Les Miserables chapter-a-day Read-along: Initial thoughts

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Hello, All!

The read-along for Les Mis is going very well. I have caught up to speed and am staying on schedule. (Once I caught up, I only fell behind once). Nick @ One Catholic Life is hosting this event and his weekly posts are worth taking the time to read. I read one chapter everyday of Les Miserables and I am really enjoying the slow read. Were moving on to Book III, but I wanted to take a moment just to get some initial thoughts out about the first two books.

Just a head’s up: This post turned into an unusual one for me with lots of quotes. But, Victor Hugo’s beautiful and descriptive words compelled me to do so.

First, I enjoyed getting to know the good Bishop. It surprised me to read that he wasn’t always a priest, in fact, he married when he was young. We are told that he fled to Italy– where his wife died– at the beginning of the Revolution and that his family lost everything. We are given little insight into what happened in Italy, we are simply told that “… when he returned from Italy he was a priest.” So, something happened to him during that time.

What took place next in the fate of M. Myriel? The ruin of the French society of the olden days, the fall of his own family, the tragic spectacles of ’93, which were, perhaps, even more alarming to the emigrants who viewed them from a distance, with the magnifying powers of terror–did these cause the ideas of renunciation and solitude to germinate in him? Was he, in the midst of these distractions, these affections which absorbed his life, suddenly smitten with one of those mysterious and terrible blows which sometimes overwhelm, by striking to his heart, a man whom public catastrophes would not shake, by striking at his existence and his fortune?

Its hard to say, but he is now a man completely dedicated to helping the poor.

It seems to me that Hugo wants not only to look at society, but he also wants to look at the history and conflict of the French Revolution. This is powerfully communicated in a dialogue between the Bishop and a former member of the convention.

The conventionary says:

Louis XVII! let us see. For whom do you mourn? is it for the innocent child? very good; in that case I mourn with you. Is it for the royal child? I demand time for reflection. To me, the brother of Cartouche, an innocent child who was hung up by the armpits in the Place de Greve, until death ensued, for the sole crime of having been the brother of Cartouche, is no less pitiful than the grandson of Louis XV, an innocent child, martyred in the tower of the temple, for the sole crime of having been the grandson of Louis XV.

The conventionary later says:

You have mentioned Louis XVII to me. Let us come to an understanding. Shall we weep for all the innocent, all martyrs, all children, the lowly as well as the exalted? I agree to that. But in that case, as I have told you, we must go back further than ’93, and our tears must begin before Louis XVII. I will weep with you over the children of kings, provided that you will weep with me over the children of the people.

And still later:

Sir, sir, I am sorry for Marie Antoinette, archduchess and queen; but I am also sorry for that poor Huguenot woman, who, in 1685, under Louis the Great, sir, while with a nursing infant, was bound, naked to the wrist, to a stake, and the child kept at a distance; her breast swelled with milk and her heart with anguish; the little one, hungry and pale, beheld that breast and cried and agonized; the executioner said to the woman, a mother and a nurse, ‘Abjure!’ giving her her choice between the death of her infant and the death of her conscience.

This is a powerful chapter whose focus seems to be on providing justification for the French Revolution. Were these Hugo’s thoughts as well? He changed his political views several times, but I’m thinking, that Hugo’s views are expressed by this conventionary. Interestingly, the Bishop left the conventionary seeing things differently than when he first arrived because of this conversation. I think this chapter serves to give us a glimpse of the harsh and oppressive world that existed prior to the French Revolution and, in doing so, to justify the Revolution. However, it doesn’t appear that society was any less severe post-revolution and it is into this world that the bishop returns. What caused Monsier Muriel to become an advocate for the poor? There had to become something that he saw or experienced or, perhaps, both. Whatever it was, his society was broken and he gave himself to support the people, specifically the poor, and to be a positive instrument for change in his own way.

And, the good Bishop continues his support for the poor and the outcast. When we meet Jean Valjean he has spent 19 years in prison. He was sent to prison for stealing bread to feed his starving family. Many years were added to his sentence for repeated attempts to escape and we read how prison changes a man and for the worse.

The peculiarity of pains of this nature, in which that which is pitiless–that is to say, that which is brutalizing–predominates, is to transform a man, little by little, by a sort of stupid transfiguration, into a wild beast; sometimes into a ferocious beast.

He goes on to say:

Jean Valjean’s successive and obstinate attempts at escape would alone suffice to prove this strange working of the law upon the human soul. Jean Valjean would have renewed these attempts, utterly useless and foolish as they were, as often as the opportunity had presented itself, without reflecting for an instant on the result, nor on the experiences which he had already gone through. He escaped impetuously, like the wolf who finds his cage open. Instinct said to him, “Flee!” Reason would have said, “Remain!” But in the presence of so violent a temptation, reason vanished; nothing remained but instinct. The beast acted alone. When he was recaptured, the fresh severities inflicted on him only served to render him still more wild.

