I am, arguably, the #1 fan of Victor Hugo’s Les MisÃ©rables. I am sure many could argue for this title, but I thought it was worth a few posts, with the recent release of Universal’s film version of the British musical. This isn’t a movie review, though I LOVED almost every second of it. It has its flaws, but I just love the story and for me it was a celebration of the beauty of Victor Hugo’s original work.
The story begins for me on a rainy spring day in 1989, when the teachers of our very rural Southwestern Ontario school decided to take the entire Grade VII and VIII classes on a three-hour bus ride to the city of Toronto to take in our first musical, Les MisÃ©rables. I was mesmerized by the show, and our lunch at the Organ Grinder, and the trip up the CN tower and down into a space simulator. In the following weeks, my friend and I borrowed the soundtrack of Les Mis from one of the few classmates who could afford to bring it home as a souvenir, and I dubbed it. My siblings can all attest to the many years I spent listening to this tape. I painstakingly transcribed all the lyrics of the songs in pen (there was no Google at the time to just look them up). Play, stop, rewind. Play stop rewind. Eventually I had most of the words as well as a few creative guesses.
One day, while my sisters and I were visiting my great aunt’s house, just a short walk away along the country lanes of our family’s heritage farm, I was looking through the glass of her lawyer’s bookcase when I spotted, to my delight, the crimson two-volume edition of Les MisÃ©rables pictured above. As a 12-year-old, I crawled through the sprawling 1500 pages, and numerous times over the years. [I will post separately about my books].
I believe that it was this love forÂ Les MisÃ©rables that inspired my interest in learning French, and at the age of 16 going to live in Quebec for three months.
In 2006 when my husband and I visited Paris, my first stop after the Louvre was Victor Hugo’s apartment! We also toured the sewers where part of the story is set.
We also made the mistake of going to see Les MisÃ©rables in Vancouver on stage, and it was terrible that time. The sound was barely audible, and I just didn’t enjoy it.
I have read the novel several times. I believe that what touches me the most about the story is the sheer mercy that is portrayed when Valjean is forgiven by the priest for stealing, and he is able to turn his life around. It is this conflict between mercy and law that drives the story, and the character Javert is unable to synthesize the concept of mercy into his view of the law, and eventually commits suicide over it.
I love the depth and complexity of the characters in the book. In the movie and musical, of course the story is condensed down to the main action and turning points, so it is hard for a viewer to really grasp it (how could Cosette fall in love with Marius in one second, to a depth compelling Valjean to throw off his need for secrecy and go to the front line of a battle to save Marius’ life? I think some movie-goers may find that hard to believe). But for me, I just loved listening the movie and seeing the beautiful colours and visuals that go along with the songs.
My next mission: to find a new edition to add to my collection so I can re-read Victor Hugo’s masterpiece without further damaging my antique copies.