Lechers and Gossips

The lecherous man is such a staple of literature and television that it has a very well-documented page at TVTropes. Everyone knows about the dirty old men who prey upon the innocent young women, sociopathically using defenseless young ladies in order to satisfy their carnal desires. I was not surprised to see this trope in action when I saw the new movie adaption of the musical Les Misérables. Fantine, played by Anne Hathaway in the new movie, is a single mother working at a factory to pay for herself and her daughter, who is in the care of an innkeeper in another town. The lecherous foreman makes advances, which she spurns:

Have you seen how the foreman is fuming today?
With his terrible breath and his wandering hands?
It’s because little Fantine won’t give him his way
Take a look at his trousers, you’ll see where he stands!

And the boss, he never knows
That the foreman is always in heat
If Fantine doesn’t look out
Watch how she goes
She’ll be out on the street!

He has no sympathy when he discovers that Fantine has an illegitimate child:

Ah yes, the virtuous Fantine
Who keeps herself so pure and clean
You’d be the cause I had no doubt
Of any trouble hereabout
You play a virgin in the light
But need no urgin’ in the night.

We all know that this sort of man is a villain. Though some stories play up the humor aspect of the dirty old man, nobody seriously believes that this trait is anything but sinful. There are many, in fact, who seem to think that this is the default state of all men.

After seeing the movie, I decided to read the book. I was surprised, then, to find that the circumstances of Fantine’s sacking were different in Victor Hugo’s original novel. Instead of a lecherous foreman, she was fired through the actions of a gossipy old woman. I would say that in our culture, gossips are held to be rather harmless, minor annoyances at worse. Certainly they are not considered to be villains on the level of a lecherous man. Victor Hugo would disagree, however. Here is what he had to say about the gossip:

For prying into any human affairs, none are equal to those whom it does not concern. ‘Why does this gentleman never come till dusk?’ ‘Why does Mr So-and-so never hang his key on the nail on Thursday?’ ‘Why does he always take the by-streets?’ ‘Why does madame always leave her carriage before getting to the house?’ ‘Why does she send to buy aa quire of writing-paper when she has her portfolio full of it?’ etc. etc. There are persons who, to solve these enigmas, which are moreover perfectly immaterial to them, spend more money, waste more time, and give themselves more trouble than would suffice for ten good deeds; and that gratuitously, and for the pleasure of it, without being paid for their curiosity in any other way than by curiosity. They will follow this man or that woman whole days, stand guard for hours at the corners of the street, under the entrance of a passage-way, at night, in the cold and in the rain, bribe messengers, get hack-drivers and lackeys drunk, fee a chambermaid, or buy a porter. For what? for nothing. Pure craving to see, to know, and to find out. Pure itching for scandal. And often these secrets made known, these mysteries published, these enigmas brought into the light of day, lead to catastrophes, to duels, to failures, to the ruin of families, and make lives wretched, to the great joy of those who have ‘discovered all’ without any interest, and from pure instinct. A sad thing. (Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo. Wordsworth Classics Edition. Page 120.)

Just as a lecher will use another person for his carnal satisfaction, a gossip will use others for her emotional satisfaction. The end result is the same: people hurt and lives destroyed. Lust and lechery are clearly condemned in the Bible, and are nearly universally condemned in modern Christian society. Let us do the same for gossip and slander.

These six things the Lord hates,
Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
A proud look,
A lying tongue,
Hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that are swift in running to evil,
A false witness who speaks lies,
And one who sows discord among brethren.
(Proverbs 6:16-19, NKJV)

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