Barry Lyndon (Anglais) CD – Livre audio, Version intégrale
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What most remains in my memory is the story of his pursuit of the wealthiest heiress in Britain. He wins her by the simple means of pursuing her relentlessly until she agrees to marry him just out of fatigue. (I've often thought that many a man could learn something about how to win a woman by reading this reprehensible account.) He then persecutes her young son cruelly, so viciously in fact that even he feels some regret for the suffering he causes the boy and his mother.
Told in the first person, the tale is so unvarnished and "in-your-face" that it seemed to me impossible to mistake the nature of the character Thackeray portrays. Though he constantly refers to his supposed aristocratic background, it is quite clear that like many another Irish opportunist, his lineage is nothing that a thousand others couldn't claim equally.
Essentially, this is a Victorian novel totally unlike any other Victorian novel I have ever read, and as such deserves many more readers than it has had, even allowing for those who picked it up after seeing the Kubrick movie (in my opinion a waste of film.)
Some readers may consider Barry the epitome of wisdom and cleverness. After all, he attained enormous wealth and respectability, and this is sometimes taken to be an acid test for intelligence and courage. And in this regard it must be remembered that Barry was at first no deadbeat: he was always good on his gambling debts. But apparently this was not "respectable" enough to buy his election to the House near the end of the story. Others plotted his defeat here, either motivated by envy or some other equally decadent emotion. Barry condemns the people (the Tiptoffs) that did this to him, as if he alone should be granted a divine right to swindle.
The historical tidbits in the novel are not to be missed: references to the American Revolution and its support by Edmund Burke, the hero of modern conservative thought; the mentioning of the "old scamp and swindler" Gustavus Adolphus; the Thirty Years War with its deplorable confrontation between Catholics and Protestants; and of course the Seven Year's War in which the story has as its backdrop.
But less Barry be condemned as being the most reprehensible of characters, one need only be reminded of Lord Bullingdon and his insistence on lineage as being the origin of true virtue. Or maybe Captain John Quin who demanded respect for his being an Englishman, and a "man of property." And then there is Barry's family, who scolded him for "robbing them of 1500l a year." These characters may induce a strong perturbation in some readers, enough perhaps to wish these characters' faces be decorated with a thick coat of saliva.
What could a reader say about the supposed "moral of the story", namely that worldly success is not always the consequence of virtue? There is a plethora of contemporary evidence for this: one need only step into a university to observe an abundance of milksops. But when one asks what the nature of good fortune really is, the issue becomes complex. One must then be able to differentiate luck from the results of carefully made plans, or even to dispense completely with the concept of luck. The Irish leprechaun is not to be depended upon in the story and "accomplishments" of Barry Lyndon, the untimely death of Sir Charles Lyndon not withstanding. Barry's misfortunes and eventual demise were mainly the result of his comfort at being an ornament of English society, with his self-painting using the varnishes of unearned wealth, with his dogmatic belief that only rogues succeed in life, with his selling of his personal liberty to the Establishment, the latter of which he pledged steadfast obedience and homage. In the latter Barry shows kinship to the contemporary conservative, who asks us to respect institutions and hierarchies, but this going hand in hand with the perhaps unintended consequence of showing "hearty scorn and abhorrence of all other forms of belief".
But Barry's sojourn in the logosphere of pretentious English society did not last throughout his life, he eventually passing on in debtors prison. This is a fitting tribute to one who thought mammon to be the most stable and controlling entity in his existence. Barry was thrown in prison for not paying his debts, and like these he never paid the debt to himself: the self that he extinguished as soon as he made the decision to embed himself in the established practices of his day, however sterile, unproductive, and supercilious they were.
Barry Lyndon may be Thackeray's most unsavoury story, the eponymous character having no redeeming traits at all. Redmond Barry is similar to Henry Fielding's villain Jonathan Wild, though he commits his own misdeeds, always managing to stay within the law as it was in the 18th century. Unlike Wilding, Lyndon amuses his audience by his lack of self-knowledge frequently describing others as 'Common' while coming to believe in the fantasy he embellishes that he is descended from the kings of Ireland.
Other inconsistencies abound including Lyndon's belief that he is a man of courage and of genius, though he is tricked by his first love, Nora Brady; the intriguing Countess Ida; and, on several occasions, by his wife, Lady Lyndon, whom the reader is pleased to see finally manages to rid herself of him. He is a bully who abuses and robs those unable to defend themselves -- women, children, and weaklings, including Lord Fakenham whom he beats and robs while he is wounded and bedridden with fever. He savagely thrashes his step-son, Lord Bullingdon, when he begins to defy him.
A further irony in Lyndon's claims to noble Irish lineage, is conveyed by his Protestant upbringing, an implication that his family has betrayed its Catholic heritage for property rights, while he boasts that he has taught to think of himself as an Englishman.
The novel is a rewarding book that provides insights into several social levels in a number of European settings in the 18th century; and it is a shrewd psychological study of a mountebank who unintentionally condemns himself out of his own mouth.
Forget Kubrick's "lovable scoundrel". Barry Lyndon is an occasionally charming sociopath in all that that implies. I suggested this to a book group, and by the end all of us women were shaken in horror by this "hero". What's as frightening as Lyndon is the inability of so many readers to recognize his evil for what it is.