les misérables

title: Les Misérables

author: Victor Hugo

genre: Fiction, French uprising, poverty, ex-convict

dates read: November 25th – December 2nd

review: 4 out of 5 stars

summary: Jean Valjean, in an effort to help his widowed sister and her seven children, steals a loaf of bread. For this he was given five years in prison. After four attempted escapes, which added more time to his sentence, he ends up spending 19 years in prison. On his release, he ends up stealing again but isn’t caught. Taking on a new name and becoming the mayor of a small town, he is beloved by many as a generous and kind man. Discovering that someone else has been caught and is being convicted as him, he goes to the trial, reveals his true identity, and is imprisoned again.

Fantine, left to raise her daughter Cosette alone and unable to do so, leaves Cosette with an inn keeper and his family, thinking that they will treat her well and intending on coming back after six months to get her. She ends up in the same town where Jean Valjean is mayor and begins work at a factory. When it is discovered that she has a daughter out of wedlock, Fantine is fired from the factory and forced to find other means of earning money to send to the inn keeper for caring for Cosette. Before being imprisoned again, Jean Valjean discovers Fantine’s situation and works to unite mother and daughter. Before he is able to do so, he is arrested.

Cosette, in the care of the Thénadiers, is sorely mistreated and made to work for them while they demand more and more money from her mother. When Jean Valjean escapes from prison once again, he finds Cosette and takes her away from her abusers, treating her like a daughter.

personal thoughts: I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it is extremely famous and does have some epic elements to it.   On the other hand, Hugo rambles a lot.   There are whole sections of the book that have pretty much nothing to do with the main story. I’m all for a long novel, as long as it all moves the story along. This is why I’ve never read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I know Tolkien’s tendency to go on and on about nothing. But again, there were parts that really captivated me. I really liked the development of the characters and some of the dynamics that exist between them. The tragedies that all of them had to contend with gave them a more realistic element, even if it was frustrating sometimes.

favorite quotes:
“True or false, that which is said of men often occupies as important a place in their lives, and above all in their destinies, as that which they do.” p. 17

“’Let us never fear robbers nor murderers. Those are dangers from without, petty dangers. Let us fear ourselves. Prejudices are real robbers; vices are real murderers.’” p. 34

“Nature sometimes mingles her effects and her spectacles with our actions with somber and intelligent appropriateness, as though she desired to make us reflect.” p. 83

“The arms of mothers are made of tenderness; in them children sleep profoundly.” p. 113

“One can no more prevent thought from recurring to an idea than one can the sea from returning to the shore; the sailor calls it the tide; the guilty man calls it remorse; God upheaves the soul as he does the ocean.” p. 163

“The peculiar feature of the violence of destiny is, that however polished or cool we may be, they wring human nature from our very bowels, and force it to reappear on the surface.” p. 212

“In his eyes, a priest was a mind, who never makes a mistake; a nun was a creature who never sins; they were souls walled in from this world, with a single door which never opened except to allow the truth to pass through.” p. 212

“’What is there that is cheap now? Everything is dear. There is nothing in the world that is cheap except trouble; you can get that for nothing, the trouble of the world!’” p. 484

“’Courage does not fear crime, and honesty does not fear authority.’” p. 514

“The reduction of the universe to a single being, the expansion of a single being even a God, that is love.” p. 616

“True love is luminous as the dawn and as silent as the tomb.” p. 668

“People re-acquire confidence as foolishly as they lose it; human nature is so constituted.” p. 757