Les Misérables: a book, a musical, a movie, and what it means to me

Me hugging Les Misérables, because hugging your favourite books is good for the soul.



Hello, beautiful people!


As you probably already know, I am completely obsessed with Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, as well as the musical and its movie adaptation. I had read the abridged version of the book when I was twelve and absolutely loved it, but this year, I decided it was time to read the unabridged version. I finally did so this month, and I fell in love with it all over again, except that it’s even more powerful than it used to be. Today, I just wanted to talk to you about my story with Les Misérables (it’s been thirteen years in the making. yup.) and to try to tell you why I love it so much.

What is Les Misérables about?

Les Misérables is a French novel published by Victor Hugo in 1862 and it’s really emblematic in French literature. It describes the lives of miserable people in 19th century France, both in Paris and the countryside, following more specifically Jean Valjean’s life, a former convict.

My story with Les Misérables

I remember hearing about Les Misérables for the first time when I was about seven or eight. A teacher in elementary school once said ‘Come on Cosette, go fetch us some water’ as a joke, before explaining where the reference came from. For some reason, it always stayed in my mind, until I was twelve and had to read the abridged version for a class. We were supposed to read it for January or February, but once my parents bought me the book in October, I devoured it, stayed up way past my bedtime to read it, and became completely obsessed. My schoolmates complained a lot about having to read it, and I went through it twice. I fell in love with Victor Hugo’s writing, the characters and the story. Now, as you probably already know, I’m French. What most of you don’t know is that I come from the north of the country. The first book of Les Misérables is set there, most of it in Montreuil-sur-Mer (my actual hometown is the place where the fake Jean Valjean’s trial takes place, it was fate). I’ve been to this town for as long as I can remember, walking along the battlements and the old castle. Every year, Montreuil-sur-Mer has a sound and light show, a sort of reenactment of Les Misérables, as part of the story is set there. I begged my parents to go the year I first read the book and they took one of my brothers and I. It was a very cold summer evening (it’s the north of France, after all), but while I was freezing, seeing the characters alive in front of my eyes amazed me and I have such a fond memory of it. That’s how I first became obsessed with Les Misérables.

As you can see, I definitely didn’t know about the musical… Until they decided to adapt it into a movie. I saw a lot of gifs on Tumblr and decided to start listening to the songs, which I completely fell in love with. I didn’t see the movie right away, because I’m not sure they showed it in my hometown or I had someone to watch it with me, and it was years until I finally did. I was already obsessed with Eddie Redmayne by then and you know… He’s playing Marius’ part in it (hence 60% of my love for Marius). Anyhow, I watched the movie and fell in love all over again (it was also a weird experience the first time, because I started watching it in a train with lots of noise…). I listened to the songs for months on end and I still listen to them at least once a week. 

Then, back in September… I saw the musical live in West End, in London. It was one of the best moments of my entire life and I cried most of the time, because it was a dream come true. I can’t thank my boyfriend enough for buying us these tickets, I thought it would be way too expensive and didn’t dare to dream going for at least a few years. Now, I’m planning on going back again and again, I know I’ll never be tired of it.

Last but not least, this month, I read the unabridged version of the novel. While it’s 1662 pages long… I read it in three days. I still don’t know how. It is one of the best books I have ever read and it made it into my top 3 books of all times, without even needing to try. I’m already thinking about rereading it over and over again. After I finished it, I rewatched the movie again, have been listening to the songs on repeat again, and it’s not going away anytime soon.




Why do I love Les Misérables so much?

Now, that is a complex question, because Les Misérables is a book, a musical, a movie, my entire life. I will never be able to do Victor Hugo’s words justice, nor the musical’s.

