Two days ago, I decided to tackle Les Miserables’ 2435 pages of, well, misery.

I had avoided the book before, thinking it was strictly a right of passage for theater kids, but when I realized it was written by Victor Hugo (author of one of my favorite books, The Hunchback of Notre Dame), my opinion changed.

There are many reasons to love Victor Hugo’s writing, but my favorite element of his books is his philosophy, peppered across his story. Hugo doesn’t just preach big ideas, he presents an elegant view of subjects that other writers simply glance over.

I have already filled two notebook pages with Hugo excerpts (and I’m only on page 404!). Of those, I have decided to share the passage below because of the implications it makes about being a writer:

It is certain that people do talk to themselves; there is no living being who has not done it. It may even be said that the word is never a more magnificent mystery than when it goes from thought to conscience within a man, and when it returns from conscience to thought; it is in this sense only that the words so often employed in this chapter, he said, he exclaimed, must be understood; one speaks to one’s self, talks to one’s self, exclaims to one’s self without breaking the external silence; there is a great tumult; everything about us talks except the mouth. The realities of the soul are none the less realities because they are not visible and palpable.

Now, Hugo asserts that “the word is never a more magnificent mystery” than when it flies between thought and conscience–in other words, when you are arguing with yourself.

Personally, I would argue that “the word is never a more magnificent mystery” than when it constructs a new world and populates that world with fantasy characters, when words begin to fly between theses fantasy characters, although neither the characters nor even the subject of their conversation is moored in reality…

But then, as Hugo points out, “the realities of the soul are none the less realities because they are not visible and palpable.”

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7 thoughts on “Les Miserables: Do You Talk to Yourself?

  1. You brought Les Miserables into a new light for me, by that excerpt. I had the same opinion as you. Not sure if I am ready to tackle the book yet, but thanks for the excerpt. I like what you said to about words flying between you and fantasy characters. I agree!

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  2. One of the things I really liked about Les Miserables was that Jean Veljean was redeemed in the end, and he was a good man, even though several of the other characters thought him evil. One of Hugo’s messages seemed to be that people are not always who we think they are, and that people are capable of great good and great evil. Eponine is an unlikable evil person for most of the story, but she proves that she too is capable of good, and selflessness. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read the book, so I won’t say anymore. Javier seems to embody the principle that pure justice without mercy and love is, itself, evil.

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    1. Wow! You must be a super fan! I’m curious, how do you feel about the movie, given that you’ve obviously put a lot of thought into the book?

      Javier is such an interesting character–to me, the most interesting. I think you nailed the principle of him, and it’s such a fresh idea to me: being “upright” to a fault.

      Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I read the unabridged of Les Misérables and it took me less than one summer. I am a massive fan of the musical and my knowledge of the musical gave me the courage to tackle that book and is how I was able to not skip over anything. I knew that story so I could mark up major characters and write in songs. The book gave me brand new insight into the musical

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