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Victor hugos les miserables as a classic

Share via Email Heavy with detail. Les Miserables, as interpreted by the RSC. To begin with the central problem: But length is not just a question of pages, it's also a question of tempo. In his essay "The Curtain", Milan Kundera writes how "aesthetic concepts began to interest me only when I first perceived their existential roots, when I came to understand them as existential concepts.

It is intimately, intricately linked to what it describes. This megalomania was a conscious choice on Hugo's part. To describe his work in progress, he jotted down a list of hyperbolic adjectives: And this is visible immediately: The beginning, it turns out, is not a beginning at all.

Here, at the start, Hugo was trying to set up a narrative convention, derived from the novel's deep theory. When the book was finished, Hugo tried - and failed - to write a preface. The preface would have begun like this: The idea engenders the characters, the characters produce the drama, and this is, in effect, the law of art.

  • A sceptic who adheres to a believer is as simple as the law of complementary colors;
  • Grantaire, in whom writhed doubt, loved to watch faith soar in Enjolras.

By having the ideal, that is God, as the generator instead of the idea, we can see that it fulfils the same function as nature. Destiny and in particular life, time and in particular this century, man and in particular the people, God and in particular the world, this is what I have tried to include in this book; it is a sort of essay on the infinite. That is why its tempo is so explicit with slowness, syncopated with digression.

But in this novel there is no such thing as a digression. Everything is relevant - since the subject of this book, quite literally, is everything: But how can the subject of the novel ever be lost sight of, if the lead character is infinity? In that case, nothing will ever be a digression. Yes, the length of this novel is important.

Les Miserables Reader’s Guide

Its quantity is its quality. It represents an answer to a central artistic question, which was not an answer the tradition of the novel has ever quite believed in since. This is one reason why Hugo's novel is so strange, and so valuable. James, after all, had learned the art of the novel from Flaubert.

According to this modernist tradition, the novel was an art of miniaturisation, and indirection. Hugo, however, had come up with a new solution, no less artful than the solution proposed by Flaubert and James. He wanted to create a novel which would try to represent everything by pretending that it did, in fact, represent everything.

It would be wilfully ramshackle and inclusive - both on the level of form, and on the victor hugos les miserables as a classic of content: For every plot, seen from the angle of Hugo's style, was infinite. This might sound tightly plotted, taut with melodrama. It might sound like a good plot for a musical. It is not a novel which prides itself on believability.

This might seem surprising - since one natural assumption, perhaps, is that improbability in a novel should diminish with length. In Tolstoy's War and Peace, if people coincide, or marry each other, it still seems probable. Every decision retains its fluidity. In this gargantuan novel, everything seems utterly improbable.

Every plot operates through coincidence. Normally, novelists develop techniques to naturalise and hide this. Hugo, with his technique of massive length, refuses to hide it at all. In fact, he makes sure that the plot's coincidences are exaggerated. It could be argued that the persistent weakness of the plotting is its strength.

Les Miserables

This, after all, is how coincidence often happens in real life - thinly. But the overwhelming impression is of schlock. Hugo's novel would offer miseries, not mysteries. But it would be part of the same urban pulp tradition. Schlock, however, can make existential discoveries too. One way in which Hugo emphasises the coincidences in his novel is the persistent failures of recognition.

  • Social problems overstep frontiers;
  • In what ways is this story dependent on and independent of its setting?
  • It was the communist surrealist Louis Aragon who stated that "with Victor Hugo, Paris stops being the seat of the court to become the city of the people";
  • One of the most psychologically complex characters is Javert, who— though he plays the role of a villain—acts not out of malice but out of a sense of duty to what he truly believes is ethically correct;
  • Hugo inserts a rather scathing aside about the nature of Fame in Part I, chapter one:

This occurs on the level of the characters - where a father does not recognise his son, or a criminal does not recognise the very person he has been pursuing for years. And it occurs on the level of the narration, where the narrator withholds the name of a character throughout an entire episode. Partly, perhaps, this adds to suspense: But really it's to create a bifocal effect.

