Only hours after the death of Mikhail Gorbachev yesterday, I came up to these lines in “Les Misérables“:
Although aware of the corrosive power of the light on privileges, he left his throne exposed to the light. History will recognize him for this honesty.(translation by Christine Donougher)
Victor Hugo is referring to Louis Philippe I, the second-to-last king of France. Hugo gives qualified but real praise to this king for transparency, for the “press freedom, parliamentary freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of speech” that existed under his reign, and for his opposition to the death penalty, an issue that meant very much to Hugo.
An unsuccessful revolt against Louis Philippe’s reign in 1832 apparently forms a major episode in sections of Hugo’s novel that I haven’t yet reached.
I know nothing more about this king so this brief post will not attempt any analysis or further comparison of historical figures. I will only say that once again I’m just a little floored at the uncanny richness of great literature.