I love the book in all its complexity. I won’t lie, it’s not for everyone, because it has long descriptions, a lot of historical facts and it can seem boring sometimes (I guess?). Yet, I love history and being so engrossed in a book that I feel like I time-traveled in a different era. With Les Misérables, I time travel and for me, there aren’t too many words, it’s just fine. Hugo describes everything perfectly to give you a sense of what early 19th
 century France was like, of why these characters act like this or why the plot is going that way. He’s always going back to give a backstory to his characters and because of that, they’re perfectly developed. You all know how obsessed I am with Marius Pontmercy, and I feel like I know everything I need to know about him. He could have been a real person, for all I know. Victor Hugo’s characters are perfectly fleshed-out, he shows you the good, all of the bad, he doesn’t try to sugarcoat anything. I got something out of every character in this novel. Les Misérables is about the hardships of life, how you can make the right choices and yet seem all wrong in society’s eyes, how you can still dare to hope and fight for your dreams, to be recognised and even if it didn’t work, at least you tried (that last part isn’t so happy but hey, it’s life). Les Misérables is the story of a society that is still relevant today, a heart-breaking tale, an adventure, a sum of knowledge, a romance, and so much more. For me, you can’t fit it in one genre (it’s considered to be a historical, social and philosophical novel), unless you consider ‘a literary masterpiece’ as one.

One of the other reasons I love Les Misérables so much can seem pretty random, but it’s relevant to my life. Like I told you, I come from the north of France, which always made the first part of the book important to me, because it was set home, in a way. For a long time, it was the part of the story I knew the most, I didn’t know that much about Marius, or Cosette when she was older. Recently, it struck me. I moved to Paris for my studies, to begin my adult life, four and a half years ago. The second part of the novel is set in Paris, Cosette is older, like I was, in a way; the friends of the ABC meet in the Latin Quarter, so close to where I live. It might be one of the cheesiest things I have ever written, but the geography of Les Misérables is the geography of my life, somehow. This story will always be even closer to my heart for personal reasons I can’t exactly explain, but it makes me love the book even more.

For me and many other people out there, Les Misérables also means the musical. I discovered it later, but it’s a masterpiece on its own as well. All the songs are absolutely amazing and now that I’ve read the entire book, I can tell you that all the lyrics have twelve times more meanings than you might think. Every little thing is a reference to a detail of the book. Every time I listen to the songs, I discover a new one. The songs of the musical are moving, unforgettable and even iconic today. The musical has run continuously in London since October 1985, it’s been thirty-two years and the theatre is still full whenever they play it. I first saw the musical as a movie and I love it with all my heart, but when I was about to see the musical on stage… I wondered how they would do it. Let me tell you that the staging is genius, the costumes, amazing, the actors, so talented. It’s perfect. It’s my favourite musical by far, and I’m a huge lover of musicals. I’m sure the musical will still run for a long time, and I know that I’ll go back to see it as many times as I can.

I can’t convey all of my thoughts into proper words, but I do love Les Misérables with my entire body, soul and heart (I’m being overdramatic, but I couldn’t care less). It’s a story that has been following me since my childhood and will never truly leave me. My words will never be able to do it justice, but at least, I tried. Writing this post was a cathartic experience for me, because I know that my words are stocked somewhere and that I will always be able to reread them. If you read this entire post, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your time means the world to me.

Lots of love,
Lucie

4 thoughts on “Les Misérables: a book, a musical, a movie, and what it means to me

  1. You've convinced me. I love classics and try to read one every two months or so. Admittedly, I've never read this one, or even seen any show or movie. I know, I'm horrible, right? You've convinced me that I do need to read this!Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review

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  2. I'm so glad I managed to convince you, and I hope you'll enjoy it! Oh no really, there are so many books out there, it's hard to keep track of everything we want to read, it's a good thing we have a lifetime to discover them! 🙂

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  3. YES, YES, YES! Les Mis is one of my favorite musicals and books as well, so I'm so glad you enjoyed it as much as I did. 🙂 (I may be biased because I've been in Les Mis twice now haha). I completely agree with everything you've said. Every character – even the secondary characters like Eponine or Madame Thenardier – have so much depth and that truly makes them feel like real people rather than fictional characters. And the songs are fantastic and catchy too. ❤

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