Les Miserables

How is it that a book about misery can bring  so much joy? so much fulfillment?

Les Miserables is going Hollywood (at last!):

I waited an achingly long time before the stars aligned and I was finally able to see the Broadway production just a few weeks ago out east. I won’t belabor the point, but I haven’t had that degree of heartbreak and disappointment since … since before I can remember. The play was a crushing blow, a huge let-down.

When Les Miserables first opened — what, three decades ago? — a giant schism divided the critics from the public opinion. Critics despised the paltry musical adaption of one of the greatest pieces of literature; the general populace loved it. For the last twelve years I have certainly grouped myself in what the “general populace” category. Of course, I had never actually seen the play. The closest I ever came was repeated viewings and listen-ins to my favorite cast: Les Miserable’s 10th anniversary concert (viewed in near-entirety on youtube).

And then I saw did see the play. And, now, I pulled a 180 and completely agree with those critics.The play is just a shadow of Victor Hugo’s story. However, I do believe that the play can be not only salvaged, but completely triumphant as movie. This medium will work better with the (very much needed) subtle nuances.

Isn’t that an amazing trailer? Did you watch it? Go and watch it now!

Now that you’ve seen it, don’t pain and joy battle for expression in your souls?

Fantine “I Dreamed a Dream”

This is a bit embarrassing to admit, but, nerd that I am, I’ve stayed awake at night thinking about the characters… Jean Valjean, Fantine, Javier … (I always skip the Thenardiers. Can I mention that I hate, I hate, that these evil characters were slated as mere comic relief in the play? How dare they? What a complete mockery of Victor Hugo.)

Javier. Oh, Javier. What words can give expression to the beauty you have brought to my life? To the cleansing power of your conviction? When I am swallowed up in emotional pain, you — though you would probably hate to hear it! — you heal me. I am you. You are me. Just as Jane Eyre told Mr. Rochester that their souls were indelibly connected, so are ours. Seeing you, hearing you … I see my best self.

( Eh….I just read over what I wrote. Gag me — my prose is purpler than purple ever was. But, I simply can’t identify and articulate how I feel better than that. I’m not a good enough writer. )

Fail. Like I said, I cannot express how I feel forJavier. Just know, I guess, that he orients me. I know, I know. Some people use the holy ghost … and I use … Javier?  *smile*  The unasked questions of Javier… in such contrast to Jean Valjean who challenges even his very definition of self. Everything that Javier is, and everything that Javier doesn’t realize is missing, and everything that Javier has stifled, and the reasons why he has done it … this is why I love Javier.

Javier “Stars”

Once I started reading the books, Jean Valjean and the priest both have battled for that special place in my heart. But…. Even though they have wonderful human flaws juxtaposed with more true goodness than I have ever witnessed in life, book, or bible … and even though both Victor Hugo and God himself breathed life into them … I find that I can revere them, and even worship them in my way, but … but while my feelings certainly peak in that direction, I cannot experience a full circle of emotion toward them. I look up to them, but … I am nothing; I have nothing to offer them.

Ack! To, for once, have the ability to express as Victor Hugo himself could!!

Jean Valjean “Bring Him Home”

Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 several times, in several different formats, and struggled deeply to understand each character in the novel he was writing. And then, he found the key: each character became a personification of different elements of his personhood; and, with the complexities existing in even the seemingly most simple parts of us, Bradbury’s characters were dynamic and full of truly-human contradictions. I have to imagine that the truly great authors I have met through my literary studies have to have embodied that same philosophy, whether they realized it or not. We do not even know ourselves fully (we ourselves are our own “final frontier”), so how can a sincere author truly believe they can depict another?

That being the case … what an honor it would be to meet Victor Hugo: a mortal god who brought an immortal Christ-figure to this world. Jean Valjean; he embodies Christ more than Christ himself. This is “scaringly” true! Of course I would feel that way; I read. I read, and people become real to me as I experience these giant fingers digging into the flesh and savagely tearing apart every portion, displaying — for the reader? or the author himself? — the innermost secrets of … of goodness? frailty? humanity? truth?

God is not the only one who sacrificed his son to brutality for the sake of humanity.

Victor Hugo … you have shown me more of truth and goodness than all my 23 years of devout worship have.

“One Day More”


One response to “Les Miserables

  • llcall

    I am always a little bit annoyed with myself for having never read “Les Miserables.” After I recently asked for book suggestions on my blog, I was determined to read it…but my nonfiction leanings once again got the better of me over the last couple of weeks. But you’ve renewed my resolve that I need to read it. No self-respecting person who studies incarceration and the criminal justice system for their career should forego it (heaven knows I have already opined about why people generally love and revere the character of Jean Valjean, but simultaneously call for unmerciful punishments for similar offenders in our society).

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