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Maureen

Les Misérables - Victor Hugo

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It is assumed that you have read the book before reading posts in this thread, as the discussion might give away crucial points, and the continuous use of spoiler tags might hinder fluent reading of posts.

 

 

Synopsis from Amazon

 

Les Miserablés tells the story of the peasant Jean Valjean - unjustly imprisoned, baffled by destiny, and hounded by his nemesis, the magnificently realized, ambiguously malevolent police detective Javert. As Valjean struggles to redeem his past, we are thrust into the teeming underworld of Paris with all its poverty, ignorance, and suffering. Just as cruel tyranny threatens to extinguish the last vestiges of hope, rebellion sweeps over the land like wildfire, igniting a vast struggle for the democratic ideal in France.

 

Some basic questions to consider:

 

1. Who was your favourite character and why?

2. Was there a particular part you enjoyed/disliked more than the rest?

3. Was this the first book you've read in this genre/by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

4. Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

5. Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

 

 

 

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My concern is that because this is such a large book, people have not yet finished reading it. Obviously this thread will not be closed, and members can talk about the book any time they want to.

 

In the meantime, these discussion points from readinggroupguides.com deal with the beginning of the book - hopefully a lot of people have covered these parts so far :)

 

6. How did Bishop Bienvenu's visit to the dying revolutionary G—change him? What about this man surprised the Bishop and why? How are the Revolutionary ideals espoused by G— similar to or different from the pure Christian ideals of the Bishop?

 

7. Why did Jean Valjean steal the Bishop's silver? How was this act influenced by his experience in prison? Discuss the process of change that occurred in Valjean after the Bishop "bought back his soul from Satan" with the silver. Would this bargain have been successful with every person? Why was Valjean subject to such transformation?

 

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OH is giving me a limited edition of Les Miserables for Christmas, so I won't be able to join in until after then, I'm afraid :(

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My concern is that because this is such a large book, people have not yet finished reading it. Obviously this thread will not be closed, and members can talk about the book any time they want to.

 

In the meantime, these discussion points from readinggroupguides.com deal with the beginning of the book - hopefully a lot of people have covered these parts so far :)

 

Great idea Maureen

 

6. How did Bishop Bienvenu's visit to the dying revolutionary G—change him? What about this man surprised the Bishop and why? How are the Revolutionary ideals espoused by G— similar to or different from the pure Christian ideals of the Bishop?

Hmm - I didn't really find this part to be very significant and read it without much thought. Perhaps it's significance will become clearer later in the story. I'd be interested in other thoughts on this.

I suppose the bishop was surprised because he expected the revolutionary to be anti-authority, and hence anti-God. Actually he turned out to be someone who beleived in a greater good - justice, which demostrated that their hearts were much more closely aligned than he first thought.

 

 

7. Why did Jean Valjean steal the Bishop's silver? How was this act influenced by his experience in prison? Discuss the process of change that occurred in Valjean after the Bishop "bought back his soul from Satan" with the silver. Would this bargain have been successful with every person? Why was Valjean subject to such transformation?

He probably stole the silver because he had so hammered the idea of being 'owed' something by society into himself, and so desired revenge on all mankind, that he saw the silver as an opportunity for just such compensation and retribution.

 

Why did the mercy affect him so much? He had been treated incredibly unjustly and that resulted in an unswerving desire for revenge. Then When he himself treated someone unjustly, to be met with uncompromising mercy totally devoid of any such need for revenge, it was a complete revelation to him, and spoke deeply to his own heart and conscience.

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6. How did Bishop Bienvenu's visit to the dying revolutionary G—change him? What about this man surprised the Bishop and why? How are the Revolutionary ideals espoused by G— similar to or different from the pure Christian ideals of the Bishop?

 

 

 

 

Hmm - I didn't really find this part to be very significant and read it without much thought. Perhaps it's significance will become clearer later in the story. I'd be interested in other thoughts on this.

I suppose the bishop was surprised because he expected the revolutionary to be anti-authority, and hence anti-God. Actually he turned out to be someone who beleived in a greater good - justice, which demostrated that their hearts were much more closely aligned than he first thought.

 

In my opinion this encounter was written only to show and enphasise the good character of Bishop Bienvenue. Everyone else treated this man like a leper or a monster, with an undisguised horror and revulsion, but the Bishop still wanted to go and visit him as he was nearing the end of his life. And although he was repelled by this plan, he still carried it out. Once there, when he listened to G, he realised that there was always another way of looking at things. While talking to him, he found that all his reservations about the man were vanishing away, and at the end of his visit, he found that he was 'inexpressibly moved.' He was such a humble man that once he realised that he had judged this man very badly, he went down on his knees and asked his forgiveness.

