Incite -- (v) 1: give an incentive; 2: provoke or stir up; "incite a riot"; 3: urge on; cause to act
Sunday, March 21, 2004

And now, for something completely different...
Written by: Beck

At long last, I finished reading Les Miserables--the 1458 page unabridged phone book sized version. It took about a year to compete, as I kept getting sick of it and putting it down for something else. I must've completed thirty other books between cracking the first page and closing the last. So, you ask, what did I think of it?

Good question.

Victor Hugo has never encountered the word "succinct." The word has never come within a league of him. I haven't checked, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the word "succinct" was first coined by someone wishing to define "the opposite of the manner in which Victor Hugo writes." I got over it. Hugo uses Les Miserables not to tell a story--the story seems almost incidental--rather, he uses it as a vehicle for expounding on every single aspect of the human condition--from the heights of blissful happiness to the depths of human misery (despite the title, it's not only about miserable people). It was a letter to the illuminati of Parisian society particularly and the world generally in which he declares his official stance on every important topic he can think of. As such, Les Mis is worth reading simply for its virtue as a primer on the leading edge of Enlightenment era thought in Europe.

This virtue is also the book's greatest fault. Hugo's determination to cover every topic imaginable in complete depth and breadth results in such miscarriages of justice as twenty-five pages being devoted to a discussion of whether argot--the language of the Parisian criminal underground--is suitable for inclusion in formal literary composition (his conclusion: yes). There are perhaps a dozen topics at best only tangentially related to the story line in which Hugo devotes twenty pages or more to serious discussion (including, seriously, the entire history of the Paris sewer system). It can be hard going, not because the subject matter is dense, but because it's profoundly uninteresting. Here's the test: if you can get through the famed eighty page opening discussion of the Bishop who helps Jean Val Jean get back on his feet after release from prison (summary of those eighty pages: the Bishop was a really, really, really, really, really good person), then you can make it through the rest of the book.

Many of the digressions are fascinating. Hugo's discussion of the Battle of Waterloo as seen from the point of view of a Villa fallen into ruins comes to mind. My biggest complaint is that Hugo's writing is tedious in the extreme. It's insufficient for him to say, "The sun rose like a flower opening its petals in the hands of a young maiden," or, "It rose like a breath of fresh air after a month spent trapped in a wine cellar with nothing but a dyspeptic cocker spaniel for company," or, "The rising sun was like discovering that a diamond which you had thought real but then discovered was fake was actually real in the first place and discovering all this on the day in which your rent came due and you had thought you were going to have to sell your grandmother into slavery to cover the medical costs of getting your left big toe amputated and then after that discovering that your toe didn't really even have to be amputated." No, Hugo must say all three of those things, and then he must say ten more. The man chronically describes single events, scenes, thoughts, emotions, etc., in two to five page long metaphor choked monstrosities. Without removing a single substantive element of the book, a good editor could have foreshortened it with ease by over 400 pages, and therein lies the book's greatest weakness. War & Peace, the mega-novel to which Les Mis often finds itself compared, does not suffer from this same malady. While one might not approve of Tolstoy's hundreds of pages devoted to the fundamentals of historical thought and analysis, they nonetheless could not be foreshortened much without losing the actual substantive content of Tolstoy's argument. The same is not true for Les Miserables, and therein lies its greatest weakness.

Without further rambling (looking back on what I've written thus far I fear that reading too much Hugo has infected my own writing style), I'll conclude with this: it's a good book overall, it's worth reading--and not just in the sense that it qualifies as one of the two dozen or so books which people who consider themselves educated should strive to read at some point--and while it has many weaknesses, they are outweighed for the most part by its many strengths.

That succinct enough for you? Didn't figure.

Contact The Author:

John Beck

Feedback Welcomed

Greatest Hits

The Complete United Nations Posts
Immoderate Moderates
Marketing Myopia
In defense of the Republic
UKIP in America
Playing Connect the Dots
A Point So Often Missed: The Presence of an Administered Rate
Reagan Remembrance
Dr. Wolfowitz, or How I Supported the Right War Waged in the Wrong Way for the Wrong Reasons
Divine Right of Kings and UN Mandates
A Fantastic Idea, If I Do Say So Myself
Why We Were Right to Liberate Iraq
The Crisis of Conservatism

Blogs Worth Bookmarking

Steal The Blinds
Poor Dudley's Almanac
Protein Wisdom
Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler
New Sisyphus
Jim Treacher
Ace of Spades
Captain's Quarters
Rambling's Journal
Neolibertarian Blog
LLP Group Blog
The Llama Butchers
The Castle Argghhh
The Politburo Diktat
The Dissident Frogman
In Search of Utopia
Aaron's cc:
You Know You Wanna
Classical Values
Clowning Glory
Vice Squad
Hit & Run
Link Mecca
The Corner
Power Line
Michelle Malkin
Mises Institute
marchand chronicles
Enlighten - New Jersey

More Top Reads

SlagleRock's Slaughterhouse
This Blog is Full of Crap
Who Tends the Fires
The Bleat
Outside the Beltway
Small Dead Animals
Kim du Toit
Tman in Tennessee
Hog On Ice
Pardon My English
Mr. Minority
Speed Of Thought
La Shawn Barber
Right Wing News
USS Clueless
Belmont Club
Shades of Gray
Seldom Sober
Roger L. Simon
Tacoma Blaze
A Small Victory
Murdoc Online
Iraq Elections Diatribe
Winds of Change
Enlighten - New Jersey
Random Fate
Riding Sun
The Daily File
Matt "The Man" Margolis
Bastard Sword
Roller Coaster of Hate

News Links

Blogger News Network
National Review Online
Tech Central Station
The Drudge Report
Reason Online
Mises Institute
The Weekly Standard
Front Page Magazine
Town Hall

Affiliations, Accolades, & Acknowledgements

The Neolibertarian Network


Image Hosted by
"More tallent than a million monkeys with typewriters."
--Glenn Reynolds

Image Hosted by

Image Hosted by

Image Hosted by

Life, Liberty, Property Community

Reciprocal Blogrolling

Accidental Verbosity
Conservative Eyes
The Moderate Voice
Perpetual Three-Dot Column
Sudan Watch
Mystery Achievement
Le Sabot Post-Moderne
Comment Me No Comments
New Spew

Links That Amuse the Writers

Huffington's Toast
The IFOC News
Dave Barry's Blog
Drum Machine
Something Awful
Cox & Forkum
Exploding Dog


March 2004
April 2004
May 2004
June 2004
July 2004
August 2004
September 2004
October 2004
November 2004
December 2004
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
April 2005
May 2005
June 2005
July 2005
August 2005
September 2005
October 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
May 2006
June 2006
August 2006
March 2007
May 2007
June 2007
August 2007
September 2007
October 2007
January 2008
February 2008
March 2008
April 2008
May 2008
September 2008
November 2008
December 2008
March 2009
April 2009
June 2009
July 2009
August 2009
September 2009
October 2009
November 2009

The Elephant Graveyard

We Are Full of Shit
The Sicilian
The Diplomad
Insults Unpunished
Fear & Loathing in Iraq
Right Wingin-It
Serenity's Journal
Son of Nixon
Rachel Lucas


Site Design by Maystar
Ask not for whom the blog tolls...
This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Weblog Commenting and Trackback by

Listed on Blogwise
Blogarama - The Blog Directory


Image Hosted by

Email Questions and Comments

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
eXTReMe Tracker