The Oresteia and Waterloo

Citation with persistent identifier:

Witucki, Barbara. “The Oresteia and Waterloo.” CHS Research Bulletin 1, no. 2 (2013).

Two virtually contemporaneous mid-nineteenth century novels, William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1847) and Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862) have numerous similarities.[1]  One of the most striking of these is an extended description of the Battle of Waterloo.  Both authors use the Battle of Waterloo to invoke the memory of another much older battle, the Trojan War, through an analogy between Napoleon and Achilles.[2]  Thackeray’s Amelia Sedley Osborne brags about her son Georgy’s cleverness and uses one of his compositions, On Selfishness, as proof of it.  Georgy gives the following example of the evils of selfishness.

An undue love of Self leads to the most monstrous crimes; and occasions the greatest misfortunes both in States and Families. … The selfishness of Achilles, as remarked by the poet Homer, occasioned a thousand woes to the Greeks – μυρί Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’ ἔθηκε  — (Hom. Il.A.2).  The selfishness of the late Napoleon Bonaparte occasioned innumerable wars in Europe, and caused him to perish, himself, in a miserable island – that of Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean. We see by these examples that we are not to consult our own interests and ambition, but that we are to consider the interests of others as well as our own. (585-86)

Thus, Thackeray gives a reading of the character of Achilles and applies this reading to Napoleon.  Hugo, on the other hand, includes an anecdote about Napoleon that raises the image of Achilles.  A wigmaker shaving a legionnaire from the Empire asks him,

“The emperor was only ever wounded once, Monsieur, isn’t that so?”

The old soldier replied in the calm and sovereign tone of one who was there: “In the heel. At Ratisbon.” (884)

[–L’empereur n’a été blessé qu’une fois, n’est-ce pas, monsieur ?

Le vieux soldat répondit avec l’accent calme et souverain de l’homme qui y a été :

— Au talon.  A Ratisbonne.]  (IV.xi.3)

Both authors highlight a single weakness in Napoleon, a weakness shared with Achilles.  Hugo expands the allusion by saying of the army in the midst of the battle, “Some shift in the plain, a movement of the terrain, a handy cross-path, a wood ravine can snag the heel of this colossus we call an army” (263-4) [un ravalement de la plaine ; un mouvement de terrain ; un sentier transversal à propos, un bois, un ravin, peuvent arrêter le talon de ce colosse qu’on appelle une armée] (II.i.4).  The army, a colossus, was wounded in the heel; Napoleon, also a colossus, was wounded in the heel, and a wound to his heel killed Achilles.  Hugo conflates the general with the battle he fights, and superimposes one leader on another.

In Les Misérables, Marius discovers his father, who had been a soldier under Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, just after his death.  He sets out to become acquainted with the man he never met in person.  As he reads the bulletins of the Grande Armée seeking to understand his father’s life, Marius considers them “Homeric stanzas” (522) and says that Napoleon wrote “Iliads” (555).  To Marius,

[Napoleon] had everything.  He was complete.  He had every human faculty in his brain – to the nth degree … you could hear the swoosh of a superhuman broadsword sliding out of its sheath, you could see him, the man himself, standing tall on the horizon with a blade in his hand and a resplendent light in his eyes… . (555-556)

[Il avait tout.   Il était complet.  Il avait dans son cerveau le cube des facultés humaines. … on entendait le bruit d’un glaive surhumain qui sortait du fourreau, on le voyait, lui, se dresser debout sur l’horizon avec un flamboiement dans la main et un resplendissement dans les yeux…] (III.iv.5).

In the Iliad, the Homeric warrior who has everything, the “best of the Achaeans,” is Achilles.  Achilles had a superhuman sword; it was forged by Hephaestus.  Napoleon is the new Achilles.

The Trojan War was important not only in and of itself, but also for the impetus it gave to literary, artistic, and other cultural endeavors from the Iliad on.  Waterloo functions in much the same way.[3]  In a sense, Thackeray and Hugo follow in the footsteps of Euripides, Sophocles, and Aeschylus.  They spin their stories around a major battle, Waterloo.  Extant Greek tragedy, much of which is rooted in the Trojan War and its aftermath, does not present the actual battles on stage. Instead, named characters, and especially heralds and messengers report the action.[4]  Thackeray and Hugo treat the Battle of Waterloo similarly.  They both distance the actual fighting from the unfolding drama of their novels.[5]  As the soldiers march out to confront Napoleon, Thackeray focuses on those left behind in Brussels, the wives and families, and how they receive news of the battle, and how this news affects them (Chs. 30-32).  Hugo describes the battle looking back at 1815, the narrative time of the developing story, from 1861.  He gives a graphic account of the maneuvers of the battle and the strategy employed, but none of the generals he cites as the coordinators of the action belong in the story line of the novel (II.i.1-19).  Thus, both Thackeray and Hugo treat Waterloo in much the same way as the Greek tragedians treated battles.  It is a reported event.  Like Greek tragedy, they focus on how the battle affects their characters rather than the battle itself.

Aeschylus’s Oresteia describes the effects of the Trojan War on the families left behind in Argos and the effects of the return of the surviving warriors.  A cascading sequence of acts of vengeance results from the war and the homecomings: Clytemnestra’s vengeance on Agamemnon, Orestes’s vengeance on Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, and the Furies’ vengeance on Orestes on behalf of Clytemnestra’s ghost. Ultimately, the Furies agree to accept a different role and become the kindly ones.  Thackeray and Hugo also weave the theme of vengeance and transformation throughout their novels.  As she drives away from Miss Pinkerton’s Academy with Amelia Sedley, Thackeray’s Becky [Rebecca] Sharp replies to Amelia’s remonstrance to her for her “wicked, revengeful thoughts” with the words, “Revenge may be wicked but it’s natural” (10).   At this point, Thackeray describes her character:  “Miss Rebecca was not then in the least kind or placable: all the world used her ill said this young misanthropist … This is certain that if the world neglected Miss Sharp she was never known to have done a good action on behalf of anybody” (10-11).   Becky struggled against “the rigid formality” of the school and determined “to get free from the prison in which she found herself” (14).  She considered Miss Pinkerton’s establishment a “black hole” (10).

In much the same way, Hugo presents Jean Valjean at the outset of the novel as a man whose soul has been transformed by the treatment he received.  He has spent nineteen years in prison.  As he weighed his crime, stealing bread for his starving nephews, with the punishment meted out to him, he saw a great injustice.  By the time he was freed, Hugo describes Jean Valjean as follows:  “What moved him was habitual indignation, the bitterness in his soul, a profound sense of the iniquities he had been subject to… hatred of society, then hatred of the human race …” (80) [Il avait pour mobiles l’indignation habituelle, l’amertume de l’âme, le profond sentiment des iniquités subies…la haine de la société, puis la haine du genre humain …[I.ii.7].  Though functioning at different levels, Becky Sharp and Jean Valjean are both motivated by the same impulse. Once having obtained freedom, each of them strives to maintain it.  Each is motivated by revenge against society, which they feel has mistreated them.  Nonetheless, in the course of the two novels, both Becky Sharp and Jean Valjean transform into benevolent members of society.

