2013 Challenges, Books, The Classics Club

Book 218: Les Misérables – Victor Hugo

Hugo, Victor - Les MiserablesIf Les Misérables is one thing, it is too damn long. I’m sure there are people who will disagree with me and I partially disagree with myself, but 1,729 pages is just outrageous. My advice to you if you want to read this novel, unless you are seriously interested or enthralled by French history, is to read an abridged version.

Don’t get me wrong, the story is amazingly, heartrendingly beautiful, but there was a lot of history that, yes, adds to the story, but is a long hard slough to get through. I’m talking upwards of 900 pages is just history and setting and had very little consequence on the story other than to set the scene. By time I got to volume five of the book it was a struggle to get through. I mean there were fascinating facts like how much sewer there is below Paris, but I did not need to know who put it there and who mapped and cleaned it!

This book counts for all three of my 2013 challenges, the Mount TBR, Tea and Books (as TWO books!) and Back to the Classics, as well as for The Classics Club. I am very glad I read it, however this is one instance where I think I prefer an adaptation just for sheer amount of time saved. I’m not sure I’ve ever spent more than two weeks reading a book, apart from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers. I will say I was impressed with how much the musical (I’ve only seen the film version and the marching band at my high school did the music) stayed true and kept most of the information from the book.

Now I don’t want you to get me wrong, this was an amazing book. Going into the book I knew the basic premise from having seen the musical this past winter, but the book added so much to the musical! It gave so much back history to the characters and shored up even more of the connections the musical hinted at. I will say it is one of the great things of novels that they are able to work on serendipity and untold connections. I did however find myself shaking my head at some of the intricacies of the connections. I mean think about it, this is a novel that is over 1,700 pages long and there are only maybe 10-12 major named characters and they are all intimately connected.

I think what I loved most about this story was seeing how many authors have pulled from this story and how much he pulled from other authors. A book like this really shows how well read many classic (and modern) authors are. Not only did Hugo provide ample historical references, he provided hundreds of literary and mythological references. It at times was overwhelming, but he did this in such a way that it wasn’t obnoxious (a la Louisa May Alcott in Little Women – or the later books in the trilogy).

Recommendation: I would definitely recommend reading this book, but I would recommend reading an abridged version unless you are an avid francophile. This is definitely a love story for the ages and it is one I think everyone should read at some point.

EDIT: I will say that the translator and or Hugo need to have a broader selection of vocabulary. If I had to see the word lugubrious, sepulchral or somnambulatory or a derivative of them, I was going to go crazy!

Opening Line: “In 1815, M. Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of Digne.”

Closing Line: “La chose simplement d’elle-même arriva, comme la nuit se fait lorsque le jour s’en va. (The thing came to pass simply, of itself, as the night comes when day is gone.)” (Whited out.)

Additional Quotes from Les Misérables
“True or false, that which is said of men often occupies as important a place in their lives, and above all in their destinies, as that which they do.” (loc. 72)

“To be a saint is the exception; to be an upright man is the rule. Err, fall, sin if you will, but be upright.” (loc. 273)

“Let us never fear robbers nor murderers. Those are dangers from without, petty dangers. Let us fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers; vices are the real murderers. The great dangers lie within ourselves. What matters it what threatens our head or our purse! Let us think only of that which threatens our soul.” (loc. 515)

“Yes, the brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over, this fact is recognized,—that the human race has been treated harshly, but that it has progressed.” (loc. 791)

“People who are crushed do not look behind them. They know but too well the evil fate which follows them.” (loc. 1119)

“She was beautiful in the two ways—style and rhythm. Style is the form of the ideal; rhythm is its movement.” (loc. 2204)

“The property of love is to err. A love affair is not made to crouch down and brutalize itself like an English serving maid who has callouses on her knees from scrubbing. It is not made for that; it errs gayly, our gentle love. It has been said, error is human; I say, error is love.” (loc. 2362)

“Diamonds are found only in the dark places of the earth; truths are found only in the depths of thought.” (loc. 3916)

“If you wish to gain an idea of what revolution is, call it Progress; and if you wish to acquire an idea of the nature of progress, call it Tomorrow. Tomorrow fulfills its work irresistibly, and it is already fulfilling it today. It always reaches its goal strangely.” (loc. 5855)

“To breathe Paris preserves the soul.” (loc. 9585)

“To dare; that is the price of progress.” (loc. 9746)

“She was an antique virtue, an incombustible prude, with one of the sharpest noses, and one of the most obtuse minds that it is possible to see.” (loc. 9952)

“Not seeing people permits one to attribute to them all possible perfections.” (loc. 10449)

“He had supposed himself fixed; he now suspected, with uneasiness, and without daring to avow it to himself, that he was not. The angle at which he saw everything began to be displaced anew. A certain oscillation set all the horizons of his brains in motion. An odd internal upsetting. He almost suffered from it.” (loc. 10894)

