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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/338

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

like a head of Medusa, but Medusa hilarious. Every serious feeling or thought in the mind of the spectator was suddenly put to flight by the unexpected apparition, and laughter was inevitable.

Antique art formerly placed on the exterior of the Greek theatre a joyous brazen face, called Comedy; it laughed and occasioned laughter, but remained pensive. All mirth which borders on folly, all irony which borders on wisdom, were condensed and amalgamated in that face. Intense anxiety, disappointment, disgust, and chagrin were all depicted in the rigid features; but a ghastly smile wreathed the lips, imparting an expression of lugubrious mirth to the entire countenance. One corner of the mouth was curled upward in mockery of the human race; the other, in blasphemy of the gods. Those who eagerly crowded around to gaze at this grim exemplification of the covert sarcasm and irony which dwells in every human breast, nearly died with laughter at the sepulchral immobility of the sneering smile.

One might almost have said that Gwynplaine was that dark, dead mask of ancient comedy, adjusted to the body of a living man; that he supported on his neck that infernal head of implacable hilarity. What a weight for the shoulders of a man,—an everlasting laugh!

An everlasting laugh! That we may be understood we will explain that the Manicheans believed that even the absolute occasionally gave way; that God himself sometimes abdicates for a time. But we do not admit that the will can ever be utterly powerless. The whole of existence resembles a letter modified in the postscript. For Gwynplaine the postscript was this: by force of will, by concentrating all his attention, and allowing no emotion to impair the intentness of his effort, he could manage to suspend the everlasting rictus of his face,