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I have been attempting to read Hugo's Les Miserables. I have to say that, so far, I find it extremely dull and uninspiring. However, I want to give it more of a chance since I know Ayn Rand and many other people I respect thought very highly of his works. (Rand hasn't steered me wrong otherwise. I love Ian Flemming and Mickey Spillane.)

So, I was wondering: is it just the edition of the book I'm reading that is the trouble? I have been reading the Signet Classic unabridged version of the book (which advertises it is the only unabridged paperback edition in print) translated by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee, based on the classic C.E. Wilbour translation.

So, I was hoping someone could give me some ideas on an edition of the book I could read that would be better. This edition just seems to be uninspired.

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As far as I've heard, if you really want to experience Hugo, read it in the French. I believe that is the way Ayn Rand read it. I've read all of his (minus Toilers of the Sea) in English and they were all a struggle to get through. There are lots of sidestreets that he takes you down that are really of no consequence.

I will say however that, even in the English, if you keep with it through the end you will have an experience that is unparalelled in literature. You won't even experience them in Ayn Rand's works because Hugo's works tend to end tragically, and they pack a strong emotion punch usually in the last dozen pages.

I also suggest (much shorter works by Hugo)

The Man Who Laughs

Notre Dame

Ninety-Three (This one has the tightest plot ever, the ending is quick and leaves you devastatingly blown away. I was numb for a week after reading it.)

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Victor Hugo is a master.

I am currently reading The Man Who Laughs in English and I am already hooked. The opening: A boy is left behind from a ship in the midst of winter, right before a terrible blizzard; you see him struggling through the cold barefoot. Why?!

Toilers of the Sea is quite beautiful if you can tolerate the enormous technical sailing language.

His plays are wonderful too. Hernani is his first and is beautiful; the struggle to keep a promise. Torquemada is a shocker, and there is one scene with the pope that is among the funniest in world literature.

I am currently slowly reading Ruy Blas in French. (The possession of The Man Who Laughs has interrupted this for now). Hugo is so much better in french...obviously.

And he is a marvelous poet. And you can only see that if you read his poetry in French.

C'est tout,

Americo.

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I agree with that.

And I will add to that what is great with Victor Hugo is the fact that he potrais man as a hero that can accomplish anything.

And because he does it mainly by using his writting style and abilities, I can understand that a translation of one of his novel is less appealing.

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I have been attempting to read Hugo's Les Miserables. I have to say that, so far, I find it extremely dull and uninspiring. However, I want to give it more of a chance since I know Ayn Rand and many other people I respect thought very highly of his works. (Rand hasn't steered me wrong otherwise. I love Ian Flemming and Mickey Spillane.)

So, I was wondering: is it just the edition of the book I'm reading that is the trouble? I have been reading the Signet Classic unabridged version of the book (which advertises it is the only unabridged paperback edition in print) translated by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee, based on the classic C.E. Wilbour translation.

So, I was hoping someone could give me some ideas on an edition of the book I could read that would be better. This edition just seems to be uninspired.

Never read 'Les Miserables' but I can recommend 'The Toilers Of the Sea'. 'Ninety-Three' by the same author started off well but the ending and ethics involved had me wishing I had a time machine so I could punch VH's head in.

I read VH for the same reason as you, AR's recommendation. It just wasn't justified in the case of 'Ninety-Three'.

Stick with J.R.R. Tolkien. Did AR ever mention Tolkien, does anyone know?

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I too had some difficulty with Hugo. I bought Toilers of the Sea, The Man Who Laughs, and Notre Dame De Paris. In all cases, although impressed by his majestic style, I couldn't get past the winding pedagogical(?) essays.

Then, a noted Objectivist, whom I won't name here, gave me a book which contained the early work of Hugo: Hans of Iceland, Bug-Jargal, and Claude Gueux, in that order.

Thoyd Loki expressed it best:

I will say however that, even in the English, if you keep with it through the end you will have an experience that is unparalelled in literature. You won't even experience them in Ayn Rand's works because Hugo's works tend to end tragically, and they pack a strong emotion punch usually in the last dozen pages.

While Ayn Rand's work in We The Living and some select parts of her other work come close, Thoyd Loki's evaluation is exactly right. My wanting - even if certified - French, also added to my appreciation of the material, as I would translate the grandest passages and phrases into Hugo's native tongue, in order to grasp the work at its best.

I won't say any more because it will ruin your experience. I just want to tell you this: if you wish to experience emotions you have never felt before - short of childbirth or fatherhood - you must read Victor Hugo today.

