Before I introduce the first book, I'd like to give my definition of a classic. A literary classic, be it poem, novel, or play (we'll see all three in this series!), must, to me, satisfy three criteria. 1. It must have superior characters, plot, language, and overall quality. 2. The overall quality must be so superior that it remains in print long after its fellows decline, which is why most classics are old and smell musty and also why I don't believe in modern classics. And 3. Because it was written in a different time period, reading it must in some way illuminate the different way of life then-- although not necessarily in obvious ways.
With this in mind, allow me to introduce the fifth classic, LesMiserables, by Victor Hugo.
The year is 1832. The city is
And the conditions are miserably poor.
The rich have oppressed the starving lower classes for too long, and the
people of the streets want blood. But amidst
the chaos and revolution, a man called
Jean Valjean struggles to raise his adopted daughter, Cosette, without
revealing to her the tragedies of his past.
When Cosette falls in love with Marius, a student of the revolution, she
unwittingly drags Valjean into the most brutal street warfare Paris has seen since the French Revolution. Hunted by a figure from his past, guided by
faith and love, Jean Valjean must try to save his daughter and her beloved,
even at the cost of his own life. Paris
I am not the most skilled at writing a synopsis, and I do not do this book justice. Every facet of it, every minor character gleams with deep, real, inherently goodness. They are human. They try to do what is right, they fail, and they try again. Eponine, the Bishop, Fantine, Javert, and dear, dear Valjean-- all of them captivate readers and send them along on a journey through the desperate, desolate slums of
I began this book when I was eleven and finished it when I was twelve. It was my rehearsal book-- the book I kept in my theatre bag to read when I had a few minutes free in rehearsal. Hugo is known for his incredibly long, detailed, dry breaks from the actual action of the novel while he soliloquizes on morality,
, the scenery, etc-- which
eleven-year-old me did not appreciate in the slightest. But this novel still had the power to floor
me. Hugo had witnessed the death and
destruction of the June Rebellion. He
knew how to portray it authentically. It
was perhaps the first book I ever cried over. Paris
It was also the first book I read that was over a thousand pages long. Many of you may look at it doubtfully and, with still less credulousness, peruse your schedules. I know how times are, and I know how many books there are to read. But go ahead. Read Les Miserables. It might change your life.
So how, you may ask, does this reflect point 3? In what way does it illuminate the hearts of Parisians in 1862? I believe it does in many ways. Hugo's writing, particularly his work on the death penalty, often paralleled modern political issues-- such as the law. So when we wonder what Hugo thought of
years after the June Rebellion, we need only look at the sad figure of
Inspector Javert: once a firm pillar of the law but now crumpled, lost man
without the moral compass upon which he thought he could rely. France
Reminder: You remember the drill from last year! Comment on any of the favorite classics posts to be entered in the favorite classics giveaway! Entries are capped at one per post, but feel free to comment more. This series won't take place consecutively but will be scattered around blog tours and interviews until it concludes on my birthday, the twenty-fourth. (Earn a bonus entry by trying to guess how old I'm turning!) As for the hint for tomorrow's book: what happens when a poet of the Industrial Revolution decides to write fantasy?