on July 2, 2006
I have both the original Wilbour translation and the Norman Denny translation of this book, and I'd say that the Denny translation is the more readable of the two. Graham Robb, in his award-winning biography of Hugo has called Denny's translation "swiss cheese" and "translation as censorship." However, it's well-written, and the "excised" sections are included as appendices to which any reader can turn. In places where Denny edits the prose, he captures the spirit of the novel.
But the best comparison is made by reading:
here's Wilbour from the beginning of Part Two, Book Four:
"Forty years ago, the solitary pedestrian who ventured into the unknown region of La Salpetriere and went up along the Boulevard as far as the Barrier d'italie, reached certain points where it might be said that Paris had disappeared. It was no longer a solitude, for there were people passing; it was not the country for there were houses and streets. It was not a city, the streets had ruts in them, like highways, and grass grew along their borders; it was not a village, the houses were too lofty. What was it then? It was an inhabited place where there was nobody. It was a desert place where there was somebody. It was a boulevard of the great city, a street of Paris, wilder at night than a forest and gloomier by day than a graveyard. It was the old quarter of the horse-market."
Denny's version of the same passage
" A stroller forty years ago penetrating beyond the Salpetriere by way of the Boulevard de l'Hopital as far as the Barrierr d'italie, would have come to a region where Paris seemed to disappear. It was not a wilderness, for there were inhabitants; not country, for there were streets and houses; not a town, for the streets were rutted like country roads, and grass grew in them; nor was it a village, for the houses were too high. What was it then? It was an inhabited place where there was no one, a deserted place where there was someone, a city boulevard, a paris street, wilder by night than the forest, more melancholy by day than a graveyard. It was the anciet quarter of the horse-market, the Marche-Aux-Chevaux."
on June 4, 2001
A few words of advice about Les Miserables...
Buy an old copy (am I allowed to say that!). I found mine in an antique bookstore. It's an old beat-up hardcover. It just makes the whole experience more...historic!
Dare to read the unabridged edition. If Hugo could have told this story in fewer words he would have. Don't cheat yourself out of the real thing. Charles Wilbour's translation is an excellent one.
Take your time with it. When you get frustrated by lengthy explanations and background information, put it down and come back to it. But don't give up!
Les Miserables is one of the greatest stories every written. Hugo brings to life such weighty concepts as Grace, Forgiveness, Repentance, and Redemption and Salvation. The spiritual imagery is very rich. The interaction between Jean Valjean and the Bishop is absolutely life changing.
"Jean Valjean my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!"
on January 15, 2008
Although Wilbour's classic translation of Les Miserables is excellent, readers may also wish to consider the newer unabridged translation by Fahnestock and MacAfee; apart from being somewhat more natural to Anglophone ears, the latter also contains translations of some of the French verses that Wilbour did not translate (e.g., see Saint Denis XII:6).
on May 12, 1999
I love the film adaptions and musical of Les Miserables, but they can't even compare to the greatness of this piece of literature. It's such an epic story, covering such topics as justice vs. the law, and ultimate love and self-sacrifice. Everyone can find something to relate to, something to learn from, and something to enjoy in this novel. The characters truly do come alive in this novel, from the center and hero of the story, Jean Valjean, to the minor characters. I particularly was touched by the story of Fantine, a "minor" character but easily my favourite. This character falls from innocence, and eventually makes an ultimate self-sacrifice for her daughter. I found myself unable to put the book down on many a late night, but especially so on the chapters concerning Fantine. Of course, perhaps my love for "classics" and "epics" and "historical romance" may have helped me enjoy the book so, as I know many people who could barely get through the first 20 pages of the 1400 + page novel. Some people may not have the patience to go through the Waterloo part, etc. It is a quite detailed book, and it does go very much "off-topic" a few times. But I still enjoyed every single word. I hope the size of the book won't make people think twice about reading it, it really is best unabridged. I have read the abridged version and it is quite confusing, and you miss several moving scenes. In my own opinion, everyone should read this book, unabridged...and prepare to be amazed!
on January 23, 2010
I am a university professor -and French by birth and parenthood- and I teach Masterpiece of World Literature. Knowing very well the original text of Victor Hugo and having presented papers on Les Miserables in international academic colloquiums, I decided to put Les Miserables on my program. As the original has quite a voluminous number of pages and I have to cover many pieces, I decided to go for an abridged version of it.