Though there is no evidence that Thackeray and Hugo ever met, or that Hugo had read the earlier Vanity Fair, the similarities of plot, theme, and technique noted above link the two novels.  This paper suggests that both authors were influenced by the same source, the Oresteia of Aeschylus, which had only recently joined the Greek tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides in popular culture.  Though the Prometheus Bound of Aeschylus was commonly known, “… the practice of reading the three plays of the Oresteia [Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, and Eumenides] as a complete and unified whole … had only begun at the turn of the nineteenth century.… Its genesis can be traced back to the German Romantics …. It was only half a century later, in 1856, that the entire Oresteia had its first modern staging, in an adaptation by the French novelist and dramatist Alexandre Dumas the Elder.”[6]  Thackeray and Hugo, then, are among the first generation of authors to fall under the influence of the unified Oresteia.  Many of the similarities between Vanity Fair and Les Misérables seem to have a common source in the Oresteia. This paper will focus on the theme of vengeance and its transformation from the Oresteia to Vanity Fair and Les Misérables.

The Authors and the Classics

A brief overview of events in the lives of the authors, William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) and Victor-Marie Hugo (1802-1885), reveals a remarkable co-incidence in experience and influence.[7]  Both observed Napoleon first hand as children, and both were in Paris when Napoleon’s remains were brought back from St. Helena.  Thackeray, who was born in Calcutta to British parents, was sent to England to be educated in December 1816.  En route, the ship stopped at St. Helena in March 1817 where the young Thackeray saw Napoleon walking in his garden and his servant told him ghoulish stories about Napoleon’s eating of young children.  In December 1840, Thackeray traveled to Paris to witness the events staged in conjunction with the return of Napoleon’s remains and their interment in the Invalides, an experience recounted by him in The Second Funeral of Napoleon (1841).  Hugo’s father and two uncles were soldiers in the Revolution and under Bonaparte.  Hugo refers to seeing Napoleon on military parade as a child in some of his poems.  He was living in Paris in 1840 when Napoleon’s remains were returned to Paris.  In response to this event, he published a collection of his poems dealing with Napoleon, Le Retour de l’Empereur.  Napoleon’s defeat affected Hugo personally since Napoleon’s permanent exile spelled the end of his father’s military career.             

Thackeray and Hugo both undertook a gentleman’s education, though Hugo’s is more erratic than Thackeray’s.  In 1822, Thackeray entered Charterhouse School in London  where he remained for six years.  Henry George Liddell, a contemporary of Thackeray at Charterhouse, summarizes the curriculum:

I left Charterhouse a fair grammar scholar, but with very little classical reading. … Four or five Greek plays, with Porson’s notes, two or three books of the Iliad, a little Pindar, Cicero’s Offices and some of his Orations, with some few additions, constituted the bulk of what we read in school.  But we learnt by heart all the Odes and Epodes of Horace [they had to know them well enough to translate and answer any questions, ‘grammatical, geographical, or historical,’ without reference to the text] and the Georgics of Virgil, for which I am, and have been, always grateful. We also read most of the Satires and Epistles.  But Greek prose was almost untrodden ground. [8]

Liddell recounts that he sat next to W. Makepeace Thackeray, “who never attempted to learn the lessons, never extended himself to grapple with Horace.”  He adds that “we [Liddell and Thackeray] spent our time mostly in drawing.” [9]  From Charterhouse, Thackeray went on to Trinity College, Cambridge.  He describes his studies at Cambridge in letters to his mother: “This day I was introduced to my private tutor … and am to go to him every evening from six to seven with Classics and Mathematics alternately. … I have some thoughts of writing ‘On the Influence of the Homeric Poems on the Religion the Politics, the Literature & Society of Greece’” (2 March 1829), and “He [Badger] and I are going to read Gk. Play together –from 11 to 12 every day; … I go to Fawcett every other morning from 8 to nine. To Fisher (the Matham lecturer) from nine to ten, & to Hare the classical one from ten to eleven.  Then with Badger from eleven to twelve.  Twelve to half past one Euclid or Algebra and an hour in the evening at someone or other of the above or perhaps at some of the collateral reading connected with Thucydides or Æschylus … .” (20 March 1829).[10]  Thackeray also became an inveterate traveler, taking the first of what would be lifelong trips to Paris in 1829.  In 1830-31 he settled at Weimar to learn German and drawing, and then in 1834 settled in Paris to study drawing.  Throughout all of these educational forays, Thackeray read widely in contemporary literature, though he was also influenced by an acquaintance to vow to read some Homer every day (10 June 1832).  Despite his repeated trips to Paris, there is no record of Thackeray meeting Hugo, an author he admired as poet, novelist, and dramatist, and whom he considered a genius.

Hugo’s early education “consisted of a six-hour day in a dingy little school … more a repository for neighbourhood children, with private tuition for the intelligent.  It was run by a former abbé called Antoine-Claude de La Rivière. … Regulation of primary schools was not introduced until the Restoration in 1815.  Before then, the official recommendation was to teach reading, writing, the rudiments of grammar, arithmetic and draughtsmanship, and the new decimal system.”  Mme Hugo allowed her sons, including Victor, to focus on Latin instead, and, “by the age of nine, Victor could recite swathes of Horace and translate Tacitus.”[11]  In 1811, Mme Hugo took her children and set out to join her husband, then General Hugo, serving under King Joseph Bonaparte in Madrid.  There, Hugo attended the Collège des Nobles where he reputedly amazed the monks with his ability to translate Latin and moved on from Horace to Virgil and Lucretius.  In 1812, Mme Hugo and two of her sons, Eugene and Victor, returned to Paris and the previous system of education.  In September 1815, General Hugo followed them to Paris and enrolled Victor and Eugene at a boarding school, Pension Cordier, which had the following schedule of classes: 8:00 Mathematics and Algebra; 12:30 Lunch followed by drawing; 2:00-5:00 Philosophy; 6:00-10:00 Mathematics and homework.  Despite the unsympathetic nature of this curriculum for Hugo, it was here that he spent as much time as he could analyzing and perfecting French versification by himself, and ultimately writing prize-winning verses.  When Mme and General Hugo legally separated in 1818, Victor and his brother were allowed to leave the Pension Cordier on the agreement that they would study law.  Neither actually attended law school, but instead they spent their time writing poetry. Throughout this time, Victor Hugo did not abandon his classical studies, but continued a practice he had begun at school.  He would memorize thirty lines of Latin before going to sleep, and translate them into rhyming couplets when he woke up.  He felt that “for every eventuality [he] had a Greek proverb, a classical allusion or a line from Virgil.”[12]

