Thursday, May 16, 2019

Les Miserables

Les Miserables. Victor Hugo. Translated by Julie Rose. 1862/2008. Modern Library. 1330 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: In 1815, Monsieur Charles-Francois-Bienvenu Myriel was bishop of Digne. He was an elderly man of about seventy-five and he had occupied the seat of Digne since 1806.

Note: This will be my fourth review of Les Miserables for the blog. (It was my fifth time to read the novel.) My 2013 review. My 2014 review. My 2017 review.

I will probably end up cutting and pasting summary bits from other reviews because the plot hasn't changed.

From my 2017 review,
Premise/plot: An ex-convict does his best to live life according to his conscience. Will it ever be enough?

From my 2013 review,

Premise/plot: Jean Valjean is an ex-convict who seeks shelter from Bishop Myriel one night. Though he's been treated only with kindness, Valjean in his bitterness (he was sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread), he steals the bishop's silver. When the theft is discovered, the bishop is all compassion telling the officials that there has been a misunderstanding. Valjean did not steal the silver; it was given as a gift. In fact, he's happy to give Valjean his silver candlesticks as well. Valjean is shocked and overwhelmed. The meeting turns out to be quite life-changing.

When readers next meet Valjean, he has a new name and life. Monsieur Madeleine is a successful business man. He has a BIG heart. He's always giving. He's always thinking of others. He's always doing what he can, when he can to make a difference when and where it matters most. One woman he is determined to help is a young, single mother, Fantine. Circumstances have separated Fantine from her child, Cosette, but, Valjean is determined to correct as many wrongs as he can in this situation. He will see to it personally.

Unfortunately, his past catches up with him. He learns that a man has been arrested; "Jean Valjean" has been caught. Of course, Madeleine knows this is nonsense. Can he let another take his place in prison? If he tells the truth then he can no longer help the poor, but if he doesn't tell the truth, how could he live with himself? He does the honorable thing--though it is one of the greatest challenges he's faced so far.

But that means, for the moment, that Cosette is left in unpleasant circumstances...

There comes a time, an opportunity for Valjean to escape. What he does with his freedom--this time he's assumed drowned, I believe--is go and find Cosette. The two become everything to one another. Cosette is the family he's never had, never even knew he needed or wanted... the two end up in Paris.

Almost half of the novel follows the love story between Marius and Cosette. But it isn't only a love story. Marius is a poor man in conflict with his rich grandfather. The two disagree about many things. But their main source of disagreement is politics. At first, Marius is swept up in his father's politics, with a new awareness of who his father was as a soldier, as a man, as a possible hero. But later, Marius begins to think for himself, to contemplate political and philosophical things for himself. He becomes friendly with a political group at this time. But his love of politics dims when he falls in love with Cosette...and she becomes his whole reason for being. For the longest time these two don't even know each other's names! This romance isn't without challenges...

My thoughts: I love, love, love this novel. I do. I love to love it. I love to reread it every other year or so. I've come to know the characters well. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good in that these characters are memorable and worth knowing and mostly loving. Bad in that it's hard for me to watch film adaptations of Les Miserables without cringing. When writers rewrite Hugo's characters, I have little tolerance. I have some tolerance for condensing or leaving bits out altogether. After all, I don't expect a movie to go scene by scene through the novel. Much is introspective after all. One can film a man "thinking" perhaps but not capture on film his thoughts.

