Les Misérables


I love classics and I love books.

Despite my on-going love affair with the French Language, I was way too stuck on English classics and existential literature and I haven’t really read any French classics since Madame Bovary in grade 12.

Portrait of “Cosette” by Emile Bayard, from the original edition of Les Misérables (1862). Source: Wikipedia

As much as I hate to admit, it was all the noise around the most recent production of Les Misérables that suddenly reminded me that I have abandoned French classics for too long. Conveniently Les Misérables in its five volumes, hundreds of chapters and full 1900 pages was available, for free, en Français on my e-reader (that I bought three months ago and felt terrible about)

Ever since I started reading the book and without watching the movie, I am absolutely convinced that no Hollywood depiction will ever capture the magnificence and the depth of this stunning masterpiece (and I’ve heard amazing reviews of the movie).

Don’t worry I won’t be revealing anything that is not  on the be back  page of the book (even though e-readers don’t have a back page): 

Every time I mention to someone that I am reading Les Misérables and I complete the sentence with it is almost 2000 pages and divided into five volumes, I get almost an automatic response of “why don’t you just watch the movie?”. Even my sister once said to me that she really wanted to read the book after seeing the film but is very hesitant now that she knows how long it is.

I, on the other hand, find myself zipping through page after page and chapter after chapter and book after book without even noticing. The key point is that I don’t really want to watch the movie. There are a lot of “irrelevant to the story-line” stories in the book and it is safe to assume that the movie doesn’t capture most of it, if any.

The film does not replace the book. In reality, these are two different activities. I’m probably gonna enjoy the film, despite not being a fan of the film industry (and I’ll leave that to another blog, maybe), but I do know that it is just not the same thing. Reading Les Misérables (which is one of the longest novels ever written) is more than just reading a plot and the story of Jean Valjean and Cosette. It is a rich history reference.

Les Misérables explores in some detail many things including Napoleon, the Battle of Waterloo, the July Revolution, Hugo’s political views, the Sisters Bernardines-Bénédictines of the Perpetual Adoration ( I am not entirely sure why), and occasionally goes through a mini-tour in Paris. In addition it enriches your French vocabulary.

Furthermore,  the book allows the reader to emotionally connect with the characters; to live through a series of emotional and philosophical dilemmas that are so eloquently written that push the reader into a somewhat disturbing space to question values and principles.  

Reading this book has been a great pleasure to me, it suddenly reminded me of the simple yet complicated emotions that a book could stir up. It is not for no reason that Les Misérables is a masterpiece and so if you’re debating reading it, I really encourage you to pick up the book and do it.


5 thoughts on “Les Misérables

  1. I compromised: inspired by your example, I got the audiobook (it weighs in at a hefty 57 hours) and am listening to that. Previously I saw the stage version in London 20-something years ago. I am not sure how I would answer people who say you should see the film instead… it is comparing two different media. They could almost be two totally different stories. It is like suggesting you eat a bunch of grapes when you are in the mood for champagne. I like grapes but I also like champagne, and they are fulfilling in different ways. If that makes sense. Anyway, thank you for inspiring me to “read” it (wish my French were good enough to read it in the original language.)

  2. It’s about 500 pages shorter in English but I actually think it will be fun to listen to it in audiobook.
    I agree, and the movie leaves a lot of the plot out as it is just simply really long, but that just comes from people who find reading boring or that it requires a lot of attention.
    I’m glad you’re ‘reading’ it and thanks for reading 🙂

  3. I think this is the upside of the WP links at the bottom of posts. Otherwise I might never have discovered your post here. I paid ten cents for an abridged English in paperback one summer while in high school. At the time I had no access to the full text. The ethical issues it raised influenced me profoundly. I think that makes Les Miserables a truly great book. I’ve even incorporated references to it in my own fiction.
    I agree that film and stage productions are different entities from the written text–and yet–Victor Hugo’s ideas and characters come to life so readily no matter what medium they traverse.
    Now curious just what else you’ve been digging into….
    Hello. 🙂

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