This overview of the youthful intellectual life of Thackeray and Hugo illustrates the similarity of their submersion in the classics. This is somewhat surprising given the different emphasis General Hugo tried to impose on his son’s education.  Though Latin literature informs their curriculum to a greater degree, both have an awareness of Greek literature, particularly of Homer.  In their writings, both show an acquaintance with Greek tragedy and a reverence for Aeschylus. Thackeray, as noted above, read Aeschylus at Trinity College, and probably at Charterhouse also.  In the Paris Sketch Book (1840), Thackeray refers to Aeschylus both directly and indirectly in the section, “On the French School of Painting with Appropriate Anecdotes, Illustrations, and Philosophical Disquisitions.” He chastises the paintings in the École Royale des Beaux Arts for their oppressive classical subjects, such as “Orestes pursued by every variety of Furies,” and he questions,

Why is yonder simpering Venus de’ Medicis to be our standard of beauty, or the Greek tragedies to bound our notion of the sublime?  There is no reason why Agamemnon should set the fashion, and remain ἄναξ ἄνδρων to eternity: and there is a classical quotation, which you may have occasionally heard, beginning Vixere fortes, &, which, as it avers that there were a great number of stout fellows before Agamemnon, may not unreasonably induce us to conclude that similar heroes were to succeed him. … And if you will measure Satan by Prometheus, the blind old Puritan’s work by that of the fiery Greek poet, does not Milton’s angel surpass Æschylus’s – surpass him by ‘many a rood?’[13]

Thus, though Thackeray recognizes the excellence of Aeschylus, he also recognizes that succeeding generations have added their standard of genius and excellence.  In William Shakespeare (1864), Hugo lists “the immovable giants of the human mind” – Homer, Job, Æschylus, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Lucretius, Juvenal, Saint John, Saint Paul, Tacitus, Dante, Rabelais, Cervantes Shakespeare.  Of these, he says that Æschylus seems out of place and belongs rather before Homer as an older brother.  He notes, “Æschylus is up to his shoulders in the ashes of ages.  His head alone remains out of that burying; and, like a giant of the desert, with his head alone he is as immense as all the neighbouring gods standing on their pedestals” (Book II.iii).  To Thackeray, then, modern geniuses have superseded Aeschylus, but to Hugo he remains an eternal standard.

Vanity Fair[14]

Vanity Fair as a whole is shaped by allusions to the Oresteia.  In the Agamemnon, the first play of the trilogy, the chorus of Argive elders waits to hear Clytemnestra tell them what has happened. They recall the sacrifice of Iphigenia that preceded the war.  This sacrifice was to benefit the entire army.  Thackeray references the sacrifice of Iphigenia early in Vanity Fair through a description of the scene in Mr. George Osborne’s drawing room.  On the mantelpiece, he describes “a great French clock” surmounted by a sculpted version of the sacrifice of Iphigeneia (129).  Amelia Sedley, whom Mr. Osborne does not approve of as his potential daughter-in-law, is present in the drawing room when the clock is introduced.  Amelia functions as an Iphigeneia figure later in the novel.[15]  She sacrifices herself to save her financially ruined parents by giving up her son to his grandfather to be raised.[16]

Through Becky Sharp, Thackeray makes additional references to the Agamemnon, but also to the other two plays of the trilogy.  In the guise of having Amelia’s unmarried brother, Joseph (Jos) Sedley, help her as she knits a green silk purse, Becky entangles Jos’s hands with her silk thread.  Thackeray’s language is evocative of Aeschylus:  Mr. Joseph Sedley … was actually seated tête-à-tête with a young lady … his arms stretched out before her in an imploring attitude, and his hands bound in a web of green silk (36).  The Agamemnon is full of images of nets and webs that trap and kill: the inescapable net (δίκτυον) that the chorus says Zeus threw over the towers of Troy (lines 357-8), the net that Clytemnestra says Agamemnon would have become if he had been injured as often as it had been reported he was (line 868); the carpets (πετάσματα) Clytemnestra wants him to walk on (909); or the net of Hades (ἦ δίκτυόν τί γ᾽ Ἅιδου) that Cassandra sees (line 1115).  In describing the murder, Clytemnestra says that she surrounded Agamemnon with a net as one does fish and then struck him twice (ἄπειρον ἀμφίβληστρον, ὥσπερ ι̉χθύων, / περιστοχίζω, … παίω δέ νιν δίς (lines 1382-84).[17]  Thackeray echoes this language when speaking of the cashmere shawls Major Dobbin sent Amelia, her mother, and her father from India.  Amelia’s is called “a fine and beautiful web” (462).  It is initially a deadly web because Amelia uses the sale of it to purchase luxuries for her child, a decision that, unknown to her, will lead to the destruction of her parents.  When Amelia realizes the consequences of her decisions, the sale of her “fine web” leads instead to the death of her own happiness because she then gives up her own child.[18]  The Aeschylean images also seem to prefigure the picture that Thackeray made for the capital “P” at the beginning of chapter 4, “The Green Silk Purse.”   Becky sits on the lower curve fishing.  As she sits with her line in the water, a fish approaches.[19]  Becky is seeking to entrap Jos by her line at this point, and once she finally entraps him at the end of the novel, it is implied that she destroys him.


Reference to Clytemnestra as the trapper and murderer of her husband in the Agamemnon is made twice in the novel; in both, Becky plays the role of Clytemnestra.  Becky first acts the part of Clytemnestra during a game of charades as Gaunt House.  The narrative gives a summary of the story of the downfall of Troy followed by the death of Agamemnon:

It is a Grecian tent. … A tall and stalwart man reposes on a couch there.  Above him hang his helmet and shield.  There is no need for them now, Ilium is down.  Iphigenia is slain.  Cassandra is a prisoner in his outer halls.  The king of men …, the anax andrôn is asleep in his chamber at Argos.  A lamp casts the broad shadow of the sleeping warrior flickering on the wall—the sword and shield of Troy glitter in its light. … Ægisthus steals in pale and on tiptoe. ….He cannot strike the noble slumbering chieftain.  Clytemnestra glides swiftly into the room like an apparition ….Scornfully she snatches the dagger out of  Ægisthus’s hand, and advances to the bed.  (510)

In the charade, Aegisthus is present with a dagger, but it is Clytemnestra who enters, takes the dagger, and plunges it in the sleeping Agamemnon.  It is, indeed, Becky’s husband, Colonel Rawdon Crawley, enacting the part of Agamemnon.


