WARNING: Ripping Book Reviews are solely the judgments of Professor VJ Duke on an unlucky book that has caused him much repulsion—in one way or another. Therefore, blame must be put on the professor and nobody else. With that in mind, read on—if you are brave enough to take it.
LES MISERABLES by VICTOR HUGO
I’ve heard that the latest movie is highly rippable. But since I didn’t watch it, and I haven’t ripped any movies (though, maybe I should?), the book just popped to mind.
The professor read Les Miserables a few years back, and at the time, it did cause some repulsion. And repulsion, dear readers, can’t be forgiven—even if it is only slight.
Firstly, I think a translation of the title would be beneficial. I’ve heard so many different title options in English, and the French one is hardly pronounceable. So, Les Miserables can be translated from French to mean: The Miserable, The Wretched, The Miserable Ones, The Poor Ones, The Wretched Poor, The Victims, or The Dispossessed.
Now, instead of berating Hugo for such an ambiguous title (after all, it might not have been his fault), I would rather focus on his meaning in the title. You see, throughout the novel there are many characters that can be described as miserable or wretched. In fact, I would suggest that there’s not another book in the whole world where the author has it out for his characters as much as in Les Miserables. Every time there is hope, love, and goodness, Hugo seems to enjoy quenching the good feelings immediately. So, in this sense, the book definitely lives up to its title. But I think Hugo had a different meaning in mind.
But before we can get to that, I must make a few things clear.
(1) The novel is approximately 510,000 words. Yes, this is painful—especially when the author has such a hard time following the story.
(2) Throughout the novel, there are little ‘breaks’ in the story. Every so often, Hugo will kindly deposit pages and pages (too many pages, actually) upon the reader that have absolutely nothing to do with the story. These fun little topics range from battle analysis (something we definitely don’t want to hear from a person who is bitter about Napoleon’s Waterloo defeat) and languages, to sewers. That’s right: sewers. The deposit on sewers is particularly long and boring. In fact, it even makes one nervous.
Consequently, then, as you make your way through the story, you are confronted with the fun little topics. Of course, the story is interesting, and you, as the reader, are desirous to know the end. But Hugo, in his ever doubtful mind, decided to come up with a test. By incorporating horrid thick chunks of nothingness in his story, every so often, he was determining the readers’ interest in his manuscript. You see, if the reader was able to read through the ‘chunks’ and continue on, it would prove that the story was quite interesting. If, however, the reader was stuck and could continue no more, it proved that the story wasn’t interesting enough to undergo the torture.
It was definitely an interesting test—one that is extremely…pointless.
Now it makes sense.
The title refers not to the characters, but to the reader! For by the time one is through those rotten ‘chunks’ he is definitely quite miserable himself! Miserable for having to go through a ‘chunk;’ miserable for having to suspend the story; and miserable because he knows more are on the way.
Hugo decided to make all of the characters lead miserable lives just so the title wasn’t obvious. For who would read a book designed to make one miserable?
(Contrary to popular belief, the characters do not go about singing when they should be speaking!)
I think we’ll do something slightly different today: A character breakdown. Just the protagonist and the antagonist, mind you.
Jean Valjean: is the protagonist of the story. He is an ex-convict who is extremely strong and…dim is a good descriptive word, I think. After being shown mercy from a priest, Valjean is pathetic, hopeless, and humiliated for the rest of the tale. In fact, he would have saved himself many problems had he respected himself. Throughout the novel, Valjean is described as being very, very, very, very physically strong. He can climb walls, take more pain than an ox, and best any man at any time. Of course, this gave a definite description to the professor. I pictured Valjean as a small, thickset person with shoulders the width of five feet at least!
Now, the antagonist might surprise you, but when given thought, it makes perfect sense: Marius. Yes, Marius is the antagonist. Valjean was doing fine, and would have probably been just fine, had it not been for the advent of that youthful, bloodsucking insect, Marius. Marius perpetuated the death of Valjean; Marius pulled Cosette (Valjean’s adopted daughter) from Valjean; Marius insulted the man who had saved his life by dragging him through a sewer. (Yes, that is why we had to have a ‘chunk’ on the sewers in Paris. Of course, had Valjean a heart, he would have not carried Marius through the sewer. Then Hugo would have had no excuse for causing the reader more misery.) In fact, if Jean Valjean’s life had been miserable before, with the advent of Marius it became wretched!
Early on, Valjean refers to Marius as a ‘booby!’ If he had only known!
Certainly, Cosette can be blamed too, along with Marius, for Valjean’s collapse. But we must remember something. Cosette had her brains beaten out by her masters during her childhood. Therefore, we must understand her utter stupidity and forgive it slightly!
Now, Javert…the inspector; the mirror of Valjean; the insecure, humiliated, wretched, inspector. Throughout the novel, Javert is chasing Valjean. It ends when he figures out that Valjean is good, despite having been bad in the past. Of course, this vexes Javert. How can one be good, bad, good, bad, and good again? Is such a thing possible? Javert struggles with the possibilities for awhile before giving up and drowning himself. Either he figured it was possible, or it drove him to craziness.
Now, Hugo wasn’t done. Not one character could be truly happy at the end of the book if his title was to remain a deception.
After a heartbreakingly dimwitted scene, Valjean dies. Then, Hugo skips into the future to show the reader one last ‘happy’ scene: a gravestone. No name can be read on the stone, only four lines which are faded. We know this is Valjean’s grave just because of the pathetic nature of things. The four lines read:
He is asleep. Though his mettie was sorely tried,
He lived, and when he lost his angel, died.
It happened calmly, on its own,
The way night comes when day is done.
The angel almost definitely refers to Cosette. So, maybe she should be blamed a little more?
I would give almost anything to know who was responsible for this unmarked, uncared for gravestone. Marius? Or Cosette?
It definitely drives one to craziness, and dangerously close to the water’s edge!