Writer’s Wednesday: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (Book & Movie)

les miserablesBook Review

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I wanted to read it before the movie came out (11th of January 2013 in Ireland), and just managed to do it. (I read the free Kindle edition).

Let me begin by saying that the story of Les Miserables is timeless, and I think everyone should get to know it one way or another.

When that is said however, I probably wouldn’t recommend the book to most people. I can’t speak for the French, I’m sure the original is more beautiful than the translation. However, the style or writing is very old-fashioned, and incredibly drawn out. To be honest, I skimmed through about a quarter of the book – chapter upon chapter about the battle at Waterloo – almost completely unrelated to the story at hand- was just too much for me.

There is a lot of beauty in the book though, and the story is as relevant today as ever.

Movie review

As for the latest edition of the movie, I enjoyed it and I really loved the music. However, there were a lot of changes, and I think the story line could be slightly confusing  if you are not familiar with the story.

Obviously they had to cut out stuff, and most of the stuff I was fine with, but there were a few things that annoyed me a bit. For example, in the book it is very clearly described that Fantine’s hair is “golden blond”, so I think they could easily have coloured Anne Hathaway‘s hair (I know it’s a minor thing, but I just hate it when they change something, which is very clearly stated).

Also, the love story between Marius and Cosette, becomes a bit ridiculous in the movie as they meet one day and the next they are ready to get married – in the book their courtship takes place over several months if not over a year.

This new version is directed by Tom Hooper and is based on the musical. It is starring Hugh Jackman, Russel Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. One of the things I really enjoyed, is the fact that they did all of the singing live, whilst filming the movie, rather than pre-recording it.

Now I want to watch the 1998 edition, made by the Danish director Bille August and starring Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman and Claire Danes. I watched it like 13-14 years ago, but don’t properly recall it – although I suspect it might be the reason why I felt Javert looked “wrong” in the new version.


True or false, that which is said of men often occupies as important a place in their lives, and above all in their destinies, as that which they do.

M. Myriel had to undergo the fate of every newcomer in a little town, where there are many mouths which talk, and very few heads which think.

He condemned nothing in haste and without taking circumstances into account. He said, “Examine the road over which the fault has passed.”

“To be a saint is the exception; to be an upright man is the rule. Err, fall, sin if you will, but be upright.

“Teach those who are ignorant as many things as possible; society is culpable, in that it does not afford instruction gratis; it is responsible for the night which it produces. This soul is full of shadow; sin is therein committed. The guilty one is not the person who has committed the sin, but the person who has created the shadow.”

“The mind is a garden,” said he.

The beautiful is as useful as the useful.” He added after a pause, “More so, perhaps.”

Did I exist before my birth? No. Shall I exist after death? No. What am I? A little dust collected in an organism. What am I to do on this earth? The choice rests with me: suffer or enjoy. Whither will suffering lead me? To nothingness; but I shall have suffered. Whither will enjoyment lead me? To nothingness; but I shall have enjoyed myself. My choice is made. One must eat or be eaten. I shall eat. It is better to be the tooth than the grass. Such is my wisdom.

If you emerge from that sad place with thoughts of hatred and of wrath against mankind, you are deserving of pity; if you emerge with thoughts of good-will and of peace, you are more worthy than any one of us.”

Liberation is not deliverance. One gets free from the galleys, but not from the sentence.

With the exercise of a little care, the nettle could be made useful; it is neglected and it becomes hurtful. It is exterminated. How many men resemble the nettle!” He added, after a pause: “Remember this, my friends: there are no such things as bad plants or bad men. There are only bad cultivators.”

Curiosity is a sort of gluttony. To see is to devour.

There is no limit to Paris.

To dare; that is the price of progress.

All history is nothing but wearisome repetition. One century is the plagiarist of the other.

Firm and rare natures are thus created; misery, almost always a step-mother, is sometimes a mother; destitution gives birth to might of soul and spirit; distress is the nurse of pride; unhappiness is a good milk for the magnanimous.

It is the same with wretchedness as with everything else. It ends by becoming bearable.

All the problems that the socialists proposed to themselves, cosmogonic visions, revery and mysticism being cast aside, can be reduced to two principal problems.
First problem: To produce wealth.
Second problem: To share it.
The first problem contains the question of work. The second contains the question of salary. In the first problem the employment of forces is in question. In the second, the distribution of enjoyment.
From the proper employment of forces results public power. From a good distribution of enjoyments results individual happiness. By a good distribution, not an equal but an equitable distribution must be understood. From these two things combined, the public power without, individual happiness within, results social prosperity. Social prosperity means the man happy, the citizen free, the nation great.

The tiniest worm is of importance; the great is little, the little is great; everything is balanced in necessity; alarming vision for the mind.

And then, strange to say, the first symptom of true love in a young man is timidity; in a young girl it is boldness. This is surprising, and yet nothing is more simple. It is the two sexes tending to approach each other and assuming, each the other’s qualities.

The future belongs to hearts even more than it does to minds. Love, that is the only thing that can occupy and fill eternity. In the infinite, the inexhaustible is requisite.

What a grand thing it is to be loved! What a far grander thing it is to love! The heart becomes heroic, by dint of passion. It is no longer composed of anything but what is pure; it no longer rests on anything that is not elevated and great.

Are you what is called a happy man? Well! you are sad every day. Each day has its own great grief or its little care. Yesterday you were trembling for a health that is dear to you, to-day you fear for your own; to-morrow it will be anxiety about money, the day after to-morrow the diatribe of a slanderer, the day after that, the misfortune of some friend; then the prevailing weather, then something that has been broken or lost, then a pleasure with which your conscience and your vertebral column reproach you; again, the course of public affairs. This without reckoning in the pains of the heart. And so it goes on. One cloud is dispelled, another forms. There is hardly one day out of a hundred which is wholly joyous and sunny. And you belong to that small class who are happy! As for the rest of mankind, stagnating night rests upon them.

But let those who do not desire a future reflect on this matter. When they say “no” to progress, it is not the future but themselves that they are condemning. They are giving themselves a sad malady; they are inoculating themselves with the past. There is but one way of rejecting To-morrow, and that is to die.

In thought there always exists a certain amount of internal rebellion; and it irritated him to have that within him.

It is a terrible thing to be happy! How content one is! How all-sufficient one finds it! How, being in possession of the false object of life, happiness, one forgets the true object, duty!

Nature divides living beings into those who are arriving and those who are departing. Those who are departing are turned towards the shadows, those who are arriving towards the light. Hence a gulf which is fatal on the part of the old, and involuntary on the part of the young. This breach, at first insensible, increases slowly, like all separations of branches. The boughs, without becoming detached from the trunk, grow away from it. It is no fault of theirs. Youth goes where there is joy, festivals, vivid lights, love. Old age goes towards the end. They do not lose sight of each other, but there is no longer a close connection. Young people feel the cooling off of life; old people, that of the tomb. Let us not blame these poor children.

“Everything and nothing. He is a man who, to all appearances, has lost some person who is dear to him. People die of that.”

“It is nothing to die; it is dreadful not to live.”


Have you read the book, watched any of the movies? If so, what did you make of it?



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