Saturday, April 04, 2015

Classics Salon #1

Mangoes and Cherry Blossoms has started a Classics Salon. Here is the first week's question: What are your first impressions of the current classic you are reading?

I'm currently reading the new translation of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables translated by Christine Donougher. I should probably mention that this is not my first time to read Les Miserables. This is the fourth time. Each time I've read the novel, it has been in a different translation.

I found the introduction by Robert Tombs to be intriguing and informative. I hadn't read that much about the author or about how the novel came to be written--when, where, why, etc.

The novel. I love, love, love Les Miserables. And it opens so strong, in my opinion. I love, love, love the character of the Bishop. And, of course, readers meet Jean Valjean, the ex-convict and hero of the novel.

The opening chapters are so beautifully written. Many of my favorite quotes from the novel come from the beginning. (Not all, mind you, but many.)

True or false, what is said about men often figures as large in their lives, and above all in the fate that befalls them, as what they do. (5)
'To be a saint is the exception. To be a good man is the rule. Err, weaken, and sin, but be among the good. To sin as little as possible, that is the law of mankind. Not to sin at all is the angel's dream. Everything earthly is subject to sin. Sin is a gravitational force.' (16)
He thought of the greatness and presence of God; of the strange mystery of eternity to come and, stranger still, the mystery of past eternity; of all the infinities reaching out before his eyes in every direction. And without seeking to comprehend the incomprehensible, he gazed on it. He did not study God, he yielded to the radiance of God. (53)
'Monsieur le cure,' said the man, 'you're good-hearted. You don't treat me with contempt. You invite me into your home. You light your candles for me. Yet I've made no secret of where I come from and what a wretch I am.' The bishop, sitting beside him, gently touched his hand. 'You didn't have to tell me who you were. This isn't my house, it's the house of Jesus Christ. This door does not ask whoever enters whether he has a name but whether he is in distress. You're in distress, you're hungry and thirsty: you're welcome here. And don't thank me, don't say I'm inviting you into my home. No one is at home here except whoever needs a refuge. I tell you, a passing visitor, this is your home more than mine. Everything here is yours. Why should I need to know your name? Besides, even before you told me, I already knew your name.' The man eyes widened in astonishment. 'Really? You knew me by name?' 'Yes,' replied the bishop, 'by the name of "Brother".'(73)
One thing struck me. This man was what I have told you. Well, apart from a few remarks about Jesus when he came in, my brother did not say a single word throughout the whole meal, or the entire evening, that might remind the man of what he was, or impress on him who my brother was. It was certainly an opportunity, on the face of it, for a bit of a sermon and for the bishop to impress himself on the ex-convict and leave his mark. It might have seemed to anyone else that now was the time, when he had the poor wretch right there, to nourish his soul as well as his body, and to voice either some censure leavened with moral instruction and advice, or a little pity with an exhortation to behave better in the future. My brother did not even ask him where he came from or about his past. For in his past lay his wrong-doing, and my brother seemed to avoid anything that might remind him of it... Having reflected on it, I believe I understand what was in my brother's heart. Doubtless he thought this man, who is called Jean Valjean, was only too well aware of his wretchedness. That the best thing was to distract him from it and, by behaving normally towards him, to make him think, if only for a moment, that he was like any other person. Is that not a real understanding of charity? Is there not, dear madame, something truly evangelical in such delicacy that refrains from sermonizing, moralizing, and criticizing? (76)
'Jean Valjean, my brother, you're no longer owned by evil but by good. It's your soul I'm buying. I'm redeeming it from dark thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I'm giving it to God.' (99)
Have you read Les Miserables? Did you like it? love it? want your time back? Do you have a favorite translation? I'd love to hear what you think about the book! Or what you thought about any of the movie adaptations!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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