And, had it not been for the Bishop’s intervention, he would have returned to prison. In an act of mercy and love, he frees him and sends him off with these words:

Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.

Powerful words. Words of support. Words of hope.

What the Bishop gives Jean Valjean extends beyond the value of silver. He saw past the wild beast driven by instinct, to the man inside, and gave him freedom and hope for a better life.

Does the Bishop represent the love and mercy of Christ? Expressed through an uncorrupt priest, serving the people with a right heart? Probably. But, does he not also represent the difference one person can make in someone’s life? Sometimes all it takes is one person, one kind word, one word of encouragement that helps us to see that we are more than our present situation dictates.

I don’t know if we will see this Bishop again as the story continues, but, I’m sure his influence will remain, beautiful and radiant, in Jean Valjean. Is the message of love, mercy and hope a key point in this book? Time will tell…and I’m reading slowly, taking in as much as I can.

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My edition is

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Barnes and Noble 2017 collectible edition by Sterling Publishing Co.

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Les Miserables Chapter-a-Day Read-along Sign Up Post

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Hello, Book Lovers!

I only recently found out about a wonderful read-along that is taking place when I read Ottavia’s sign up post for this event. Nick @ One Catholic Life is hosting a year long read-along of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. The goal is to read one chapter a day for a whole year; read it slowly and absorb as much as possible from this book. I’m late in finding out about it and late in signing up for this event, so I’m a bit behind schedule, but since they are reading one chapter a day, I should be able to catch up quickly.

If your interested in participating, hop on over to Nick’s blog to sign up. He has a link to the schedule in his post as well that you can check out. He also has some interesting weekly posts which you may enjoy reading even if your not participating.

The reason I want to participate so late in this read-along is because I got this book for Christmas as a gift from my Dad. He told me before Christmas that he got me something that was on his father’s bookshelves while he was growing up. It was this book.

At first, I wasn’t sure when I would start reading this book. It’s so huge! This book would definitely require a commitment. Then, I found out about this read-along. Serendipity!

My grandfather loved to read and was very intelligent. My dad tells me that he loved big, thick books (this certainly fits the bill) and he loved reading about history. Sadly, while I was growing up, my grandfather was often sick. I never had a chance to discuss books with him. This book now has a sweet connection for me to my grandfather–and my Dad, too– and will be a special addition to my library. When I told my Dad that I was going to read this book slowly, over the course of the year, he smiled and was pleased. I am going to embrace this slow reading and remember my grandfather and appreciate my Dad as I do.

I have never read this book before. I have only seen the musical version a few years ago with Hugh Jackman–which I loved! I am looking forward to reading this slowly, to absorb all the humanity, philosophy and poetry which I understand run strongly throughout the novel.

I will be reading the Barnes & Noble 2017 Hardback edition by Sterling Publishing Co.

This read-along, with the discussions and Nick’s weekly posts seem like they would only add to my reading experience of Les Miserables. So, I’m looking forward to participating…now I just have to catch up!

An American Family by Khizr Khan

An inspiring story and a definite must read.

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There is more to this man and this family than what unfolded after the 2016 DNC speech. In this book, we learn more about Mr. Khan, his upbringing, and how and why he came to America. This is his story.

It started with our Declaration of Independence which inspired him as a young college student. Then, he had the good fortune to work with warm and generous American co-workers who represented the best of American values to him. American values that he felt were shaped by a country who valued equality; a country whose people created and held to the ideals of a document such as our Declaration of Independence.  It was because of these people that he decided to pursue his higher education in America–at Harvard! Impressive.

His story details the journey from Pakistani immigrant to American citizen.  It is a story of hard work, to provide for his family, and sacrifice to earn his Harvard degree. Not only his sacrifice, but, Mrs. Khan’s as well. I found myself wishing I could hear from Ghazala. I would love to read her story. She has a rich family history and I would like to know more about her upbringing and what drew her to Khizr Khan. She is an intelligent and educated woman, what sacrifices did she make for her family and for her husband, so he could further his education? She may choose to guard her privacy, which I understand, but, I believe her voice would be heard and if she ever chose to share her story, I’m sure many, myself included, would love to read about it.

This is not a political book, this is a memoir, as the subtitle states “…Of Hope And Sacrifice” and their sacrifices extend beyond an education. We all remember that their son, Captain Humayun Khan, sacrificed his life to save others. They are a Gold Star family…  “An American Family”.

I didn’t share too many details of his story because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read this book yet, but it’s a story worth taking the time to read. For Khizr Khan, America is not just a land of opportunity, it is a land of freedom and equality because of our laws–laws based on our Constitution, which he holds in high esteem.

I found this book to be an emotional and inspirational read and it has moved me to set a personal challenge for myself to read more Immigrant Experience Literature in 2018.