Léopoldine is one of the main characters of 2010 French (but Belgian-published) graphic novel Hélas.
Since we live in such a modern world, it is also digitally available in English via Europe Comics at a reasonable price.
This profile doesn’t include genuine spoilers. But it explains the main points of the world, which some might prefer to discover by reading the story.
- Real Name: Léopoldine de Gonzague.
- Known Relatives: Professeur Hippolyte de Gonzague (father), Octave de Gonzague (ancestor).
- Group Affiliation: None.
- Base of Operations: Institut de France, Quai Conti, Paris, France. Previously Nouzilly, Indre-et-Loire, France and the de Gonzague Parisian hôtel particulier .
- Height: 5’5″ (1.65m). Weight: 130 lbs. (59 Kg.).
- Eyes: Brown. Hair: Blonde.
Powers & Abilities
Ms. de Gonzague seems to be a doctoral student in a natural science. Perhaps zoology.
She has a bit of mountaineering experience, but this seems to be her only physical skill.
Her endurance isn’t the greatest. Physically or emotionally.
She is a high-status person from a prestigious family. She therefore doesn’t have much to fear from the law in most circumstances, but will be protected if threatened.
It also allows her to seek a scientific career, which isn’t normally open to women.
There is no one on the planet to compare with moi
Léopoldine is a pig person. Her porcine physiology doesn’t seem to give her notable abilities, but :
- She notes that as a pig she’s omnivorous. Whereas most animal persons have a more constrained diet.
- I’m going to assume for RPG stats purposes that she has an excellent sense of smell, though that’s not really demonstrated in the story.
If somebody wants a musical atmosphere, here’s a typical French song of the 1910s.
It sounds very dated, and I can’t think of any music of this era that has endured in popular culture.
Perhaps WWI served as a sort of cultural firebreak. Since once you reach the 1920s there are many French songs and artists (such as Mistinguett or Maurice Chevalier ) who still have a modicum of presence in collective memory.
Hélas takes place in 1910, on a variant Earth.
There, most species of mammals and birds are sapientCapable of intelligent reasoning.. Most have prehensile hands, a bipedal posture, a full voicebox, etc.. They’re similar to humans in most regards.
Most also seem to be human-sized, but there are variants by species. For instance, we see mice people that are mouse-sized – but also some that are more human-sized.
We also see two frogs, and a family of fishes. But these seem much rarer.
We live in a society
Animal people have produced culture, architecture, etc. that is identical to what existed on our Earth at that time.
In Paris we see mostly European species, such as pigs and dogs, or foxes and cats. A pair of tigers specifically comes from Kashmir. And a gorilla references “certain tribes” as his ancestors, likely in Africa.
A major achievement was to have predators and preys coexist. However, this is wobbly. It is understood that from time to time, a person from a predator species will have a breakdown, killing and eating nearby prey persons.
Furthermore, the meat eaten by carnivores has to come from somewhere. Or rather, someone. An anarchist bombing pubs serving meat briefly appears in the story.
The worst species
Homo sapiens sapiens does exist in this world. But they mostly stayed at a low level of technological and societal deployment, while other species created civilisations with a much heavier footprint.
Early on, humans had a mythologised status akin to that of wolves in most European folklores. They were seen as vicious, dangerous predators. These were gradually pushed back into deep forests, and had their population culled.
During the Enlightenment , one of the Encyclopédistes worked with a human specimen. The human quickly learned French, and the Royal Court at Versailles became fascinated by it. Soon, there was a craze about capturing and teaching humans.
But humans soon gained significant influence. Their ideas and advocacy even played an important role in sparking the 1789 French revolution.
Reactionary notables created the secret Watchdog Committee On Human Affairs. These massacred any humans they could find, burned books with positive depictions of humans, etc..
The Committee was largely successful in memory-holingMaking an inconvenient part of the past disappear. humans. Ragged human survivors had to flee back to forest as hunter-gatherers, on their way toward extinction.
As with most comics parables about minority experiences (say, Marvel’s X-Men) the role of humans in Hélas isn’t meant to map to a specific one.
The clearest parallel is of course with colonised populations, particularly in French territories in Africa and North America.
Exhibits of “savages”, treated as not-quite-human curiosities, were definitely a thing back then. This industry grew throughout the XIXth Century and until World War One. Mostly to develop interest in colonisation, and affirm scientific racism . Also, make money.
But other partial historical parallels can readily be drawn with Jews, some Jesuits, the perception of Muslim or Chinese folks during certain eras, early Anarchism, etc..
Or even women. Since there were several waves in France where important work in literature, painting, the sciences, etc. done by ladies was essentially erased by misogynists.
Another parallel is with Native Americans. The “the Humans influenced the French Revolution’s ideals” part may seem odd until one remember the influence of Huron leaders (chiefly Kondiaronk the Rat ) on Enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacques “Man is born free yet everywhere lives in chains” Rousseau .
The story also features theft and commoditization of human remains. This too corresponds to many horrors, past or present.
From the use of Egyptian mummies to stolen Native American children, to bones and body parts archived in museums since the time of colonial empires, etc..
Oh, and you could easily draw parallels between large parts of the story and cases of feral children. The more famous one, one century before the Hélas story takes place, was Victor de l’Aveyron .
