September 21, 2013

Victor Hugo: Les Misérables

Posted in Uncategorized at 14:54 by Miracle

” So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.” – Preface, Les Misérables


How would a master sculptor feel if a massive masterpiece of his/hers were to be chiseled into lesser dimensions by other craftsmen just so it could fit snugly on a platform smaller than the one the master had in mind?

It is easy to speculate how the master would react, and it is exactly for this reason that I show prejudice towards abridged editions in literature.  I have postponed the reading of Les Misérables for many years because finding an unexpurgated copy in Philippine bookstores turned out to be more problematic than I thought.

Envision the thrill and delight that this page-turner experienced when a sole leather-bound copy of an unabridged volume turned up last July!  (At last, I have read it and I still sniff its pages fondly and run my fingers along the embossed fleur de lis between the title and the author’s name on its spine up to this day.)

Every single page of this novel is a treasure and I can only imagine the gems that have fallen in the fissures of translation (Oh, to read it in French!), thereby making it more difficult for me to believe how this work of art has been amputated to make it accessible.  I reckon that the unwillingness to tackle the entirety of this colossal novel is the willingness to deprive oneself of so much beauty.

Perhaps my sentiments regarding editions are too romanticized, but reading the unabbreviated novel would make even the acclaimed musical lose its luster.  I had very good things to say about the musical (nevermind Russel Crowe’s singing), but the exquisiteness of the full reading experience is simply incomparable.

The novel is about revolution, but it does not stop in the depiction of insurgencies.  It goes deeper into the careful study of the revolution of thought, religion, and philosophies.  It strips society naked and examines it adeptly.  It scrutinizes man, the soul… and most of all, most of all, Victor Hugo puts woman on a pedestal with this opus.  How he speaks of woman all throughout the narration!  (“Soul seeks soul, gropingly, and finds it. And this soul, found and tested, is a woman.”) And how he speaks of love!

But why “Les Misérables”?  Because we are all victims of the human condition one way or another, and that is why a masterpiece like this will always be pertinent.

I will conclude by divulging something – a “spoiler”, as some would say.  Almost all of the great works of literature tell us one sure thing, from Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, to Anna Karenina: LOVE REDEEMS.


Filed under Life Betwixt Book Covers

1 Comment »

  1. =) I posted some of my favorite passages in a separate entry:


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