Sometimes, when writing fiction, what you think will be hard ends up being easy, and what you think will be easy, ends up being hard.
Little did I know when I found the perfect quote to open The Tear that it would take me down a rabbit hole in two different language and would lead me to consulting one of the world’s foremost Victor Hugo experts.
The Internet has facilitated a world full of suspect and misattributed quotes that often become “real” simply because they are copied without question. On social media, we attempt to perform at least a basic level of due diligence and verify quotes before using them.
However, to put a quote in a book requires next-level verification.
In case you don’t remember, here is the quote that opens The Tear.
“Men are still men. The despot’s wickedness
Comes of ill teaching, and of power’s excess—
Comes of the purple he from childhood wears,
Slaves would be tyrants if the chance were theirs.”
Victor Hugo, The Vanished City
A reimagining in English verse
I don’t remember where I found this quote originally, but in trying to verify it, I quickly descended into a rabbit hole of Internet research that provided me no concrete answers.
Fortunately, I discovered Marva Barnett, Professor Emerita at the University of Virginia, and a Victor Hugo expert. Marva was kind enough to dig in for me and found the original quotation in a poem from Victor Hugo called La Ville disparue.
It was close to the English one online, but it had definitely been changed and in fact some lines had been taken out to form the English version of the quote. The oldest source I could find for the English version was a book from the early 1900’s, Forty Thousand Quotations, Prose and Poetical, compiled by Charles Noel Douglas.
In the end, the transformed English version of the quote was better fit for The Tear, which is why I attributed it as “a reimagining in English verse” to signify that the quote has been presented in English with some poetic license.
Make sure to check out Marva Barnett on her website or Instagram account.
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Learn more about The Tear here.