Sunday, 2 December 2012

Les Miserables Final Review: What Does Hugo Want to Say?

Let me first make a confession. I have watched Les Miserables 25th Annyversary in Concert, yes, the musical. Is it necessary to say that I cried like a baby when I did so? It may be the music, or the lyrics, or maybe because I link every line to the novel, rich with its description and deep philosophy.

As I read Les Miserables, since I understood that Myriel is not the focus of the story, I have always asked myself: What does Hugo want to say? Why does he put so much details, sometimes even seem irrelevant with the main story at all? Why so much history and philosophy? I have put it somewhere in the volume-by-volume review of the novel that I don't think Jean is Hugo's center of thought during his writing Les Miserables. Something much greater lies there.

Myriel. He is a saint. Let's say he always tries to do what is right up to the point of his limit. Doesn't he say that it is men's duty to do the best that they can? He rains his kindness and fortune upon those who need it, not only upon those who he thinks deserve it. One of them is Jean Valjean. Myriel dies without knowing what actually happens to Jean. He doesn't live to see all the good things that Jean does thanks to his kindness towards the unfortunate man. Perhaps Hugo wants to say that we never know if the good things we have done to people will change their lives for good. Perhaps he wants to say that it's out of our business to think about that. We just need to do our best, and let things work the way they will.

Javert is a grand lesson about the limitation of the law of men. There are things that men cannot see, and cannot understand. There are things that simple sentences signed by a nation cannot solve. The law is good, and law helps to organise society. But that same law cannot be relied upon for everything in the world. Some condition allows human beings to go beyond the law they know. Is that the thing you want to say, Hugo?

The friends of the ABC are heroes of revolution. They have a dream of a better world, and they do everything that they can to make it happen. They believe the government must change, they think it will change everything. On the other hand, Hugo praises both Napoleon and Louis Philippe in his novel, saying that both are great man, and moreover, says that Louis Philippe is a good man. Does he try to say that everything has its goodness anyway, that no matter what kind of political government you believe in, you still can live peacefully with others? Or does he try to say that even great people and good people in the government, no matter of what type, can't really solve the problem of society?

One lesson that I will always remember from Jean Valjean is the importance of listening to the voice of your conscience. There are and will always be things in the “grey zone”, things we can't classify as true or false. But if listen to our conscience, no matter how hard the decision may be, we can always face ourselves without the feeling of guilt. Jean makes so many difficult choices in the novel: whether to save Champmathieu or not, whether to kill Javert or not, whether to save Marius or not, and he chooses well, so that when his death is near, he has nothing to fear, he has no regret.

Jean's experience also shows us that people can change – for better or worse. There's no such thing as 'too late' to be good. When you want to leave your past and live a new life, things won't be easy for you, but there is always a way. It doesn't depend on the society. It depends on you. Jean has done all that he could, despite the difficulties he has to face.

Eponine, Gavroche, and the two little boys on the street reminds us that there are people suffering so much pain out there. Have we ever stopped and think about them? Those miserable little people who always need help should be helped. Do we care? Well, Hugo did.

I haven't read anything so long as this since Monte Cristo, perhaps. Les Miserables will be one of my treasures from now on. I must confess that I need to read it more than once to grasp the full idea of it. There are so many things to contemplate on in this book. One day, perhaps, I will open the book again and re-read it.  

Here's my volume-to-volume review of Les Miserables:


  1. A great post! I like all the questions - even when they don't have specific answers. I've been in the middle of War and Peace for a little while, now - but I'm getting used to longer books. I almost put Les Miserables on my Classics Club list, but already had so many other long books. I've been thinking about a second list.

    1. Thank you. War and Peace frightens me. Perhaps you can add Les Miserables once you finish the other long books.

  2. Congratulations on completing Les Mis! I, sadly, decided to postpone reading this with a hope that I will continue reading it at some point in the future. I think you well captured the essentials of this book. Great review as always! :)

    1. Thank you! It's a great book indeed. The musical doesn't really capture some of the important stuff, but it also add good things to the story as well. I love how the music brilliantly captures the feelings of the characters.

  3. This is one of my all-time favorite novels. And I love the musical just as much as the book. I can't wait until the movie comes out this Christmas.

    Javert was probably my favorite character in the book, though I can't really say why. He was so flawed! But yet he was trying to be good. I think a lot of lessons can be learned from Javert.

    1. Well, I can't agree more. Les Mis is an extraordinary and amazing master piece. Hugo must be really proud of it.

      ABout Javert, he is a wonderful character for sure. We all learn a lot from him as well. Here's my opinion on Javert:

      Please take a look.

  4. This is such a wonderful post. As you already know from my post about this novel, I completely agree with everything - especially the part about Les Mis being about something bigger than just one character and his fate.
    Ah, Jean, Javert, Gavroche, Eponine... I parted from them last month, and I already miss them.