My Goodreads Quotes

Allison’s quotes

"Don't you think it's rather nice to think that we're in a book that God's writing? If I were writing a book, I might make mistakes. But God knows how to make the story end just right--in the way that's best for us."
Do you really believe that, Mother?" Peter asked quietly.
Yes," she said, "I do believe it--almost always--except when I'm so sad that I can't believe anything. But even when I don't believe it, I know it's true--and I try to believe it."— E. Nesbit

Friday, February 13, 2015

Favorite Classics: Number Five-- Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo

Hello, readers!  I reviewed my schedule earlier and concluded that I would not have time for a full ten posts like I had planned for the Favorite Classics series.  Instead, I chopped them down to five, which means yesterday's hint for (spoilers!) A Man for All Seasons, by Robert Bolt, no longer applies.  (Alack!) 

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 Paris.  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. 

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 Paris. 

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, Paris, 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. 

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 France thirty 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. 

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?


Laura Pol said...

Yeah I have to admit one reason I haven't read it is because it's so long! It does sound life changing and will have to one day read it (not sure when though)!

Oh happy early birthday! Mine is the 21st! :D I'm going to say 24 since that's the age I'm turning! Haha! ;)

Ana @ Butterflies of the Imagination said...

I've never read Les Mis before, but I would really love to someday. Right now I am so bogged down with school so I don't think I can tackle 1000+ pages of a book, but I'm making it a goal of mine to tackle it during the summer. Even though a ton of classics are long, it is so worth it because they are so complex and resonant, which I love in books. Also, you don't have to enter me in the giveaway because I'm not allowed to give out my address. And happy early birthday!

Athelas Hale said...

I've never read Les Miserables, though I want to some day. Have you seen the movie? If so, what do you think of it? (I haven't seen the movie, so I don't actually know anything about it... But I'm curious.)

Happy early birthday! I'm going to guess you're turning... Seventeen or eighteen?

Anonymous said...

My mum loves Les Miserables. Maybe I should try it when I'm finished The Count of Monte Cristo. (nearly halfway!)
Happy early birthday :) ! Are you turning 21?

ghost ryter said...

I really, really need to read this. *sighs*

I'm going to guess 17, like Athelas. :)

Allison Ruvidich said...

Read it! Read it!

@Jemma- I LOVE THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO!! Although it's not on this list... alas. I can't wait to see what you think!

Okay, I'm starting to feel guilty for making you guess my age, so I'm going to go ahead and say that Ghosty and Athelas are right: I'm turning 17! Yay!

Sarah said...

I haven't read Les Miserables . . . it's one of those books that I feel I ought to read, but like The Book Thief, it seems intimidating somehow. :P

Allison Ruvidich said...

Les Miserables is better than the Book Thief. ; ) Just saying.

Psalms w guitar said...

Yeah, I went through it last year. I found it to be totally worthwhile. Being a minister, I love the description of the minister who brought forgiveness to Jean Veljean in the beginning. I found the description of slang in the prison system to be very interesting and perhaps the source of much modern slang.

The "showdown in the sewers" at the end was really cool.

Allison Ruvidich said...

The Bishop will forever be an incredibly dear figure to me and my family. I particularly love the line where, when the villagers laugh at him for riding a donkey instead of a horse, he says something to the effect of, "I know you find it vain of me to ride the same animal that Jesus rode to Jerusalem, but I assure you it is of necessity, not pride." : D I'm so glad you liked it! Thanks for commenting!