I’m still in the afterglow of being completely immersed in a really long and artful novel, reminiscing on sweet moments, laughing at the silly jokes, reeling from life-changing courses, dark characters, and powerful portrayals. This booook!!!!!!!! I decided to finally read it after seeing my friend Mil (a person whose book taste I can NOT decipher) totally immersed; it ended up being a perfect decision.
Jean Valjean is now my new favorite protagonist of all times (a close second being Philip Carey from Of Human Bondage). He is the most pitiful and the most beautiful character. Valjean, imprisoned with hard labor for 19 years after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving children. “English statistics show that in London starvation is the immediate cause of four out of five thefts. Jean Valjean entered the galleys sobbing and trembling; he left hardened. He entered in despair; he left sullen. What happened within this soul?…Through suffering upon suffering he gradually came to the conclusion that life is a war and that in that war he was the vanquished.” But Valjean did not stay down & out after getting out of prison; he met Bishop Myriel, which changed the course of his life. I will never forget the scene where Valjean, still beastly under the effects of his unjust jail sentence, steals Bishop Myriel’s silverware and escapes into night. He is then caught by town police and brought back to Myriel’s so he may return the silverware. But Myriel says to Valjean, oh but you forgot the silver candlesticks silly man, and Myriel tells police that the silverware was a gift to Valjean (when it in fact was theft). He then tells Valjean that this is the chance for him to turn around and become a good man, because he has received a good deed, and Myriel believed in Valjean. Valjean faces seeeeerious inner turmoil about going from cruel animal to kind human, but eventually does, and makes this his purpose in life. I LOVE HIM SO MUCH.
Ohhh the characters.
Grandfather Gillenormand: his deep love of a child, his gruff exterior, yet soft and emotional interior.
Fantine: unfortunate of unfortunates, spiral of despair, loss of any innocence.
Eponine!!!!: her destituteness, her love for Marius, the way she prevents her father and his goons from robbing Marius’ lover, the way she takes a bullet for him and says she was “a little bit in love” with him (the way she is really beautiful in the movie, wowza).
Cosette: I could do without her…she was thankless, naïve, ‘passive’, ignorant, superficial, she didn’t know what all had been sacrificed for her!!! (“She had Marius. The young man came, the good old man [Valjean] faded away; such is life.”)
The lingo of this book was perfect: trembling, pressing hands, longing, coquetry, vile characters, shudders, recoiling in horror – so Pride and Prejudice, so Victorian, love it. My one grumble is that the there were too many digressions by Hugo. At the beginning of each new section, there would be some long digression on convents, or sewers, or political poetry, which completely disturbed the telling of the underlying story. There was no weaving of these strange detours, but just large chunks of interruption, and then a return to the story. *I’m not actually sure what part of this has to do with Hugo’s writing style (which I’m unfamiliar with) or to do with the fact that I read “The only complete and unabridged paperback edition.”* (Either way, future readers, no need to read this complete and unabridged version, the abridged version is prolly long enough…) I can overlook the fact that at least 1/3 of the pages were devoted to digressions, just as I can overlook the fact that David Foster Wallace intersperses obsessive and over-the-top detail in his writing – the rest of the writing is so worth it. I attribute it to genius ramblings.
I ended the book by crying almost uncontrollably for the last 30 minutes; I couldn’t see pages at times. It was a good cry. For me, this was a story of moral philosophy, a moral guide, the good, the bad, the misfortunate. “…So long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”
I immediately watched the musical movie the next day…everything happened so dang fast and all the characters were so undeveloped. I guess that’s to be expected when epic, long, involved masterpieces become movies. I need to see the live musical now, to complete my obsession.