Sunday, October 10, 2010

Les Miserables

Most of the time we read for fun (unless you're a student). It is a way to relax and escape. All of us have our individual tastes in genre such as horror, romance (yuck), political, history, and so on. I tend to lean toward the dead author genre. I like the classics. My sister, Evelyn, calls me a book snob. So what if I am. When we buy books, most often we devour the material and call it good. Some books are intended that way. However, it would be a crime to approach Victor Hugo's Les Miserables in that manner. The English unabridged version took me several months to complete. I loved every 1463 pages of it. As I carefully read each chapter, I had a highlighter pen at my side to catch the countless pearls of wisdom that infest the book. I knew I wasn't reading a simple "fun" book, but a book with a soul that would lift and inspire.

Les Mis is probably mostly well known in the musical version. Over 50 film, TV, and animation adaptations of the book have been made. Regardless of which mode the book has been translated too, all are merely rough sketches of Victor Hugo's masterpiece. I am going to assume you already know the basic story line of this well known classic. So I will spare the plot description. Allow me instead to explain why I love this book so much.

For me, Les Mis is easily the most well written work of fiction I have ever read. Hugo doesn't describe characters, these are people he writes about. The lengthy depictions of Waterloo, the sewers of Paris, etc. only help us to truly understand the psyche of the French in the mid 19th century. The first 100 pages details the "minor" character of Bishop Myriel alone! What brilliant description and wisdom Victor Hugo imparts. I read this book continually asking myself, am I Jean Valjean? A man who willingly sacrifices to help the poor and rescue an abuse orphan. Am I Thenardier? A man who is two-faced, vindictive, and will trample anyone over for gain. Or am I a Javert? One who loves and follows the law, but neglects the virtues of mercy and redemption. I hope to be more of a Jean Valjean, but I admit there is a bit of Thenardier and Javert in all of us.

Les Miserables probably is not a mere vacation pleasure novel, as I already stated. This story can be life changing if we allow it. It is to be read slowly and pondered deeply. How I have loved my time reading this book! Many years it took me to finally pull myself to tackling the unabridged version. I regret I did not do it sooner. I recommend this perfect work of fiction to everyone. I fully intend to re-read this story dozens more times before I die. Each time knowing I will be inspired and that I will learn something new each time.

I can go on and on and on about this book. However, I will end this post with some of the quotes I highlighted while reading. If you do intend to read Les Mis, please read it unabridged. Its a beast, but so well worth it.

"Often a battle lost is progress attained."

"Curiosity is gluttony. To see is to devour."

"There are no bad herbs, and no bad men; there are only bad cultivators."

"Indigestion is charged by God with enforcing morality on the stomach. And remember this: Each of our passions, even love, has a stomach that must not be overloaded. We must in all things write the word finis in time; we must restrain ourselves, when it becomes urgent, draw the bolt on the appetite, play a fantasia on the violin, then break the strings with your own hand."

"At critical moments, have we not all, after asking a question, stopped our ears so as not to hear the response?"

"Have no fear of robbers or murderers. They are external dangers, petty dangers. We should fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers; vices the real murderers. The great dangers are within us. Why worry about what threatens our heads or our purses? Let us think instead of what threatens our souls."


claushausIII said...

you are a brave man. i haven't even read it in the abridged version. i have a hard time getting into the french intellectuals and the russians.

i have been trying out fantasy/sci-fi this year and also reading Jane Austen (i can not hide from her any longer...its like she has been tracking me down the past year so i finally submitted). So I have flown through Artemis Fowl series, finishing Percy Jackson, just finished Eragon yesterday and started on Eldest, and want to read The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov by the end of year. I'm thinking next year will be hard-boiled detectives. I did read The Heretics Daughter (about salem witch trials) it was great. I recommend it as an easy but educational read. Maybe one day I will muster the courage to sit down with Hugo for a month, but I need to get better at reading the BoM before I tackle a bigger text.

Jen said...

I think that is the most beautiful book I ever read. I remember so well reading that for "fun" during winter break in college. I agree with everything you said! And I have been called a book snob a few times as well, its a compliment I think.
Another book that really inspired me to try and be better is Elizabeth Gaskell's "North and South." It is one of my top 5's, and anyone who Ive known to get through it has loved it as well. Maybe amber would like it?