  • True or false, what is said about people often has as much bearing on their lives and especially on their destinies as what they do. (3)
  • Monsieur Myriel had to endure the fate of every newcomer in a small town, where there are always plenty of mouths blathering and not many brains working. He had to endure it even though he was the bishop, and because he was the bishop. (4)
  • We are not saying that the portrait of the man we offer here is accurate, we will restrict ourselves to the claim that it is a passing likeness. (9)
  • The guillotine is the ultimate embodiment of the Law; its name is Retribution. It is not neutral and doesn't allow you to remain neutral either. Whoever sees it quakes in their boots with the most mysterious of terrors. (15)
  • "My dear mayor," said the bishop, "isn't that the point? I'm not in this world to take care of my life. I'm here to take care of souls." (24)
  • Never be afraid of thieves and murderers. They represent the dangers without, which are not worth worrying about. Be afraid of ourselves. Prejudices are the real thieves, vices are the murderers. The greatest dangers are within us. Who cares who threatens our heads or our purses! Let's think only of what threatens our souls. (25)
  • Should the sheep's mange cause the shepherd to recoil? No. (32)
  • Giving up the ghost is a simple business. You don't need the morning for that. So be it. I'll die by starlight. (33)
  • Human thought knows no bounds. At its own peril, it analyzes and explores its own dazzlement. (49)
  • This humble soul was filled with love, that's all. More than likely he inflated his praying into a superhuman longing; but you can't pray too much any more than you can love too much. (49)
  • He gravitated toward those in pain and those who wished for atonement. The world seemed to him like one massive disease; he could feel fever everywhere; everywhere he heard the rattle and wheeze of suffering in people's chests with his special stethoscope and, without seeking to solve the enigma, he tried to stanch the wound. (49)
  • Pain everywhere was an occasion for goodness always. Love one another. He declared this to be complete, desired nothing more; it was the sum total of his doctrine. (49)
  • "You knocked," she asked, "on every door?" "Yes." "Did you knock on that one?" "No." "Knock there." (60)
  • "You didn't have to tell me who you were. This is not my house, it's the house of Jesus Christ. That door does not ask who enters whether he has a name, but whether he has any pain. You are suffering, you are hungry and thirsty; you are welcome. And don't thank me, don't tell me I'm taking you into my home. No one is at home here except the man who is in need of a refuge. I'm telling you, who are passing through, you are more at home here than I am myself. Everything here is at your disposal. What do I need to know your name for? Besides, before you told me your name, you had one I knew." The man opened his eyes in amazement. "True? You knew what I was called?" "Yes," replied the bishop. "You are called my brother." (66)
  • "Yes," the bishop said, "you have come from a place of sadness. Listen. There will be more joy in heaven over the tearful face of a repentant sinner than over the white robes of a hundred righteous men. If you come out of such a painful place full of hate and rage against men, you are worthy of pity; if you come out full of goodwill, gentleness, and peace, you are worth more than any of us." (67)
  • Isn't there, my good madame, something truly evangelical in the sort of delicacy that abstains from sermons, moral lessons, allusions, and isn't the highest form of pity, when a man has a sore spot, not to touch it at all? It seemed to me that this might well have been what my brother was thinking in his heart of hearts. In any case, what I can say is that, if he did have all these ideas, he didn't let on for a moment, not even to me. From start to finish, he was the same as he always is, every night, and he dined with this Jean Valjean the same way and acted just the same as if he were dining with Monsieur Gedeon Le Prevost or with the parish priest. (69)
  • Can man, created good by God, be made wicked by man? Can the soul be entirely remade by destiny and become bad if that destiny is bad?... Isn't there in every human soul, wasn't there in the soul of Jean Valjean, in particular, an initial spark, a divine element, incorruptible in this world, immortal in the next, that good can bring out, prime, ignite, set on fire and cause to blaze splendidly, and that evil can never entirely extinguish? (77)
  • Release is not the same as liberation. You get out of jail, all right, but you never stop being condemned. (83)
  • No one could have said what was happening inside him, not even himself. To try to grasp it, we need to imagine the most violent of men in the presence of the most gentle. (87)
  • "My dear friend," said the bishop, "before you go, here are your candlesticks. Take them." He went to the mantelpiece, swept up the two silver candlesticks, and handed them over to Jean Valjean. The two women watched the bishop without a word, without a movement, without a glance that might upset him. (90)
  • "Don't forget, don't ever forget, that you promised me to use this silver to make an honest man of yourself...Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you; I am taking it away from black thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I am giving it to God." (90)
  • He felt indistinctly that the old priest's forgiveness was the greatest assault and the most deadly attack he had ever been rocked by; that if he could resist such clemency his heart would be hardened once and for all; that if he gave in to it, he would have to give up the hate that the actions of other men had filled his heart with for so many years and which he relished; that this time, he had to conquer or be conquered and that the struggle, a colossal and decisive struggle, was now on between his own rottenness and the goodness of that man. (94-5)