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I, too, read Les Miserables in translated form.

Even as translated, it is the best book I have ever read in my life.

Ayn Rand's discussion of it and its merits in "The Romantic Manifesto" are as accurate as can possibly be.

Regarding Mickey Spillane, Rand actually helped turn me on to him!

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There are lots of sidestreets that he takes you down that are really of no consequence.

My wife says that aspect of Hugo always annoys her: The long sidebars on architecture, locale history, etc. She just skips & goes straight for the story!

Perhaps this is why there are many "abridged" versions of his novels?

I love it all, though. He usually integrates them into the plot, even if in a marginal manner.

I just want to tell you this: if you wish to experience emotions you have never felt before - short of childbirth or fatherhood - you must read Victor Hugo today.

Well said.

I read the "classics" Les Miserables, The Man Who Laughs, and Notre Dame De Paris years ago. Then the lesser known Hans of Iceland, Bug-Jargal, and Claude Gueux, all absolutely wonderful. Just recently I got my first copy of Toilers of the Sea in an old hardback Everyman's Library form. Perfection.

I do not speak or read French at all and probably never will. I find it hard to imagine how much more powerful his works could affect me even though I've only read them in English.

Christopher Schlegel

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I wanted to update those of you who told me to stick with Les Miserables. I did stick with it and I'm glad I did. I must say I was completely blown away by the story! When I finished it, I couldn't close the book right away but left it open to the last page, overcome with emotion at the masterpiece I had just read. I can completely understand why a young Ayn Rand would fall in love with this author.

So, I would definitely like to read more of Hugo's works. I am thinking next of reading his other famous book, Notre Dame de Paris. What translations would you recommend for this book?

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Read "The Man Who Laughs"! That was Ayn Rand's favorite by Hugo, and it's the one I'm reading now, too. I haven't read Les Miserables yet, but from the title I suspect I might have some trouble getting into it initially as well. But I agree with Amerigo and everyone about TMWL, so far it's very exciting and interesting. I'm reading it in English, but I do suspect it's better in French. It's very "French" in tone and tempo.

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My wife says that aspect of Hugo always annoys her: The long sidebars on architecture, locale history, etc. She just skips & goes straight for the story!

Perhaps this is why there are many "abridged" versions of his novels?

I love it all, though. He usually integrates them into the plot, even if in a marginal manner.

Well said.

I read the "classics" Les Miserables, The Man Who Laughs, and Notre Dame De Paris years ago. Then the lesser known Hans of Iceland, Bug-Jargal, and Claude Gueux, all absolutely wonderful. Just recently I got my first copy of Toilers of the Sea in an old hardback Everyman's Library form. Perfection.

I do not speak or read French at all and probably never will. I find it hard to imagine how much more powerful his works could affect me even though I've only read them in English.

Christopher Schlegel

Unfortunately throwing in essays about random topics seems to have been common style in the 19th century. I recall "Moby Dick" and "War and Peace" having long digressions as well.

I've read "Les Miserables" and recall having to work to get through the first third or so before it started really maintaining my interest.

For my two cents, I'd say Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamozov" is the greatest of the big novels and tend to judge other big novels by it. "Les Miserables" wasn't quite up there, but certainly better than "War and Peace".

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I wanted to update those of you who told me to stick with Les Miserables. I did stick with it and I'm glad I did....When I finished it, I couldn't close the book right away but left it open to the last page, overcome with emotion at the masterpiece I had just read.

Hey, redfarmer, Christopher here. That's great! Hugo is simply amazing.

So, I would definitely like to read more of Hugo's works. I am thinking next of reading his other famous book, Notre Dame de Paris. What translations would you recommend for this book?

I don't know anything about that. I just buy Signet unabridged English versions.

They're all great by me. Can you read French or some other language?

Notre Dame de Paris is great ("Sanctuary, sanctuary, sanctuary!!!"), & so is Ninety-Three...hell, they're all great. LOL.

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I've just finished not too long ago reading The Man Who Laughs (or By Order Of The King). I regret taking so many years before I actually read it. It is his best novel. Gwynplaine is the most independent of his heroes that I have found. From the opening scene it is abundantly clear that Hugo has a wonderful sense of life (of which Ayn Rand spoke so highly). I saw several parallels between this novel and The Fountainhead. It is a pity though that Hugo praised the Christian ideal because one can only imagine what a better story it would have been had Hugo been a rebel in Philosophy too. For a moment, I felt a deep sympathy with the Christian ideal because of the power of Hugo's craft.

