Quotable: Victor Hugo on guillotines

“We may be indifferent to the death penalty, and not declare ourselves either way, so long as we have not seen a guillotine with our own eyes. But when we do, the shock is violent, and we are compelled to choose sides, for or against. Some, like Le Maistre, admire it; others, like Beccaria, execrate it. The guillotine is the law made concrete; it is called the Avenger. It is not neutral and does not permit you to remain neutral. Whoever sees it quakes, mysteriously shaken to the core. All social problems set up their question mark around that blade. The scaffold is vision. The scaffold is not a mere frame, the scaffold is not an inert mechanism made of wood, iron, and ropes. It seems like a creature with some dark origin we cannot fathom, it is as though the framework sees and hears, the mechanism understands, as though the wood and iron and ropes have their own will. In the hideous nightmare it projects across the soul, the awful apparition of the scaffold fuses with its terrible work. The scaffold becomes the accomplice of the executioner; it devours, eats flesh, and drinks blood. The scaffold is a sort of monster created by judge and carpenter, a spectre that seems to live with an unspeakable vitality, drawn from all the death it has wrought.”

–Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

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