  • He looked at his life and it looked horrible to him; at his soul and it looked revolting. And yet, a new day was dawning and its soft light was settling over his life and over his soul. He felt like he was seeing Satan in the light of paradise. How many hours did he spend crying his heart out? What did he do when he stopped crying? Where did he go? (97)
  • There are no little facts in the human realm, any more than there are little leaves in the realm of vegetation. The face of the century is made up of the lines of the years. (102)
  • Poverty and coquetry are two deadly counselors; one upbraids, the other flatters, and the beautiful daughters of the working class have both of them whispering in their ears, each with its own agenda. (103)
  • She worked in order to live, then, also in order to live, she loved, for the heart has its own hunger. She loved Tholomyes. (104)
  • The two most important civil servants are the nurse and the schoolteacher. (136)
  • He always ate alone, with a book open in front of him, reading. He had a small but well-stocked library. He loved books; books are remote but reliable friends. (138)
  • "My friends remember this: There is no such thing as a weed and no such thing as a bad man. There are only bad cultivators." (139)
  • The ultimate happiness in life is the conviction that one is loved; loved for oneself--better still, loved in spite of oneself. (141)
  • Javert was like an eye forever fixed on Monsieur Madeleine. An eye full of suspicion and conjecture. (145)
  • The following morning, the old man found a thousand franc note on the night table by his bed, with these words written in father Madeleine's hand: "I'm buying your horse and cart." The cart was smashed and the horse was dead. (148)
  • What is this story of Fantine all about? It is about society buying itself a slave. Who from? From destitution. From hunger, from cold, from loneliness, from abandonment, from dire poverty. A painful bargain. A soul for a bit of bread. Destitution makes an offer society gives the nod. The sacred law of Jesus Christ governs our civilization, but it has not yet managed to permeate it. They say slavery has vanished from European civilization. That is wrong. It still exists, but it now preys only on women, and it goes by the name of prostitution. (158)
  • It is a mistake to imagine that you can exhaust fate or that you ever hit rock bottom--in anything. (158)
  • There is a spectacle greater than the sea, and that is the sky; there is a spectacle greater than the sky, and that is the human soul. (184)
  • You can't stop your mind returning to an idea any more than you can stop the sea returning to shore. For the sailor, it is known as the tide; for the person with a guilty conscience, it is known as remorse. God lifts the soul as well as the ocean. (189)
  • The realities of the soul are no less real for not being visible and tangible. (189)
  • The first sacred duty is to think of one's neighbor. Let's see, let's have a closer look. Myself excepted, myself eliminated, myself left out of the picture...(193)
  • Diamonds are found only in the bowels of the earth; truths are found only in the depths of reflection. it seemed to him that having descended into those depths, after groping in the blackness of the shadows for so long, he had finally found one of those diamonds, one of those truths, and that he held it in his hand; and it blinded him to look at it. (194)
  • Javert was the genuine article. He never allowed a wrinkle to ruffle his duty or his uniform; methodical with crooks, rigid with the buttons of his coat. (242)
  • Death is entry into the light everlasting. (246)
  • Hope in a child who has never known anything but despair is a sweet and sublime thing. (345)
  • Children accept joy and happiness instantly and intimately, being themselves, by nature, all happiness and joy. (362)
  • When these two souls saw each other, they knew that each was what the other needed and they hugged each other tight. (364)
  • She called him father, knew him by no other name. (365)
  • To make atonement is a process in which the whole soul is absorbed. (402)
  • This book is a tragedy in which infinity plays the lead. Man plays a supporting role. (422)
  • The Unknown is an ocean. What is conscience? It is the compass of the Unknown. Thought, meditation, prayer. These are great radiant mysteries. Let's respect them. Where do these majestic rays of the soul go? Into the shadows; that is, into the light. (428)
  • Man lives on affirmation even more than on bread. (429)
  • We are living in times of terrible confusion. People don't know what they should know and know things they should not. People are crass and ungodly. (446)
  • The strides of the lame are like the winks of the one-eyed; they don't go straight to the point. (449)
  • Everyone knows how cats like to stop and dawdle wherever a door is half open. Who has not said to a cat: "Well, come in, then!" There are men who, when faced with an opportunity cracking open in front of them, also have a tendency to waver between two different solutions, at the risk of being crushed by fate's suddenly closing the door again. (453)
  • Paris has a boy and the forest has a bird; the bird is called a sparrow and the boy is called a ragamuffin imp, a street urchin: le gamin. (477)
  • He does sometimes have a place to stay, and he loves it, for that is where he finds his mother, but he prefers the street, for that is where he finds his freedom. (478)
  • The peculiar thing about prudery is that, the less the fortress is under threat, the more it puts sentries around. (501)
