Les Miserables

Luckily I was so uninterested in Les Miserables throughout my life that I went in blind. Very rarely do I have the opportunity nowadays to experience anything at this scale without any introduction.  I tend to research anything that comes to my mind, so much so, that I am constantly tunneling through a wonderworld of information. I love the quest for trivia, but as I mentioned, it robs me of surprises.

Les Miserables came in sideways. I am thankful for that.

Also, how many books can one read immediately after Moby-Dick that can completely eclipse it?

Victor Hugo’s treatise deals with Paris almost as exquisitely as if talking about a human life, meditating on poverty, war, change, human nature, indoctrination, revivalism and a host of other fundamental themes. The more I read, the more I was awed at Hugo’s ability to distill and present man’s nature.

I have realized that the good thing about reading a book like Les Miserables is the constant dialogue I can run in my mind from when I finish reading it. Sadly, this is not the case with many books that I read. Yes, I do cast back to some reads now and then, but they do not offer as much as the works of some authors.

Jean Valjean, as a character, is fascinating. I do not agree with his passivity, but, given Hugo’s expansive knowledge, I am glad to admit that this trait was not a happenchance. If Jean Valjean was a haunted man, a narrow-minded simpleton to whom knowledge and wisdom came too late in life, who was forever in pursuit of love and compassion, it was because Hugo created him so. Similarly, if Cossette ended up a vapid young Parisienne, it was probably Hugo’s way of telling that poverty and suffering do not necessarily teach everybody the same lessons.

I’d like to think that Jean Valjean is a complex character, but I admit there was a thread of holier-than-thou running through that storyline. Gavroche, the street urchin, was livelier. His story turned out to be a little more gripping in the end.

Jean Valjean seems to be the opposite of Tom Hardy’s character in the movie Venom. In Venom, Tom Hardy is an idealistic reporter who, on being infected by a Klyntar symbiote, strives to reign in the beast within him. When the going gets really tough, the evil symbiote takes over and chews up the evil-doer’s head, before retreating back into Hardy. Jean Valjean, on the other hand, seems to have an angel within him. Whenever he is kicked to the ground, the supremely strong Jean Valjean digs deep inside and manages to act with a kindness and purity that grates.

Even in Venom, I wanted the symbiote, to be the default. I wanted the bestial creature to keep chewing humans up, and occasionally when someone good happens along, Tom Hardy can materialize and shake hands with the human. That would have been interesting.

What about Jean Valjean grates me so much? I strive to be social now and then but my first instinct is bilious. I have to calm myself down before I react cordially. When someone asks me how I am, there is a flash of “why the fuck do you want to know” that runs across my mind even as I respond with a “not bad at all.. how about you?”. My instinct is always to point out hypocrisies, not from any untainted idealism, but just to spite humans and watch them turn nasty. I do not act on it as viciously or indiscriminately in real life but I admit that I find a thrill in slashing down assertions. When someone suggests a hang-out, maybe it is my complex that makes me wonder at how egoistic the suggestion is to assume there is nothing better to do with time and life in general? It is spiteful. It is the classic Underground Man syndrome. The only possible excuse for my utterances of “I don’t judge” is that all my judgments cancel out. Every day, there is a parade of idiocies, idiosyncrasies, quirks, foibles, that I zone in for a microsecond, that contradicts some self-proclamation by the people I run into, that makes me want to bite them.They should just cross Symbiote into JeanValjean with the Symbiote being the default state.

Hugo’s masterpiece is a cloying tome of rich Parisienne pastry. Where the bitters? Where the Spice?

15 thoughts on “Les Miserables

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  1. When I came into the Les Misérables musical film, I was unsure. I left the theatre shocked and confused: in the middle of the film, I realized it was a tragedy: I grew up believing ALL musicals were HAPPY: so I was confused. I had thought it was almost TOO DEPRESSING. Despite my confusion, I still had a song stuck in my song. I went ahead and started researching Les Misérables. So I had a rocky start with Les Misérables. Then I gave it a 2nd chance: I calmed down, and saw so much more.

    Rocky start, and now I am an obsessive and massive fan of the musical. I soon read the book, which I love.

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    1. I loved the novel too! It had so much depth and beauty. I have actually never seen the musical, except cossette’s (?) ‘I dreamed a dream” from Susan Boyle’s audition! 🙂

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      1. In the musical, Fantine, Cosette’s mother, sings “I Dreamed a Dream”.

        In the musical, Young Cosette has a solo called “Castle on a Cloud”, but teenage Cosette does not have a solo- only duets that turn into trios, quartets, and part of ensemble numbers.

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  2. This is a very interesting analysis, and I agree with the holier-than-thou characterisation of Valjean by Hugo. It was too intense at times, like his holiness puts the Bishop too shame. I love JVJ too, especially because of his resiliency, but this was why he did not become my favourite character in the end.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot! Doesn’t JVJ seems to be frustratingly unaware of his charisma and power? The depth of his empathy is amazing and I loved how he becomes more self sustaining in spirit towards the end, surpassing even the Bishop’s which in his mind was supreme. Thanks a lot for reading!

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  3. I especially like the one on Venom/Les Mis ^_^. I think that may also be because of his poor socio-economic background and that he came out of the bagne feeling so hated by society that when he became the mayor and/or became quite successful at the end, he didn’t feel like he deserved it. It may have been because of the period and that’s why Hugo seemingly overemphasised it, OR it’s because of Hugo’s writing style as you mentioned here. Either way, he is a very complex character. (Also who’s your favourite character?) And cheers, it was a great read! ^_^

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    1. I actually found Eponine an exceedingly tragic character. The more I think about her character, the more I feel her pathos. There is so much darkness, sadness in how she probably would have been used by Thenardier, and her fall from her childhood riches. Enjolras and gang is another set of interesting characters with bite.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Equally between Combeferre and Enjolras. Between them they form the core, the heart and head of ABC… but I have a feeling my loyalties will change as I read Les Mis at different stages in life.

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