My poem The Laugher, in the Poems You Like section, apart from being a tribute to Howard Roark, is in part a tribute to Gwynplaine.

Reading this novel has also brought greater meaning to Ayn Rand's essay The Comprachicos. Now I know why one of my old professors cried when he read the opening of that essay to the class.

Americo.

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Ninety-Three (This one has the tightest plot ever, the ending is quick and leaves you devastatingly blown away. I was numb for a week after reading it.)

Heh! You take me right back to the time I was reading Ninety-Three on my daily lunch hours at my summer job (way back when); when I got to the climax, I literally couldn't put the book down and ended up "extending" my lunch hour to within seconds of getting in trouble!

I have to say that Toilers of the Sea has been my only Hugo disappointment so far, although the ending was really powerful, even by Hugovian standards.

Barry

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Heh! You take me right back to the time I was reading Ninety-Three on my daily lunch hours at my summer job (way back when); when I got to the climax, I literally couldn't put the book down and ended up "extending" my lunch hour to within seconds of getting in trouble!

I have to say that Toilers of the Sea has been my only Hugo disappointment so far, although the ending was really powerful, even by Hugovian standards.

Barry

I rather enjoyed 'Toilers'.

I thought 'Ninety-Three' had a terrible ending full of altruism which had me raging. ;)

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My wife says that aspect of Hugo always annoys her:  The long sidebars
"Les ..." has a great description of the Battle of Waterloo. Also, a very nice piece on the gamins, or street urchins, of Paris.

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I just finished The Man Who Laughs a couple of weeks ago. I didn't like it as much as either Ninety-Three or Toilers of the Sea (which is still my favorite). Gwynplaine is not nearly as compelling or heroic of a character as Gilliat, IMO. [spoilers] He accomplishes a great feat as a child, but then grows up, becomes a circus freak, gets arrested, finds out he is a Lord, accepts his lordship, sort of (but not really) turns down a beautiful woman's advances because of his Platonic relationship with a blind girl, gives a rather lousy speech to the House of Lords, is made a mockery of and loses everything, is reunited with the blind girl, and then, after she dies for no good reason, drowns himself. [/spoilers] Not particularly inspiring. The ending of The Man Who Laughs was by far the worst of the three. Hugo imposes the moral-practical dichotomy he accepts on it (by killing off the heroes since the moral man cannot be successful in this life), only in this case with no decent plot reason.

I'm still scratching my head as to why Ayn Rand thought this was Hugo's best novel. Her statement that it is his best-plotted one is particularly mind-boggling to me. Toilers of the Sea certainly surpasses it in that regard, as does Ninety-Three (aside from the boring middle section).

This comes across as overly-critical, though. I do think that The Man Who Laughs is worth reading, just not as good as some of Hugo's other novels. I would definitely like to read his plays, though, those sound interesting. Is there an English translation available?

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I would definitely like to read his plays, though, those sound interesting.  Is there an English translation available?

I searched for a long time before finding a used copy of his complete plays in English. The version I found is called: Hugo: Dramas/Four Volumes in Two/by Victor Hugo/With Illustrations/Boston and New York/Colonial Press Company/Publishers. It does not give the name of the translator.

It contains these plays:

Hernani

The Twin Brothers

Angelo

Amy Robsart

Mary Tudor

Ruy Blas

Torquemada

Esmeralda

Cromwell

The Burgraves

The Fool's Revenge

Marion de Lorme

Lucretia Borgia

I'm sure you can find some of them individually in print, but I don't think there is a complete set of his plays currently in print in English. Unfortunately, this edition does not contain his long introduction to Cromwell, which is supposed to have constituted his "Romantic Manifesto." I believe excerpts from it were once printed in the Atlantean Press Review.

I would also recommend Hugo's two lesser known novels, Bug-Jargal, and Hans of Iceland. Hans of Iceland includes a character named Count Daneskiold, and another named Prince Ragnar-Lodbrok. These are his earliest two novels, but he was already skilled at creating dramatic value conflicts.

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In searching Hugo's writings available at abebooks.com (used book site), I found there are at least three plays not included in my "complete" edition:

Le Roi S'Amuse (The King's Diversion)

Tyran de Padoue (The Tyrant of Padua?)

Inez de Castro

Those last two appear never to have been translated into English.

