You never particularly liked Victor Hugo. Thought he was too “grandiose” in his maudlinness. Though you had to admit there was something in your lack of appreciation that stemmed from jealousy. You had always wanted to write sweeping narratives that could encapsulate the injustice of an entire century. Unfortunately, you just happened to be born in a century in which the only real injustice was not having an iPhone. Or so you told yourself. Surely, this was the reason you had been experiencing a block in your work for so long–could never quite finish a middle or end to your compendium about narcissism. Would never be able to unless you took some sort of miraculous pill like Bradley Cooper in Limitless or performed a magic “smart spell” like Alyssa Milano on Charmed. But I would never tell you that. Not to your face. Instead I encouraged you, tried my best to inspire your creative “conduit” by suggesting we go to places like the Maison de Victor Hugo despite your protests and insistences that is was a useless waste of money (five euros back then, big fucking deal). You went along with it, in the end, because you would go along with anything that enabled you to get some sort of free ride.
Fuck Racine, fuck Corneille. Like Hugo, you should have been getting back to the core of literature (that is to say, Shakespeare, thief of content though he might have been). You should have stopped trying so hard to imitate all the pretentious fucks you spouted to people in the twat-filled literary circle, each of you splooging over talk of Heinrich Böll and Thomas Mann. It was enough to put me off of writing altogether and retreat to our room to binge watch something frivolous. Then again, you deemed everything post-modern frivolous, didn’t you? If it wasn’t at the caliber of Andrei Rublev then you wouldn’t bother. So I tried to match pretension for pretension. Instead of doing something that might have actually been fun in Paris, like go to Ice Kube Bar or Lavomatic (you detested shit like a speakeasy hidden in the back of a laundromat), I tried to fill our days with as much turgidity as I could–the Maison de Victor Hugo being one of them. But of course you found a way to balk, insisting that you knew better because you’d been to Paris before and I hadn’t. Glossed over the fact that my entire career had been centered around making travel arrangements for other people. But no, I knew nothing, yet somehow you were too “above” coming up with any actual plans other than complaining daily about the activities I had carefully tailored to your pomposity.
“The Louvre, Savannah. Really? Could you possibly be any more predictable? You could have at least gone off the beaten path with the Musée d’Orsay. Something to indicate that I wouldn’t choose a girlfriend totally lacking in originality.” I bristled when you used the phrase “choose a girlfriend,” as though I had been plucked by a teddy picker at random and you just happened to be fine with settling for what you got. The truth was though, maybe I was the one who had settled for what I got.
Walking past the Parc Place des Vosges, I could tell you were getting excited. I could see the same electricity in your eyes that came whenever you talked about your own writing, or one of your parents. It was the only time I could ever see you emote anything. Clearly, I had done right by you to bring you here, invigorated some worthwhile inspiration that was about to envelop you tenfold once we were actually inside the house. Maybe in your mind, we were pretending to be Victor and Adèle–you, the grand writer moving into a grand second floor apartment at the age of thirty with his wife. Let’s just ignore the fact that Victor had an insatiable appetite for affairs despite his busy schedule of being a “social advocate.” That he was puerile enough to write of his conquests in a coded diary (yes, diary, the word men use to belittle women’s writing, while men, instead, write in “journals”). The type of shit that would show up in a repressed Catholic private school teen girl’s journal–i.e. “Suisses” meant a woman’s tits because, as a brilliant literary mind, Victor was “genius” enough to mask breasts behind the “concept” of Switzerland, land of high quality milk. You would probably do something similar–but then, maybe I was giving you too much credit for the imaginativeness that might be spurred by your inherent immaturity. Maybe, like Adèle, I would have engaged in a seven-year affair with a literary critic (Charles-Augustin Sainte Beuve) as a means of not so undercutting retaliation. Having to live with that self-righteousness so effortlessly commingled with hypocrisy all the time would have driven me batty. Would have been sent running for the park to live there instead of locked away in this den of alternate reality. I could feel Victor’s energy everywhere, throughout the house (the man’s deathbed is proudly displayed there, for Chrissakes), yet none of Adèle’s.
We took our time meandering through the hallways and corridors of the house, I being almost unable to fathom that a writer, moderately successful or otherwise, could ever live this way. It seemed impossible. Antithetical. You were intoxicated, perhaps envisioning that you yourself would one day live in this lavish fashion once you sold your first book to one of the Big Five. It made me sad. Not just for you and your delusions (not to mention how I would never mean as much to you as this false idea of what it meant to be a writer that no longer applied in the twenty-first century), but that writing of this nature–regardless of how magnificent–would never afford any aspirant this sort of nineteenth century rock star lifestyle. They would have to create a teleplay based on the story instead.
All at once, I felt exhausted–as though absorbing the combined energies of both you and Victor Hugo had pummeled me. I wanted nothing more to go to Lavomatic and get shit-faced next to a washing machine, maybe even toss myself in while I was at it. Like a thousand copies of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, it hit me all of the sudden just how much time I had put into you, us. But standing inside that house-turned-museum, I could see all over your face that I was nothing more than the invisible vapor that had led you here to your true love: the Idea of Literature.
And unlike Victor, you would never be at the forefront of any movement except your own. It wasn’t one that I could get behind, little old plebeian me. And, in this way, us being together turned us effectively into les misérables–heightened in a city intended to be designed with lovers in mind. At the same time, lovers were just haters who hadn’t been jaded by time…or the epiphanies that come with it.