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Literature / Ninety-Three

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Ninety-Three (Quatrevingt-treize) is the last novel by Victor Hugo, published in 1874. The setting is the year 1793 of The French Revolution, which means the Reign of Terror, and especially the War in the Vendée, a peasant uprising leading a royalist and pro-Church counterrevolution violently repressed by the Republic.

The story focuses on the Marquis de Lantenac, a nobleman from Brittany who fled to England and secretly comes to Vendée to take the lead of the uprising and prepare a British landing. On the side of the Revolution are Gauvain, a nobleman leading one of the armies sent by the Republic to quench the uprising, and Cimourdain, a former priest whose role is to keep a civilian (and non-noble) eye on Gauvain.

Interesting note: Ayn Rand wrote an introduction to one of the editions to this novel. This intro was later included in her Romantic Manifesto.


This novel has examples of the following tropes:

  • 0% Approval Rating: Played for laugh. At one point in the book, Marat approaches two of his friends, one who is former aristocrat and the other a former priest, and asks their help to make sure a new law will be instaured. They both complain that nobody will listen to them, since they respectively are a noble and a priest. Marat's answer?
    "And nobody will listen to me, I am Marat."
  • Anti-Villain: Lantenac is a ruthless man who doesn't hesitate to punish people's incompetence with death and have women executed. However, his ruthlessness is motivated by a devotion to the royalist cause rather than cruelty, and he draws the lines at harming children, even willingly letting himself arrested to save them.
  • Author Tract: this is a Victor Hugo novel, after all, but he can pull it off.
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  • Boisterous Bruiser: The "Redcaps" (who presents themselves at the very beginning). Most prominently their leader Radoub, a seargent who turns out to be a One-Man Army and wisecracker of proportions.
  • Chekhov's Gun: the ladder, the secret escape route.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: the royalists are “les blancs” (“the whites”) and the republicans are “les bleus” (“the blues”).
  • Comically Missing the Point: Michelle Fléchard at the beginning of the novel, when she is surrounded by a company of revolutionaries, interrogating her on whether she is of the white or the blue: "Now I understand; You are French, I am Breton!"
  • Determinator: Michelle Fléchard, whose children have been taken hostage by Lantenac.
  • Driven to Suicide: Cimourdain shoots himself in the heart at the exact moment his surrogate son is executed. On his own order.
  • Good Republic, Evil Empire: Discussed at the end of the novel, in the conversation between Cimourdain and Gauvain. Gauvain, being The Idealist, chooses to take his execution with honor in the name of the good republic he holds dear, while Cimourdain defends the People's Republic of Tyranny. The discussion is also a juxtaposition between Rousseau Was Right and Hobbes Was Right.
  • Graceful Loser: Lantenac surrenders without a fight when Cimourdin arrests him, even approving his action.
— Je t'arrête, dit Cimourdain. (“I arrest you,” said Cimourdain.)
— Je t'approuve, dit Lantenac. (“I approve you,” said Lantenac.)
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: The book despicts both royalists and republicans with sympathetic and ruthless characters, without really making one side look eviler than the other. It's flat-out stated Cimourdain and Lantenac are pretty much just as ruthless as each others, and Lantenac's final speech does raise many good points about the Revolution.
  • Heel Realization: Lantenac deciding to save the children. Gauvain, deciding to save Lantenac (because he saved said children).
  • Historical Domain Character: Danton, Robespierre and Marat.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Averted, which was quite a rarity for the time of its publication; neither of the two sides get romanticized, and both Republican and Vendeeans get their share of atrocities and sympathetic sides.
  • I Die Free: Played straight by Gauvain, shouting "Vive La Republique" (long live the Republic) before he is executed.
  • Infant Immortality: played straight.
  • Last Stand: Lantenac and eighteen men in a stronghold against Gauvain and four and a half thousand soldiers.
    • Also the Claymore facing the French navy while Lantenac escapes in a rowboat.
  • Magnetic Hero: Gauvain is so beloved by his own soldiers they practically beg Cimourdain to not execute him at the end.
    • Unless you consider him a villain, Lantenac counts as well; the number of his men willing to sacrifice themselves for him is spectacular.
  • The Mentor: Cimourdain is this to Gauvain.
  • Morality Pet: Gauvain to Cimourdain, to the point nobody expected the latter to have the former executed for helping Lantenac escape. In the end, Cimourdain shoots himself when Gauvain dies.
  • More Expendable Than You: how Lantenac's people consider themselves.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Tellmarch, upon realizing the man he saved the day before (on the condition that he did not come to do evil) just ordered a whole town torched and women shot down.
— Si j'avais su ! (“If only I knew!”)
  • Off with His Head!: a lot of talk of guillotining people, which is Truth in Television, but it only actually happens once, in the very last page.
  • Oh, Crap!: Cimourdain when he finds Gauvain in the cell instead of Lantenac.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: most soldiers have no shoes.
  • Shadow Archetype: Lantenac and Cimourdain are both this to each others; it's outright stated the only real difference between them is that they defend opposite causes.
  • Shot at Dawn: both sides have mostly stopped taking prisoners. And a guillotine is too bulky.
  • Taking the Bullet: Cimourdain does this for Gauvain when they first are reunited. He survives the shot, however.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Radoub has plenty of time for insulting Chante-en-hiver during the time Chante-en-hiver needs to aim a pistol at him from a few meters away.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: a lot of them, often in Wall of Text, and all about someone's flaws.
  • Token Enemy Minority: While the revolutionary heroes are French, most of the peasant army they fight consists of Bretons. This was Truth in Television, but the author seems to have some problems with his leanings towards flat-out racism when he touches the subject. He tries to even the score though.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Lantenac for the royalty, Church and traditions, Cimourdain for the Republic and freedom of the people.
  • You Have Failed Me: A surprisingly more complex case than the usual villainous application of this trope. Lantenac has one of the sailors on his ship executed for committing a mistake when taking care of a cannon, but he actually gives a pretty good reason for his decision. The sailor's mistake caused an accident leading to the death of several of his comrads, which then left the ship defenseless against the enemy, forcing what remained of them to sacrifice themselves so Lantenac could reach France. Even the sailor's brother, after being pointed that out by Lantenac, admits he was in the right to punish him.


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