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?