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Ayn Rand And Hugo's Work

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After reading Ayn Rand's "Introduction to Ninety-Three" essay in The Romantic Manifesto, I've been wondering something.

What, to Ayn Rand at least, makes a good work of art, or at least, a good piece of fictional literature? I think I have a pretty good understanding of that, but what I'm curious about is, what was it about Victor Hugo's work, as works of art, that she liked so much? I've just started on Les Miserables, and while I haven't read much about Jean Valjean, Hugo starts off by extensively discussing the bishop. He says all kinds of things about how he is as good man for devoting his life to others, etc. If the bishop is one of his "heroes" who is representing certain ideals like altruism, what would Ayn Rand think of that particular piece of his work?

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Rand explicitly stated that she, strictly, didn't like his morality or his politics, but that Hugo portrayed man as essentially good and heroic. They are able to overcome their surroundings, they can and should life themselves up to greatness, a good life is possible on this earth. I've never actually read Hugo myself and I just ordered Les Mis (my knowledge of literature is very poor), but this was her take.

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What was it about Victor Hugo's work, as works of art, that she liked so much?
Hugo was far from being an Objectivist, but he still was a superb novelist. His characterizations, elaborate plots, and strong themes are all first rate.
Victor Hugo saw a passionate individualist undercut by an inimical universe.
That sounds accurate. Hugo constantly had bad things happening to good people, but the fact that he portrayed good people, and much better than virtually all other novelists, is IMO what would make him so good to Rand.

Dunno how far you are, but the bishop is moreso a device to explore Jean Valjean further than an explicit hero.

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  • 3 months later...

I've only read the first 10 chapters of _Les Miz_ so far and have only the vaguest idea of the plot, but the whole novel so far seems...*uplifting*. The bishop, although altruistic, is a good man; the two main female characters, despite the mild sexism in their portrayal, can be respected for their choices; and the trio are battling injustice and poverty tooth and nail and seem to be winning. Even that voluble atheist delivers a lovely speech to which the bishop can only respond with irony, and even the cutthroat bandits redeem themselves. And, although death is the universal low point of serious writing, the way the death of the conventionist is depicted almost makes a reader feel that it's a wonderful thing to die. So that might be one thing Rand admired about the book.

I detest all the topical StarTV references to French Revolution personalities, which make me think of the _Iliad's_ Catalogue of Ships, but that doesn't really have anything to do with Objectivism.

Miki Kocic

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  • 2 weeks later...

I read Les Miserables a couple of years ago. Unlike my normal plow right through it reading pace, I dragged it out for an entire school year (in which I took both 19th and 20th century European histories).

The explicit philosophy espouses by the heroes of the book are, of course, antithetical to Objectivism. However, I think Rand was more concerned with the literary style and perhaps even the "sense of life" of the characters. Technically, a devout Catholic bishop is a death worshipper, but the character in the novel, as pretty much everybody else, loves life. I can't get too specific because the details are a bit hazy, but generally speaking people in the novel tend to work for the betterment of their lives and the lives of those they value.

And there's another thing for Rand to love: working hard to achieve your values. Even if some of the characters have misdirected values, we are meant to admire the heroism of fighting for your values. None of us are going to fight in the French Revolution. What we take away from the novel is a heightened appreciation of love and noble pursuits.

As an aside, I personally enjoyed all of the details about the revolution, even if I thought them somewhat inappropriate in a work of fiction.

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I think the easiest way to distinguish between Rand and Hugo is this: Psychologically, they were in agreement, but philosophically they were not. Or, Rand = Hugo + fully integrated philosophy. However, I do not think Rand has the style and dramatic capability of Hugo. Rand was a better thinker but Hugo the better dramatist.

I think there's a right brain left brain thing going on here.

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