Friday, January 13, 2012

An Open Letter to Victor Hugo

*Disclaimer: HERE BE SPOILERS*

My dear Mr. Hugo,

We need to talk.

In the mid-nineteenth century, you wrote an incredible, jaw-dropping, inspiring, classic, amazing, massive, ridiculously wonderful tome by the name of Les Miserables.  I have just now finished reading it, and I have a bone to pick with you (disgusting idiom, when you think about it).

You created an amazing array of characters.  You crafted an intricate plot to rival the Dickens himself.  You swept me away into the world of post-Napoleon France, a place I'd never been before, and you made me never want to leave.  You made me fall in love with a convicted criminal... more than once throughout the long, long story.  You made me cry over a book I'd been assigned to read for school.  (yep, you read that right.)
You made me laugh and sigh and sob, you inspired me to rush to my library website and order the Les Miserables In Concert DVD right away.  (going to the library tomorrow... I can wait, I CAN WAIT.)

And you killed both my favorite characters.

That's what I can't forgive.  I knew Jean Valjean was going to die.  That was all right.  I cried over his death, but it was all right.  He was old and tired.  He had lived his life, forgiven people who'd wronged him, made life better for so many people.  He died happy.  I can, sort of, forgive your heartless murder of Jean Valjean (because, hey, his whole life was about forgiveness).

But you also slew Gavroche Thenardier, and I can never reconcile myself to that.  YOU KILLED GAVROCHE, VICTOR HUGO.  I still can't believe you did that.  Have you no soul, no heart, no sense of humor?  I realize there was a battle going on.  I realize that several other characters died too.  I liked Eponine and felt quite sorry for her, but her death didn't really faze me.  Then you killed Enjolras.  I was horrified, but I had somehow known it would happen, so it was okay.  (Though I still think he should have lived.  I liked him. And from what little I've heard of the musical... wowwwww.)

But then you sent Gavroche out of the relative safety barricade to pick up ammunition.  Wait, that's not true--Gavroche decided to go out to pick up ammunition.  Nobody could have stopped him.  You don't stop Gavroche.  Gavroche does as he pleases and thumbs his nose at the rest of the world.  But you could have stopped the soldier that shot Gavroche, Victor Hugo, and... you didn't.

Gavroche was, like, twelve.  He still had his whole life before him.  He could have become something great.  He didn't have to die for a cause he hardly understood.  (Jean Valjean had a habit of picking up stray children who weren't loved--he did well enough with Cosette, couldn't he have adopted a son too?)  Were you trying to make some sort of point, Mr. Hugo?  Something about the futility of war and how it crushes even plucky little kids like Gavroche?  Well, it was a nice point, but you didn't have to sacrifice the second-best character in 800 pages to do it.

And you know, the real reason I'm mad is because I can't help loving Les Miz anyway.  You did things to this story that I can't forgive, and yet I know that this book has soared to the top ten on my list of favorites.  You created some amazing characters, killed half of them, and yet I know I'll be reading this book again and again.  I don't know how you did it, and I don't think I want to know.

Don't take that as a compliment, because I'm still pretty mad.

Miss Dashwood


Rachel Heffington said...

Haha! I never did finish reading that book--I would "get into" it and then find that something came up and I "got out of it" and had forgot half the characters and plot by the time I picked it back up may be time to try anew. :)

Lauren said...

Oh my! This made me smile. I plan on reading Les Miserables soon, and I'm so excited to get started. Have you heard about the new movie that is coming out? I hope they do a good job with it!

Alexandra said...

Haha! I'm in the process of reading it right now.

Oh, my!!! I hope you enjoy the musical!!!!!! It's my second favorite musical EVER...I absolutely adore it. EPICNESS. Anyway!!! It's soooo good. There are some songs you might want to skip, just to be forewarned...some of the prostitute scenes and stuff. :-) But ohmysoul. It is amazing. Which version did you get? (there's two...the 10th anniversary concert and the 25th. The 10th is the best, IMO, but the 25th has some pretty good performances, too)

My two favorite characters are Fantine and Eponine...the latter is much more likeable in the musical, IMO. But anyway.

I'd ask Victor Hugo why he had to make the book so long. And take five chapters to describe Valjean stealing the bishop's silver when he could very well describle it in one. :-P

Mykaela said...

Dear Miss Dashwood--
Have you listened to the audio drama of Les Miserables? It's made by Focus on the Family radio theatre, and it is SOOO good!!! You really have to look that up!

Miss Dashwood said...

I started reading my copy in eighth grade but got tired of it about the time when Marius came into the story... the time period was unfamiliar and I couldn't keep track of what was going on. I am finishing up a six-week study on it for World Lit now and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I have indeed heard about the new movie that is coming out, and I might like to see it. However, I wish there weren't so many "Hollywood names" in it--I haven't seen the real play as yet, but I think it would have been better if they'd chosen seasoned Broadway actors for the roles (Colm Wilkinson! Judy Kuhn! Lea Salonga!)
Sorry. :)

Miss Dashwood said...

