Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1862, 1376 pages)

There are lots of things one could say about Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1808-1885-France).   One of them is that it is a  huge novel, up there with War and Peace and Clarrisa.  ( I read it through in the older translation by Isabel Hopgood.   There is a quite new translation by Julia Rose that some say is wonderful and others say tries to make the book too contemporary).   I am kind of at a loss what to write about it in a reasonable space.   

I am so glad that I have at last read Les Miserables (I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame not long ago and there is some additional background information on Victor Hugo in my post on that novel).   I really loved this book.   I found the plot exciting.   Some of the characters I hated, some I admired and some I did find a bit much.

The story of Jean Valjean is pure  heart break.   There are many terribly sad scenes in this book.   There are long meditations on the events of European history.    Much of it is a savage indictment of the incredible corruption in 19th century France.   It is all about Paris from the halls of justice to the sewers.    The section on the sewers is really quite amazing.   A lot of time is spent on action during the 1832 revolution.   There are lots of just brilliant asides.   There is a very long account of Napoleon era battles.   

The plot line does turn a lot on coincidences.   The character of Cosette the adopted daughter of Jean Valjean and her relationship to Marius may seem almost too romantic.   I admit I did not like Marius all that much once we saw how he reacted when he found out about the background of Jean Valjean.   

Why is this book so great?   Good question.   It captures French society perfectly and through it nearly all of the human experience.   The characterizations are incredibly deep.   The action part of the book is very exciting (as shown by the various highly successful movies and even a Broadway musical based on the Jean Valjean and his pursuit by police inspector Javert ).   There are enough meditations on history, religion, justice, the nature of society to keep you thinking for a very long time.   

The treatment of the lives of the poor in Paris is at least the equal of anything in Dickens treatment of the poor in any of his works.  

If I were doing a life time reading plan, I would for sure now put Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Norte Dame on the list.   

Les Miserables is one of the great works of all literature.   Maybe it is romantic and perhaps sentimental but it also a towering work by a genius.   

Mel u


Rise said...

I loved this book. A very human book, a total novel. I read it back in college for class with a Jesuit for a teacher. I also liked the extended scene at the sewers. Marius did redeem himself in the end, right?

Mel u said...

Rise-I am so glad you also like this wonderful book-Yes I would say Marius did redeem himself-he is also a product of his class and raising and this explains part of his reaction.

@parridhlantern said...

Hugo's one of those writers who create worlds so immersive, that all you can do is submerge yourself in them, rising every now and then to breathe. I. Think it's in the detail of his vision that you become amazed not just the grandiose imagery but down to the tiniest insignificant scrap that is painted equally.
PS. Probably asked this before but have you read Anatole France?

Laura Massey said...

I'm planning to read this next year. I imagine it will take me the whole year to read alongside all my other books. It's just been sitting on my shelf for so long and I think it's time I conquered it.

Kate said...

Great to hear your thoughts. My mom and I have plans to read "Les Miserables" throughout the year 2012. I'm looking forward to it, as it's a story I grew up hearing because mom was really into the musical (I know the actual story is bound to be different!).

Jinky said...

It sounds like a tedious read but the depth sounds exciting. I haven't seen the play or movie so I didn't know what it was about exactly but that it's highly praised. Thanks for the passionate review, I'll have to put this on my tbr list... as well as The Hunchback..

Suzanne said...

I admit that I saw the musical version before I read the novel, but I enjoyed the book for its detail of that period of French history. It is one I must re-read some day.

*ೃ༄ Jillian said...

I can't wait to read this one, and then to watch the movie. :-)

Mel u said...

Parrish Lantern-I read a short story by Anatole France a few months ago-I hope to read one of his longer works in 2012-I agree totally Hugo creates a full world

Laura Ashlee-I will be very interested in reading your thoughts on the book

Kate-it is great to hear of your and your mother reading the work together

Mel u said...

Jinky-consider starting with Hunchback-Les Miserables does demand a lot of time

Suzanne-it is a great historical novel-thanks so much for your comment and visit

Jillian-my prediction is you will love it and it maybe one of the great landmarks of your reading life

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

The 1995 Claude Lelouch adaptation is outstanding. Although it is titled Les Miserables, it is not a straightforward version. The story is moved into the 20th century and the central character constantly reminds other people of Jean Valjean. Four hours long, because it is originally from French TV. Jean-Paul Belmondo is great in it.

This is a better movie, Jillian, than whichever one you were thinking of, unless you were thinking of this one.

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

I have seen (and enjoyed) the musical, so I'm familiar with the story. The length has been putting me off so far - I read Anna Karenina this year so that's probably enough chunky classics for one year!

Buried In Print said...

I'm quite looking forward to reading this. Every time I pick up something like this, I think maybe I won't find it enjoyable, but then, once I've started into it, I'm always struck anew by the fact that good stories stretch across the generations because they *are* good stories. And then I wonder why I was worrying!