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<tabber> About Me=I am L'homme qui rit, a user of Looney Tunes Wiki. I can mostly be found editing "real people" articles or MediaWiki/project pages, chatting, adding emotes, leaving notices on walls, uploading images, fixing info/categories, fixing up or creating templates, and/or shortening way-too-harsh anvil drops. |-| Where I Edit=I consider this to be my home wiki, but I also edit Cool Songs Wiki. |-| Contact=If you need me, feel free to leave a message on my wall. Or, I can be found in the chat room or on Disney or Spongefan Chat. |-| My Username Derivative=The Man Who Laughs (also published under the title By Order of the King) is a novel by Victor Hugo, originally published in April 1869 under the French title L'Homme qui rit. Although among Hugo's most obscure works, it was adapted into a popular 1928 film, directed by Paul Leni and starring Conrad Veidt, Mary Philbin and Olga Baclanova.

Background[edit]

Hugo wrote The Man Who Laughs, or the Laughing Man, over a period of fifteen months while he was living in the Channel Islands, having been exiled from his native France because of the controversial political content of his previous novels. Hugo's working title for this book was On the King's Command, but a friend suggested The Man Who Laughs.

Plot[edit]

The first major character whom the reader is introduced to is a mountebank who dresses in bearskins and calls himself Ursus (Latin for "bear"). His only companion is a large domesticated wolf, whom Ursus has named Homo (Latin for “man”, in a pun over the Hobbesian saying "homo homini lupus", meaning "man is a wolf to [his fellow] man."). Ursus lives in a caravan, which he conveys to holiday fairs and markets throughout southern England, where he sells folk remedies.

The action moves to an English sea coast, on the night of January 29, 1690. A group of wanderers, their identities left unrevealed to the reader, are urgently loading a ship for departure. A boy, ten years old, is among their company, but they leave him behind and cast off.

The desperate boy, barefoot and starving, wanders through a snowstorm and reaches a gibbet, where he finds the corpse of a hanged criminal. The dead man is wearing shoes: utterly worthless to him now, yet precious to this boy. In the meantime, the wanderers' ship sinks after a long struggle with the sea in the English Channel. After walking some more, the boy finds a ragged woman, frozen to death. He is about to move onward when he hears a sound within the woman's garments: He discovers an infant girl, barely alive, clutching the woman's breast. Hugo's narrative describes a single drop of frozen milk, resembling a pearl, suspended from the dead woman's nipple.

Although the boy's survival seems unlikely, he now takes possession of the infant in an attempt to keep her alive. The girl's eyes are sightless and clouded, and he understands that she is blind. In the snowstorm, he encounters an isolated caravan, the domicile of Ursus.

The action shifts forward 15 years, to England during the reign of Queen Anne. Duchess Josiana, a spoiled and jaded peeress (and illegitimate daughter of King James II), is bored by the dull routine of court. Her fiance, David Dirry-Moir, the illegitimate son of a proscribed baron and to whom she has been engaged since infancy, tells the duchess that the only cure for her boredom is "Gwynplaine", although he does not divulge who or what this Gwynplaine might be.

Ursus is now 15 years older. The wolf Homo is still alive too, although the narration admits that his fur is greyer. Gwynplaine is the abandoned boy, now 25 years old and matured to well-figured manhood. In a flashback, during the first encounter between Ursus and Gwynplaine, the boy is clutching the nearly-dead infant, and Ursus is outraged that the boy appears to be laughing. When the boy insists that he is not laughing, Ursus takes another look, and is horrified. The boy's face has been mutilated into a clown's mask, his mouth carved into a perpetual grin. The boy tells Ursus that his name is Gwynplaine; this is the only name he has ever known.

The foundling girl, now sixteen years old, has been christened Dea (Latin for "goddess"). Dea is blind but beautiful and utterly virtuous. She is also in love with Gwynplaine, as she is able to witness his kindly nature without seeing his hideous face. When Dea attempts to "see" Gwynplaine by passing her sightless fingers across his face, she assumes that he must always be happy because he is perpetually smiling. They fall in love.

Ursus and his two surrogate children earn a bare living in the fairs and carnivals of southern England. Everywhere they travel, Gwynplaine keeps the lower half of his face concealed. He is now the principal wage-earner of their retinue; in each town they visit, Gwynplaine gives a stage performance; the chief feature of this performance is that the crowds are invariably provoked to laughter when Gwynplaine reveals his grotesque face.