 

7. Why did Jean Valjean steal the Bishop's silver? How was this act influenced by his experience in prison? Discuss the process of change that occurred in Valjean after the Bishop "bought back his soul from Satan" with the silver. Would this bargain have been successful with every person? Why was Valjean subject to such transformation?

 

 

I'm not sure what to think about this. Perhaps he had been so badly treated by the inn keepers (let alone in prison) that he felt he might as well do what he was treated as being? He had some money to start over a new life - although perhaps not much. However, once the Bishop vouched for him to the gendarmes, and also gave him his candlesticks (I have bought your soul from Satan, and I gave it to God) he really felt he owed his life to God - and wanted to be a worthygift. He was suddenly given the prospect of a new beginning - one of 'goodness and purity' which he grabbed with all his might. Jean Valjean had started out as a good man, and misfortune and hunger had made him steal, but prison life had made him hard inside. However, as he was essentially good, he was able to go about this transformation, and return the goodness he recieved a hundred times more.

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ref : www.e-notes.com

The chief protagonist, Jean Valjean, is an ex-convict who struggles to redeem himself morally and to find acceptance in a society that rejects him as a former criminal. Valjean's redemption through his many trials is the central plot of Les Miserables

 

8. Do you think that Jean Valjean's character works as a symbol of redemption?

 

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Well this book is certainly taking a long time to read. My copy is 1230 pages long and I am at about 520 so far. I think it's going to keep me going until Christmas and I am sorry to say I am beginning to struggle. While I kind of love this book (the main narrative is great) there are so many digressions and bits of over-detailed waffling that I find myself losing patience (That said the boring bits are not as bad as those in The Hunchback of Notre Dame). I will definitely finish this book, but just wanted to vent some of my frustrations. Has anyone else found it similarly frustrating?

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I've decided to try this book as an audio book, as the 1000+ page version I have is definitely daunting! I hope to be able to post my comments soon, though I'm afraid I keep being tempted by other books that have been waiting longer on my TBR pile!! :(

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Well this book is certainly taking a long time to read. My copy is 1230 pages long and I am at about 520 so far. I think it's going to keep me going until Christmas and I am sorry to say I am beginning to struggle. While I kind of love this book (the main narrative is great) there are so many digressions and bits of over-detailed waffling that I find myself losing patience (That said the boring bits are not as bad as those in The Hunchback of Notre Dame). I will definitely finish this book, but just wanted to vent some of my frustrations. Has anyone else found it similarly frustrating?

 

Yes it took me a bit less than a month to read - I usually average a book a week, and most books are a quarter of the size :).

I struggled a bit in places as well - for example the battle of Waterloo is one excerpt which was very painful and frustratingly long, and while I can appreciate it, it does not add anything to the story I was concerned with, hence the frustration and aggravation. (:))

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It's difficult to explain what I think about this book in just a couple of sentences. It is a great book, with a heart wrenching story as its main focus, other minor stories that give life to the secondary characters, and the political backdrop of France in the 19th century. It is also a sort of diary of the author, where he recounts the Battle of Waterloo in detail, other policital and religious beliefs and thoughts - such as religious orders. Hugo's masterpiece is a complex piece of literature, certainly requiring concentration and time to read and enjoy. The style it is written in, obviously a sign of its time, makes reading it tiring at times, perhaps because of the voluminous descriptions of everything and everyone.

I found myself sympathising with some of the characters, while harbouring a dislike for others - certainly a sign of Hugo's success in making most of the characters come to life, not only during his time, but long after his death, when life as he describes it is fortunately almost non-existent. Having never read the book before, and never watched any of the film adaptations or the theatrical shows, I was taken a bit by surprise at the ending - I had imagined a slightly different ending and was glad to be caught out.

 

I am glad I read this book though.

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Yes it took me a bit less than a month to read - I usually average a book a week, and most books are a quarter of the size :).

I struggled a bit in places as well - for example the battle of Waterloo is one excerpt which was very painful and frustratingly long, and while I can appreciate it, it does not add anything to the story I was concerned with, hence the frustration and aggravation. (:))

I agree about the battle of Waterloo. I think Hugo should have written two separate books - one a history book of the period, and another the novel. He obviously wanted to do both and did it all in one work, a mistake I feel.

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Me, I am an ardant devotee to Hugo and having read his biography I think his actual life was even more adventurous than his books!

For me the entire story was to show the inequality of the classes and the prejudices of people and how they dealt with them. Jean, having had such a terrible life chooses to do good,bring something noble out of something so ugly and despairing. He is treated with kindness one time and it changes his life, non? But others, feeding on their prejudices and their views on each of the classes choose cruelty , or putting a greater value on the law than on a human life and need for forgiveness and redemption. Some because of true and noble if misguided reasons, others because of anger and hate at the things that have happened in their own lives. It is stirring and makes you wonder what would have happened if different people chose different behaviours, how great would that have changed many many lives. Wonderful book.

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