My disappointment is total!!!
1. This is the most ancient translation of Les Miserables made in 1862 (like that the publisher doesn't need to pay any copyright to any translator or author making a full profit) and the English is dated and not always faithful to the original (for instance when Cosette watch herself in the mirror the French original says that she felt like she was ugly [laide] but it is translated homeless (a word my student didn't even understand).
2. In addition, the abridged work made here is one of the worse I have seen. The classic pieces have been removed (like: who was Fantine and how she got Cosette and was abused by a student in Paris and how she was really in love with him - she was a grisette - Fantine selling all she has (hair, teeth ...) to provide for Cosette and becoming a prostitute is removed - the famous episode of Valjean taking Cosette back from the Thenardier is not even there!!!! Valjean giving the factory back to the workers, etc ...). The first part Fantine should be renamed as so much on Fantine has been cut!
The cut is completely arbitrary and there are absolutely no transitions between the cuts! It is a lame work.
I had to make photocopies of the missing text to be able to do my class!
3. To add insult to injury, my bookstore also ordered used version of this book and with exactly the same cover, same ISBN. So i had 48 students in class with the same cover book all the same look but ... from previous editions to the new one, all the pages number were wrong form one version to another because the editor in the last edition decided to increase the font size. There are - at the end of the book- more than 70 pages additional which makes it impossible for students to follow from one version to another and impossible to quote in an academic work!!!!!
This is close to a crime for an academic!
Therefore, I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS VERSION.
Buy the original and read portions of it rather than this! I do recommend warmly the original text of Hugo. Julie Rose is the one who made the most recent translation. Rather go for this last one.
on October 2, 2001
I won't attempt to extensively review this classic, except to say that it's one of the most readable, involving, uplifting books you'll ever read, *if* you enjoy the kind of long, detailled 19th century novel that you really can immerse yourself in.
I'd like to point out some positives of the Penguin edition, since editions can differ greatly in attributes. The Penguin is almost unabridged, but not quite (in case the low price had you wondering). It still checks in at a hefty 1232 pages, and has been trimmed by the translator only of some [here are his words]: "passages of mediocrity and banality....which may cause the reader to lose all patience.... The translator can, I maintain, do something to remedy these defects without falsifying the book." So it won't please absolute purists, but it is very much more complete than are some of the smaller mass market editions.
It's a larger format ("trade") paperback. This 1976 translation is by Norman Denny, and I love it. It's warm and readable, and he spells out place names instead of keeping to the old convention of calling Myriel the "Bishop of D----." I highly recommend this edition.
on June 28, 2006
... but this was the most popular book, read by soldiers, North and South, during our Civil War. We should be better for hearing democracy in Beethoven, piety in Bach, compassion in Mozart -- and perhaps we do, one person at a time, but I fear we are always running out of time.
I read this book thirty years ago, over two winters, setting it down midway in March 1977 I believe. I had heard a near-complete reading on NPR, spread over at least a month of Saturday afternoons. I always made sure I was home for that; I was a single parent, then, father of a seven year old boy. To use a cheap term of the day, I could 'relate' to Jean Valjean, and I was thrilled by the music that opened each episode: the March to the Scaffold from Berlioz' "Symphony Fantastique." After the final episode, I went out and bought the Modern Library Giant, and began to read.
The radio production was not complete! While I found the details surrounding the Battle of Waterloo truly informative -- the description of the battlefield as a captial A was a vivid model of simplicity -- the long section on the history of the nuns' order where Valjean and his young ward take refuge, and where she is educated, invited a lot of skimming.
Skim where you will, but try to read the complete book. At some later time you can return to those pages you skimmed, and discover what you missed.
