the story is spun and even then, there are scenes where you have to walk away (particularly the execution scene with Grantaire and Enjolras along with stanza 13 from the poem) and think for a moment.
“Long live the republic! I belong to it.” Grantaire had risen; and the immense gleam of all the combat which he had missed appeared in the flashing glance of the transfigured drunkard. He repeated, “Long live the Republic!” crossed the room with a firm step, and placed himself before the muskets by Enjolras’ side. “Kill us both at once,” he said. And turning gently to Enjolras, he asked him: “Do you permit it?” Enjolras pressed his hand with a smile, and this smile had not passed away ere the detonation took place. Enjolras, pierced by eight bullets, remained leaning against the wall as if nailed to it; he merely hung his head; Grantaire was lying stark dead at his feet. (page 761)