Friday, January 3, 2014

Les Misérables

Les Misérables
Victor Hugo,
Norman Denny (Translator)

Published 1862

First Sentence (Preface from Original Publisher)

"So long as there shall exist, by virtue of law and custom, decrees of damnation pronounced by society, artificially creating hells amid the civilization of earth, and adding the element of human fate to divine destiny; so long as the three great problems of the century - the degradation of man through pauperism, the corruption of woman through hunger, the crippling of children through lack of light - are unsolved: so long as social asphyxia is possible in any part of the world; - in other words, and with a still wider significance, so long as ignorance and poverty exist on earth, books of the nature of Les Miserables cannot fail to be of use."


Publisher's Description:
‘He was no longer Jean Valjean, but No. 24601’
Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, when, owing to a case of mistaken identity, another man is arrested in his place; and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty. A compelling and compassionate view of the victims of early nineteenth-century French society, Les Misérablesis a novel on an epic scale, moving inexorably from the eve of the battle of Waterloo to the July Revolution of 1830.
Norman Denny’s introduction to his lively English translation discusses Hugo’s political and artistic aims in writing Les Misérables.

Dear Reader,

This epic novel by Victor Hugo was quite surprising a treat. I think the enchantment felt was partially due to the lack of knowledge I had of this popular story. I've never seem any of the films or ventured out to see the play. Anyone who has ever read this will know Hugo tends to digress into many topics which stray from the story itself. Not knowing this, the first digression choked me like swallowing on a huge pill. But slowly, after each one... I started to enjoy his digressions and actually wanted more. Hugo has a wonderful mind and really delves into some thought provoking ideas. All this stimulating writing has me highlighting like crazy.

For example, I loved the way Hugo compared a prison to a monastery and a convict to a nun, never would I have even thought to compare the two, but what a comparison it is!! I also loved the entire rant on slang; this topic is still being debated today. The slang of long ago is proper speech today which strengthens the argument even more. He brings a refreshing look at what slang really is and how it should be treated. Progress... we must be open to it.

One of my favorite characters in the book was actually a very minor character but one which brought about Hugo's rant of slang. Gavroche, the street urchin who creates a nest in an elephant sculpture, has such cheer and resourcefulness for a child with nothing. This is admirable but Gavroche's true charm lies with his slangy speech. He speaks chock full of cute world for ordinary things and he always corrects others when they use "proper" speech. His part is short but his character is so heartwarming and odd that it stuck with me.

Okay, so... this story is aptly names, "The Miserable Wretches", be warned! EVERYONE has horrible things happen to them! However, I think a happy ending is quite overrated and usually enjoy the nitty gritty truth better. I'll leave you with this quote straight out of the ending of the book: "It is a terrible thing to be happy! how content one is! How all-sufficient one finds it! How, being in possession of the false object of life, happiness, one forgets the true object, duty!"

It was Hugo's duty to deliver us a story with depth and feeling (not one of those dull, heard it all before stories). With this, he has success... END of story.

Happy Reading,
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