I kept putting off writing this book review because I knew there was nothing I could say that would constitute a useful ‘review’ of this classic work. Victor Hugo uses more words in this one novel than I have uttered in my entire life. Saying the book is 1500 plus pages long does nothing to illustrate the overwhelming heaviness it contains. I have read many 1500 page novels but very few of them have left me feeling like someone has just dumped a 50 ton truck load of rocks in my brain. The sheer volume of information found between the covers of this book is very impressive.
When discussing Les Miserables with friends the other day someone made the comment, “was it really worth it to read the unabridged version?” The truth is, this particular piece of literature is a HUGE commitment, one that most people will shy from. However, the popular abridged version does not do the tale justice. I admit, I am a story reader not an information reader. I read for entertainment and enlightenment not for knowledge. I grew up listening to the London Cast version of Les Miserables the musical. I have been familiar with the characters and the plot for 20 years. Because of this I jumped into the first page knowing how the story would end and knowing I would not be disappointed with the issuing relationships. I wanted to read the unabridged version because I wanted to more fully understand the depth and completeness of the characters and their journeys. I could not have done this without all of the events the author displayed. So yes, the unabridged version is definitely worth the time.
However, (Just like in the Bible… oh the thunder clouds are gathering) there are parts of Les Mis that need not be read by the average entertainment bound reader. These parts are the 50 to 100 page tunnels Hugo plummets down that do nothing to further the plot. Unless you are particularly concerned with the year 1817 (the book takes place in the 1830’s), the battle of Waterloo, women in monasteries, or the engineering and design of the early 19th century Paris sewer system you need not travel through all of Hugo’s wealth of words. I was grateful that these epistles were obvious to indentify (the author goes so far as to say before one such passage, “We must be brief”, 40 pages later he continues his story). I always knew that if a recognizable character had not been mentioned in the first 3 or 4 paragraphs of a new chapter they would likely not be mentioned at all and therefore the chapter was unnecessary to the progress of the plot.
Victor Hugo was clearly genius in his abilities. We have already discussed his impressive vocabulary demonstrated by his plethora of words used, but he was also an incredible investigator. The hours and years he spent researching his obvious points of interest (need we say the Paris Sewer system again?) and his ability to write VERY LONG sentences (his longest being 823 words) puts him in a very selective class of intellectuals. Not only was he well informed on topics such as history, engineering, and geography but he had a solid understanding of human nature, emotion and psyche. Although his characters were vastly different one from another he knew their thoughts well and never discredited them. Sound character development is essential and Hugo did not disappoint.
Playwright Claude-Michel Schonberg did well in truly depicting the characters as they were originally created with the exception of Eponine and Cosette. The musical left me to believe (or perhaps I had just hoped) that Eponine had a solid friendship with Marius, when in reality she merely felt for Him what He felt for Cosette; unknowing love. Cosette disappointed me in that she was a blinded brat. She loved Marius (without even knowing him) and was willing to do as he asked no matter the pain she caused her pious ‘father’ Jean Valjean. She broke Valjeans heart and caused his death. This surprised and saddened me.
Completing the unabridged version of Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo was a great accomplishment in my life, one I had looked towards achieving for many years. Yes, the days were long and the pages turned slowly. And yes, there were some 500 pages that I wish someone would remove. But yes, it was worth all of my time and effort! Go and discover for yourself.
Following are some of my favorite quotes and passages from Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
“Be it true or false, what is said about men often has as much influence upon their lives, and especially upon their destinies, as what they do.”
“Women are incurable on the subject of weddings, and all that we wise men can say will not hinder vastmakers and gaiter-binders from dreaming about husbands loaded with diamonds.”
“Crunch no sugar, therefore, and you shall live!”
“Mothers’ arms are made of tenderness, and sweet sleep blesses the child who lies therin.”
“To be WICKED does not insure prosperity – for the inn did not succeed well.”
“Books are cold but sure friends.”
“Some people are malicious from the mere necessity of talking.”
“It is easy to be kind, the difficulty is to be just.”
“There were plenty of people there who were thirsty; but it was that kind of thirst which reaches rather towards the jug than the pitcher.”
“He had undergone everything, in the shape of privation; he had done everything, except get into debt.”
“He gave himself this credit, that he had never owed a sou to anybody. For him a debt was the beginning of slavery. He felt even that a creditor is worse than a master; for a master owns only your dignity and can belabor that.”
“There are fathers who do not love their children; there is no grandfather who does not adore his grandson.”
“There is a moment when girls bloom out in a twinkling and become roses all at once. Yesterday we left them children, today we find them dangerous.”
“During all these torments, and now for a long time, he had discontinued his work, and nothing is more dangerous than discontinued labour; it is habit lost.”
“Thought is the labour of the intellect, reverie is its pleasure. To replace thought by reverie is to confound poison with nourishment.”
“Women play with their beauty as children do with their knives. They wound themselves with it.”
“Behold your future. Idleness, pleasure, what abysses! To do nothing is a dreary course to take, be sure of it. To live idle upon the substance of society! To be useless, that is to say, noxious! This leads straight to the lowest depth of misery.”
“Oh! My child, you are taking a mistaken road, laziness is giing you bad advice; the hardest of all labour is robbery. Trust me, do not undertake this dreadful drudgery of being an idler. To become a rascal is not comfortable. It is not so hard to be an honest man.”
“This misery of a child is interesting to a mother, the misery of a young man is interesting to a young woman, the misery of an old man is interesting to nobody. This is of all miseries the coldest.”
“Happiness wishes everybody happy.”
“being in possession of the false aim of life, happiness, we forget the true aim, duty!”