A young teen who was found living alone in the woods, Victor fascinated contemporary Enlightenment philosophers and scientists, including Rousseau (again). They saw him as a natural experiment to understand what being human truly meant – a theme that Hélas strongly echoes.
Anthropomorphize this !
The work isn’t grim either. There are plenty of small jokes about animal-themed turns of phrases, or slang. For instance all apprentice ballerinas we briefly see at the Opéra are mice people. Since the traditional slang for these is “petits rats” (“pinkies”, in the sense of a baby rat).
Yet, that the characters have bits of animal behaviour and impulses is a way to stress how cruel, unequal and exploitative that society was. The justifications for this societal order suddenly sound less convincing when the person spouting them is a dog or a gorilla.
Being familiar with French Belle Époque novels and history helps with getting the material, but it’s not indispensable either.
Léopoldine seems to be the only child of a reputed Parisian biologist, the Professeur de Gonzague.
As such, she was raised in wealth and privilege. As a teenager she had vacations in the Alpine village of Chamonix – a typical upper-class endeavour of those days.
As a tween, she met a pig boy named Fulgence Schwein. They were close friends, and as teens they briefly became lovers.
As kids, Léopoldine and Fulgence would often visit a zoo — presumably the Jardin des Plantes . It held an aged man – the last human in a Parisian zoo.
The little pigs were fascinated by this elder. But he was eventually killed by the police whilst trying to escape.
The middle-class Fulgence wanted to marry Léopoldine. But during the 1900s she met a soldier pig, and fell in love with him. However, though the soldier promised he would return to her in 1908, he never showed up.
During that time, Léopoldine reframed Fulgence as a childhood friend, since she was in love with another.
For two years, the sentimental Léopoldine clung to the hope that the soldier would eventually come back to her. But it clearly was a foolish expectation.
Ambassador, with these Rochers you are really spoiling us
In 1910, Léopoldine and her father were attending a high society event. To create an impression, the ambassador from Kashmir brought in a rare animal — a little human girl called Leaf.
Léopoldine was fascinated by this specimen. She wanted to study her cognitive abilities as a foundation for her thesis. Previous studies about human intelligence had been so thoroughly erased that, as a PhD student, Léopoldine thought this would break new ground.
The Indian ambassador saw an opportunity to earn brownie points with the French scientific community, given how influential Hippolyte de Gonzague was. He formally gifted the human girl to France, in the care of the de Gonzague family.
Léopoldine ran her experiments with Leaf.
However, the presentation of her early results ran into scepticism. That humans had some level of problem-solving abilities was seen as outrageous nonsense by more established faculty.
Furthermore, Fulgence was into conspiracy theories. Now a journalist with muck-racking fringe newspaper L’Insolite, he suspected that there existed a machinationAn intricate conspiracy. to suppress knowledge about humans, and control the poaching of wild humans.
To Léopoldine’s dismay, Fulgence was proven right. Professeur Rouquemonte, a higher-up at the Institut de France, had Leaf confiscated to stop Miss de Gonzague’s research.
But Professeur Rouquemonte had underestimated Léo’s resolve…
Léopoldine is typically dressed in upper class women’s clothing of the day, with a subdued and conservative slant.
She spends much of the story wearing a dress intended for Alpine treks. While by modern standards it looks cumbersome, by wealthy women’s standards of those days it’s practical and rugged.
Yes, even the heeled ankle boots.
Léopoldine lives in an ethereal and comfortable world, far removed from the concerns of 99% of the population.
However, her life seems pretty barren. Her passion for scientific research seems to have cut her off the normal social circuits for her social class.
That leaves her with but the academic world. But it sees a young woman as being out of her place in working toward a PhD.
Like most academics, she is enthusiastic about her research. To her it’s the most interesting, engaging, beautiful thing in the world.
Léopoldine evidences what was back then called “melancholia”. The modern notion of a depression had barely begun to appear.
Being considered as “of a melancholic character” also creates a self-fulfilling prediction that she’ll faint if exposed to an emotional shock.
She also pined after her soldier for two years, going to the station with a gift and watching the arrival of the Tuesday train from Amiens he had promised he’d be on.
Léo is markedly more open-minded, empathic and interested in scientific investigation than most of her contemporaries. Though her loneliness facilitated this, she acted kindly and responsibly toward Leaf even before she determined that humans were people.
DC Universe Adaptation
(This section proposes ways of using this character in DC Universe stories).
She could work oddly well with the Kirby continuity for Kamandi. Though I guess she’d be a Napoleonek wolf rather than a pig.
DC Heroes RPG
Léopoldine de Gonzague
|Dex: 02||Str: 01||Bod: 02|
|Int: 02||Wil: 03||Min: 02|
|Inf: 02||Aur: 02||Spi: 02|
|Init: 006||HP: 005|
Accuracy (Sense of smell): 04, Acrobatics (Climbing): 02, Medicine (First aid): 02, Scientist (Research): 04
Expertise (An unclear area of zoology or biology), Financial Backing (Rich – her father), Misc.: as a de Gonzague she’s high-status in a stratified society.
Léopoldine once unexpectedly produced some climbing equipment, including a grappling hook. There also was a pulley, but these were very different from modern climbing cams. It’s basically the same thing you use for a well bucket.
Source of Character: Alas GN (2010).
Writeup completed on the 26th of November, 2021.