Monday, December 31, 2018

Schole Sisters - Les Miserables...

You may remember this past summer I was planning to read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo with my Summer Schole Sisters. I've been waiting to post a review until now because I was going to attend the Broadway musical Les Miserables and I wanted to compare and contrast the two. This weekend, I had the privilege of seeing the musical, but first, let's back up to the book read last summer.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo was originally published in 1862 in French. There are several good English translations, of which, you can compare here. I personally, ordered each translation from the library and read the same excerpt from each book before settling on the Norman Denny translation as my reading copy. I did so because I liked the readability of it, as well as the fact that Denny maintained much of Hugo's original work. He did move a couple lengthy passages to the back of the book, but they were still there if one chose to go read them.

I did also buy the Isabel Hapgood translation because it matches the Librivox audio and the C. E. Wilbour translation because it was the first English translation and was written only one year after Hugo's original publication. A couple of moms in our group chose the Julie Rose translation and loved the extensive end notes in that edition. I plan to go back and re-read Les Mis in a different translation at some point. Either way, I would encourage you to find an unabridged version regardless of translation.

Once I began reading Les Mis, I met with my Summer Schole Sisters five times from June through August to discuss it. We broke up assigned reading by volumes, meeting after each of the five volumes. There were six regular attenders in addition to myself, which made for great discussion. All of which were home educating moms, with the exception of one grandma. It was awesome to have that perspective in our group!

Les Miserables is set in the first half of 19th Century France after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. Hugo's novel shows the social injustice of the people and the long term effects of the French Revolution on it's society. In Andrew Pudewa's talk on Fairy Tales and Moral Immagination, he judges stories in four categories. The second being "Healing Stories". I would qualify Les Mis as a healing story, in which good is good, bad is bad, good does not always win, but grace prevails. It is the story of redemption, love, loss, grace, and forgiveness.

Hugo's beautiful and unforgettable characters have incredible depth. It's hard for me to pick a favorite. Jean Valjean would most likely be at the top, as the evolution of his faith was paramount to the story. Fantine was a close second for me. As a mother, my heart ached for her and I felt like she was a child herself in such an unfortunate circumstance. She unselfishly gave everything she had to provide for her daughter, which cost her life. Then of course, the Bishop of Digne, Gavroche, and Cosette were right up there. I even fell for Eponine. I felt her character was redeemed when she handed Cosette's letter over to Marius upon her death.

There is a great deal of French history and politics in Les Mis, making it a wonderful high school read for that time period. One can also learn about the 200 year old sewer system of Paris, which is now open for tour in our modern day. In addition, the reader sees examples of good vs. evil character and romantic vs. familial love. The question of justice was a constant conversation in our book discussion. Can one ever overcome their criminal past? Les Mis has several subplots, which is part of what makes it so rich.

Regarding the musical Les Miserables, many of the subplots and depth of characters mentioned are missed on stage. I did enjoy the music immensely, but I was feeling sorry for those that had not read the novel because I don't think one can get the full understanding without that written knowledge. Also, the musical's vulgar language and sexual innuendos are not included in the book. It's unfortunate if the musical is your only experience with Les Mis because it diminishes Hugo's christian side of the story and the whole redemptive point of the book. On the other hand, the set and costuming in the Broadway Les Miserables were phenomenal. In addition, it was a bonus to me that almost every character looked as I envisioned.

Overall, I LOVED Les Miserables! I highly recommend everyone read it. As stated, the musical is good as well, but please read the book first. Or, if you've already seen the musical, do yourself a favor and go back and read Hugo's intended story. It is lengthy, but oh so worthy. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

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