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The Man Who Laughs

Victor Hugo

Date of publication: 1869 (french version)

The first major character whom we meet is a mountebank who dresses in bearskins and calls himself Ursus (Latin for “bear”). His only companion is a large domesticated wolf, whom Ursus has named Homo (Latin for “man”, in a pun over the Hobbesian saying "homo homini lupus"). Ursus lives in a caravan, which he conveys to holiday fairs and markets throughout southern England, where he sells folk remedies.

The action moves to an English sea coast, on the night of January 29, 1690. Hugo sets this date precisely, but nowhere in the narrative does he link it to any specific real-world historical event. A group of men, their identities unknown to us, are urgently loading a ship for departure. A boy, ten years old, is among their company … but the men are anxious to be rid of him. While the boy desperately pleads not to be abandoned, the men leave him behind and cast off.
(From Wikipedia, description text under GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL))

Project Gutenberg Edition

Ebook to read online in HTML format - 1,23 Mb - 305 pages

Main topics: love, social class, childhood, hope, justice, freedom, sea, misery, monster, death, progress, purity, society, suicide, torture, vagabond.

Full original french version also available:
L'homme qui rit