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Thread: I really just want to discuss Les Mis. Anyone out there have something to say please?

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    Talking I really just want to discuss Les Mis. Anyone out there have something to say please?

    Tell me what you thought of the book as a whole. Or discuss minor details you found interesting. Favorite characters? Why you like them. Things that confused you. Your favorite part. The book's relation to the musical. Anything. Just so long as you are enthusiastic.

    (Also, no spoilers on Hugo's other books, please. I haven't read them. Reccommendations, however, are welcome.)

    For example, I was very surprised at the amount of instances the word "badass" applies to this novel. Seriously. Particularly in respect to Jean Valjean and Javert. Although Marius, Gavroche, and Eponine have their own badass-ness too. Also the revolutionaries, and Mabeuf, and the bishop.... well, you get the idea.

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    If you're still around, bluesun, we can have a go at it. I only watched the TAC-Version of the musical, so far, but that one quite often and I I LOVE the book.

    My favorite character is Grantaire. He's the one I can best identify with. Gift of Gab but not if it comes to Deeds prefers Domino.

    As for the "badass-ness" I do not quite get the idea. Maybe I don't know the right meaning of the word. My dictionary defines it as "very tough guy", that right?

    I'd be happy to discuss book and musical to any length.

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    Excellent. Yeah, I have been watching the TAC version too. My favorite songs have to be Drink With Me and Master of the House b/c that Thenardier is just so delightfully nasty. But I basically love all the songs. (I don't particularly like Colm Wilkinson as Jean though.)
    I did see a high school version. For a high school, it was really good, but I really really really want to see it done professionally.
    In regards to the book: /suh-woon/. It was awesome. Rather lengthy and ranty at times, but /most excellent./
    When did you read it?

    ^_^ yay, Grantaire! I totally ship him and Enjy (Enjolras). I think Grantaire's love for him is adorable. And the scene where they die is just beautiful and, once again, rather badass.

    However, though I do love the Amis de l'ABC (particularly Grantaire, but Jolllly is cool as well. And Laigle is sweet.) and a number of other, my favorite character, beyond a shadow of a doubt is Jean Valjean. Like, I intend to name my first child Jean. (My second son will be named Atticus. =]) He is the quintessence of awesome. And badassery, and morality, and strength, and AWESOME. Sorry, I'm geeking out. Even beyond simply the excellence of his character, he delivers a message of hope, redemption, and doing the right thing. I think they should make t-shirts with "WWJVJD?" on them. Not only b/c it would be funny, but b/c "What Would Jean Valjean Do?" is a question that everyone can ask themselves. The world would truly be a better place.

    In regards to the definition of "badass": For different people, badass means different things. Overall your dictionary fails to convey its concept b/c "badass" is essentially slang. (A close synonym: "kick-***".) A very tough guy can be a badass, but that generally has a negative connotation, and badassery is not limited to toughness or guys. To me, a badass or a badass action is cool, righteous, awesome, kick-***, and/or epic.
    *looks through book to find notes about the subject*
    When Marius bursts into the battle scene with two pistols and saves Courfeyrac and Gavroche, that's badass.
    When Eponine scares away a big group of thugs to save Marius, that's badass.
    When Javert keeps his condescending dignity throughout the whole battle when he is captured, that's rather badass as well.
    When Jean saves that sailor, Fauchevelent, Javert, Fantine, and basically all those people he so epically saves, that's super badass.
    These are only a few examples of badassery in Les Mis.
    (Outside of Les Mis, there are examples such as Wolverine of X-Men, Strider of the Lotr trilogy, and Susan B. Anthony of the women's rights movement. As you can see, though the word is a more modern invention and used with modern applications, it is quite versatile.)

    Oh jeez, sorry for the super long reply. Believe it or not, this is me holding back.
    =]
    (btw, did you search me on youtube or was that a coincidence. Either way, I'm so glad you found me b/c I had given up on this forum. Also, out of curiosity, are you male or female? It doesn't say on your profile.)

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    I don't know about the word 'badass'. Now you have given a definition that goes beyond the negative connotation, it really does not evoke the laden nature of the French 'misérable'.

    The 'misérables' are not suposed to be heroic, nor is Jean Valjean. They are a forgotten class, anonymous, continuous, always there yet never noticed and they get nowhere. Whatever they do, their lives are useless, anonymous and the world is oblivious to them.

    Jean Valjean is a most compelling example: he has been stripped of his name and become a number in prison, takes on several identities in the book (essential to a misérable) and in the end the epitaph on his gravestone just fades like his life fades at the point where he dies (in fact, was he truly there?).

    Marius wastes away in the depths of Paris. If he dies or not, will it matter? To Cosette it might do, but who else is to care?

    Eponine is even sadder: she loves Marius, even gives her life for him, but Marius could not care less. She dies in the tumult of the barricades, but wil someone care? her father and mother not, her sister even less, Marius not... No-one will cry over her and someone will just burry her body like a dog in the ground, maybe even tread it to pieces as the horses of the cavary might tramp over it. Society will not care about her.

