There was just so much I loved about Les Miserables. That first book report was the essentials.
Below are some side characters and tangents I wanted to comment on. Also, I’ve condensed and then quoted some really long passages that I just thought were amazing. So give these a read if you don’t have time to read the whole novel. And give these a re-read if you’ve already read the book. (That’s sort of why I’m posting them here, so I can refresh my own memory down the road.)
Now for part 2 of my Les Miserables book report:
I love the narrator’s voice. He’s almost a character in his own right.
He says things like, “I’ve forgotten the name,” which makes him into a real person. Or things like, “He did not see them again, and throughout the remainder of this sad history, neither shall we.” It’s as if we’re hearing the story from our grandfather while sitting around the hearth.
He’s humorous as well, with descriptions that add both character and humor: “Madame Victurnien was fifty-six years old and wore a mask of old age over her mask of ugliness.” Or “...Her husband, a knave of some calibre, a ruffian, educated almost to the extent of grammar...”
And often the narrator waxes eloquent while pontificating on a point:
“The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved in. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only. The rest is only the rest, and comes afterwards. Nothing is more real than these great shocks which two souls give each other in exchanging this spark.”
The narrator said one phrase, which I loved, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether it had inspired the daemons in Phil Pullman’s His Dark Materials:
“It is our conviction that if souls were visible to the eye we should distinctly see this strange fact that each individual of the human species corresponds to some one of the species of the animal creation; and we should clearly recognise the truth, hardly perceived by thinkers, that, from the oyster to the eagle, from the swine to the tiger, all animals are in man, and that each of them is in a man; sometimes even, several of them at a time. Animals are nothing but the forms of our virtues and vices wandering before our eyes, the visible phantoms of our souls. God shows them to us to make us reflect.”
To me, Gavroche is one of the lost boys, straight out of Peter Pan. And one of the most endearing features of his character is that he carries a pistol with a broken hammer—just like a kid pretending to be a grown up.
“Little folks are good for something then! That is very lucky! I will go! Meantime, trust the little folks, distrust the big.” — Gavroche
THE WEDDING SPEECH
I loved this speech by Monsieur Gillenormand at the wedding feast. I think you will too:
“Listen to me; I am going to give you a piece of advice: Adore one another…
“The philosopher’s say, ‘Moderate your joys.’ I say, ‘Give them the rein. Be enamoured like devils. Be rabid…
“Can you love each other too much? Can you please each other too much?
“Can you enchant each other too much, charm each other too much? Can you be too much alive? Can you be too happy?...
“Live boldly for one another, my-love one another, make us die with rage that we cannot do as much, idolatrise each other...
“So act that, when you are with each other, there shall be nothing wanting, and that Cosette may be the sun to Marius, and that Marius may be the universe to Cosette. Cosette, let your fine weather be the smile of your husband: Marius! let your rain be the tears of your wife. And may it never rain in your household. You have filched the good number in the lottery, a love-match; you have the highest prize, take good care of it, put it under lock and key, don’t squander it, worship each other, and snap your fingers at the rest.
“Be a religion to each other. Every one has his own way of worshipping God. Zounds! the best way to worship God is to love your wife. I love you! that is my catechism. Whoever loves is orthodox.”
ON WEDDING NIGHTS
This is a passage from the narrator at the close of the wedding festivities:
“There was tumult, then silence. The bride and groom disappeared.
“A little after midnight the Gillenormand house became a temple. Here we stop.
“Upon the threshold of wedding-nights stands an angel smiling, his finger on his lip. The soul enters into contemplation before this sanctuary, in which is held the celebration of love. There must be gleams of light above those houses. The joy which they contain must escape in light through the stones of the walls, and shine dimly into the darkness. It is impossible that this sacred festival of destiny should not send a celestial radiation to the infinite.
“Love is the sublime crucible in which is consummated the fusion of man and woman; the one being, the triple being, the final being, the human trinity springs from it.
“This birth of two souls into one must be an emotion for space. The lover is priest; the rapt maiden is affrighted. Something of this joy goes to God. Where there is really marriage, that is where there is love, the ideal is mingled with it. A nuptial bed makes a halo in the darkness. Were it given to the eye of flesh to perceive the fearful and enchanting sights of the superior life, it is probable that we should see the forms of night, the winged strangers, the blue travellers of the invisible, bending, a throng of shadowy heads, over the luminous house, pleased, blessing, showing to one another the sweetly startled maiden bride, and wearing the reflection of the human felicity upon their divine countenances.
