I know that if you just came back from the critically acclaimed motion picture musical Les Misérables- you’re probably thinking two things. The first is how great an adaptation the movie is. The second is about that elephant that appears in it. Well, even if you’re not thinking about the elephant, you are now- so I’ll fill you.
In the first decade of the nineteenth century, Napoleon was in charge of France. This is pretty well known. Napoleon, perhaps realizing that power and glory are fleeting, returned to France from his glorious conquests and decided he would transform Paris and fill it with monuments to himself. Unfortunately, he was impatient, and often, mere molds or plans were left and few were complete. The Elephant is one of these.
In the initial plan, there was also supposed to be an observation platform at the top, from which visitors could ascend and be greeted by a beautiful view of the city.
Around this time, Napoleon was tragically defeated at Waterloo, and his ambitious plans were put on hold. Alavoine attempted to gain public support for the completion of the project, but the public and the local government weren’t interested and it was lost in bureaucratic standstill. Actually, it started to rot and rats started living inside it. Not exactly the magnificent monument to glory… Finally, residents’ complaints were heard and it was torn down and replaced by the July Column, which still stands today.
The filmmakers made a model of the Elephant at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, where some scenes were filmed. It is truly impressive and the model is not entirely inaccurate.
It’s an interesting piece of historical art that lends itself to the drama, hence why Hugo put it in. It adds scale and magnitude to the great drama. Failed art, but nevertheless, pretty cool and definitely worth knowing about. In this case, it was Napoleon who dreamed the dream- but once again- his dream went unfulfilled.