Peace is onle the time between two wars. This German proverb seems very appropriate to me considering that I currently seem to be haunted by riots and rebellion, literary at least.
Coincidentally everything I have been reading recently deals with these themes in all variations, from the French Revolution in A Tale of Two Cities and Les Misérables over World War II and a nameless uproar in The Caucasian Chalk Circle to the American Civil War in Little Women.
War and violent conflicts are of course something horrible, but it is very interesting to observe how different authors use them differently in their works.
Dickens for example is a clear pacifist and describes the terror of the French Revolution so vividly that I cried not only for Sydney Carton but for all the other innocent and nameless people who were murdered in reality.
He uses the novel to warn his readers of what can happen if anger wins over reason and self-administered justice rules over pity.
Victor Hugo in contrast seems not to fully share Dickens's view of the revolution as a series of inhuman crimes, from what I have read until now he apparently regards it as a necessary evil. In my opinion he thinks the revolution was essential for creating a better society, but perhaps I am mistaken because Les Misérables starts after Napoleon's reign, when the terror is long over.
Later in the book Hugo will also focus on the June rebellion, so maybe my impression of his political position changes completely once I have read that.
In The Caucasian Chalk Circle the motive of the uprising is mainly character development. Brecht follows the rule that we only show our true selves in extreme conditions, so the riots are simply his device of putting his characters under pressure. His noblemen act mostly cowardish as soon as they are threatened whereas some of his poor, oppressed people prove their courage and their wits.
The portrayal of the Civil War was in fact the only thing about Little Women I didn't like because it rather unsettled me. All the characters seem to regard the war as something thoroughly positive although Mr March is severly wounded and thousands of other soldiers die. I don't know if that was simply the spirit of that time, but for a modern reader this tolerant representation is pretty shocking, especially visible in the following excerpt:
“I think you would if you had Laurie for a pupil. I shall be very sorry to lose him next year,” said Mr. Brooke, busily punching holes in the turf.Perhaps this truly was the general opinion, but I would find it very upsetting (and rude) if someone told me they were glad I went to war!
“Going to college, I suppose?” Meg’s lips asked the question, but her eyes added, “And what becomes of you?”
“Yes, it’s high time he went, for he is ready, and as soon as he is off, I shall turn soldier. I am needed.”
“I am glad of that!” exclaimed Meg. “I should think every young man would want to go, though it is hard for the mothers and sisters who stay at home,” she added sorrowfully.
On the whole, reading so much about killing and rebellion I am indeed thankful to live in a country which doesn't even have a real army and hasn't needed one in half a century. Oh, and I am looking forward to reading something more peaceful soon, a really kitschy romance would be fine!