    Gavroche who goes to take the money of the dead soldiers is also forgotten by society. He lies there dead, yet his father an mother (the Thénardiers) have not seen him for ages and he has become a child of Paris with the city as his parent so to say, anonymous.

    Fantine is a sad case, but who cares for a prostitute and single mother? No-one. She disappears into the depths of the novel as she dies. By the end, she is a distant memory and we know that such a person has existed, but apart from being the mother of Cosette she is worth nothing. She has done no memorable things, nothing to remember her by. She has not even a gravestone. She is one of the many.

    Even Javert is a misérable: a tiny wheel in the big mechanism of the Police that means nothing as it disappears because it will be replaced. The injustice done by people too much engulfed in their duty will continue and people like Jean Valjean (the 'misérables') will continue not being able to escape that 'system' which Javert embodies. It is a system, like society, that keeps the misérables unknown and necessarily bad. Society is in love with itself and cannot face injustice. In an attempt to destroy injustice, they incarcerate it so they don't have to see it. As if that is going to help. Yet, that was the reality of the Revolution: nothing changed despite big promises. Where are 'liberté, égalité et fraternité' ('liberty, egality and fraternity')? Where are they for the misérables? The world has stayed the same, yet has wrecked the lives of many noble people (like f.e. Mr Gillenormand and others we know that have been murdered by the Reign of Terror). What was the use of it?

    So I don't think that the word 'badass' actually evokes the negative side of the French 'misérable' which is an anonimity and miserable lot of oblivion. It is not heroic, despite the actions of some people of that 'race' (if I might call it like that). In fact, as the life of Jean Valjean fades away, and that of Fantine has faded since the start of the novel, has actally the book not faded too? Will the work itself not fade into bookcases, written on paper eaten by the mice? That is at least what Hugo implied. As Jean Valjean's existence fades, the plot of the book has no subject, as such is worth nothing, loses its significance. It was not an epic tale...

    If you like films about it, I would thoroughly recommend the version of 2000 with Gérard Depardieu as Jean Valjean, John Malkovich as Javert and Charlotte Gainsbourg as Fantine. Screenplay by Didier Decoin. It was a mighty production but oh so true to the spirit of the work. They made one version in French, and one in English. I do prefer the French version but I suppose the minor changes to the English version do not really matter to the great work of Josée Dayan. A great renewal in that version was the humanity of Javert (brilliantly played by Malkovich despite being very modest about his French) and the Thénardiers (Christian Clavier and Veronica de Ferres). Absolutely breathtaking. Also the scenery was beyond anything that was ever seen. So right, so grey and black, so dreary, so sad. A-ma-zing.

    Ok, sorry for my rant, but I just can't face anyone toning that thing down. I am a purist I think .
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'âme ne se vide à ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scène VII)

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    Hi, bluesun,

    I'm overjoyed to have found someone to write a lengthy reply to since you started it ;-).
    Just to clear facts first, I am female, kind of middle-aged age- and mind-wise, married with four kids (unfortunately, when they were born I hadn't read LM yet, so none of them is named after the book) and I just happened to notice your name in the youtube comments was the same as in this forum so I took a chance.

    I was introduced to LM by my oldest daughter who did it a school. While msot of her classmates remained immune she caught a very bad case of Les Miserablitis and I got it from her, it's so very contagious. We both read the book after watching the TAC-Dvd for ...err ... twenty times? Aaaaaand we are going to London the 2nd of January to actually see it on stage. My daughter will be 15 the end of december and that's her birthday-treat.

    I am so glad you share my love for the Grantaire-Enjolras story and seemingly can do without shlash, too. I'm fighting a battle royal on another youtube-vid trying to convince somebody that there was no "special relationship" between them but it was just Grantaire adoring Enjolras with no response on the other side. Hugo makes it quite clear that Enjolras offered Grantaire nothing but pity and even despise. The passages he tells him to leave well enough alone while they're planning the revolution or when he sends him off the barricade are next thing to cruelty on his behalf.
    All the more significant is the Death-scene (page 93 in the german edition, I am used to refer to it just by that number). This is the moment of reconciliation not only for Grantaire. It is the moment his love for Enjolras is finally accepted but also the moment Enjolras accepts that it is not strength and glory that prevail but weakness and mediocrity. In the very end there is no-one standing by him but the drunkard he despised and he knows and accepts and smiles and presses his hand. It's a transformation for both of them. Beeee-autiful!

    BTW, it is very interesting to compare how performances carry out this scene, mostly featured in "Drink with me". I have seen four or five on youtube, so far, and none can compete with TAC. There is one vid fans love dearly (and I do, too, to some extent) where Enjolras (David Thaxton) hugs Grantaire close. It is very movinghttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJmp5yjZHtY but it is OOC, I stand firm in that. Enjolras as depicted by Hugo would never have done that.
    The problem is they don't show their death at is in the book, normally, but Enjolras lying on the red flag and Grantaire somewhere in the battle - where he never was - so they have to bring the reconciliation between them somewhere else and I think TAC does that superbly. The way Enjolras just touches Grantaires shoulder through "Drink with me" and that glance Grantaire gives him has it all, no dramatic action is needed after that.

    As far as Jean Valjean is concerned I'd buy such a button on the spot. But it would be rather risky. I experienced that just the other day. I had been writing a biting youtube-comment on a german performance of LM where the actor of Marius came over really cheesy, and I deleted it the next day thinking it was really a brutal thing to do and I woldn't like it done to me. That's the trouble with LM, it's kid of educating. I notice myself paying much more attention to my conscience than I did before and I DID pay some before since I'm a studied theologian with diploma and everything.

    Okay, I will let you get a word in edgewise now. Be as lengthy as you like. :-)

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    Hi, kiki,

    I don't think "badass" as bluesun explained it would be a translation of the french word "misérable". I seem to remember the official english title is "The Glums" but I, too, can spot the heroic aspect in the novel and the characters. That's what saddens me looking at the present and our current "miserables" in modern society. As I read in a book about the spiritual message in LM, modern "miderables" would rather go to Disney Land than to the promised land beyond the barricades. We are missing some of this badass-ness in the present, no doubt.
    But it wasN't all heroism in the book either. For instance, Father Mabeuf. I don't think he went to the barricade out of any heroism. He just hadn't anything left to live for. His life was over when he sold his last book, there wasn't anything else left than death but he didn't seek death consciously, he just sort of went the only way left for him without realizing what he was doing. They were celebrating his sacrifice for the red flag as a conscious deed at the barricade, escpecially Enjolras, but I don't think that's what he did. He became a hero without knowing and willing.
    I like this about the book. Heroism just creeps in and it always has a "flaw" to it, like in the old yin-yang-symbol. Like with Marius not wanting to touch the money he thinks might be obtained illegally or even Eponine trying to save Marius she wanted to die the moment before. Marius judges Jean Valjean on a false premise, Eponine dies for her love out of selfishness (sort of) and even Enjolras, the impeccable one, is more cruel to Grantaire than to the sergeant he shoots.
    So, imhO, if I want to copy the "badass-ness" of the "Miserables" I have to accept my own weaknesses and failures first to let the heroism creep in at its own speed.

    :-)

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    Kiki1982:

    You have a good point. But by that logic, isn't everyone a miserable? I mean, we're all going to fade into obscurity somehow. Everything and everyone. A look back throughout history brings many significant names to one's attention, but their number pales next to the countless nameless masses nobody will ever remember. Even the significant names are simply names, nobody cares about them or cries for their death. Therefore, I will fade away. You will fade away. There will be nothing to remember us by.
    However, human nature urges us to find hope. I question your basic assumption: Is the true meaning in life found in being remembered? In one of my favorite poems, Emily Dickinson once wrote:
    "If I can stop one heart from breaking,
    I shall not live in vain:
    If I can ease one life the aching,
    Or cool one pain,
    Or help one fainting robin
    Unto his nest again,
    I shall not live in vain."
    This poem, argues that meaning is found instead in caring for others, helping others, and I would argue it is also in being cared for. OR even more simply, "All you need is love." =] *trails off singing...*
    *...returning to reality* I am certain that Hugo was trying to make a point about obscurity (especially with Eponine's death, Fantine's life, and Jean's grave). He also goes through great pains to emphasize society's apathy. I am not arguing that, I'm arguing about whether that really drains all meaning. (Besides, is Jean not kept alive through the 1463-page novel about him?)
    I understand how you may not agree with the applications of badassery to Les Mis. After all, I use it mostly as an expression of my enthusiasm. However, I believe it applies in important and unimportant ways throughout the novel.
    I strongly disagree about Jean not being a hero. If he is not a hero, than who is? I do not believe his status as a miserable impedes upon this concept; if anything, it helps. Jean (much like Atticus Finch, though they are very different characters) is the quintessence of a hero in my mind.
    Thus, to answer your rhetorical question "in fact, was he truly there?" I vehemently believe that he was. If I can't believe that, than how can I apply any meaning to my own life?

    Although Les Miserables is a tragic work, I believe its message of hopelessness and obscurity is far outweighed by the messages of love, redemption, sacrifice, and hope. At any rate, it will always have an honored mice-free spot on my bookshelf, worn only by overuse.

    Excellent. I shall look for that version. I have not been successful in my Les Mis movie searches. Have you seen the newest one with Claire Danes? I have yet to do so, but I'd like an opinion from a purist.

    Rants are welcome. Sorry for mine. =]

    Kemathenga:


    Wow. That’s really cool. I am glad you did so. =]

    Ah. Les Miserablitis. Very contagious. I’ve heard scientists still haven’t found a cure.
    Hooray for TAC! I had to write a paper on LM recently and the whole time I did nothing but watch TAC on youtube. I cannot describe how jealous I am of you for going to see a professional London version. *mock jealous glare*

    Well, I understand that there was no “special relationship” between Grantaire and Enjy; however, I cannot say I believe R’s love for Enjy was platonic. There is a good argument for either case, particularly with references to Achilles and Patrocles, and Orestes and Antinuos thrown in. There are also parts of the book when R will look at Enjy with “an inexpressible gentleness” and stuff like that. Having just read The Picture of Dorian Gray, which contains an awful lot of homosexual undertones thrown in just because Wilde wanted to mess with people, I’ve noticed some of the same elements. Nonetheless, it is obvious that Enjy does not return R’s feelings, which is what makes that last scene wonderful.

    Yes. TAC definitely had the best “Drink With Me.” However, the one you posted here is also really good, however OOC. It actually made me tear up. So sweet. Great blocking. I like that Marius better too. I know the TAC Marius is amazing talented but I still like this one. I also noticed that this is the Drew Sarich one. I think he is a fantastic performer, but he was not right for Jean Valjean. He should stick with stuff like Jesus Christ: Superstar.

    I know exactly what you mean. I have actually applied “What Would Jean Valjean Do?” to my own life and make different decisions b/c of it.

    Disneyland over promised land. That is an interesting concept. Of course, one can’t always group the Miserables into one b/ c, as Hugo demonstrates through Fantine and the Thenardiers, Miserables can be good or evil.
    I love the reference to the Yin and Yang symbol, though I disagree on the fronts of Eponine’s selfishness and Enjy’s cruelty.

    Exactly. That kind of application is what proves literature at all to be worthwhile.
    Of course, if you wanted a shortcut, you could always go to a French prison for 19 years then steal a bishop’s silver. That seemed to work for Jean. ;P

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    Hi, bluesun, ahh, let's dwell on that Achilles and Patroklos parallel for a spell. I see the implication to our time's eyes but I still indulge in the luxury of a differing opinion. Hugo describes Grantaire as a person who only becomes "somebody"when attached to a greater figure. The world would know nothing about Patroklos if it hadn't been for Achilles. I understand this passage as a description not of their relationship but of Grantaires character. He is the born lieutenant who needs a captain to be himself. he is a Patroklos while Enjolras is not an Achilles - at least not in his attitude towards Grantaire.

    I see it as a problem that we nowadays, in our post-Freud days, do not feel entitled to leave sexuality out of the picture. We have come to regard it as one, if not the, dominating forces of life and everything that does not include it falls victim to being judged "un-realistic" or "naive". To my opinion this is a narrowness in modern perception not easy to vercome. As I put it somewhere else: there are more kinds of love than the usual suspects.

    Some twenty years ago I wrote o an austrian author and poet who had written a book I admired and - in pre-internet days - had no other means to acquire than to copy it by hand on my type-writer. This book , "Abt Ebro's Schatz", featured a character, an abbot, depicted in a way that spoke of great love and I wanted to know who this man was or had been. The author told me about this very complicated and contradictoty character, a man he had known and, in his own words "loved more than anything (über alles) although there was no sexual relationship between them. But - he wrote - "you know, there is a tenderness of the mind".
    I saw no reason to come oevr all Freudian and tell this man I knew betetr what was in his mind than he himself and there was a homosexual subtext in his writing. I couldn't see any and I still apply this not to my naivite - or his - but to the simple fact that there is more to love than modern times allow.

    Another pet-parallel of mine is David and Jonathan in the Old Testament, heaped with adoration by gay movement international. During my days at university I did mo0re text-analysis than I care to remember and I learned the difference between Exegesis - to extract what is in a text - and Eisegesis - to out something into a text from my own perspective to make it visible to others. Commonly the latter is called allegoric interpretation.
    In case of David and Jonathan we have Davids lament over Jonathan's death and him, stating that Jonathan's love was more agreeable to him than that of a woman. There is a possible gay interpretation, agreed, but it's not the only one. It is also possible that David simply valued this friendship on an entirely different level than sexuality and - having had trouble more than once with love affairs - all summed up preferred it. Which interpretation I prefer is not solely due to the text but just as much if not more to what I WANT to prefer. We decide on a subtext rather than detect it. At least if the author himself is not available to give an authentic interpretation.

    So, as far as Enjolras and Grantaire are concerned, of course, a homoerotic interpretation is possible but given the fact that Hugo was an experienced user of sexuality himself I wouldn't deem it necessary here.

    at this point of my own arguing the thought strikes me: what is the role of Enjolras at all? Is he there to show that love without the real counterpart, the woman, doesn't mean enough to build a new world upon? After all his love for "Patria" and the Republic (his mother, as he calls it) obviously fails to produce anything but death. Even Grantaires love for him proves more enduring, it suffices to transform the old drunkard and the "marble hero" in their very last moments. Because it does have a living counterpart?
    What do you think?

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    So, in a way, you think that society has become too fixated on sexuality in connection to something's value reality. I know what you mean. Like, I am glad that sex is no longer the deadly taboo it once was, but you have a good point. People are so eager to include it that they leave out the possibility of platonic love.

    One also mustn’t forget the status of Victor Hugo as the head of the Romanticist movement in France. Although he was an avid user of sexuality in his writing, he often portrayed it unrealistically. A good example is that of describing Cosette’s entrance into womanhood. Something I found very funny and a little annoying about that chapter is how Hugo describes puberty. Somehow, I do not recollect “bloom[ing] in a twinkling and becom[ing] a rose all at once” when I hit puberty. =P

    However, if Hugo had wanted homosexuality to be part of Enjy and Grantaire’s relationship, he’d have probably made it more clear. The feelings of his characters were never this blurry at any other point in the novel. (Unless it was too much of a taboo for him to write about.)
    Also, in regards to Achilles and Patroklos, were they even considered to be gay in Hugo’s time period? Maybe their love was taught to be or seen as platonic by 1800’s France, which would make it a more appropriate connection for Hugo to make in regards to heterosexual characters.

    Considering Hugo’s writing style and his usual treatment of sexuality, I think that much of the hinting at homosexuality is, as you said, people seeing what they want to see, and that Enjy and Grantaire’s relationship was mostly platonic admiration (or, in Grantaire’s case, idolization) in accordance with romantic literature. Nonetheless, I do still have some doubts.

    Keep in mind though, many of the people you are arguing with about this subject can often classified, in terms of internet slang, as fangirls/boys; it’s practically their job to get excited over things that are either not there at all or are only hinted at whether they truly believe it or not. (See ‘Zutara,’ a hugely popular pairing in the popular animated series ‘Avatar: the Last Airbender,’ which had almost no basis whatsoever. I happen to have been a ‘Zutarian’. Not b/c I believed in it, but b/c it was more fun.) So don’t get too frustrated with slash-shippers. =]

    (Personally, that passage of the bible does not sound like it condones homosexuality. I could see how it would sound like it to some, but even as an avid supporter of gay rights, I’d have to say it doesn’t apply.)


    Hmmm. That’s a hard one. I do not think that Enjy serves to diminish the meaningfulness of a woman’s love. After all, Hugo never stops talking about how great Cosette is to Marius. Hugo seems to believe that the love of a woman can grant true happiness.
    I do not know what the purpose of the revolution is at all. I mean, they fail to make a change. Does that make their effort pointless? “Oh my friends, my friends, don’t ask me, what your sacrifice was for.” (Marius in the musical. Though you probably knew that anyway. =])

    However, passion for a cause in combination with a determined group of people has been one of the true catalysts of change throughout history. I mean, look at the American Revolution. That certainly worked. Their love for “freedom” and “Patria” won them a war (figuratively speaking). What point then could possibly be made by a failed revolution? This is something that has always confused me.
    A love with a “living counterpart” therefore, seems to be the only type of effective love in this novel, considering Grantaire, Marius, and Jean. Each man loved another in a different way, but still achieved something of it.
    I had always thought it was a shame that Enjy is not capable of loving another person. His love for Patria (the Latin word for homeland), seems passionate but cold. I guess another reference to Enjy as the “marble lover of liberty.”

    By the way, tell me how the London show you’re seeing is/was (depending on when you respond).
    "I look up and am dazzled,
    look down and am darkened,
    look round and am puzzled."
    - George Bernard Shaw, "Caesar and Cleopatra"

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    Hi, bluesun,

    we're still pre-London although we completed our outfit, my daughter and I. Black trousers, a red vest for her and a red scarf for me, white shirts much too large and a black leather wrist-band for my daughter since she so likes David Thaxton wearing them as Enjolras on youtube ;-). Also, we will tie a blue-white-red flag around our waists, both of us, only one of them is really from the Netherlands One week to go!

    As for arguing with "the slashies" you're right and I'm probably a bit harsh sometimes. I experienced some of that duty-to-see-hidden-things when I was writing fanfiction of Harry Potter. I was about the only one on that site not using slash.

    And, of course, I am not totally neutral, either, or I wouldn't relate to Grantaire so intensely. I see in him and Enjolras a lot of myself although in a very different setting.

    Concerning Hugo and sexuality I was impressed by the difference between his description of Marius' and Cosettes wedding night and the entry about his own in his diary as quoted in Edward Behr, "Les Miserables, History in the Making". Either Hugo was idealizing the whole thing on hindsight or he really was ashamed of how he treated his wife, Adèle, that night. I'd venture a guess on the former, though. Anyway, he himself was well aware of sexuality and the power it rules over people and yet he almost entirely left it out in the novel. This may be due to 19th century literature standards. He does hint at it in, I think, a beautiful way when he describes Jean Valjeans love for Cosette. He says that since Valjean never was married his love for a wife was mixed with his love for Cosette but never stained it. It presented itself in his possessiveness of Cosette, though.

    BTW, here's an anecdote from that book by Behr. "Bring him home" was opne of the last songs to be completed and at first they wanted it to express the sublimated sexuality in Valjeans relationship with Cosette, but the music wouldn't come to heel. Finally they realized they had to do it as some sort of prayer and then Kretzmer wrote it in one night and it had everyone speechless at first hearing. Mackintosh said to the actors "I told you it was all about God, that play" and one of them answered: "Yes, but you didn't tell us you'd engaged Him to sing it."

    The Revolution, ahh, there's a topic to spend nights on. Hugo is the rare case of a man who starts being a conservative in his youth and becomes a left-wing radical at ripe old age. The 1832-barricades really were a minor affair compared to the 1848 and 1871 ones and I read that Hugo chose them because in 1848 he was voting for non-violence and in 1871 the book was already published. But in 1871, in the days of the Paris "Commune" there was a woman, Louise Michel, teaching kids in the "Commune" and fighting on the barricades and she preferred to be called "Enjolras". The book not only stems from barricades but was taken to them, too.
    What the musical leaves out completely is the historical background which imO renders the barricades sort of useless. In what way would the poor of Paris benefit from raising a barricade? But Enjolras can only be understood when set before the flaring background of the Great French Revolution. When the soldiers first shout: "Who's there?" he answers "French Revolution!" The idea of Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité were never fully brought to life in 1789-1799 and in a way there'd be cause to raise that cry again today. Maybe, they NEVER will be realized in full but to know people once tried and died for them is still a "flame that never dies" to people all over the world (see China these days, or even more compelling: Iran)

    Yet, I believe that Hugo wanted to make a point in that Love for an ideal isn't enough. Javert loves an ideal, too, and isn't able to notice that non-perfection, falling short of an ideal, deserves to be loved, too, and certainly is loved by God. That's my "pet-point" concerning Enjolras and Grantaire. The one is perfect, the other clearly isn't and yet it is love that endures when the ideal is shot. It's what Hugo lets the students muse upon on the barricades, that their real cause to fight is their love for their girl-friends (only the way these girls are described I find it hard to believe that).

    It saddens me that Enjolras leaves almost no trace after his death in the novel. His name is mentioned only twice in Marius' memories, the barricades themselves seem to leave no traces and I can't help but think this is on purpose. That Hugo wanted to say the real changes in society will not come from insurrection but from love and forgiving among people.
    What do you think?

  11. #11
    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bluesun777 View Post
    Kiki1982:

    You have a good point. But by that logic, isn't everyone a miserable? I mean, we're all going to fade into obscurity somehow. Everything and everyone. A look back throughout history brings many significant names to one's attention, but their number pales next to the countless nameless masses nobody will ever remember. Even the significant names are simply names, nobody cares about them or cries for their death. Therefore, I will fade away. You will fade away. There will be nothing to remember us by.
    However, human nature urges us to find hope. I question your basic assumption: Is the true meaning in life found in being remembered? In one of my favorite poems, Emily Dickinson once wrote:
    "If I can stop one heart from breaking,
    I shall not live in vain:
    If I can ease one life the aching,
    Or cool one pain,
    Or help one fainting robin
    Unto his nest again,
    I shall not live in vain."
    This poem, argues that meaning is found instead in caring for others, helping others, and I would argue it is also in being cared for. OR even more simply, "All you need is love." =] *trails off singing...*
    *...returning to reality* I am certain that Hugo was trying to make a point about obscurity (especially with Eponine's death, Fantine's life, and Jean's grave). He also goes through great pains to emphasize society's apathy. I am not arguing that, I'm arguing about whether that really drains all meaning. (Besides, is Jean not kept alive through the 1463-page novel about him?)
    I understand how you may not agree with the applications of badassery to Les Mis. After all, I use it mostly as an expression of my enthusiasm. However, I believe it applies in important and unimportant ways throughout the novel.
    I strongly disagree about Jean not being a hero. If he is not a hero, than who is? I do not believe his status as a miserable impedes upon this concept; if anything, it helps. Jean (much like Atticus Finch, though they are very different characters) is the quintessence of a hero in my mind.
    Thus, to answer your rhetorical question "in fact, was he truly there?" I vehemently believe that he was. If I can't believe that, than how can I apply any meaning to my own life?

    Although Les Miserables is a tragic work, I believe its message of hopelessness and obscurity is far outweighed by the messages of love, redemption, sacrifice, and hope. At any rate, it will always have an honored mice-free spot on my bookshelf, worn only by overuse.

    Excellent. I shall look for that version. I have not been successful in my Les Mis movie searches. Have you seen the newest one with Claire Danes? I have yet to do so, but I'd like an opinion from a purist.

    Rants are welcome. Sorry for mine. =]
    Sorry, I must have missed your reply somehow ...

    No, I don't think that negative view applies to us, because ultimately we as the 'masses' are not forgotten by sociey (hopefully) and the vast amount of people is noticed, has food to eat, has work and money. There is only a very small amount that is not noticed and then every time it is cld and occasionally more, we express concern about them. So they even are noticed. If you asked the average bourgeois or rich person in Paris in the 19th century about the poor, he would not have cared less, apart from the rare exception. The poor were an anonymous class that was preferably locked up maybe, or was at least to blame for their own poverty (also in France).

    Jean Valjean is not a hero. He is an anonymous man (he regularly changes identity) who fights his way through life the best he can and can under no circumstances do any ill whatsoever. The bishop has moved him so much (or bought his soul if you will) so that he can only turn the other cheek. His life does not revolve around being loved, noticed, or anything. He is only living because Cosette literally needs him. His person will fade like the verses on his grave not because Cosette has ceased to love him, because he is not needed anymore materially. For the life of him he cannot shoot that soldier on the roof at the barricades, because the soldier himself has done nothing to deserve it, like Javert who only follows his instructions of the police-manual that reflected the contemporary opinion about the poor and criminal.

    In fact, Jean Vajean should be seen as one of many in the book. That is also why he is not aways present in it and focus often shifts to something totally different (to Fantine f.e.). He is one in the row of himself, Fantine, Petit Gervais, (the bishop), Marius, Javert, Thénardier + family, Cosette, Enjolras, Mr Gillenormand, Mr Maboeuf and the rest. They are not noticed even as they are alive, not loved, not even valued as humans, as members of that society of 'liberty, egality and fraternity'. Jean Valjean might be the most lamentable, but he is by no means any more important than the rest. He is not even the first we encounter, because that is the bishop: an obscure bishop from Digne (what's in a name if that adjective actually means 'noble'?) that is an exception in itself, because usually the church preaches poverty but are swimming in it themselves. They do help the poor, but do not deprive themselves from anything. The bishop is different: he lives in poverty and impoverishes himself even to move Jean to goodness, even risking his own life with it. In that, he also becomes one of the obscure and as unimportant to the church as our misérables are.

    The fact that Jean takes on several identities is a clue in itself. He is anonymous, nothing, even if Cosette calls him 'father'.

    The thing is not that Hugo wrote about humans in particular, he wrote about those people in his society, in the 19th century, and his ideas about it. He was also a philosopher and wrote his ideas of digust down in this life work. He wrote about that class of people and not about one in partcular, that is why he fades Jean Valjean's (and necessarily life and story) in the end: because misérables will keep coming with the same story, same life, same issues, same failures, same deaths and their unimportant stories have to be told 'as long as society is in love with itself' (from a letter to his Italian translator Daelli).
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'âme ne se vide à ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scène VII)

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    Hi, kiki,
    I agree with you but for one sentence: that Valjean is not a hero. You make it sound as if he was literally unable to do anything bad after the bishop "bought his soul" but in fact he was tempted a lot and did not always escape unscathed. The night before he goes to Arras and the night after the wedding are only the most expressive of those moments. He still had a choice whether to do good or evil and it often cost him something. He hated Marius, he didn't care about that nameless girl, Fantine who?, until he happened across her and Bamatabois. Yes, he is much like anyone else, anonymous, but he still is a hero in so far that he more often decides to do what is good than the average human then and now. The title of a Saint he is sometimes given by other people in the book is not far from the mark. Saints in the original meaning are not superheroes fallen from heaven but people who started like everybody else but made the right decision somewhere along the way. In depicting Valjean as one of that brand although without the somewhat hindering halo of institutional religion he opens the door wide to that kind of heroism for everyone of us.

  13. #13
    Jethro BienvenuJDC's Avatar
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    I love Les Miserables...
    I would love to discuss this book more when I have time.

    Trivia...
    Who is Bienvenu?
    Les Miserables,
    Volume 1, Fifth Book, Chapter 3
    Remember this, my friends: there are no such things as bad plants or bad men. There are only bad cultivators.

  14. #14
    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kemathenga View Post
    Hi, kiki,
    I agree with you but for one sentence: that Valjean is not a hero. You make it sound as if he was literally unable to do anything bad after the bishop "bought his soul" but in fact he was tempted a lot and did not always escape unscathed. The night before he goes to Arras and the night after the wedding are only the most expressive of those moments. He still had a choice whether to do good or evil and it often cost him something. He hated Marius, he didn't care about that nameless girl, Fantine who?, until he happened across her and Bamatabois. Yes, he is much like anyone else, anonymous, but he still is a hero in so far that he more often decides to do what is good than the average human then and now. The title of a Saint he is sometimes given by other people in the book is not far from the mark. Saints in the original meaning are not superheroes fallen from heaven but people who started like everybody else but made the right decision somewhere along the way. In depicting Valjean as one of that brand although without the somewhat hindering halo of institutional religion he opens the door wide to that kind of heroism for everyone of us.
    I don't think that is true.

    The turning point, which most French critics acknowledge, is when he has robbed Petit Gervais of his coin. Jean goes through a geat mental struggle after depriving the little boy of his coin and eventually comes to the conclusion that he will give it back. It is the first time that he has felt like this, but he remembers the bishop afterwards and his words in chapter XII (The Bishop works) after he has handed him the candelabras: 'Jean Valjean, my brother, you don't belong to badness anymore, but to goodness. It is your soul I buy from you; I take it away from dark thoughts and from perdition, and I return it to God.' The real extent of this speech Jean did not realise until he stole the coin of Petit Gervais.

    At Arras, it is even worse. Arras is a problem to Jean, because as mayor Madeleine he now needs to admit to his identity and will be convicted to life-long hard labour (gallions) because of his steeling the coin of Petit Gervais. Who would not be tempted to leave this Champsmatieux in the clutches of the French legal system that is about to make a blunder? Let's say he asks himself what he has to do, but he is neevr tempted. He has ceased to think like in the era before Petit Gervais. He is not allowed to get into the hall because he is too late. Anyone can interpret that as Providence, but no, in the end he is allowed in because of his nature of mayor and declares himself as Jean Valjean, the guy they are looking for. But the ironic thing is that it is almost having to go, not wanting to. It is as if a force drives him to do this. Certainly not his choice, because he was going to give up at some point, yet returns and demands attendance. At this point his struggle is barely there.

    The same weird stuff happens when he wants to go to England with Cosette, at the time of the barricades. He, as Victor Hugo himsef, is deadly jealous of Marius who is taking his Cosette away from him. He is baffled at reading the reflection of her letter in the mirror, but is driven to the barricades to do what he has to do: save Marius. Despite the fact that he could leave him to commit suicide on that same barricade, and that would make Jean better. But that is not Jean. The ironic thing is that by this time he has kind of peace with that feeling of having to do something, not being able to do anything for himself alone. Before, at Arras and certainly after the robbery of Petit Gervais, he fought it, now he has peace with it and decides to obey the force because it always wins anyway.

    He lets Javert walk, not choosing to do it, just doing it. There is no other option.

    He decides to drag Marius all through the sewer of Paris, not knowing whether he is still alive, in order to save him. And in the end he delivers his daughter to him although it will kill him. And then tells his son-in-law that he is an ex-convict. Not of course that he dragged him through the sewage-pipes and saved his life. It is ironically Thénardier (another misérable) who will disclose this to Marus who then sees his mistake.

    It is at the point where Javert leaves Jean the carriage at the house of Gillenormand that he finally realises that his police-manual is not quite right on criminals. They can change. Allegorically, the three people in that carriage - Marius, Jean Valjean and Javert - could represent respectively the misérables (lost forever, dead like Marius is deemed dead by Javert), the bishop (who refuses to believe that all is lost) and society (who has given up on Marius/the misérables and deems it useless to do something about him/them). Javert returns regularly during the story and could be seen as society that relentlessly prosecutes the misérables because they are just that, but also as the force that forces Jean to do only good. There is no choice, like there is no escaping Javert. At the point Javert commits suicide, Jean will make his ultimate sacrifice that keeps him alive: Cosette. He will succumb to desperation, in the water and drown, like Javert. He cannot get rid of Javert (shoot him), because he needs that force, its job is not finished yet. At the point where it is finished and Marius's life has been saved, his job is done, like Jean's job is done when Cosette has married Marius.

    I don't think Jean Valjean did not at all care about Fantine. At least he felt responsible because she had been thrown out of his factory. If he did not care about her then why did he actually go and get Cosette at the price of 1000 francs? There are hints at the fact that there was possibly more, but that is how one interprets them. He dresses Cosette in black, tells her of her mother as if he was talking of a saint, never actually talks about her as if she was someone anonymous. The film with Liam Neeson did actually make a point of Jean falling in love, but I don't believe in that. I think he regretted the fact that he did not see that the female manager for the women-department of his factory, fired her because of being a single mother. Had he checked better, had he done his job as mayor better, he might have saved her.
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'âme ne se vide à ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scène VII)

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    well, I can't see how all this makes what I said untrue? ;-)
    As for Fantine Valjean does care when he learns about her individual situation. Before that he might not even have known a girl was sacked, and so, of course, didn't care.

    But as for Arras I can see the struggle until the very end. He is sorely tempted not to go there at all especially since the possibility to interprete all the hinderances as providence interfering lurks around the corner constantly. I also do not see the incident with Petit Gervais as the turning point of his MIND. He hardly notices he robbed a child. When he discovers the forty sous under his foot he doesN't even know what this is at first. It is on hindsight he realizes what he has "done" and even more what he IS.

    Why he chooses to go to the barricades Hugo never makes clear. he just goes. It may be driven by force of conscience or simply his love for Cosette and the bond he already realizes exists between her and Marius but other than in the struggles before Arras and after the wedding Hugo does not give us this insight in Valjeans feelings at the barricades, so interpretation has a field day there.

    I see him much more active in all his mental struggles. he COULD have decided otherwise but didn't, that's all the difference.

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