Les Miserable, The Brothers Karamazov, War and Peace, Moby-Dick, Joseph and His Brothers, Remembrance Of Things Past (okay, In Search Of Lost Time), Ulysses -- all of these demand much of us, particularly our time. That is a good thing, considering the many ways modern life invites us to waste time, and I could not begin to choose the best among these. Fortunately I don't have to; I might run to "As I Lay Dying" or "Lord Jim" instead.
Meanwhile, I'm glad I devoted a chunk of my life to this book. I do know I emerged a better man for that, and how sad I was when I read the final page, and closed the book.
on November 16, 2012
Instead of being the Donougher translation, as advertised, the text in this edition is that of the earlier Penguin translation by Norman Denny. This may disappoint some buyers, but as all I was looking for was a nice, hardcover edition of this fantastic novel (which happens to be my absolute favorite), I was very satisfied. The cover is very nice, and the pages are light, thin and smooth, as I tend to enjoy best. There is a very nice silk bookmark in between the pages, just as the other recent Penguin Classics editions have included.
Five stars for the book itself, and the quality of this edition, but I have to subtract one for not being the new translation that was being advertised. I heard that the Donouhger translation was simply not ready for press, so the Denny translation was substituted. If this is the case, I can forgive it, but Amazon ought to have updated their information before release.
EDIT: This information has since been rectified. Amazon low lists the book as being the Norman Denny translation.
on March 28, 2000
I am now fifteen I was fourteen when I first saw the musical on PBS and absoulutly loved it. My parents bought the musical for me for Christmas. My brother and I both loved it, and we have memorized nearly all the words. I then became intrested in the novel which I knew was like a million pages long, but I love to read and I loved the musical, so I decided to go for it. I thought it would take me months to read, but it was so intriguing that I finished it in one week (and yes is was the unabriged version). The last night I just read all night long until I finished it. It is sometimes hard to remember that the characters are not real people. I love every character, even Javert. I love the chapters in which Hugo takes us inside the minds of Jean Valjean and Javert. I am afraid I disagree with a earlier review which states that the death of Enjolras and Grantaire was the most moving part of the book although it was extremely moving, the death of Jean Valjean was the most moving, I mean it makes you cry for thirty pages, what can be more moving? In my personal opinion this is the greatest book ever written, but I have never read "War and Peace" which I hear some people think is the best. FYI: Leo Tolstoy said that Les Miserables was one of the greatest, if not the greatest novel ever written, but that was before he wrote "War and Peace".
I noticed that alot a people feel this book is extremely long and I have to admit that some parts weren't entirely necessary, but I still would recommend reading the unabridged version, you just can't get the full depth of the story unless you read the full version.
To sum it all up read the book and go see the musical they are both exellent.
on December 3, 2001
Hugo's books are not an easy read in a sense that they are very much emotionally involving. About 15 years ago I was pulled in by "The Man Who Laughs." The kind of emotional punch it packed was astounding. During the same year I first read "Les Miserables" - and for me Jean became a hero to look up to. But it's not only a book about one remarkable individual - it is also a book about the world we live in, just a moment's pass on eternal clock.
Hugo places the reader in the midst of dark valleys of 19th century Paris or it countryside and one can't help following Jean and Cosette with Javert hot on their heels. One reason we feel so much "inside" the story is that each character, even the non-sequential ones, are incredibly well-drawn, their faces (or mugs) are as clear as etchings. But it's not only that, otherwise it would be easily dismissed as so many works by so-called "scholars". The narrative is infused with white-hot passion. Yes, Hugo is taking a preacher-like stance on many issues, but without that the story would be simply entertaining but not involving and provocative which it remains to the present day. (After all, the villains have just changed their masks. Instead of unwashed rags they may now wear Italian business suits.)
This book cries out to its readers to take action, to ask themselves if their lives have meaning, to stop the pursuit of worldly possessions and concentrate on the pursuit of the moral ones. It is also about the second chances, about real and fake love, and about misplaced guilt and internal conflict.
I really hope the teachers don't make this book a "requirement" or that the students read abridged versions of it.