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98 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Translations matter -- and this succeeds beautifully
Many years ago, while commuting from Scotch Plains to Manhattan and back, I made use of my commute time to read some very big books. Some, like Larry McMurty's LONESOME DOVE, were magisterial in story, setting and character. Some were Dumas' THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (a killer of a tale). And then there was LES MISERABLES.

I was 26 years old and had never read...
Published on August 19, 2008 by Birdman

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367 of 399 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Another wretched "translation"...
When a publisher announces the first unabridged translation of a world classic in over a hundred years, one has to get excited. But then you see it is by the same Julie Rose who recently mangled Dumas' LE CHEVALIER DE MAISON-ROUGE. Ms. Rose makes so many obvious mistakes in LES MISERABLES that one really doubts her fluency in French. But more seriously (!), it is her...
Published on July 19, 2009 by rater25


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367 of 399 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Another wretched "translation"..., July 19, 2009
When a publisher announces the first unabridged translation of a world classic in over a hundred years, one has to get excited. But then you see it is by the same Julie Rose who recently mangled Dumas' LE CHEVALIER DE MAISON-ROUGE. Ms. Rose makes so many obvious mistakes in LES MISERABLES that one really doubts her fluency in French. But more seriously (!), it is her approach to the craft of translation that is really the problem. Ms. Rose is of the hip and groovy school. Nineteenth century peasants should of course sound like Paris Hilton. This makes the book less "stuffy" and more palatable to the "general reader". For example Hugo's Tholomyès is "un viveur de trente ans, mal conservé"; that is, a bon vivant of thirty, in bad shape. Rose's is "a wasted high roller of thirty". The MTV phrase "wasted" would be bad enough, but then she has to throw in another anachronistic expression "high roller". This means a serious gambler, not the same thing at all.

Graham Robb, the biographer of Hugo, found numerous serious errors in this translation incl. that the Duke of Clarence was drowned in a butt of malmsey ("une tonne de malvoisie"), rather than Rose's ridiculous "a tun of marsala" and that the "sacre" of Charles X was his coronation not his "consecration". Marius was not "fierce" with pretty girls (Rose) but "shy" ("farouche"). And on and on. An amateur but arrogant production all the way, and a real disgrace.

The original Wilbour translation, which was quite respectable, was revised and corrected by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAffe for Signet some years ago. It is still available and is by every standard superior.

August, 2012 note: Penguin has announced a new translation for the fall to be published in an attractive hardcover:
Les Miserables (Penguin Classics).

November, 2012 note: Just received the Penguin hardcover. Although they announced a "new translation", it is merely a reprint of Norman Denny's "free" and abridged adaptation.
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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading but..., March 14, 2009
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I have to say that this is one of the most captivating and masterful books I have ever read. Victor Hugo has a very unique writing style and I feel that this is something that the translator should try to reproduce as closely as possible. While the book is certainly not abridged, it is edited in other ways that don't make sense. The translator adds her own voice to the translation, especially by inserting contractions and modern prose. I understand that one of the purposes for creating a new translation was to make the old-fashioned prose easier to read and understand. There are certainly many horrible editions out there that are both hard and painful to read. However, the book sometimes comes off as casual and out of place, since it is so grounded in historial detail.

The main problem I have with this edition is that it doesn't exactly supply the right emotional depth that was in the original. I first read the Signet Classics edition, which is very literally translated at times during the dialogue, but translates the meaning behind the characters' words very well. In that edition, the dialouge seemed stilted but gave a better tone to every scene. Julie Rose's dialogue is easier to read and sounds right to American readers, but she often makes changes and additions to Hugo's writing that don't feel right. To me, it sometimes fails to convey the emotion behind the scene. Making something easier to read should not be the main goal of the translator. And while she mentions in her introduction that the book was very dear to her and she was careful in rewriting it, there are some moments in the book when the writing seems awkward even if you're reading it for the first time. Compare referring to someone as 'a beautiful slab of marble' to 'a beautiful statue.' The choice is the translator's, but it seems at times that she didn't think hard enough about how her writing sounded. Her writing is far improved from those editions that translated a chapter entitled "The Blotter Talks" as "A Drinker is a Babbler", because she can capture the actual meaning of the French words and switch it into understandable English, but it feels like something is missing from the original.

