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Why Is Les Miserables Important? Part 2

19 Mar

I’ll admit, I was being somewhat facetious with that last post. I fully expected that nobody would actually click any of the links (and according to WordPress’ site monitor, nobody has). So why did I do it? Why did I spend the time I did, finding 100-some-odd posts on oppression and oppressed people in recent months (almost all of those links were published at some point in the first three months of 2009) and hyperlinking them to the preface to Les Miserables?

It’s because I could, quite honestly. Because there is still so much oppression existing in this world, because so many people suffer daily from people exercising unjustifiable privilege over them, because I could have found twice the amount of examples I did if I had spent another half-hour on that post. It’s because I can’t understand how people can be aware of that much suffering and oppression, and not be progressives. And not be feminists. And not be fully opposed to the power structure that makes that much unnecessary anguish not only possible, but standard operating procedure.

That’s why I care about the message of Les Miserables. Hugo’s oeuvre undermines the Social Darwinistic narrative our culture gives us every fucking day – that some people are “other than” and “less than,” and don’t matter as long as I come out on top. That’s why I’m writing the Les Miserables Blogging Project of Unusual Size. It’s because I see it as a form of activism – a way of pushing back against the culture that screams at me to shut the fuck up because I’m young, queer, in need of antidepressants and female, that tells others to back off because of their race or ethnicity, their disabilities, because they are trans, and 42 other reasons, give or take. Hugo’s characters and themes point toward the underlying structures that dehumanize us and take away our voices, and give hope that things can and will improve. Hugo’s writing presents an unquashable sense of optimism – the idea that where our society is (and has been for centuries) is not where it must stay. Hugo’s book is a fucking teaspoon, and it’s my hope (there’s that word again) that this series of analysis, and ultimately this blog, become teaspoons as well.

Why Les Miserables is Still Significant – Linkspam edition*

19 Mar

The preface to Les Miserables:

So long as there shall exist, by virtue of law and custom, decrees of damnation pronounced by society, artificially creating hells amid the civilization of earth, and adding the element of human fate to divine destiny; so long as the three great problems of the centurythe degradation of man through pauperism, the corruption of woman through hunger, the crippling of children through lack of lightare unsolved; so long as social asphyxia is possible in any part of the world;—in other words, and with a still wider significance, so long as ignorance and poverty exist on earth, books of the nature of Les Miserables cannot fail to be of use.

HAUTEVILLE HOUSE, 1862.

*Why, yes, every single word is a disturbingly appropriate hyperlink. *sob*

**If you want a slightly less link-intensive explanation of why the narrative of Les Miserables is necessary and meaningful in contemporary discussion, this post is pretty good.

***EDIT: A follow-up to this post here.

On Unabridged Literature

6 Mar

So, yesterday, I went to my school’s library and picked up an unabridged copy of Les Miserables so I can reread it for L.M.B.P.U.S. I know it’s unabridged because it says “unabridged” on the front cover in big, bold letters.

Unabridged means that it has not been “abridged or shortened,” according to some authorities. And this was the definition I was working from, so imagine my surprise when I opened the book and found a page that stated quite clearly that the book had been shortened, that parts of the book had been deemed irrelevant. I looked to see how many pages it had been truncated by. The book I picked up is less than 600 pages long – the original text is over 1200. They cut out more than half the book, y’all. How is this not abridged? And they cut out the bit describing the Bishop of D____, who I had planned to write about in LMBPUS. I guess I can use the Project Gutenberg copy for that part, but the reason I checked out a copy from the library was so I didn’t have to rely on using a digital copy, because of my current computer situation. *sigh*

In general, I don’t approve of abridging literature. I think it screws up authorial intent, which is something that shouldn’t be touched without the author’s permission. When I was a kid, I had a copy of Little Women, which was abridged. This was something, I learned later, that Alcott had done. She wrote the book in multiple parts for publication, but after the second half was published, both parts were most frequently published together. So I’m of the opinion that it ought not be published in two parts. But this is different even from that. These aren’t cuts that Hugo approved, nor do I believe he would have approved most of them. I’ve read a bit more since I wrote the above paragraphs, and the editor cut out parts that are important to the plot – the events leading up to the impregnation of Fantine, Fantine’s job-loss and further fall into prostitution and hair/teeth-selling, the description of Waterloo, and my favorite chapter are all gone. The sections cut give so much to the overall theme of the book – all the minor characters are foils to Valjean, and to take any of their story away is damn insulting to the humanity Victor Hugo gave to his characters, and to the masterful writing it took to provide that humanity.

ETA: Just found this post waxing poetic on the parts that are missing from this “unabridged” copy. The writer rather eloquently points out why these parts are necessary for the fuller picture of the story, and why it disrupts the integrity of the book to omit them.

Part 2 of my Princess Bride analysis is coming, hopefully posted within the next 24-36 hours.

Metapost – woo shiny new wordpress account!

2 Mar

I’m not entirely sure what I want to do with this account, so I’m going to make a list. I like lists. I’m like my mother that way.

I would like to make a series of posts on Les Miserables, examining various characters and their motivations through a lens critical of kyriarchy. Inspired by the comments section of this post on my LiveJournal.

  • Eponine
  • Cosette
  • Marius
  • Javert
  • Fantine
  • Cardinal whose name I’ve forgotten (EDIT: Bishop of  D___)
  • Valjean
  • possibly some more bit characters

I don’t really plan to keep a regular posting schedule, as I’m currently computerless (a painful tale of woe, cats and a bowl of soup), but I’ll update when I can.