Jean Valjean

December 22, 2012 at 4:18 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , )

Whether you have read the book or not, most people are familiar with this image:

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The story has been a Broadway sensation for ages, the book itself has been a classic for even longer.  And with Hugh Jackman acting the lead role of Jean Valjean in the movie production being released on Christmas Day, more people than ever are going to have the story of Les Miserables running through their heads.

That’s why earlier this year I committed to spending 2012 reading the classic tome along with Kate’s Library.  It was amazing, and for the rest of my life I’ll remember 2012 as the year that I met Jean Valjean.

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Ok, I know, I know, that fellow on the left there is not a depiction of Jean Valjean, it’s a picture of Victor Hugo; but despite my encounters with other works by Hugo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), bringing up Hugo will forever remind me of Valjean, not Quasimodo.

Valjean has a beautiful, though depressing story.  A convict running from the law, early in the novel he is changed for life by a man called the Bishop, learns the importance of love and learning and becomes a new man.  As his life progresses, he becomes someone altogether different and even assumes a new name.  With a new name and some money, he finds himself in charge of a town and in a position to help a poor prostitute named Fantine who is dying and has left her only child to be raised by some hooligans elsewhere.  Valjean, now a saint and model citizen, promises to care for the child and goes to retrieve her.

That’s when Valjean and Cosette (the large-eyed little child in the musical posters and book covers) join forces and run away together as father and daughter.

So many adventures, so many trials, life in a nunnery, life hiding out, life raising a child, a love story between Cosette and Marius… but Jean Valjean lives a great life under much mystery, oppression, and misery, and still somehow he finds joy in his little Cosette.  Valjean is a prime example of a life changed, and a life found despite what the world and the government tries to throw at you.

The paragraph above is much too simple of a description of Hugo’s Valjean.  There is a reason Hugo’s novel is 1260 pages long, and not a moment of it is to be missed.  Les Miserables is a story of compassion, love, redemption, and a quest for freedom.  Both the novel and the musical focus on these themes in a powerful way, though they differ in how they address them, typical of a novel to a musical.  In the end, both forms of the story are about Valjean and the idea that if he can learn to love and be charitable after all he has suffered, who is there that cannot learn these things too?  Who could possibly have suffered more?

If you have not read Les Miserables, I urge you to do so, it could change your life.  If you have not seen the musical, watch the movie trailer and then tell me it won’t be epic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuEFm84s4oI

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St. Denis

November 9, 2012 at 6:52 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

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My thoughts on Part Four of Les Miserables

Maybe it is a bit shallow and unliterary of me to come away from St. Denis and only have the story of my own marriage on my mind, but that’s the truth of it.  How can you read what has become a nearly epic love story and not think of your own?  Call it what Hugo does, The Stupefaction of Complete Happiness, and then maybe you can forgive me for getting wrapped up in the romance of it all and not caring for the extensive history, the depth of the literature, and all the rest of it.

“From time to time Marius’ knee touched Cossette’s knee, which gave them both a thrill.” – Book Fifth

Do you remember that? That feeling like a shock, but so much gentler, when the object of your affection makes contact; the feeling incredibly enhanced when that person loves you back… Do you remember?

I met my husband when I was fourteen, my freshman year of high school.  He was old for our grade and already fifteen.  By the time I was fifteen too, I was sitting next to him at lunch our sophomore year, just friends but wondering desperately if he would ever want more.  In those days, I thought a knee knock or a hand graze was everything.  Come to find out, it was nothing compared to him taking my hand to walk me down the hall later that year.  Or even much later – years later – when he would hold just my pinky finger under a blanket in college because we were under orders from my then boyfriend not to hold hands.  We were best friends by then and the idea of not holding hands with my best friends was excruciating.  That same evening he leaned in and whispered in my ear, “I’ll always love you,” and then some blithering nonsense about my boyfriend and the direction of our lives.

Things changed then.  Obviously that (very awesome and dear to me) boyfriend didn’t last as a boyfriend, and I finally knew what I had wanted to know all along: my best friend was my truest love.

Our first year as a couple at my 3rd degree black belt test.

The innocent but thrilling touches didn’t end there, we spent an entire summer trying to ease my parents into the idea that he was around.  I neither confirmed nor denied that he was my boyfriend – at twenty I didn’t think it was any of their business – but during the school term we were in different cities so we wanted to take advantage of the time we did have.  It was like a Jane Austen novel in my head, something like Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill: catching glances across the room, brushing knuckles and fingertips in the hall.  Sneaking a whisper and a kiss when no one was in the room.

“What passed between these two beings? Nothing.  They were adoring each other.” – Book Eighth

Apparently, I have thing for secrets, because that was nearly the entirety of all my relationships, relishing in the act of not letting anyone know.  The difference this time is I was dying to scream it from the roof tops: One day I will  be Mrs. Jonathan Klemm!

As for complete happiness, it is still had.  We fight and argue – after all, we are married- but at the end of the day, at the end of it all, I can snuggle up in the crook of my love’s arm and hold his hand.  He will rub his thumb against mine, lean down and kiss my forehead, and all is well again.  The thrill of the small and innocent touches still there – after all, we are married.

Skip to my next Les Miserables post.

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Marius

July 15, 2012 at 9:20 pm (Events, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

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My Thoughts on Part 3 of Les Miserables

I had a hard time getting into part 3, as I tend to be impatient in my reading constantly wondering about relevance.  But of course, Hugo makes everything worth while and without fail Marius is just as intriguing as his predecessors: Fantine and Cosette.