Since it is possible (though extremely difficult) for me to read the French original, I will probably have more complaints about the translation than those who are reading the book for the first time. If that's the case, I would recommend the Signet edition, particularly if you already feel daunted by the size. The Julie Rose translation is actually larger and longer than the French original, and since she adds rather than deducts from nearly every passage, it can be hard to read. To me, the Signet edition retains the feel of the original and better reproduces the characters. While the writing is much clearer than the original translation and many other editions, it isn't contemporary, and it may be easier for you to read Rose's edition. In either case the book is magnificent, but if you read and love one translation, I would look at the other just to compare. You'd be surprised just how different they are.
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98 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Translations matter -- and this succeeds beautifully, August 19, 2008
By 
Birdman (Minnetonka, MN USA) - See all my reviews
Many years ago, while commuting from Scotch Plains to Manhattan and back, I made use of my commute time to read some very big books. Some, like Larry McMurty's LONESOME DOVE, were magisterial in story, setting and character. Some were Dumas' THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (a killer of a tale). And then there was LES MISERABLES.

I was 26 years old and had never read such a sprawling narrative that commanded my attention like a murder mystery. Jean Valjean was Everyman, and so Hugo's heart touched mine. I read his prose like someone starving for inspiration and story, and read both. As I recall, I read the Penguin edition, circa 1984. It was stirring, clear, compelling.The dialogue doetailed beautifully between the French idiom and American English.

I never saw the musical of the same name, but respect those who did.

Then Julie Rose's version was published, and after reading snippets of some pivotal chapters, I had to purchase a copy, and I'm thrilled I did. Rose's translation is more arresting than the version I read so many years ago, than those I've examined since. Some translators don't "get" idiomatic phrases in a source language, and so much of what we say to one another is idiomatic, and cannot be translated literally.

Rose understands both the idiom and the importance of immediacy in THE Romantic novel of the modern Western canon. Jean Valjean's story is one of fateful coincidence, loss, fear, grief and redemption. Hugo's sub-plots are extensive and yet, unlike the Russian masters, he weaves these into the central narrative seamlessly.

If you love political suspense, mystery, romance, and an author's sheer ability to tell a very long story and give it wings, please purchase this version. Rose will not disappoint you, and at roughly one-third off retail,the posted price barely buys two movie tickets.

Reading LES MISERABLES is one of the only experiences that made New Jersey Transit tolerable in those days. And on those late nights when the loneliness of the Port Authority became overwhelming, Hugo's masterpiece took me to another place.

I cannot write about this book with critical authority, only to say I loved it. I cannot recommend this translation on the basis of scholarly training, because I never received in in this field.

But I know what I like, and Rose's translation is a smash.

As for the size of the book, buy an extra pillow and settle back. You won't regret it.
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44 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent Novel; Magnificent Translation, December 15, 2008
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I recently listened to an excellent Radio Theatre production of this incredible story, which inspired me to pick up the book again. I read it during High School, loved it, then saw the musical, and loved it even more. It has been several years now, so I decided that now would be a good time to re-visit this classic story which made such an impression on me when I was fifteen.

I went back to my local library and borrowed the same copy I read as a teenager, an antique book originally published in 1915 and translated by Isabel F. Hapgood. One afternoon, I was browsing through Barnes and Nobles when I came upon this copy. I was instantly grabbed by the art on the jacket binding of this beautiful hardcover version, and I grew even more interested when I learned that it was a new translation by a woman named Julie Rose. I compared several sections with the older version, and was struck by how much more I liked the newer one. For instance, here is an excerpt from a conversation between Jean Valjean and the ragamuffin, Gavroche:

Hapgood (1915):
"The letter is for Madamoiselle Cosette, is it not?"
Cosette," muttered Gavroche. "Yes, I believe that is the queer name."
"Well," resumed Jean Valjean, "I am to person to whom you are to deliver the letter. Give it here."
Gavroche held the paper elevated above his head.
"Don't go and fancy it's a love letter. It's for a woman, but it's for the people. We men fight and we respect the fair sex. We are not as they are in fine society, where there are lions who send chickens to camels."
"Give it to me."
"After all," continued Gavroche, "you have the air of an honest man."
"Give it to me quick."
"Catch hold of it." And he handed the paper to Jean Valjean. "And make haste, Monsieur What's-your-name, for Mamselle Cosette is waiting." Gavroche was satisfied with himself for having produced this remark.

