Book: Les Misérables
Author: Victor Hugo
Original publication year: 1862
Reading language: Finnish
Translated by: J. V. Lehtonen & Eino Voionmaa (shorted by Reino Rauanheimo)
Finnish publisher: WSOY, Helsinki (in corporation with Bonnier Books Finland)
Printed in: EU, 2013
Reading status: Volume I: Fantine, book IV
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Where does the story take place?
The books takes place in France and dates to the year 1815
Briefly what has happened and not-so-briefly what I think about it:
Unlike all my expectations, that are purely based on the musical, the reader is introduced to a old mister Charles-Francois-Bienvenu, the Bishop of Myriel Digne. He's a very generous, selfless and kind man who leaves with his sister Bapstine and old servant Mrs. Magloire. The first book discripes all the good deeds he does, my favorite being when there's a murderer in Digne who is punnished to death and the Bishop stands in for the sick preacher of the prison to prepare the prisoner for his last journey. The bishop is very kind to this poor man and prays for his soul and comforts him. And he succeeds in it. The Bishop is present even in the execution and there says his last words to the prisoner. This scene really shows how generous he is and how he is ready to help absolutely anyone, even a murderer.
Well, in the II book Jean Valjean finaly appears with his yellow passport searching for a place to sty overnight. And it came from the bush for me. I had expected that the reader would have followed how Valjean suffers in the prison until he gets out and somewhere in the middle of that we would have a story from Valjean's past, the bread stealing and everything like in the musical. But heck no, let's just introduce thin random character that everyone despises for some reason. This part shows how cruel people can be. Valjean wonders around the time and finally comes finds his way to the bishop. He tells to the Bishop (who doesn't tell his title to Valjean) that he's an ex-convict and recently got out of prison. The bishop doesn't care about this and offers him food and a bed. When Valjean is trying to sleep at night, we are told what happened to Valjean. I likes this part because it discriped what was happening inside his head, how he condemns the entire society due to his deserved but immoderate punishment. This is one of those things that I really love in victorian literature: Character personalities changing because of the things that happen to them and descriptions about their thought process during that change or otherwise. This part also brought to my mind the story of Edmund Dantés from my beloved The Count of Monte Cristo. I honestly would have wanted more time to be spent on this prison-Valjean but it only lasted for few pages.
During that night, Valjean also steals the Bishops Silver and escapes. Later that day three police officers brings him back to the bishop and tell him that Valjean was caught with his silver. The bishop says that he cave the Silver to him. The police officers believe him and let Valjean go. The Bishop gives Valjaen also two candlestick and tells him to use the silver to become and honest man. This famous part doesn't last longer than two pages but it leaves a mark on readers mind. After this Jean Valjean's mind is messed up because he can't understand the bishops actions. He leaves the town still confused, wondering his own evilness that he also shows towards a young boy named Gervais. He decides to change and we never hear about him again. This part was also candy for me because I love to see characters thinking about their own personality.
We timeskip to the year 1817 Then we are introduced to a company of four working class women, Dahlia,Zéphine, Favourite and of course Fantine and four lads from university, Tholomyés, Listolier, Fameuil and Blachevelle. These eighth characters are in love with each others Tholomyés being Fantine's first love. They spent a day in Paris having fun and at the evening they have a good meal at the in. The boy's leave saying that they are gonna get "the surprise" they have prepared for their girls. After an hour the innkeeper gives then a letter from the Boys and in the letter they tell that this is the surprise. The boys tell in the letter that they've been called by their parents and that they are gonna follow that call. To put it short, they leave the girls they've been taking care of for two years. All the other girls aren't that shocked over this but Fantine is an exception. She has a child. And I think that Fantine didn't know to be careful because she had no mother to teach her that. Fantine's parents are unknown according to the book.
I saw this coming for two reason, first, I've seen the musical, second, the combining of upper class university boy and a lower class girl doesn't lead to any other results in Victorian era (except in fiction). It was completely normal at that time for men at the university to have a lover or something similar. And when they graduated, they left the girl on their own with nothing and few years later married a lady from their own class. It was disgusting but well, Victorian era had a lot of errors behind all those fancy clothes and pretty hoses. I think I will see more of these errors while reading further this book.
Anyway, some time later Fantine (who has become very poor and does everything for her dauther, Cosette) mrs. Thénardier who's kids are playing outside. Fantine approaches her and with Mr. Thénrdier dome to an agreement to take care of Cossete while Fantine is away. But Thénardiers clearly cheat Fantine and ask her way too much money "for Cossete" but use the money for their on accord. I didn't expect the book would show us Fantine's backstory but in the other hand the book is really fat.
End of spoilers
I've been liking the book so far. It describes the misery of the lower class people really well and I'm liking the language Hugo uses. It has everything I ask from a Victorian novel and it adds a whole lot of things to the story of the musical. I can't wait until we get to Javert! There is a lot of character descriptions and I enjoy reading their thoughts. I also like that Victor Hugo writes about society and the nature of mankind. It might be a little bit slow for me but I'm used to that after reading other, slow Victorian novels. (I'm currently near finishing Dracula and it still feels to bee a little slow) For some one who isn't used to reading books this kind Les Misérables might feel quite slow. The descriptions are also very long (like in every Victorian novel, excluding Stevenson's writings) just like I like them to be but I can see them to be exhausting to some readers.
So far Jean Valjean is my favorite character because he has this "good man becomes bad but becomes good again when he get's mercy" story. I'm not so interested about Fantine because there's not really anything in her personality that would wake my interest or fascination. She's simply a woman with a tragic story. I know, nearly all of the characters in this books has a tragic story, but with Fantine she doesn't change, it doesn't have a twist. It's just misery after misery and it will be like that judging by the musical. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate Fantine but neither do I like her. I do pity her (I nearly cried at one part) but nothing else. I quess it has to do something with the fact that I can't really relate to her or get the connection to her the same way I get the connection to Valjean and the Bishop. But maybe I find new sides of Fantine as I read further. After all, I've read nearly hundred pages our of... 971.
Overall opinion: Good and enjoyable though it's really weird to enjoy this because I'm reading a story about misery and tragedy... Oh well, happiness, crapiness.
Plus: Hugo's language, Valjean, philosophy, long descriptions (this could be a minus for some people but I long for them. Books without good/creative or poetry-like descriptions are boring....)
Minus: Fantine could be potentially more interesting imo, little bit slow
Grade: Let's say 9- for now.
For who I recommend this book:
Can't really say yet.