When the Beating of Your Heart Matches the Beating of the Drums

by Charlotte Reads Classics

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Let us understand one another. Are we weeping for all innocents, all martyrs, all children, whether low-born or of high estate? Then I weep with you. But, as I said, we must then go back far beyond ’93 and Louis XVII. I will weep with you for the children of kings if you will weep with me for the children of the people.

The culmination of all my reading in 2013 ended at midnight, when I finished Les Misérables. I won’t lie, I was openly weeping. Finishing this book has managed to be both the highlight and biggest loss of January. Yes, there is always great satisfaction in completing such an iconic (and long) classic but I am devastated because book that hasn’t left my side in all this time is over.

Reading Hugo for the first time reminds me of Tolstoy because of the underlying philosophy that seeps through the story. From this book (and Anna Karenina) I think that their ideas are quite similar: The best you can do in life is to love other people and God, and being good and being happy are the same thing. Levin’s spiritual awakening is not unlike Valjean’s early encounter with the Bishop. This philosophy, whether it concerns the muzhiks or French peasants, at its simplest level should extend to politics. The suffering of the wretched all comes down to the government or the King not loving the people. This contrast of law and love is excellently and unpreachingly drawn between Jean Valjean and Javert. Both men are doing what is right, but one stands for human kindness, the other for duty.

A brief timeline of my reading experience would go as such:

  • Part I Fantine: This is really good, even the bit about the Bishop. Excited.
  • Part II Cosette: This is Anna Karenina style good. This book is amazing! Why do people not like it?
  • Part III Marius: I don’t like him, more Jean Valjean please.
  • Part IV The Idyll in the Rue Plumet and the Epic of the Rue Saint-Denis: Well, quite good but this is dragging on a bit.
  • Part V Jean Valjean: I CAN’T STOP CRYING

What makes Les Misérables so great? Jean Valjean. In my humble opinion, he is the greatest character in any book I’ve ever read and is definitely the benchmark for all literary greatness. Seriously, you should read this book just for Jean Valjean, an ex-convict whose journey takes him to represent the best values of humanity. I’m way too close to the end of the book to write about him properly because I just want to write in capitals and gush relentlessly. HE IS THE BEST MAN. During twenty or so years he overcame his hatred for the society that refused to see past his so-called crimes. His character is an amazing feat of writing, with a perfect ending.

The only aspect of this book, really, that prevents it from becoming an absolute favourite is that there is so much in it slowing down the action – when I really really really needed to know what was happening to Jean Valjean I found it hard to read twenty pages on Paris’ sewer system. The topical essay style sidelines were interesting, but the highlight for me was definitely the plot. Well, the plot involving Jean Valjean anyway.

Yesterday evening I went to see the film and I really enjoyed it. Sadly I had to leave for the cinema with thirty-three pages left unread but luckily I had pretty much read all the plot in the film. I love the songs from the musical (although a lot of the singing was far from perfect) but the main things that stood out were that the film was very beautifully shot and very well cast. However, despite being a good few hours long it was so shallow, compared to the terrifying depths of Hugo’s novel.

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Hats off to Hugh Jackman, who was totally what I wanted Jean Valjean to be.

I’ll just say it again: He’s so good, you should really read about him.

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