Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Les Miserables

Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

I started this book because I knew it was a classic book. I’ve seen the movie and was touched by the message that it brought and was sure that the book would give more detail and convey a better story. I was correct in assuming this. Les Miserables tells the story of a convict that finds a new life after being forgiven by a Bishop. Jean Valjean, the convict, takes care of an orphan girl, Cosette, gives generously of his money to the poor, as he hides from the police since he escaped from the galleys. He ends in aiding a young gentleman that becomes the suitor of Cosette, and leads them to marriage. Jean Valjean is rejected by the young man after he finds that he was a convict, until the true story of the Jean’s generosity is made known by an interesting twist of events. Forgiveness is eventually given and the young people are happy in ending up together.

The character Jean Valjean was interesting to follow. At sometimes he made me frustrated because I didn’t understand why he would be so hard. But as I read I understood that his hardness came from his unfair treatment by those that knew him to be an ex-convict. It was impossible for one that was released from the galleys to do anything. Jean Valjean learned forgiveness from the Bishop that he first encounters and from then on lives by kindness and mercy. His heart is softened toward the needy and he does everything in his power to help those around him. I’m not sure that I could relate to him very well. He was a very secretive in all he did. I could almost relate to Cosette because she was a young woman and she falls in love. Of course my heart goes out to the love story that is entwined in this book. She is very innocent and chaste. In some ways I want to relate to her because of her innocence.

Marius was one of the characters that was really interesting to me. I don’t quite understand him and he brings curiosity to my mind. He rejected his grandfather because of his political views, but ended being a little wishy-washy when it came to standing up to his peers about it. The characters were each believable in their own way. This book really tells of the decay of society in France after the revolution. The poor were truly destitute and there was no way out. Children ran in the street barefoot during the winter and died of starvation. The characters represented different levels of society and what each thought of the other.

The point of view is that of an observer. He knows everything that is happening and the true story. The characters are limited in their knowledge and are sometimes mislead by others or their own ideas. The view that I had as a reader brought me into the story knowing that some characters were wrong in their judgments and I felt angry or grieved or frustrated by them. It gave me emotions that I could put into the story.

The location is what makes this story true. The time period is also equally important. It is based on the post-napoleon France where the country is trying to recover from civil war and tension is still very strong between the people and the government. There is a bit of history given in some of the chapters and it adds to the realistic scene this story sets. I didn’t know very much about the French Revolution before and was interested in learning more. A little of it was over my head, but I got the gist of the story. And since it was presented in the midst of this fictional story it helped me to understand how it really was for the people at that time. Even though this story switched between different characters it was still chronological to the events. There was some back stepping when it told the historical events, but this helped set up the platform for the ongoing story.

This story brought on all different emotions as I read it. I was angry at Jean Valjean for taking advantage of the Bishop and his family when they showed him kindness. And angry again when the Bishop forgave him. As Jean Valjean’s character developed I sympathized with him in his hardships. I felt joy when he was able to escape from the police and hid with Cosette in a convent. There was excitement when Jean Valjean followed Marius into the barricade to save him and bring him back to Cosette. There was pity on the poor family that had to stoop to thievery and deceit to feed themselves.

My favorite part of this book is the ending. I don’t want to give it away, but all the kindness that Jean Valjean gave and the selflessness that he lived is appreciated and seen for what it was. He truly lived for his Cosette and her happiness and it was realized in the end. The little things that he did that reached those around him were recognized and it ended well.

The saddest thing about this book was reading about the children that would starve and not be taken care of. I don’t like to read about the mistreatment of children and how they suffer. It makes me glad that society has come a long way from that, but at the same time there are places were children still suffer like they did in France long ago. I don’t like facing that reality because it makes me uncomfortable. But I know see the truth of what those children had to face.

I really enjoyed this book. I finished it in a week because it kept me so interested. I read of the wonderful kindness and mercy that one person can have can effect the rest of someone else’s life. The bishop’s kindness brought about many blessings on others because it showed Jean Valjean to live a new life. This book is a ten. I would recommend it to everyone.