Original title: Les Misérables
Original language: French
Translation to English by: Isabel F. Hapgood, 1887 & Charles E Wilbour, 1862
Page count: 1463 & 987
The back says: One of the great Classics of Western Literature, Les Miserables is a magisterial work which is rich in both character portrayal and meticulous historical description. Characters such as the absurdly criminalised Valjean, the street urchin Gavroche, the rascal Thenardier, the implacable detective Javert, and the pitiful figure of the prostitute Fantine and her daughter Cosette, have entered the pantheon of literary dramatis personae.
I say: I alternated between the two translations because I downloaded the first one from Project Gutenberg and had mistakenly only bought Volume Two of the Wordsworth Ed of the other translation.
I preferred the second translation, but I won’t swear by it.
Having said that, I sort of enjoyed this ridiculously long novel, but essentially had the same issue with it as I had with War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy – there’s just too much digression from the story itself to focus on history. I understand giving some history of Paris/France, but Hugo went into such inane depth on so many occasions I wanted to pull my hair out. It was boring beyond words and it took away too much attention from the story.
Another thing that annoyed me was the narrator’s constant jibes at Voltaire. You don’t like him; we get it; so stop mentioning him all the time.
The story itself is probably about half the book and is filled with so many characters that commit so many mistakes I can’t even begin to know where to start. Essentially, they’re all idiots, and the only person with any redeeming qualities is Vajean. Oh, and the adorably hilarious Gavroche.
Everyone else was more trouble than they were worth.
Although I do pity Fantine her unfortunate demise; she brought it all on herself. She’s supposed to be the misfortunate mother who gives up everything for her daughter Cosette, whom she loves so much she abandoned her to people who abused her to no end, and only started weeping over her when she found out she was dying.
I could go on for days about this, but since it’s mostly negative I’m not going to bother. The reason this is getting a 3.5/5 is because of Valjean and the heart-breaking end that made me despise Cosette and Marius after having quite liked them up to that point.
It was Valjean’s despair that I loved more than anything.
Although I am not too fond of his writing in this, I must give Hugo due credit for weaving all of these people’s lives together in a rather masterful way. If he had only lessened the sentimentality of the lovers, the improbability of the escape in the sewers, the over-familiar narrator, the rambling history lessons and the constant jibes at Voltaire, I may have enjoyed this a whole lot more.
Also, I seriously doubt I’ll watch any of the film versions because it’s all just much ado about nothing, to be honest.