  • Peace is happiness digesting. (552)
  • Silence always acts a bit like assent--or backing someone into a corner. (556)
  • Life, adversity, loneliness, abandonment, poverty are battlefields that have their heroes; obscure heroes, sometimes greater than the illustrious ones. (560)
  • Misery is like anything else. It reaches the point where it is bearable. It ends up taking shape and assuming a form. (562)
  • A clock doesn't suddenly stand still the exact moment you lose the key that winds it. (570)
  • To read out loud is to assure yourself of what you are reading. There are those who read very loudly as though they are giving themselves their word of honor  about what they are reading. (570)
  • All passions, other than those of the heart, are dissipated by daydreaming. (571)
  • Our fantasies are what most closely resemble us. Each of us dreams of the unknown and the impossible according to his nature. (572)
  • Humanity is identity. All men are made of the same clay...But when ignorance is mixed with human dough, it blackens it. (595)
  • Anyone who has seen the misery of men only, has seen nothing, you have to see the misery of women; anyone who has seen the misery of women only, has seen nothing, you have to see the misery of a child. (611)
  • Is there a straw we won't clutch at when we feel ourselves drowning? (627)
  •  God delivers his will as visible in events, an obscure text written in a mysterious tongue. People toss off instant translations of it, hasty translations that are incorrect, full of faults, omissions, and misreadings. Very few minds understand the divine tongue. The wisest, the calmest, the deepest, set about slowly deciphering it, and when they finally turn up with their text, the job has been done; there are already twenty translations in the marketplace. From each translation a party is born, and from each misreading a faction; and each party believes it has the only true text, and each faction believes it holds the light. (688)
  • The glance has been so abused in love stories that we have ended up discounting it. Hardly anyone ever dares now say that two beings fell in love because their eyes met. And yet that is the way you fall in love and it is the only way you fall in love. The rest is simply the rest and comes after. Nothing is more real than those great seismic shocks that two souls give each other in exchanging that spark. (736)
  • Laziness, pleasure--what bottomless pits! To do nothing is a woeful choice to make, don't you know? (757)
  • Loving is the only thing that can occupy and fill eternity. The infinite requires the inexhaustible. (767)
  • Nothing is enough for love. We have happiness, we want paradise; we have paradise, we want heaven. (768)
  • What a great thing to be loved! What an even greater thing, to love! (769)
  • If there wasn't someone who loved, the sun would go out. (769)
  • The true division of humanity is this: those filled with light and those filled with darkness. To reduce the number of those filled with darkness, to increase the number of those filled with light, that is the goal. That is why we cry: education! knowledge! science! To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable spelled out sparkles. (810)
  • When you learn finally to know and when you learn finally to love, you will suffer still. The day begins in tears. Those filled with light weep, if only over those filled with darkness. (810)
  • Ideas can't flow backward any more than rivers can. But let those who don't want anything to do with the future think carefully. By saying no to progress, it is not the future they condemn, it is themselves. They give themselves a fatal disease when they inoculate themselves with the past. There is only one way to reject Tomorrow and that is to die. (822)
  • Love has no middle ground, either it destroys or it saves. (825)
  • Of all the things that God has made, the human heart is the one that shines brightest--and blackest, alas! (826)
  • They lived in that ravishing state that we might describe as the bedazzlement of one soul by another soul. (826)
  • Loving almost takes the place of thinking. Love is an ardent forgetting of the rest. (830)
  • What make a riot? Nothing and everything. (861)
  • "What's wrong with your hand?" he said. "It's been ripped open." "Ripped open!" "Yes." "What by?" "A bullet." "How?" "Didn't you see a gun that was aimed at you?" "Yes, and a hand that blocked it." "That was my hand." (937)
  • "And then you see, Monsieur Marius, I think I was a little bit in love with you." She tried to smile again and died. (939)
  • "Who is that man?" asked Bossuet. "A man," replied Combeferre, "who saves others." Marius added in a grave voice: "I know him." (976)
  • The right to the alphabet--that's where we have to start. Primary school imposed on everyone, secondary school offered to everyone--that's the rule. From the school that is identical springs the equal society. Yes, education! Light! Light! Everything comes from light and everything comes down to it. (978)
  • It was in the Paris sewer that Jean Valjean found himself. (1045)
  • To love or to have loved is enough. Don't ask for anything more. There is no other pearl to be found in the shadowy folds of life. To love is an achievement. (1129)
  • "I told the truth," answered Jean Valjean. "No," Marius retorted, "the truth is the whole truth and that you did not tell. You were Monsieur Madeleine. Why didn't you say so? You saved Javert, why didn't you say so? I owe my life to you, why didn't you say so?" (1188)
  • You are part of us. You are her father and mine. You're not spending another day in this hellhole of a place. Don't imagine that you'll still be here tomorrow." (1188)

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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