The second version of Becky as Clytemnestra is another full page engraving showing her hidden behind a curtain holding a dagger as she looks out at Jos and Dobbin talking.  Jos has been living in a variety of places on the continent, and Becky has moved from place to place with him.  Dobbin attempts to convince Jos to break off from Becky (687).  Though Jos seems pathetically eager to separate from her, he says, “She’d kill me if she knew it. You don’t know what a terrible woman she is” (687).  Jos is the means by which Becky originally sought to take vengeance on society.  Her vengeance rested in the attempt to marry successfully into a class above her level, and thus have to be treated as an equal by those who had scorned her in the past.  Though Becky seemed fairly well on the way to marrying Jos, he disappeared virtually overnight leaving Becky in the same circumstances she had been in after departing Miss Pinkerton’s.  After many adventures, Becky finds herself on her own at the end of the novel, down on her luck and beginning to age.  It is at this point that she accidentally meets and latches onto the defenseless Jos. She lives in the same places and is presumably supported by him.  Jos dies three months after Dobbin unsuccessfully tries to get him to leave Becky.  He leaves half of his remaining assets to Becky.  Though there is no proof of wrong-doing on the part of Becky, “The solicitor … swore it was the blackest case that ever had come before him” (687).[20]

The references and imagery originate not only in the Agamemnon, but also in the remaining two plays of the Oresteia.  In the first few pages of the novel, Becky is aligned with the idea of freedom and revenge.  She was a charity case at Miss Pinkerton’s who earned her own education through some teaching duties. At one point, Becky refused to add additional teaching responsibilities without additional pay.  In shock at the refusal, Miss Pinkerton exclaimed, “I have nourished a viper in my bosom” (14).  It is easy to hear the echo of Clytemnestra’s dream from the Libation Bearers in Miss Pinkerton’s cry (lines 527-531).  The image of the viper or snake re-appears in the Libation Bearers when Orestes displays the bodies of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra.[21]  He calls Clytemnestra a sea-serpent or a viper (μύραινά γ᾽εἴτ᾽ἔχιδν᾽ ἔφυ) (line 994) and goes on to characterize all of the possible types of entrapment the net used in trapping Agamemnon could be used for (lines 997-1004).  The connection Miss Pinkerton made between Becky and a viper follows Becky throughout the novel.  In chapter 14, Becky, who has been working as a governess outside of London, charms her way back into the city, and thus back into the social circle of Amelia, Jos, and their acquaintances, by acting as companion to a wealthy elderly woman.  A snake twines up the right leg and the cross piece of the capital “A” that begins the chapter.  What had been a metaphoric snake re-emerges as a real snake when Becky rejoins the narrative.

After her marriage with the impecunious Captain Crawley and their removal to Brussels when the army is called up to fight Napoleon, Becky almost succeeds in seducing Captain Osborne (Amelia’s husband).  After the battle, Becky and her husband return to London and are accepted into high society by means of Becky’s connections with a number of aristocratic men, connections not initially understood by her husband.  Finally, Becky’s husband realizes how she has been able to manage their household and her clothing so well on such little money. Though there is no divorce, this is the end of their marriage and Becky disappears.  She re-emerges in chapter 63.  Once more, Thackeray uses the visual medium of the capital letter beginning the chapter to re-introduce Becky.  The illustration shows Becky standing and holding a staff around which a snake has twined and a second snake flows off the top of the staff into the letter “S” (626).

Becky’s monetary fortunes have suffered severely, yet she is free and thus happy, enthralling, manipulative, and all of the other characteristics she has shown in the past.  She manages to slither her way back into Amelia’s good favor and consequently her worldly position rises.  This friendship, too, finally ends when Amelia realizes Becky’s true nature.

The last image of a snake employed in the novel is what looks like a young Amelia holding and petting a tame snake with her hands.   Thackeray uses this image as the illustration for the capital “F” that opens chapter 66.

Has Becky, who has been using Amelia throughout the novel, finally been tamed?  If not yet totally, this seems to be a first step.  Becky realizes that Amelia is the only person who has treated her with unstinting kindness and welcomed Becky into her home whenever they met.  As a consequence, Becky tells Amelia that George Osborne, Amelia’s husband, had wearied of her before he died, and that it was only pressure from Major Dobbin that kept him with Amelia.  Becky has proof that Osborne had made love to her in the note Amelia had seen Osborne put in Becky’s bouquet at the last ball before Waterloo.  Becky is not doing this to hurt Amelia, but to prod her into reconciling with and marrying Major Dobbin, who, according to Becky, is “one of the best gentlemen” she ever saw (680).

While Becky does fit the image of the revenge-seeking Orestes of the Libation Bearers through the greater part of Vanity Fair, she does not fit the image of Orestes tormented by the Furies of the Eumenides.  It is instead Becky herself who is the Fury.  She is the primal seeker of vengeance tormenting others such as her husband and Jos Sedley.  Has Becky been tamed at the end of the novel, and has she thus filled out the premise of the transformation of the Furies into the “kindly ones” at the end of the Eumenides?  The last chapter of the novel includes the full page engraving of “Becky’s second appearance in the character of Clytemnestra” discussed earlier (686).  The engraving and the text both lead to a sense of Becky’s complicity in Jos’s death.  The final full page engraving of the novel, however, is labeled “Virtue rewarded.  A booth in Vanity Fair” (688).  In it, Becky, dressed modesty and looking modesty down, minds her booth.

becky end

The narrator tells the reader: “She busies herself in works of piety.  She goes to church, and never without a footman.  Her name is on all the Charity Lists.  The Destitute Orange-girl, the Neglected Washerwoman, the Distressed Muffin-man, find in her a fast and generous friend” (689).  With her inheritance from Jos, Becky has become a “kindly one,” one who bestows blessings.  Not only has Becky the vicious become Becky the virtuous, but a Greek trilogy has become a Victorian novel.

Les Misérables

In Les Misérables, Hugo does not have the visual connections to the Oresteia that Thackeray’s illustrations lend to Vanity Fair.  Beneath surface references to Aeschylus,[22] however, his novel presents the theme of vengeance transformed in much the same way as the trilogy.[23]  There are many levels of vengeance: the vengeance that Jean Valjean feels justified in undertaking against society for the harm he has suffered from it; the vengeance that Javert seeks to inflict on Jean Valjean on behalf of the law; and the vengeance the Friends of the ABC [Les Amis de l’ABC] undertake on behalf of their mother, the French Republic (557) [ma mère, c’est la république] ( III.iv.5).  Hugo links the insurgents to the story of the house of Atreus, and thus to Aeschylus, by repeatedly referring to Enjolras and Grantaire as Orestes and Pylades.  Though he lists a series of famous literary male counterparts, Pollux, Patroclus, Nisus, Eudamidas, Hephaestion, Pechméja (544), Hugo calls Grantaire  Pylades to Enjolras’s Orestes.  Since Grantaire wakes from a drunken slumber as soldiers storming the barricade prepare to shoot Enjolras and demands to be shot also, analogy to Nisus or Pollux seems more pertinent. Nonetheless, Hugo summons the memory of the vengeance of the house of Atreus with the names, Orestes and Pylades  (V.i.23).