“If, at that supreme hour, the wedded pair, bewildered with pleasure, and believing themselves alone, were to listen, they would hear in their chamber a rustling of confused wings.
“Perfect happiness implies the solidarity of the angels.
“That little obscure alcove has for its ceiling the whole heavens. When two mouths, made sacred by love, draw near each other to create, it is impossible that above that ineffable kiss there should not be a thrill in the immense mystery of the stars.
“These are the true felicities. No joy beyond these joys.
“Love is the only ecstasy, everything else weeps.
“To love or to have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life. To love is a consummation.”
THE SACRIFICE OF ENJOLRAS
Enjolras is a man of ideals and heart—a caring youth, willing to make nearly any sacrifice to bring forth a greater good. At one point, the rebels must take a sniper shot at a cannon gunner, and this heart-wrenching dialog ensues:
“He is at most twenty-five years old; he might be your brother.”
“He is,” said Enjolras.
“Yes,” said Combeferre, “and mine also. Well, don’t let us kill him.”
“Let me alone. We must do what we must.” And a tear rolled slowly down Enjolras’ marble cheek. At the same time he pressed the trigger of his carbine.
The flash leaped forth. The artillery-man turned twice round, his arms stretched out before him, and his head raised as if to drink the air, then he fell over on his side upon the gun, and lay there motionless. His back could be seen, from the centre of which a stream of blood gushed upwards. The ball had entered his breast and passed through his body. He was dead.
WHAT HORIZON IS VISIBLE FROM THE TOP OF THE BARRICADE (i.e., THE SPEECH OF ENJOLRAS)
And, last, here’s a large chunk of the battle speech given by Enjolras:
The situation of all, in this hour of death and in this inexorable place, found its resultant and summit in the supreme melancholy of Enjolras.
Enjolras had within himself the plenitude of revolution; he was incomplete notwithstanding, as much as the absolute can be...
He was standing on the paving-stone steps, his elbow upon the muzzle of his carbine. He was thinking; he started, as at the passing of a gust; places where death is have such tripodal effects. There came from his eyes, full of the interior sight, a kind of stifled fire. Suddenly he raised his head, his fair hair waved backwards like that of the angel upon his sombre car of stars, it was the mane of a startled lion flaming with a halo, and Enjolras exclaimed:
“Citizens, do you picture to yourselves the future? The streets of the cities flooded with light... to all, labour, for all, law, over all, peace, no more bloodshed, no more war… a dawn of truth, corresponding with the dawn of the day...
“Listen to me, then, Feuilly, valiant working-man, man of the people, man of the peoples, I venerate thee...
“Thou art going to die here; that is, to triumph...
“Citizens, whatever may happen to-day, through our defeat as well as through our victory, we are going to effect a revolution. Just as conflagrations light up the whole city, revolutions light up the whole human race...
“From the political point of view, there is but one single principle: the sovereignty of man over himself. This sovereignty of myself over myself is called Liberty...
“If liberty is the summit, equality is the base...
“Equality, citizens, is not all vegetation on a level, a society of big spears of grass and little oaks; a neighbourhood of jealousies emasculating each other; it is, civilly, all aptitudes having equal opportunity; politically, all votes having equal weight; religiously, all consciences having equal rights...
“We might almost say: there will be no events more. Men will be happy. The human race will fulfil its law as the terrestrial globe fulfils its; harmony will be re-established between the soul and the star; the soul will gravitate about the truth like the star about the light…
“Yes, instruction! Light! Light! all comes from light, and all returns to it...
“Friends, the hour in which we live, and in which I speak to you, is a gloomy hour, but of such is the terrible price of the future. A revolution is a toll-gate. Oh! the human race shall be delivered, uplifted, and consoled! We affirm it on this barricade. Whence shall arise the shout of love, if it be not from the summit of sacrifice?
“Here day embraces night, and says: I will die with thee and thou shalt be born again with me...
“This agony and this immortality are to mingle and compose our death. Brothers, he who dies here dies in the radiance of the future, and we are entering a grave illuminated by the dawn.”
Enjolras broke off rather than ceased, his lips moved noiselessly, as if he were continuing to speak to himself, and they looked at him with attention, endeavouring still to hear. There was no applause; but they whispered for a long time. Speech being breath, the rustling of intellects resembles the rustling of leaves.
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