As it turns out, I didn't read the whole thing... my copy is a Borders abridged edition (albeit 642 pages) and I do hope they didn't leave too much out... but they must have, because in my copy it only takes Valjean 1 chapter to steal the silver (there's 2 before that one, though).
Thanks for the warning! I did know about those songs, so I was prepared to skip, but I am SOOOO looking forward to "Do You Hear the People Sing?" and "Stars" and "I Dreamed a Dream" and "One Day More"... okay, I'll stop.
I'm not sure which copy I'm getting, the library didn't have much info, but I think it's the 25th (the only one they had).

I've listened to several of the Focus on the Family radio dramas (Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, The Hiding Place, The Secret Garden and of course Odyssey) but not Les Mis... but now that I've read the book I'm quite anxious to hear it. Thanks for the recommendation!

Maria Elisabeth said...

You have convinced me that I really should know more about this, so it's going on my to-read list.

Lauren said...

Yes, I know what you mean. I wish they would use some actors who are unknown to Hollywood. At least I know Helena Bonham Carter has a great voice:) But then, I've never seen the whole musical, so I'm not sure if she will really get to use it! :)

Miss Dashwood said...

Maria Elisabeth,
I think you will LOVE it. Just do your best not to keep wondering why Sir Percy doesn't just come and rescue everybody (I failed miserably at that). :)

I've never heard Helena Bonham-Carter sing, but I will take your word for it! I haven't seen the whole musical either, but I really want to.

An Old-Fashioned Girl said...

I absolutely adore this post! I really love Les Mis, and I totally agree with you on everything you wrote. Also, the musical is absolutely amazing. It points one's thoughts to God!

Jillian said...

Currently reading! I definitely want to see the musical. :-D

Jillian said...

Oh, if it's useful? My copy is 1400+ pages long. Here's a post (a Twitter conversation) where I was given advice about which copy to purchase to fully read the novel. (I HATE abridged copies!!)

Miss Dashwood said...

Old-Fashioned Girl,
Glad to find a fellow fan!

Ugh, then that means mine definitely left out A LOT. Oh dear. Well, my copy agrees with all the summaries on SparkNotes, so hopefully I didn't miss any of the story.
And now what I really want to see is the musical, and I already know that's abridged, so that's okay.
I hate abridged copies too. But with this one... well, I already feel accomplished after reading my 642 pages. So I think I'll wait a while before trying to find an unabridged edition. :)
Thanks for the tip!

Anonymous said...

I LOVE LES MISERABLES!!! I just decided to read it one time, and I was not disappointed! It just blew me away. and I agree with everything you said. Gavroche's death was so heartbreaking. But I SOBBED when Jean Valjean died. I knew it was coming, but I still couldn't handle it.

You inspired me! I may do a similar post on my blog. Maybe not a letter to Victor Hugo, but another author who vexes me...

And by the way, you totally should write a post on Amish/romantic Christian literature!! =) I would love to read a whole post of your thoughts.

Miss Dashwood said...

I teared up at Valjean's death, but it was really Gavroche (and Enjolras, too... WHY, WHY, WHY ENJOLRAS???) that got me.

Have you seen either of the concert recordings of the musical? Mind-blowingly epic. I usually am not a big fan of musical adaptations of classic books (well, except for a select few) but this one is fabulous beyond fabulous. It brought the characters to life even more than the book did. You will wear out your tear ducts when Valjean dies in the musical, let me tell you.

Oh, and I'm curious--did you read the unabridged version of Les Miserables? I didn't; I read an abridged edition from Borders, but from what I've read it seems to have kept the original language and whatnot, it just took out a lot of the long historical passages. Which version did you read?

Anonymous said...

We started watching one version of the concerts, but we never finished. :P Which one is the best?

I decided to be brave and bold and strong and went for the unabridged version of Les Mis. It was soooo good! Some of the historical passages were a bit long, but otherwise, it was fabulous!

Miss Dashwood said...

I'm going to be brave and bold and strong this summer and get the unabridged from the library...
Which concert is the best? Well, IMHO the 1995 "Dream Cast in Concert" is the best one. You can read my review of it and see some clips here: if you're interested.
Though the 25th anniversary concert isn't quite as epic, it's still good in its own right. My advice is to see both. :)

Miss Laurie of Old-Fashioned Charm said...

Wait, Gavroche is a Thenardier too? I knew Eponine was but Gavroche too? Makes sense I guess. Yes, there's a few deaths that seem a bit..."pointless" for lack of a better word. It happens with war but why couldn't one or two of the best characters live! :)
So I really want to read the book now, but perhaps I might try an abridged version because I'm not a great reader.
Great post m'dear Amy! ;)