Early in the novel Hugo conflates Jean Valjean with Napoleon, and Napoleon, as mentioned earlier, is conflated with Achilles and the battle at Troy.  Jean Valjean in the novel enters Digne by the same route the historic Napoleon had taken seven months earlier.  When Monsieur Madeleine reveals himself to be Jean Valjean in Arras in order to save Champmathieu, he proves his identity by mentioning the tattoo one of his fellow convicts had that shows the date of Napoleon’s landing at Cannes.  Valjean and Napoleon are the same age. Valjean was put in chains as a convict in 1796 on the same day that Napoleon’s victory at Montenotte was announced in Paris.[24]  Hugo’s description of Valjean’s mental torment incorporates the same descriptive terms as the Battle of Waterloo.  When Monsieur Madeleine (Valjean) is confronted by Javert apologizing for reporting him to be the convict Jean Valjean, who indeed he is, he learns that another man had been arrested as Jean Valjean.  That knowledge leaves Valjean with a conundrum: do nothing and let some-one who was undoubtedly a petty thief take the blame for being someone he is not, or admit that he himself is Jean Valjean to save the man innocent of the charge of being Jean Valjean, but who is nonetheless a criminal.  If he confesses his identity, Valjean knows he will be sent back to prison and he dreads the mental and physical suffering he knows awaits him there.  Furthermore, in prison he will no longer be able to carry out the good deeds and beneficial work he has been.  Hugo titles the chapter when Valjean first faces this anguishing decision, “Une tempête sous un crâne” [I.vii.3].  He describes conscience as “the battlefield of passions”(184)  [c’est le champ de bataille des passions] and says that Valjean was undergoing a serious battle [une lutte si sérieuse].  Hugo uses a stormy battlefield simile to describe Valjean, “He bent low like an oak about to be battered by a storm, like a soldier about to be assailed.  He felt darkness full of thunder and lightning directly overhead” (185) [il se courba comme un chêne à l’approche d’un orage, comme un soldat à l’approche d’un assault .  Il sentit venir sur sa tête des ombres pleines de foudres et d’éclairs] (I.vii.3). The language of battle and storm, bataille, lutte, and tempête, used here to describe mental anguish, is also found in the Battle of Waterloo.[25]  As Hugo says, “A certain amount of storminess is always mixed up in a battle” (266) [Une certaine quantité de tempête se mêle toujours à une bataille] (II.i.5) and, “[A historian] can only seize the main outlines of the struggle” (266) [Il ne peut que saisir les contours principaux de la lutte] (II.i.5).  Valjean’s internal storm of the soul is one he can never outrun.  Regardless of his decision, he will face suffering either from the knowledge that he caused harm to an innocent man by not turning himself in or in the physical and mental suffering of being in prison again himself.

Hugo follows this internal storm in Valjean’s conscience with the external manifestation of struggle in the storm of the Battle of Waterloo.  Jean Valjean’s mental struggle echoes that of Orestes in the Libation Bearers.  Orestes is faced with an oracle of Apollo: if he doesn’t avenge his father’s death, he will suffer many evils including the wrath of the hostile powers from the earth (lines 269-305).  Unfortunately for Orestes, in the Eumenides he discovers that by taking vengeance he has equally roused up the anger of the hostile powers that causes him suffering.  Not to act will cause suffering, but acting causes suffering. At the end of the Libation Bearers, Orestes sees “hideous women looking like Gorgons … wreathed with serpents [σμοιαὶ γυναι̃̃κες αἵδε Γοργόνων δίκην, / φαϊοχίτωνες καὶ πεπλεκτανημέναί / πυκνοι̃ς δράκουσιν˙] (lines 1048-49).  The chorus to whom Orestes is speaking see nothing and call his visions “δόξαι” (line 1051).  The Eumenides begins with these same “hideous women” visible to all.  The Pythia returns immediately after entering the temple of Apollo and describes the sight within: “No, I won’t call them women, but Gorgons” [οὔτοι γυναι̃κας, ἀλλὰ Γοργόνας λέγω] (line 48).  Aeschylus first makes Orestes’ suffering invisible; it is mental suffering.  Afterwards, he makes this suffering visible through the pursuing Furies.  As described previously, Hugo follows this same movement from the invisible storm and conflict  of the soul to the visible.  Like Orestes, Jean Valjean, regardless of his decision, will be pursued.  By first confessing but then escaping, Valjean has set his own external Fury on himself in the shape of Javert.

Once Hugo has identified Valjean with Napoleon through the twin storms of mental anguish and the physical anguish of battle, the defeat of Napoleon leaves Valjean as a substitute heroic character.  Although Valjean goes to Arras and admits that he is Jean Valjean and Champmathieu is not, he escapes after his arrest.  Jean Valjean, who in the guise of Monsieur Madeleine, the benefactor of his town, thought he had buried his earlier persona for good, re-establishes himself as a runaway convict and condemns himself to a life constantly watching for pursuit, i.e., a life without rest.  As he sees it, he escaped for a good purpose, to fulfill his promise to Fantine by rescuing and raising Cosette, but he knows he has acted against the absolute force of the law.  As Monsieur Madeleine, Valjean had been a force of prosperity and benevolence for an entire town; he now seeks to be the same for a single child.  Nonetheless, he is perpetually tormented by a known and indefatigable pursuer, Javert, who is likened to “a bull mastiff” (149) [un dogue] (I.v.7) and “the heaven-sent mastiff guarding society” (1086) [la providence-dogue de la société (V.iv.1).  Aeschylus, too, had likened the Furies to bloodhounds in the Eumenides.  Clytemnestra seeking to rouse the sleeping Furies speaks to them saying that they are dreaming of pursuit “Like a hound who can never desist from thinking of blood) [ἅπερ / κύων μέριμναν οὔποτ’ ἐκλείπων φόνου] (lines 131-32).  Just as Clytemnestra, in seeking vengeance, ensnared Agamemnon in a net, so Javert believes that he has caught Valjean in his “foolproof” net when he pursues him into a dead-end street [Les mailles de son filet étaient solidement attachées] (II.v.10), only to find him gone “when he reached the center of his web” (394) [Quand il arriva au centre de la toile] (II.v.10).  When Javert does finally catch Valjean as he emerges form the sewers carrying Marius whom he has rescued, Hugo writes, “They were caught, the two of them, in the gloomy immense web of death” (1064) [Ils étaient pris l’un et l’autre dans la sombre et immense toile de la mort] (V.iii.7).  This echoes the cloak thrown over Agamemnon as he is killed (Agamemnon lines 1382-84), and the presence of this same cloak in the Libation Bearers at the deaths of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus (lines 1010-14),[26] as well as Cassandra’s net of Hades (Agamemnon line1115).

