Digestive Apparatus of Babylon

Destruction of Leviathan (1865): Gustave Doré

Destruction of Leviathan (1865): Gustave Doré

With the enduring presence of that backslappy, foul musical that has become known as Les Miz, it is easy to overlook Victor Hugo’s glorious, gothic novel Les Misérables (1862). I love this piece from a chapter entitled L’intestin de Léviathan:

Winding, fissured, unpaved, cracked, full of quagmires, broken by strange elbows, ascending and descending without rule, fetid, savage, ferocious, submerged in darkness, with scars on its pavements and gashes on its walls, gruesome, such was, viewed retrospectively, the old sewer of Paris. Ramifications in all directions, crossings of trenches, branches, goose-tracks, stars, as in mines, caucus and cup-de-sacs, arches covered with saltpetre, infected pits, scabby exudations on the walls, drops falling from the roof, darkness; nothing equalled the horror of this old excremental crypt; the digestive apparatus of Babylon, a den, a trench, a gulf pierced with streets, a titanic mole-hill, in which the mind fancies that it sees, crawling in the shadows, amid the filth which has once been splendour, that enormous blind mole, the past.


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