Rose (2008):
"The letter's for Mademoiselle Cosette, isn't it?"
"Cosette?" growled Gavroche. "Yes, I think it's some funny name like that."
"Well, then," Jean Valjean went on, "I'm the one who's supposed to hand her the letter. Give it to me."
Gavroche held the note up above his head. "Don't go getting the idea that it's a love letter. It's for a woman, but it's for the people. We men, we're fighting men, and we respect the sex. We're not like in high society where there are nobs who send sweet nothings to slack cows."
"Give it to me."
"Actually," Gavroche continued, "you look to me to be a good sort of geezer."
"Give it to me quick."
"Take it." And he handed Jean Valjean the note. "And get a move on, Monsieur Thingummyjig, because Mamselle Thingummyjig is waiting."
Gavroche was very pleased with himself for having come up with this line.

Rose's version sounds closer to what a street urchin such as Gavroche would have said. Another example: Instead of Madame Thénardier saying, "How easily children get acquainted at once!" she says, "Kids! See how well they get on already!" Isabel F. Hapgood calls the Thénardiers "unprepossessing figures" and Julie Rose calls them "shady characters." The second word choice paints a much better mind picture for the modern reader.

Another advantage for the modern reader: this translation is more understandable. For instance, this is what the doctor says as he considers the possibility of a miraculous recovery for Fantine:

Hapgood (1915):
"There are crises so astounding; great joy has been known to arrest maladies; I know well that this is an organic disease and in an advanced state, but all those things are such mysteries: we may be able to save her."

Rose (2008):
"There are some amazing recoveries, great joy has been seen to put an end to disease. I know this one is an organic disease and fairly well advanced, but it's all such a mystery, all that! Perhaps we will save her, after all."

Aside from giving the reader an arresting, clearer understanding of the text, Julie Rose also provides more of Hugo's original novel than ever before. In her preface, she explains how often other translators would omit "offensive" content or "useless" details, and that, to her knowledge, she is "one of the few translators to have rendered all of Hugo's magnificent novel without censorship." Because of this, Les Miserables has finally been presented in an English version closer to what Victor Hugo originally intended.

So on my second read, I am not only reading more carefully because of my love for the characters, but I am also looking at them as though through a new, clearer, prescription of glasses. For that, I am very grateful to Julie Rose. This is a book I will treasure for years to come.

p.s. I would also highly recommend the dramatized audiobook I mentioned at the beginning of my review. Here is the link: http://www.amazon.com/Mis%C3%A9rables-Radio-Theatre-Victor-Hugo/dp/1589973941/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1229374558&sr=1-8. It's a gripping, faithful interpretation of this classic.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars superlative translation, July 26, 2012
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While translations are much a matter of taste, the Julie Rose translation in my opinion comes the closest of all the 3 major translations in capturing the "spirit" of Victor Hugo in a contemporary English style, his robust love of life, his bawdiness, his sense of humor and his monumental appetite for experience, his "exuberance and gusto," as Ms. Rose explains. French critics have long long ago taken the very stilted and outdated Charles Wilbur translation of 1876 to task for being more awkward and pretentious in English than the original is to French readers, and that is a very important point. If you wish a 19th century American or British experience reading Les Miserables, then by all means go for the Charles Wilbur - or the updated but still very formally British Norman Denny translation (1976). Both of these translations are guilty of substituting Anglo Saxon propriety for Hugo's vast appetite for lustful experiences of all kinds and the result is eminently, respectfully dull. But it is not the French experience of reading Hugo in the original. Hugo is anything but pretentious in the original, but the Wilbur and Denny translations are, sadly, just that, Denny less so. Furthermore, both earlier translators assumed there were things in Hugo you should not be allowed to read, both for propriety's sake and because of - in their judgement - Hugo's "excess." Do you really wish to read a censored version of Les Miserables. If not, go for the Julie Rose, painstakingly translated from the original French with all the odd and bawdy bits left in. Yes Ms. Rose may err occasionally on the side of too much easy familiarity and casual speech (referring to a restaurant as a 'greasy spoon'), but she was trying in a way Wilbur and Denny did not attempt, to capture the "spirit" of Victor Hugo, the sense of the man, the humor, the pathos, the bawdiness, as well as the compassion and the outrage that come across in the original French. For all of her irreverent phrases and expressions, Ms. Rose has finally given us a translation that pulsates with the vibrancy and irrepressible energy of the original.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars lush translation, April 20, 2010
By 
Melody (San Francisco) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Les Misérables (Modern Library Classics) (Paperback)
Let me start off by saying that I love this book. It is one of my favourite books of all-time and I have multiple translations of it. I know some people have problems with the "hip" language used in the translation, but this is the most lush, most rich and more alive translation I've read. It has a lot of personality and the foot notes in the back are amazing and add so much to the richness of it.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just vacation reading but a whole vacation, July 27, 2008
By 
Can I review this edition of Hugo's masterpiece without having read other editions?