I love how Hugo builds a story out of lengthy character developments and social commentary.  There’s no story, just life, but in that it is one of the most fascinating stories ever told.  I think that is why I always find the climactic plot points so startling and wonderful – I don’t expect them.  Hugo waits until you’ve settled into not being impatient, gotten cozy with the daily ins and outs of a particular character’s existence, and then shatters your world with a life altering event for them.  The whole thing is beautiful, and depressing, and wonderful. .. think East of Eden, but instead of a sunny dust bowl, you’ve got the dank, cold of Paris.  Why am I so drawn to this kind of literature?

I am 710 pages into this novel with only 550 pages to go, the overwhelming intimidation behind me, now I’m just eager to see what happens to all these people I have come to love (and hate).  I am so glad I joined a readalong to encourage me through this novel, but I have found that the group really hasn’t served the purpose I previously expected.  I hoped to read posts and have discussions, following the thoughts of others in a classroom like manner as I plodded through this masterpiece.  Instead, I impatiently wait for other bloggers to share their reading experiences, only to find they haven’t read or at least haven’t posted about what they’ve read.

So instead, I sit here cherishing Fantine, Cosette, Jean Valjean, and Marius alone.  Instead, I find that few others are sharing my desire to throw the Thenardier’s off a cliff by the mere fact that they are not presently posting the desire.  God, I hope I am not the only one feeling murderess passions toward these useless pieces of crap who keeps “a pipe in his mouth, and was smoking.  There was no more bread in the den, but there was tobacco.”  People who do nothing for themselves, but scrape by off the hard work and sympathies of others, breaking their own windows to appear even more poor to a wealthier man who might give them money.

Misery loves company, and as I am reading Les Miserables – I want company to lament in the utter awfulness of these people who do everything they can to bring the good ones down to their level.  The good ones being those equally destitute, equally at odds with the world, but doing their best to make a life and stay as happy as can be imagined.

Have you read Les Miserables? Care to join me?  We will be all ready to see this at the end of the year: http://www.grantland.com/blog/hollywood-prospectus/post/_/id/50396/the-les-miserables-trailer-a-million-theater-geeks-just-fainted

Read my next post on Les Miserables.

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Cosette

May 20, 2012 at 3:08 am (Events, Reviews) (, , , , , , )

Notes from a Les Miserables Blog Hop

It took me longer to pluck through Cosette than it did for Fantine.  Only because it was so engrossing, I had to take a delicious detour into the historical writings of Charles Esdaile, author of Napoleon’s Wars.  Hugo was quite the scholar, and it shows in his writing, he goes on rants and exciting commentaries on things extremely relevant in his time, but which I feel a little less than educated on.  Not that you need additional reading to follow him, he is quite detailed.  I just like to know what I think about things before someone else tells me what to think of them.  So with new knowledge and a fresh perspective, I dove back into Cosette shortly after finishing Napoleon’s Wars, and I’m glad I did.  I recommend that anyone serious about reading Les Miserables, read a bit about the world prior to the introduction of Jean Valjean.

More than tell me much about Jean Valjean, it told me much about Hugo.  Often when reading work like Les Miserables, where all the characters go through long stretches of being miserable and down on their luck, I wonder what changed the author so to make them either so hardened or so empathetic (as one can write similar stories from two completely opposite positions).  Knowing more about the era, the place, being more familiar with my history, shed some light on those things.  For starters, Hugo writes about the aftermath (and even certain parts of the wars) with such passion.  He says things like, “Napoleon was one of those geniuses who rule the thunder” (pg.285) and “To make Wellington so great is to belittle England” (pg. 301).

Within the pages of Cosette, Hugo often references other writers and literature, comments and allusions to Aeschylus, Virgil, and Voltaire, just to name a few.  This got me even more curious about his frame of reference, his education, and I discovered he was trained to be a lawyer, but chose writing instead.  Not only did he write the novels we are all aquainted with, but poetry, a few nonfiction pieces, as well as founded and edited a literary journal.  He was highly devoted to the concept that everyone should have the opportunity to be educated, and in 1851 took part in the International Peace Congress in Paris.  As a member of the Legislative Assembly he was forced to flee France when Napoleon III came to power.  (http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/EUhugo.htm).  Now, I can’t wait to own everything the man ever touched.  I’d also like to find out if those literary journals are available anywhere, but I haven’t looked yet.

Of course, there’s more to Hugo’s writing than social commentary and history.  There’s a beautiful story unraveling about an old man and a young girl who need a family and have created one in each other.  Funny enough, it reminds me of the story starring Natalie Portman called Leon, The Professional.  Its a personal favorite of mine, and if you haven’t seen the movie, you should definitely check it out.  After reading all of Fantine’s history, and knowing all that Cosette had gone through with the Thénardiers, to have Cosette rescued from them led me to the deepest sigh of relief.  Like the first time you hear the story of Cinderella and discover she is no longer in the clutches of the evil step mother and sisters, Cosette leaving that household felt like she tumbled into a princessdom.  Now, I can’t wait to see what is in store for the unfortuneate but relatively happy pair next.

Follow my adventures through Les Miserables from the beginning.  Here you will also find the links to the Blog Hop’s host, Kate’s Library: https://anakalianwhims.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/les-miserables-blog-hop-8/

The post on Cosette by the Blog Hop’s Hostess, Kate’s Library, can be found here: http://kateslibrary.blogspot.com/2012/06/les-miserables-victory-hugo-post-2.html

Read my post on Marius (part 3 of Les Miserables).

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