Javert stands for the law, but Hugo describes him also as a force seeking vengeance: “He had behind him and around him, at infinite depth, authority, reason, precedent, the conscience of the law, the vengeance of the law, all the stars in the firmament; he protected order, he called forth the thunder of the law, he avenged society, he came to the aid of the absolute; he stood erect in a blaze of glory; there was in his victory a trace of defiance and of combat …. He displayed …the superhuman bestiality of a bloodthirsty archangel” (243) [Il avait derrière lui et autour de lui, à une profondeur infinie, l’autorité, la raison, la chose jugée, la conscience légale, la vindicte publique, toutes les étoiles ; il protégeait l’ordre, il faisait sortir de la loi la foudre, il vengeait la société, il prêtait main-forte à l’absolu ; il se dressait dans une gloire ; il y avait dans sa victoire un reste de défi et de combat ; … il étalait en plein azur la bestialité surhumaine d’un archange féroce] (I.viii.3].  The language here is that of nature and absolutes just as the Furies stood as an absolute force until persuaded to yield to a new order.

Hugo uses the language of vengeance, and of combat and thunder to describe Javert’s undertaking of his duties.  In this way, he incorporates the language previously used to describe Valjean and his mental turmoil.  As with Valjean, Hugo draws a link between Javert and Napoleon when Javert is faced with his own conundrum.  After Valjean rescued Javert from the rioters at the barricade, he set Javert free instead of killing him.  When Javert meets Valjean again, he is faced with the mental of anguish of deciding whether to arrest the ex-convict to whom he now owes his life and who, as he now admits to himself, is a good man, or to let him go free: “An honest servant of the law could suddenly find himself caught between two crimes, the crime of letting a man get away and the crime of arresting him!” (1085) [Quoi ! un honnête serviteur de la loi pouvait se voir tout à coup pris entre deux crimes, le crime de laisser échapper un homme, et le crime de l’arrêter !] (V.iv.1).  Javert’s dilemma mirrors that of Valjean, and both echo the dilemma faced by Orestes.  Neither decision will exempt the sufferer from suffering.  Hugo describes Javert’s physical stance at that junction: “Until that day, Javert had only ever adopted one of Napoleon’s two poses, the one that expresses resolution, arms folded over the chest; the one that expresses uncertainty, hands behind the back, was unknown to him” (1079) [Jusqu’à ce jour, Javert n’avait pris, dans les deux attitudes de Napoléon, que celle qui exprime la résolution, les bras croisés sur la poitrine ; celle qui exprime l’incertitude, les mains derrière le dos, lui était inconnue](V.iv.1).  It is the second of these two stances that Javert now adopts for the first time.  Unlike Valjean and Napoleon, and also Orestes, Javert does not find a way to live with his mental anguish; he kills himself.

After Javert, Valjean faces another threat to his security.  When Marius marries Cosette, Valjean decides that he must tell Marius the truth about himself and Cosette.  He does this, as he says, to be an honest man. He also wants to prevent the possibility that Marius and Cosette might be with him one day and hear “a voice shout: ‘JeanValjean!’ And …see the awful hand of the police shoot out of the shadows and promptly rip off [his] mask!” (1144) [une voix crier ce nom: Jean Valjean ! et voilà que cette main épouvantable, la police, sort de l’ombre et m’arrache mon masque brusquement !] (V.vii.1).  Having admitted the truth to Marius, Jean Valjean yields to Marius’s will that he not see Cosette again.  Marius places himself in much the same position as Javert.  Though The Friends of the ABC had changed his earlier absolute convictions about Napoleon, he still clings to absolutes.  It is only after Monsieur Thénardier, in trying to blackmail Marius, reveals to him that Valjean is the person who saved him during the insurrection that Marius realizes “how incredibly lofty and solemn a figure this Jean Valjean was.  An unheard-of virtue appeared to him, supreme and meek, humble in its immensity” (1186) [Il commençait à entrevoir dans ce Jean Valjean on ne sait quelle haute et sombre figure.  Une vertu inouïe lui apparaissait, suprême et douce, humble dans son immensité] (V.ix.4).  Marius found what Javert imagined, but could not accept: “…the possibility of a tear pearling in the eye of the law” (1082) [la possibilité d’une larme dans l’œil de la loi] (V.iv.1); legal absolutes tempered by time and compassion.

Jean Valjean, who had initially been filled with anger and a desire for vengeance on society, became a blessing to society through the example and words of Monsieur Bienvenu, the bishop of Digne.  Hugo suggests that Monsieur Bienvenu, like Jean Valjean, had transformed over time from a man of passion and violence into a man of benevolence.  As a sign of this transformation in his actions, he received the name Monsieur Bienvenu in place of his birth name, Monsieur Myriel (I.i.xiii).  This change of name echoes that of Jean Valjean into Father Madeleine, and the Furies into the Eumenides.

Jean Valjean’s final act was to provide for Cosette’s happiness despite the cost to himself, the ultimate act of benevolence.  Up to that point, he seemed to embody the curse of the Furies to Orestes in the Eumenides, “Neither Apollo, nor the power of Athena, can save you from having to wander as a neglected outcast, never learning where in the mind happiness lies” [οὔτοι σ’’Απόλλων ου̉δ’’Αθηναίας σθένος / ῥύσαιτ’ ἂν ὥστε μὴ ου̉ παρημελημένον / ἔρρειν, τὸ χαίρειν μὴ μαθόνθ’ ὅπου φρενω̃ν] (lines 299-301).  Though he became a benefactor to the poor and needy everywhere he went, Valjean was forced to move countless times, each time because he felt that he was discovered and would be arrested.  Thus, he was never able to rest free from constant anxiety.  Likewise, Orestes is only able to rest from his constant motion when Apollo puts the Furies to sleep (Eumenides lines 67-8). Valjean’s final anxiety, however, is not for himself, but for the possibility of anguish for Cosette.  Valjean refuses to move one last time and, instead, remains and accepts the possibility of arrest as long as it is not an act that will hurt Cosette.