I can't speak to the ability of the translator but several awards have established her credentials.

What I do know is that this book is one of the wonders of the world. It is big enough to live in for months and comfortable enough that I have no desire to move on to something else.

I am desperately concerned for the characters. Sometimes I have to stop reading because I am so afraid of what will happen next.

But after each particularly grueling episode in this book, we are allowed to rest in one of Hugo's grand digressions. Pace previous translators who have cut out the "unnecessary" bits of this book, I want to read and enjoy every word that Hugo wrote. The digressions are history lessons, social commentaries that could stand alone.

I am glad I saved this magnificent novel for my golden years.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece, February 29, 2012
By 
CJA "CJA" (Minneapolis, MN) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
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This review is from: Les Misérables (Modern Library Classics) (Paperback)
This is an extraordinary novel. Its themes are as broad as those explored by Tolstoy in "War and Peace" -- the nature of love and redemption, Napoleon's downfall, and the misery created by an unjust social system. The lead character, Jean Valjean, who after spending 20 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread is redeemed by an act of kindness from a local bishop and who then lives a model Christian life, is one of the most charismatic characters in all of literature.

The book was a popular success for its time. And there are points in the book -- Jean Valjean's various escapes, his flight through the Paris sewers, the trial, the various confrontations with Thernadier -- that are absolutely riveting. But the book is not always well suited for the modern reader. Hugo makes many lengthy digressions and is an intrusive author. As a consequence, I put the book down several times, and it took me about a year to read. Still, it is worth the effort.

The translation is striking for its familiar and often colloquial language. Some of the reviewers have criticized this for straying too far from Hugo's literal text. Fair enough, but the book is hard enough to slog through for the modern reader, and Ms. Rose's translation does make the book far more accessible.

A masterpiece.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lacks the charm of the Signet Classics translation, July 1, 2012
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This review is from: Les Misérables (Modern Library Classics) (Paperback)
I had high hopes for this version, but Julie Rose seems to have rephrased far too much of Hugo's original French for my taste. It's almost rewritten. The Signet Classics version is far superior in that regard. Where Rose plods, Fahnestock and MacAfee soar on Hugo's wings.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant translation, August 13, 2009
This review is from: Les Misérables (Modern Library Classics) (Paperback)
Les Miserables (Modern Library Classics)

Julie Rose's re-creation of Les Misérables is an absolute triumph. Her translation is sharper and more idiomatic than those of any of her predecessors. Her fidelity to Hugo is reflected in the ways she reproduces the freshness of his prose, the precise sound of his voice, the specific rhythms and shapes of his sentences. She succeeds brilliantly in creating a language that is rich and vibrant, lively and dramatic, and well suited to a long narrative - her translation is closer than any previous version to the captivating, quirky, racy tone Hugo would have struck for his contemporaries.

The few "mistakes" identified by other reviewers would be nugatory compared with the sheer scale of Rose's overall achievement. But in any case nearly all of these "mistakes" are clearly conscious choices, and usually eminently justifiable. A "tun of marsala", rather than a "butt of malmsey", is sheer poetic licence. The traditional apocryphal rendition of the "butt of Malmsey" tale is clearly and fully footnoted; malmsey or malvoisie in the days of the Duke of Clarence is said to have come from Greece or Italy and is unlikely to have been the same as the modern wines bearing those names, malmsey being a form of Madeira and malvoisie a kind of grape grown in France and elsewhere. Marsala, as we know, is Sicilian and, though not oenologically exact, "tun of marsala" has a fresh demotic bite and avoids the old cliché of the butt of malmsey while ironising it. The "sacre" of Charles X: we know that "coronation" would be the normal choice, but the reference is to Charles X, head of the Ultra-conservatives; "consecration" underscores the connection to the ancien regime, over-emphatic though the term may be. Marius as "fierce": Marius is beyond shy, he's so shy that he's... fierce, much like, say, Hippolytus.
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Les Misérables (Modern Library Classics)
Les Misérables (Modern Library Classics) by Victor Hugo (Paperback - July 14, 2009)
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