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I just finished The Man Who Laughs a couple of weeks ago.  I didn't like it as much as either Ninety-Three or Toilers of the Sea (which is still my favorite).  Gwynplaine is not nearly as compelling or heroic of a character as Gilliat, IMO.  [spoilers] He accomplishes a great feat as a child, but then grows up, becomes a circus freak, gets arrested, finds out he is a Lord, accepts his lordship, sort of (but not really) turns down a beautiful woman's advances because of his Platonic relationship with a blind girl, gives a rather lousy speech to the House of Lords, is made a mockery of and loses everything, is reunited with the blind girl, and then, after she dies for no good reason, drowns himself. [/spoilers]  Not particularly inspiring.  The ending of The Man Who Laughs was by far the worst of the three.  Hugo imposes the moral-practical dichotomy he accepts on it (by killing off the heroes since the moral man cannot be successful in this life), only in this case with no decent plot reason.

I'm still scratching my head as to why Ayn Rand thought this was Hugo's best novel.  Her statement that it is his best-plotted one is particularly mind-boggling to me.  Toilers of the Sea certainly surpasses it in that regard, as does Ninety-Three (aside from the boring middle section).

This comes across as overly-critical, though.  I do think that The Man Who Laughs is worth reading, just not as good as some of Hugo's other novels.  I would definitely like to read his plays, though, those sound interesting.  Is there an English translation available?

Then you must read Ayn Rand, AN INTRODUCTORY NOTE TO "THE MAN WHO LAUGHS." THE OBJECTIVIST. DECEMBER 1967. PAGE 377.

Toilers Of The Sea was the least enjoyable, though quite enjoyable, of his novels. The way the events come together in THE MAN WHO LAUGHS is spectacular. Like she says in the article, look at all that happens from a message in a bottle. What could be and should be--very well done.

The love between Gwynplaine and Dea bothered me. But I accepted Hugo's premise and let him show me what he will do with them. And the ending is disappointing, though proper, ... but I know that that idea is old.

I still need to analyze the story more. I know I will become passionate about once I do that because I have found many clues to discovering its greatness.

Americo.

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Re: The Man Who Laughs.

Another thing,

We are introduced to a boy of 10, who exhibits a herculean strength in the face of nature at its worst. We see him tortured and win. When we first see him smile, it would seem that it is because of the relief that he feels from escaping the storm, and tasting some food, and the benevolence of a stranger. But it is not, the boy is not laughing, he has been the victim of some surgery. We are told of the name of the procedure ... Then the boy is never seen again.

Never have I felt the frustration, and so it turned out to be suspense, of leaving a character when his growing up would promise to be a spectacular spectacle. But that is skipped, and we are delayed by the introduction of a group of scoundrels. When the boy returns to us, he is 25. So we will not see his childhood. So who is he now and who did he become. I think by Hugo's standards he is happy, but because of the boys position and the custom of privilege, it seems to be a veil with a promise of doom.

And then we realize why those scoundrell are necessary. And then we laugh in irony, and expectation of how the boys life will be from here on end.

It's Hugo, so one knows what happens at the end. The Delight, is that it is because the boy is pursuing what will make him happy. And because of Hugo's talents, we almost believe he will be.

Americo.

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I've been told something that may explain why Les Mis is so long-winded....although it was just something mentioned in a conversation and I haven't any concrete proof of it. I was told that authors during Hugo's time were paid by how many words they have in a book whne it was being published. Becuase of that he may have added more than necessary.

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I've been told something that may explain why Les Mis is so long-winded....although it was just something mentioned in a conversation and I haven't any concrete proof of it. I was told that authors during Hugo's time were paid by how many words they have in a book whne it was being published. Becuase of that he may have added more than necessary.

I really don't see that as being the case. Hugo was a master at tying all of his loose ends in the plot together. If he talked about it, you could infer that it was important in some way to the story.

In the film Ayn Rand: A Sense Of Life, the narrator says that hearing Victor Hugo's books read as a child is what inspired Ayn Rand to write the way she did. This is because he had such a knack for tying together all of the elements of a story in a nice little package.

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Although I haven't read any of Hugo's works, I saw the musical of Les Mesirables. I first saw it a couple of years ago in NY and LOVED it. I have seen many musicals and this one is definately my favorite.

It isn't playing in NY anymore, but I was in London recently and saw it there. I recommend anyone in a city where it is playing (I don't know if it's playing anywhere other than in London now) to see it.

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I am actually 400 or so pages into Les Mis, and I am completely enthralled by it. I don't understand why you guys consider it boring. When I am reading it, I keep in mind Hugo is painting a majestic masterpiece - that is the style of his work and of romanticism. Hugo always develops his stories immensely, which makes the resolutions much more powerful.

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