okay so this hasn’t been prompted by anything in particular lately but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while and I think I’m currently coherent enough to write about it a little? Let’s see!
I’ve seen some criticism about depictions of Joly in canon-era where he actually needs his cane to walk. The usual protests are that Joly’s hypochondria means he can’t actually need his cane to walk. or that he only has a cane because it was stylish (it was!) and therefor it must ALSO have been ONLY stylish, and this…friends, it is wrong. It is wrong in many ways. I shall elaborate. Rather a lot, I’m afraid.
I’m trying very hard to avoid a lecture on social models and concepts of disability here, because this is already long enough, so this is highly HIGHLY simplified. Also, I’m not even TOUCHING here on how Wrong About Hypochondria that idea is; maybe in a second post. But allowing for all that :
Having Joly depend at least somewhat on his cane is actually way more historically likely than having it just be a pretty prop.
I started writing tag responses and then realized this is just a paragraph this goes in the text box:
Joly is fascinating as all the barricade boys are because they’re each very explicitly assigned a little portfolio of characteristics and attributes, and it’s a limited portfolio (because they get very little individual page time) that’s calculated to allow you to extrapolate distinctive personalities for them based on those little tags.
But the reason that works is because you’re supposed to pick up those tags and read out from them a whole network of common associations, because they’re drawing on historical/literary references, on contemporary stereotypes, on tacit social assumptions that are very much of their time. We don’t have the same web of assumptions and associations available to us as someone reading the brick at the time it was published would, we have a very different repertoire of associations with any given concept, especially when it’s something as ephemeral as fashion.
Like…beards. If you’re giving me a description of a young male character in something set in 2015, and you say he has a substantial beard, then (depending on what the surrounding tags support) that’s likely to say to me either hipster, LARPer or metalhead, for example. Saying Petrus Borel had a beard, though, says something completely different, because he had a beard in a time when beards were very Not The Done Thing, so it has totally different social meanings attached.
And canes and hypochondria are SO LOADED with meanings, and they really aren’t the same meanings in 2015 that they were in 1832 OR 1862, and the thing about fanfic and headcanons is that they dance around on this line where they have to make sense both in terms of what would have made sense for Joly if he were an actual person in the late 1820s/early 1830s AND what chimes with the fan in 2015 and it’s fascinating on all levels! They’re things that are really, really loaded and they carry so much significance for modern readers but which is a very modern *set* of significances and THE SEMIOTICS ARE GLORIOUS AND COMPLEX AND AHHHHH
I don’t want to get too into analysing this because PILF IS DOING THAT GREAT ALREADY and I’m basically restating Pilf while being less qualified to actually talk about disability stuff but YES. *flails*
YES TO ALL THIS. It’s one reason why I’m always afraid of History Context Stuff seeming prohibitive instead of just informative; these details are supposed to serve as certain indicators in canon , and knowing what those indicators are can be interesting, but (esp. for AU purposes!) just directly transposing those indicators to a modern audience doesn’t always work. Like, Bahorel’s eternal law-studentness makes zero sense in a modern context, and especially in the US neither does Bossuet’s; the social situation and the nature and cost of college have all changed so much that what that studenthood is meant to signify isn’t there anymore.
And yeah– one of the reasons I always trip over 3.4.1 on rereads is because seriously every line of the descriptions is so incredibly loaded with that kind of signal. Combeferre reading Fourier and Saint Simon says a LOT. So does Courfeyrac’s disowned de, and so on. And this isn’t super secret code! Hugo would expect a lot of his audience to get it! It’s trying to be clear! But : Culture Marches On, and now it’s History Nerd Detective time. 😛