Hugo wants a plot that is at once about total randomness, and also total predetermination. The novel, therefore, is written from two perspectives. The perspective of mankind, and the perspective of God - or Destiny. The reason for including so much of the world's matter was to work out how mystical the world was. Who, after all, knows the reciprocal ebb and flow of the infinitely big and the infinitely small, the reverberation of causes in the chasms of a being, the avalanches of creation?

A cheese mite matters; the small is big, the big is small; everything is in equilibrium within necessity - a frightening vision for the mind.

Les Misérables

But he wanted it only after subjecting the form to its limits, stuffing it with random accreted details - like the man fighting at the barricades, who "had padded his chest with a breastplate of nine sheets of grey packing paper and was armed with a saddler's awl". Meaning could be revealed only by slowing down the tempo of each scene: This is the meaning of Hugo's long novel and its slow tempo - heavy with detail. How can you know what fact will emerge, and destroy you? How can you know what will become a trap, and what will not?

Victor Hugo's Les Misérables: a game with destiny

We live our lives so blissful in our ignorance of an infinity which could invade us at any moment. Hugo's form, predicated on length, on digression and detail, is a deliberate accretion of overlapping examples: That is why the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa has described how Hugo's main scenes are "irresistible traps" - volcanic craters, where chaos suddenly acquires logic. And yet, how strenuously do Hugo's characters try to resist the traps of the world! Whether Hugo is writing about the historical battle of Waterloo or the fictional journey to Arras, his scenes obey the same constraints: According to Hugo, the battle of Waterloo was determined by victor hugos les miserables as a classic weather.

So that Waterloo could be the end of Austerlitz, Providence needed only a bit of rain, and a cloud crossing the sky out of season was enough for a whole world to disintegrate.

In both cases, however, the true subject is chance: Hugo's length does not just represent a philosophy: This is why Hugo can move so fluently from a detail to its moral or political halo. Everything is linked by his thematic network. Perhaps it's a pity, therefore, that all that survived of his preface to the novel was a single, dogmatic sentence: It's true that the same triad of the needy - which corresponds to Valjean, Fantine and Cosette - is restated by two characters in the novel.

But Hugo was not simply a political writer. How could he be? His subject was the infinite. In an abandoned section on prostitution, Hugo wrote: The portion of fate that depends on the unknown is called 'douleur', and this must be considered and explored with trepidation.

This was why Flaubert was unfair to mock Hugo for "the Catholic-socialist dregs. Hugo's novel was grander than its politics. It was not so limited. Many years earlier, in his preface to a collection of poetry, Inner Voices, dated June 24 1837, Hugo had said that the poet's duty was to elevate political events to the dignity of historical events. Hugo wanted to transform politics into history, and rewrite history so that it included the unknown, the ignored, the forgotten - a version of history that would inevitably, therefore, be both an exercise in philosophy and an exercise in politics.

But what is a historical novel? In his chapter "The Year 1817", a four-page list of minute events, Hugo concludes: And yet, the details, which are wrongly described as little - there are no little facts in the human realm, any more than there are little leaves in the realm of vegetation - are useful.

That is the secret of his repetitive name like Nabokov's criminal hero in his novel Despair: And it is also why Hugo is so careful to set the novel in the suburbs of Paris. It was the communist surrealist Louis Aragon who stated that "with Victor Hugo, Paris stops being the seat of the court to become the city of the people". Hugo was expert at describing the formless suburbs: To observe the urban outskirts is to observe the amphibian.

End of trees, beginning of roofs, end of grass, beginning of pavement, end of furrows, beginning of shops, end of ruts, beginning of passions, end of divine murmuring, beginning of human racket. Before he describes the barricades of the 1832 revolution, Hugo returns to his theory of history, which is really a theory of detail.

But this is where, and we insist on this, this is where life is, the throbbing, the shuddering of humanity. Little details, as I think we may have said, are the foliage, so to speak, of big events and are lost in the remoteness of history.