Hugo at a Dinner Party

I can imagine what Victor Hugo must have been like at a dinner party. “How was your day, Victor?” “Oh, it was wonderful! Let me tell you. This morning, I woke up at 6:03 and I got out of bed and put on my red robe. Or was it my blue one? No, no, it was the red. Then I went down the stairs and I passed the portrait of my Grandfather. He was a general in the army and fought the battle of.such-and-such and did thus-and-so. Then I had two poached eggs for breakfast…” You get the picture.

As of today I am 587 pages into Les Miserables, and I have to say, for one of the most well-known classics, I’m disappointed. As a writer myself, I am a firm believer that no matter how many sub-plots you put into a story, you should always come back eventually to the original plot line. Apparently, Hugo is not.

I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame in December during those two weeks I was in labor with my son, and I really enjoyed it. Granted, tragic ending. Anyone who’s ever watched the Disney version would be shocked, but hey, they made it a kid’s story. Read the original Little Mermaid or Cinderella, and you’ll see that Disney took a lot of creative liberties. No turning into sea foam or chopping off of toes for old Walt.

Back to Hunchback, Hugo did a pretty good job of staying on topic in the book. He had some digressions, but most of them at least in some way pertained to the story of Quasimodo and Esmeralda, and none of them lasted more than twenty pages or so. In Les Mis, however, pages 478 through 523 alone are dedicated to the ways, layout, and habits of a nunnery in Paris. Not to mention fifty pages on the Battle of Waterloo, and 82 pages on a Bishop who plays an active role in Jean Valjean’s life for all of one chapter.

I find myself wishing I could just stop where I am and write in my own ending: “And Jean Valjean and Cossette lived happily away from Javert for the rest of their days.” I know I should finish the book, but I think it’s giving me gray hair! I can’t tell you how stressful it is to think for the umpteenth time that a character is out of danger, just to have something else go awry.

I guess the moral here is, just because something is a classic, it isn’t necessarily good literature. Or maybe the moral is, when dealing with Hugo, read the abridged.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. raspberrychai
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 02:22:36

    “When dealing with Hugo, read the abridged.” Agree. I have some vague memory of reading “Les Miserables,” but I think I deliberately forgot it..hmm..I would equate Victor Hugo to a bad version of Edgar Allan Poe. What do you think?


    • babyblurbs
      Feb 17, 2011 @ 21:13:34

      Interesting comparison. I always enjoyed Poe and thought even his unknowns were very well written. How would you say he’s like Hugo? Both prefer dark themes, but I feel like Poe was more of a tortured soul who wrote darkly because he felt the darkness, while Hugo takes the ugly parts of life and satirizes them or editorializes through his characters, such as Fantine.


  2. raspberrychai
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 04:21:13

    Don’t get me wrong, I really like Poe. I think they have a melancholy darkness to their writing, and both dabbled (at least a little) in social/political issue writing…e.g. Poe and “The Pit and the Pendulum.” I don’t know a ton about either author, but I get a lot of the same feel from what I’ve read of theirs.


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