Book Review: Les Miserables


“How wonderful it is to be loved, but how much greater to love! The heart becomes heroic through passion; it rejects everything that is not pure and does not arm itself with anything that is not noble and great. An unworthy thought can no longer take root in him than a nettle in a glacier. The haughty and serene spirit, immune to all low passion and emotion that prevails over the clouds and shadows of this world, the follies, lies, hatreds, vanities and miseries, dwells in the azure of the sky and feel the deep, subterranean changes of fate no more than the mountain peak feels the earthquake.”

As I read these lines, I knew how I was going to start my review once I finished the book, and that I would recommend it to anyone who wanted to listen to it.

Les Miserables definitely counts as one of my favorite books and is perhaps one of the greatest works in all of literature. It’s no wonder Ayn Rand admires Victor Hugo.

Be prepared, therefore, for a really long review. Genius and master storyteller that Hugo is, the 1201 pages (the rest were relegated to the appendix by the translator) made for quick reading (except for the account of the Battle of Waterloo, ‘a few pages of history’ and the sewer system French, all of which I completely skipped). The many twists and turns, the resurgence of characters I thought were irrelevant, in the most unexpected places to take the story in a whole new direction, made it completely captivating, except for a few places where perhaps Hugo fought with his editor and succeeded. a point to make sure that everything he had written would find a place in the final work, for example, the 3 examples mentioned above that tested my patience in the first few pages and that I skipped without fault. The eloquent prose and lofty thoughts did a good job of transporting me to a different world and inspiring the reverie that makes a person write poetry. Trust me, as your eyes grace the pages, all your finer sensibilities will be awakened and you will be intoxicated with idealism and beauty. As Howard Roark said: “To the glory of man.” That’s what this book is about: a story of heroism. Or, as Hugo himself said, “This book is a drama in which the protagonist is infinity.”

Jean Valjean, the protagonist and his savior Monseigneur Bienvenu will make you want to be a better person. First about the latter. Show this: “Do not ask the name of the person who is looking for a bed for the night. He who refuses to give his name is the one who most needs shelter… We should never fear thieves or murderers. They are dangers from outside small dangers. It is ourselves we have to fear. Prejudice is the real thief and vice the real killer.” I could go on about his “sublime absurdities of goodness” and how “peaceful in his solitude, adoring, matching the stillness of heaven with the stillness of his own heartbeat, swept away in the shadows by the visible and invisible splendors of God, he opened his spirit to the thoughts that came from the unknown” and how in all this “he did not scrutinize God but let his eyes dazzle” but what moved me the most, in addition to his meeting with Jean Valjean, was his delicacy: “Didn’t he is there true evangelization in the delicacy that refrains from preaching and moralizing? To avoid probing an open wound, isn’t that the truest sympathy?” Okay, now onto one of the most moving parts of the story: the episode where Jean Valjean, an ex-convict, finds shelter, food, and most importantly, humane treatment, in the bishop’s place and is taken from him. the soul to the devil and they buy it. for God by the bishop. “Like an owl startled by a sudden dawn, he was blinded by the glare of virtue.” Yes, dear reader, I have Les Miserables open to my side and this review will have many quotes directly from the book (I’m not past 200 pages yet!).

I had hunches of what would happen to Fantine, but I thought Hugo was extremely cruel to let her die the way he did. His feelings for his daughter, which Hugo describes along with his observations about the miracles that children are, are sublime. And Monsieur Madeleine’s ‘tempest in the skull’ and what he ultimately does in response to his awareness is extremely moving. Particularly moving was the fact that Monsieur Madelene observed in the courtroom that in the previous case “he had been tried in the absence of God”. Same for the part about Fantine’s grave: “Thank you, God knows where to look for our souls.”

Part 1 took me longer and having reached book 2 of part 2, little by little I became aware that I had in my hands a book that I would surely fall in love with. I was impressed, but not much, by then. My opinion changed very soon. Jean Valejean’s encounter with Cosette and his journey to happiness as father and daughter united by providence is intertwined with prose so tender that one can hardly help but be moved. Let’s take this: “To stand by her bed watching her while she slept was to experience a shiver of ecstasy. She discovered the agonizing tenderness of a mother without knowing what it was, for nothing is deeper and sweeter than the overwhelming rush of a moved heart.” suddenly to love: an aged and saddened heart made new!… Nothing is lovelier than the glow of happiness in the midst of misery. There is a rose-tinted attic in all our lives.” These lines beautifully sum up what these 2 souls were to each other: “He protected her and she sustained him. Thanks to him she was able to move on in life, and thanks to her he was able to continue to be virtuous. of the child and she his pillar”. Sublime wonder, unfathomable in the scales of destiny!

Javert chasing Jean Valejean and the fantastic entrance into the convent, both the first and second time are great. Javert’s character and his death are also an excellent read. And more interesting is the hand of providence that made sure that it was the same convent in which old Fauchelevent had been working, who “having the opportunity to perform a good deed, clung to it with the eagerness of a dying man who offered a rare vintage that he has never tasted before. The character of the new gravedigger is also interesting: “In the morning I write love letters and in the afternoon I dig graves. That’s life.” Hugo was a genius, I repeat.

Part 3 turned out to be more charming than the previous 2 parts. Marius’ discovery of his father, his polishing of character in poverty, and later love for Cosette, were all philosophy and prose poetry at their best. I could name many but exercising the power of choice scares me. Some of the most moving and deeply moving lines, lines brimming with beauty and eloquence have taken time to describe the love Marius and Cosette shared and if I start quoting, the 13,400 characters left for this Goodreads review would have been over without me proceeded to the next part This alone should be enough to say that the confessions of Marius and Cosette constitute one of the most tender ways in which love is announced in literature. I will not forget, for a long, long time to come, all that preceded this one: “And gradually they began to speak. The outpouring followed the silence that is the fulfillment.”

Gabroche’s was another unforgettable character and the night he spent with his two younger brothers without knowing his identity, affectionate and protective, and fun at the same time, was endearing. The revolution did not surprisingly dampen the passion he had developed for the book by then, eventually reading part 3 onwards until the last one in 2 flat sessions. Marius’s conversation with his grandfather after 5 years was food for thought for the psychology student in me and the separation that followed, for both of us, was heartbreaking. From then on, I dare say, a different level is reached since the accumulation was such that I couldn’t put the book down. Marius’ recovery, his grandfather’s ecstasy… the story seemed to be heading for a happy ending. The sight of the old man praying for the first time in his life was moving again. But the confessions of that other old man and Cosette’s growing indifference put me on guard for a tragic end. Perhaps Marius would learn of this other father’s good deeds only after death had already parted them. This thought jolted me and I’m glad it didn’t. Jean Valjean’s redemption and Marius’ recognition of the old man’s true value, however, were too much, as the lump in my throat threatened to burst and the tears welling up in my eyes took on a life of their own and just wouldn’t stop. Again, I can’t quote those parts because there are simply too many. Thank God, it was a happy ending. That’s all I could think of as tears ran down my cheeks as my eyes caressed the last 4 lines:

He sleeps. Although so much was denied,
He lived; and when his dear love left him, he died.
it happened by itself in the quiet way
That in the evening the night follows the day.

I don’t know why… but books like these make me fall more in love with God…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *