Victor Hugo is Annoying, But…

Well, it has been a while, hasn’t it? Alas, I have moral and rational objections to excuse-making, and so can but apologize for my online indiligence. Having returned, I will tell you that I plan to be more returned, with this summer’s posting plans including, perhaps, some short fiction and excerpts from my 11th grade exam. Yes: 11th grad exam. Good gracious! I have only one more year of homeschool between me and college… oh dear, oh dear, oh dearie dear.

But no more dithering. Here is one of my Literature exam compositions, fruit of probably the most successful forty minutes in my exam, with its prompt:

  1. Write a note to a friend to encourage them to attempt the challenge of reading Les Miserables.

My dear friend,

All things considered, I do encourage you to read Les Miserables.  Yes, you are right in casting up to me all the complaints which I have poured into your patient ears while reading.  Some parts of the book are indeed incredible, as the surprising entrepreneurial, industrial, and agricultural knowledge of Jean Valjean as M. Madeleine, or the sudden commando Marius at the barricade; some parts are excessively tedious, as the chapters-long discussion of French slang during the seventeenth century; some parts are morally questionable, as Marius’ stalking of Cossette and their relationship behind her father’s back; some parts are rather nonsensical, as the book of Marius’ love-notes which sent Cossette into such raptures; some parts are offensive to sensibilities and religion, as Hugo’s long discussion of how injurious the convent is to civilization.  These things are all present in the book.

Yet I still advise you to read this book; despite that, if reading the unabridged tome, you may spend many of its several hundred pages wishing to strangle Victor Hugo, who will persist in telling you details of, for example, the Parisian sewer system and its evolution over time, when your only question is “for heaven’s sake, what happens next to Jean Valjean!?”  (I hope, my friend, that you will pass over the use of the exclamation and interrogation points together—while I am fully aware that the construction is a barbarous one, at some times it seems to best express one’s sentiments).  It is sometimes an irritating book, sometimes a boring book, but ‘when it is good, it is very good indeed’—and I think that reading the book is worth it for the gems of well-crafted dialogue in connection with acts of holiness which you will find.  For example, Monsiegnor Bienvenu, arriving at the scandalized city of Senez upon an ass, and apologizing for his presumption, a humble prelate, in riding an animal which had been used by Christ himself; or the good Bishop sparing Jean Valjean, and not only giving him the silver, but the candlesticks as well, although the policemen are decidedly surprised and Jean Valjean almost cannot believe his ears; or that same Jean Valjean, long after, reprising the Bishop’s action, when Javert’s life is given into his hands, and he has the police officer alone in a deserted corner of the barricade.  The two men recognize each other.  Jean Valjean puts away his gun, with which he had been instructed to execute Javert, and pulls out his pocket knife.  ‘Yes,’ says Javert, sneering, ‘that is more your style.’  Jean Valjean cuts Javert’s bonds and turns him free.

Yes.  It is a wonderful, a beautiful, book.  It is an inspiring, uplifting, amusing story of redemption, of salvation and holiness, of the way in which one good life can have effects rippling far away and far after, of the way in which lives and souls can be saved and brought upwards from darkness, despair, misery, and evil.  It shows you the lovely infection of the Bishop’s holiness: Jean Valjean is converted and helps countless people by his industrial and humanitarian work, then rescues Fantine and Cossette, and through her touches Marius’ life as well.  Read this book.  When it does not drive you toward desperation, it will delight you.

But, my dear friend, buy an abridged edition.

Yours truly,
Emma Vanderpol