Hugo not only follows the theme of transformation from vengeance to benevolence, but he also includes imagery vital to the Oresteia, particularly that of webs as detailed above, and snakes in Les Misérables.  In the description of the Battle of Waterloo, Hugo combines the web and the snake when he says that “the battle line wiggles and snakes around like a thread” (266) [La ligne de bataille flotte et serpente comme un fil] (II.i.5).  Somewhat further he describes the two divisions of Wathier and Delord: “From a distance two they looked like two immense steel snakes stretching out toward the crest of the plateau” (275)  [On croyait voir de loin s’allonger vers la crête du plateau deux immenses couleuvres d’acier] ( II.i.9).[27]  Waterloo and Napoleon are replaced by insurrection and the Friends of the ABC.  The word, “couleuvre,” used to describe the two lines of battle, reappears to describe Gavroche, who, though not the actual leader of the rioters, personifies their spirit and intent.   In this way, Gavroche, too, becomes part of the vengeance.  Like Valjean, Gavroche not only seeks vengeance for injustice, but he also works as a force of benevolence.  After the elderly and poverty-stricken Monsieur Mabeuf gives his purse to Montparnasse rather than be robbed, Gavroche stealthily takes it back and returns it unseen to Mabeuf.  Gavroche then escapes unseen: “…  like a garter-snake in the gathering gloom” (758)  [Il … fit une évasion de couleuvre dans les ténèbres] (IV.iv.2).  Gavroche also feeds and cares for the two smaller boys (his own brothers, unknown to himself) he found wandering abandoned in the streets.  He takes them to his “home,” the model of an elephant monument ordered by Napoléon for a monument that was never constructed, to spend the night.   Though only a model, it is called a “colosse.”  Gavroche disappears in the belly of the elephant like a snake (786) [Il y entra comme une couleuvre ](   Thus, like Jean Valjean and Javert, Hugo links Gavroche to Napoleon.  Drawing upon the image of the Furies and their snake-like hair, Gavroche insults a wigmaker, a partisan from an earlier era, by calling him a snake, “That is not a whiting there, but a snake” (778) [ce n’est pas un merlan-là, c’est un serpent] (  Gavroche like Valjean, an outcast at the mercy of society, is both a seeker of vengeance and a force of kindness.


The Oresteia influenced the way in which both Thackeray and Hugo conceived of their novels.  While Thackeray works with the microcosm, never looking beyond the world of Becky, Amelia and her family, and their friends and acquaintances, Hugo focuses on the macrocosm of French society.  Regardless of scope, the intent of the words Hugo used to introduce the heroic last stand of the leaders of the riot applies equally to both novels and to the Oresteia: “The book that the reader has under his eyes at this moment, is, from end to end, as a whole and in the details, the journey from bad to good, from the unjust to the just, from the false to the true, from night to day, from appetite to awareness, from rot to life, from bestiality to duty, from hell to heaven, from nothingness to God.  Point of departure: matter; point of arrival: soul.  A hydra at the beginning, an angel at the end” (1018) [Le livre que le lecteur a sous les yeux en ce moment, c’est, d’un bout à l’autre, dans son ensemble et dans ses détails … la marche du mal au bien, de l’injuste au juste, de faux au vrai, de la nuit au jour, de l’appétit à la conscience, de la pourriture à la vie, de la bestialité au devoir, de l’enfer au ciel, de néant à Dieu.  Point de départ : la matière ; point d’arrivée : l’âme.  L’hydre au commencement, l’ange à la fin] (V.i.20).

In describing the alternating ups and downs of Amelia’s fortunes, Thackeray quoted a phrase from Horace, mutato nomine (601).[28]   In Les Misérables, Hugo says of Monsieur Mabeuf: “All political opinions were indifferent to him, and he approved them all without distinction provided that they left him tranquil just as the Greeks call the Furies ‘the beautiful, the good, the charming,’ the Eumenides” (567) [Toutes les opinions politiques lui étaient indifférentes, et il les approuvait toutes sans distinguer, pour qu’elles le laissassent tranquille, comme les grecs appelaient les Furies ‘les belles, les bonnes, les charmantes’, les Euménides] (III.v.4).  Both Thackeray and Hugo also refer to the same passage in Ecclesiastes. The final paragraph of Vanity Fair begins, “Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum,” quoting Ecclesiastes I.2.  Slightly later Ecclesiastes continues, “The thing that has been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun” (I.9).  Grantaire of the Friends of the ABC uses the same phrase, “All is vanity” (549) at the beginning of a speech that concludes, “The whole of history is just one long rehash.  One century plagiarizes another.  The battle of Marengo copies the battle of Pydna; Clovis’s Tolbiac and Napoléon’s Austerlitz are as alike as two drops of blood.  I don’t hold much store by victory.  …The real glory is in winning over” (550) [Toute l’histoire n’est qu’un long rabâchage.  Un siècle est la plagiaire de l’autre.  La bataille de Marengo copie la bataille de Pydna ;  le Tolbiac de Clovis et l’Austerlitz de Napoléon se ressemblent comme deux gouttes de sang.  Je fais peu de cas de la victoire. … la vraie gloire est convaincre] (III.iv.4).  Under cosmetic changes, i.e., changes of name, both novels replay the older paradigm provided by the Oresteia.

Both Thackeray and Hugo join the past and the future to the present not only by references historical events and monuments that belong to times past and future to the narrative time frame, but also by literary borrowing, in particular, borrowing from Aeschylus.  The final sentence in the quote given from Grantaire’s speech in the preceding paragraph incorporates an important idea: persuasion.  It is this “awesome power” that Athena mentions at the end of the Eumenides after the Furies have yielded to her wishes [α̉λλ’ ει̉ μὲν ἁγνόν  ἐστί σοι Πειθου̃ς σέβας] (line 885).  As the Furies were persuaded to become the Kindly Ones, so Becky was persuaded by Amelia’s unstinting benevolence to her, Jean Valjean was persuaded by the example of Monsieur Bienvenu, and Marius by that of Jean Valjean.  There is nothing new.

* I would like to thank the Center for Hellenic Studies for a non-residential fellowship in 2012-13 and the President and administration of Utica College for granting me a sabbatical in the spring, 2013, both of which allowed me to develop this paper.

[1] References are to the following texts: Vanity Fair, Peter Schillingsburg (ed)  (NY: Norton, 1994), and  Les Misérables, 3 Vols.  (Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1967).  Selections from Les Misérables are identified by part, book, and chapter.  Specific quotations are taken from the translation by Julie Rose (NY: Modern Library, 2008) and are cited by page number.

[2] They are not the first to make this comparison.  In “Reading the Tangible Past: British Tourism, Collecting, and Memory after Waterloo,” Stuart Semmel mentions many examples of comparisons drawn between the battles of Troy and Waterloo, particularly in Part II.  He also discusses the nineteenth-century tendency to treat Napoleon “as a figure of Homeric proportions” (17).  Representations 69 (2000) 9-37.