“All history is nothing but wearisome repetition. One century is the plagiarist of the other. The battle of Marengo copies the battle of Pydna; the Tolbiac of Clovis and the Austerlitz of Napoleon are as like each other as two drops of water. I don’t attach much importance to victory. Nothing is so stupid as to conquer; true glory lies in convincing.” (loc 10940)

“That first gaze of a soul which does not, as yet, know itself, is like the dawn in the sky. It is the awakening of something radiant and strange.” (loc 11562)

“Revolutions spring not from an accident, but from necessity. A revolution is a return from the fictitious to the real. It is because it must be that it is.” (loc. 13699)

“Everything toils at everything.” (loc. 14476)

“Who, then, can calculate the course of a molecule? How do we know that the creation of worlds is not determined by the fall of grains of sand? Who knows the reciprocal ebb and flow of the infinitely great and the infinitely little, the reverberations of causes in the precipices of being, and the avalanches of creation? The tiniest worm is of importance; the great is little, the little is great; everything is balanced in necessity; alarming vision for the mind. There are marvellous relations between beings and things; in that inexhaustible whole, from the sun to the grub, nothing despises the other; all have need of each other.” (loc. 14478)

“And then, strange to say, the first symptom of true love in a young man is timidity; in a young girl it is boldness. This is surprising, and yet nothing is more simple. It is the two sexes tending to approach each other and assuming, each the other’s qualities.” (loc. 14667)

“For those who love solitude, a walk in the early morning is equivalent to a stroll by night, with the cheerfulness of nature added.” (loc. 14790)

“Nothing suffices for love. We have happiness, we desire paradise; we possess paradise, we desire heaven.” (loc. 15253)

“When you shall have learned to know, and to love, you will still suffer. The day is born in tears. The luminous weep, if only over those in darkness.” (loc. 16109)

“There are people who observe the rules of honor as one observes the stars, from a great distance.” (loc. 20272)

“When it is the heart which is slipping, one does not halt on the downward slope.” (loc. 23165)

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27 thoughts on “Book 218: Les Misérables – Victor Hugo”

  1. Great review and beautiful quotes. I love Victor Hugo’s writing, although I’ve had trouble getting through Les Mis because it’s just (as you say) so darn long. It’s one of those books that I can read a few pages of at a time and really savor them but have trouble making real progress with. I have it on my Classics Club list, though, so someday I am determined to finish the beast.

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    1. It is definitely worth the read. If I weren’t so specific in how I read I would’ve read one volume at a time with other books in between. And the best part is the version I read had an original review and an explanation for the Italian translation. It was fascinating, plus Hugo was a beautiful linguist.

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  2. I bow down to you…. I have a beautiful edition – it is actually 5 separate books from the late 1800s, and I started it years ago…. and never went back. I’m somewhere in the middle of book 3, I think…. but I LOVE the musical (it was my first Broadway experience) so I really SHOULD finish it… but, man. Congratulations on finishing it!

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    1. Haahaa thanks! I’m not sure how I trucked through. If I were reading a physical copy in five volumes, I would have definitely taken a break but as I was e-reading I just plowed through. You should definitely finish as the last two volumes are so great! And that is where the only portions of the musical that changed small bits.

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  3. I still need to read this one. The page count intimidates me. however, I think I’ll read the whole thing. I’m a history nerd and I would probably like to know who does clean and map the sewers. Yes, I’m an oddball.

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    1. Yeah – it was incredibly difficult not to skim especially in the last two volumes when I knew the story and knew it should be wrapping up a lot faster than it was!

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    1. Like I’ve said to everyone I would definitely recommend an abridged version unless you’re particularly interested in that time period or France in general. It was a struggle!

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  4. Yay! You finished this! Reading this was almost harder than reader War and Peace for me. It’s soooo long and depressing for dozens of pages at a time.Don’t get me wrong–I loved it and am glad I read it but I think you are on the mark in saying that most people might prefer the abridged version. Also agree that the musical does a fantastic job of cramming 1750ish pages into a very digestible 2.5 hourish show.

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    1. Oh no! For some reason I decided to put W&P and LM in the same year. We’ll see how this goes and whether or not I finish it. I should start it sooner rather than later.

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      1. I think the good thing about W&P is that there are more story lines to follow and I personally knew more about the War of 1812 so it was easier for me to follow. That being said I think it still took me like a month to read (and I even had a broken foot and wasn’t too mobile through most of it). Also, I did Vanity Fair and W&P in the same year (and I’m a slower reader than you) so I’m sure you can do it! 🙂

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        1. Fingers crossed! I still have No Name to read as part of my Tea & Books Challenge. For some reason I thought W&P was significantly shorter than it apparently is. Uh oh. Might have to make a last minute substitution.

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  5. Thanks for the recommendation! I have Les Miserables on my list and I do want to read it in unabridged version (as I did with The Count of Monte Cristo), but I have seen a few reviews that was not in favour of Les Miserables. I might consider reading it abridged. Monte Cristo was a different story – the novel was so interesting, I didn’t even notice the length 🙂

    Lovely review!

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    1. Yeah I would highly recommend an abridged version as so much of it is superfluous history which does set the scene but isn’t necessary for the stories plot.

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