At one point, Ursus and Gwynplaine are readying for a performance when Ursus directs Gwynplaine's attention to a man who strides purposefully past their fairgrounds, dressed in ceremonial garments and bearing an elaborate wooden staff. Ursus explains that this man is the Wapentake, a servant of the Crown. ("Wapentake" is an Old English word meaning "weapon-touch".) Whomever the Wapentake touches with his staff has been summoned by the monarch and must go to wherever the Wapentake leads, upon pain of death.

Josiana attends one of Gwynplaine's performances, and is sensually aroused by the combination of his virile grace and his facial deformity. Gwynplaine, too, is aroused by Josiana's physical beauty and haughty demeanor. Suddenly, the Wapentake arrives at the caravan and touches Gwynplaine with his staff, compelling the disfigured man to follow him to the court of Queen Anne. Gwynplaine is ushered to a dungeon in London, where a physician named Hardquannone is being tortured to death. Hardquannone recognizes the deformed Gwynplaine, and identifies him as the boy whose abduction and disfigurement Hardquannone arranged twenty-three years earlier.

In the year 1682, in the reign of James II, one of the king's enemies was Lord Linnaeus Clancharlie, Marquis of Corleone and a baron in the House of Lords, who had remained faithful to the English republic and had emigrated to Switzerland. Upon the baron's death, the king arranged the abduction of his two-year-old son and legitimate heir: Fermain, heir to his estates. The King sold Fermain to a band of wanderers called "the Comprachicos". David Dirry-Moir is the illegitimate son of Lord Linnaeus, but now that Fermain is known to be alive, the heritage once promised by the King to David on the condition of his future marriage to Josiana will instead belong to Fermain.

The word "Comprachicos" is Hugo's invention, based on the Spanish for "child-buyers".[1] They make their living by mutilating and disfiguring children, who are then forced to beg for alms, or who are exhibited as carnival freaks. On the King's command, the two-year-old Fermain is sold to them and disfigured.

It becomes clear that, after renaming Fermain, Gwynplaine, the Comprachicos kept him in their possession until they abandoned him eight years later in 1690, on the night when he found Dea. Their ship was lost in the storm at sea, with all hands, but, in their repentance before death, they wrote out a signed confession and cast this adrift in a sealed flask, which now has belatedly come to the attention of Queen Anne.

Dea is saddened by Gwynplaine's protracted absence. Ursus and his band are falsely told that Gwynplaine is now dead. Dea has always been frail, but now she withers away even more. The authorities condemn them to exile for illegally using a wolf in their shows.

Gwynplaine accidentally meets Josiana, having been brought into her palace by her confidant, the intriguer Barkilphedro. At first she nearly seduces him, perversely excited by his deformity. However, she then receives a letter containing the Queen's order to marry him (as a replacement for David and the legitimate Lord Clancharie) and therefore violently rejects him as a lover, while accepting him as her (formal) husband.

Gwynplaine is now formally instated as Lord Fermain Clancharlie, Marquis of Corleone. In a grotesque scene, he is dressed in the elaborate robes and ceremonial wig of investiture, and commanded to take his seat in the House of Lords. But, when the deformed Gwynplaine addresses his peers with a fiery speech against the gross inequality of the age, the other lords are provoked to laughter by Gwynplaine's clownish features. After the end of the session, David defends him and challenges a dozen Lords to a duel, but then he also challenges Gwynplaine to a duel for having chastised David's mother for having become the mistress of Charles II after having been the lover of his own father, Lord Linnaeus.

Gwynplaine renounces his peerage and returns to the caravan of Ursus, and to the only family he has ever known. At first he cannot find them and nearly commits suicide out of grief. Then he manages to find them and board their ship bound for the continent in the last minute. Dea is delighted that Gwynplaine has returned to her. She reveals her passion to Gwynplaine, and then she abruptly dies. Gwynplaine then walks, as though in a trance to the edge of the ship, speaking to Dea, and with the reflection of a distant light in his eyes, though the sky is starless. He throws himself into the water, and is thus reunited with Dea in death. When Ursus, who has fainted in Dea's last moments, comes to his senses, Gwynplaine has vanished, and Homo is staring mournfully over the ship's rail, howling into the sea from which Gwynplaine will not return.

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