[3] See Semmel’s article for the influence Waterloo had on British culture in general.

[4] See Athanasios D. Stéfanis, “Le messager dans la tragédie Grecque.”  Athens: Académie, 1997.

[5] This approach differs from novels such as Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Stendhal’s La Chartreuse de Parme, both of which situate their main character in the midst of the fighting, as well novels such as George Eliot’s Adam Bede (1859) and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Sylvia’s Lovers (1863), which use the Napoleonic Wars solely as their setting.

[6] Pantelis Michelakis, “Introduction” to Agamemnon in Performance 458 BC to AD 2004.  Macintosh, Michelakis, Hall, and Taplin (eds) (OUP, 2005): 2.  In this same volume, see also Chapter Six, “Agamemnon’s Influence in Germany.  Goethe, Schiller, Wagner” by Michael Ewans (107-117), and Chapter 8, “Viewing Agamemnon in Nineteenth-Century Britain” by Fiona Macintosh (139-162).

[7] The bibliographic sources are Gordon N. Ray, Thackeray. The Uses of Adversity 1811-1846 (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1955), and Graham Robb, Victor Hugo (NY & London:  Norton, 1997).  Ray 263 and Robb 219.

[8] Henry L. Thompson, Henry George Liddell D.D. A Memoir (London: Murray, 1899) 11.

[9] Thompson 8.

[10] Gordon N. Ray (coll. & ed.), The Letters and Private Papers of William Makepeace Thackeray. Vol. I, 1817-1840 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1946) 33 & 43.

[11] Robb 27 & 28.

[12] Robb 70.

[13] The Paris Sketch Book of Mr. M.A. Titmarch; The Irish Sketch Book; and Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo. William Makepeace Thackeray (NY: John B. Alden, 1883) 45-6.

[14] The pictures used to illustrate this section were taken by the author from a set of the original serial publication of Vanity Fair at the Division of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Kroch Library, Cornell University.

[15] See Edith Hall and Fiona Macintoch, Greek Tragedy and the British Theatre 1660-1914 (Oxford: OUP, 2005), particularly Chapter Two: “Iphigeneia and the Glorious Revolution” and Chapter Three: “Greek Tragedy as She-Tragedy.”   See also H.L. Nostrand, Le theater antique et à l’antique en France de 1840 à 1900 (Paris: E. Droz, 1934).

[16] There is an echo of Orestes whom Clytemenestra sent away from Argos during the war in order to ensure his safety.

[17] In footnote 294, Sommerstein says about this passage that the robe/net “fettered his [Agamemnon’s] hands…” (168).  Perhaps proleptic of the final outcome for Jos is the gift of two cashmere shawls that he brought back from India for Amelia (16).  The use of the word “web” later in the novel to refer to a shawl (462) and the stress on the art of knitting echo the web that ensnares Agamemnon in Aeschylus.

[18] Thackeray re-introduces the Iphigeneia clock in Mr. George Osborne’s sitting room in chapter 42 (427), in which little Georgy is seen by one of his Osborne relatives for the first time.  It is this initial sight that leads to the offer to take him in and Amelia’s sacrifice.

[19] Victor R. Kennedy discusses both of these visual images in “Pictures as Metaphors in Thackeray’s Illustrated Novels.”  Metaphor and Symbolic Activity 9.2 (1994) 139-40. For a more extended discussion of the dialogue between the pictorial capitals and the text of Vanity Fair, see Joan Stevens, “Thackeray’s Pictorial Capitals.” Costerus 2 ns. (1974) 113-140.  A more general discussion can be found in Judith L. Fisher, “Image versus Text in the Illustrated Novels of William Makepeace Thackeray.”  Victorian Literature and the Victorian Visual Imagination.  Carol T. Christ and John O. Jordan (ads) (Berkeley, LA, London: U of California, 1995) 60-87.

[20] See Lisa Jadwin, “Clytemnestra Rewarded: The Double Conclusion of Vanity Fair” for a very different analysis.  Famous Last Words:  Changes in Gender and Narrative Closure (Charlottesville: U of Virginia, 1993) 35-61.

[21] Note that Cassandra in the Agamemnon had called Clytemnestra an amphisbaena or skylla (ἔστιν –τί νιν καλοῦσα δυσφιλὲς δάκος / τύχοιμ’ ἄν;  ἀμφίσβαιναν, ἢ Σκύλλαν τινὰ / οἰκοῦσαν ἐν πέτραισι) (lines 1232-34).

[22] The most obvious of these comes in the description of Waterloo when Hugo says that, through his response to the English command to surrender, “Shit” [Merde], a little known officer, Cambronne “won the Battle” [a gagné la bataille] , and that such a response “attains Aeschylean greatness” (286-7) [atteint la grandeur eschylienne] (II.i.15).

[23] Though a full discussion is beyond the scope of this paper, both Aeschylus and Hugo use the same technique to create an interwoven mesh of images, motifs, and themes.  As Anne Lebeck states, “The images of the Oresteia are not isolated units which can be examined separately.  Each one is part of a larger whole: a system of kindred imagery.  They are connected to one another by verbal similarity rather than verbal duplication. … Each recurrence adds a new element to those with which it is associated.  Often this expansion will be a blend of two images previously separate, preserving features reminiscent of both.  In this way the different systems of imagery are intricately interwoven”  (The Oresteia.  A Study in Language and Structure.  Washington, D.C.: The Center for Hellenic Studies, 1971,1).  In a similar vein, Kathryn Grossman says of Les Misérables, “[Hugo] connects diverse elements of the text itself, not only through recurrent themes that permeate both story and digressions but also, at a more local level, through recurrent images that assume the role of obsessive motifs.  The overlapping motifs, endlessly recycled, contribute to the impression of a huge symphonic structure. … This carefully orchestrated array of master tropes binds the work together in often unexpected ways.  (Figuring Transcendence in Les Misérables.  Hugo’s Romantic Sublime.  (Carbondale and Edwardsville:  Southern Illinois UP, 1994, 255)

[24] Grossman details these similarities, 190.

[25] Grossman 191.

[26] See Fowler 303-04.

[27] Nicole Savy discusses this and other snake allusions in the Waterloo section in “La bataille de Waterloo: le paradigm de la couleuvre.” Through snake imagery, she draws a connection to Virgil’s description of the fall of Troy in the Aeneid, and to earlier mythic battles of gods and giants.  Hugo et la guerre. Claude Millet (ed).  (Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose, 2002) 103-114.

[28] The full reference given in footnote 3 page 601 is Horace, Satires I.i.69-70, “Change the name and the tale is told of thee.”