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Les Miserables: (Movie Tie-In)
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2014
I am sure that most people reading this review will already be familiar with the story of Les Misérables. You may have seen the hit musical, the movie based on that musical, a television adaptation or one of the many non musical movie adaptations. Needless to say Les Misérables is a story that has proved to be timeless and the social issues it examines are just as relevant today as in 1862 when the novel was first published. Part of the appeal of Les Misérables is that it has many themes and contains elements of many genres. Generally the novel is classified as a romance (in the style of say Walter Scott) but it is also a social commentary, a historical study of Nineteenth Century France, an examination of the human condition (the discussion of the moral dilemma faced by Jean Valjean in the first part of the novel is the most gripping thing I have read in any text), a love story, a detective story and an adventure story. Les Misérables has something for everyone. That is why I think the novel has a universal appeal.

The novel also contains spiritual themes. The novel is popular with many conservative Christians but to be clear Hugo never mentions any particular religion. There are biblical allegories for sure in some parts of the novel but Hugo is more concerned with the spiritual side of man than organised religion. The introduction mentions Hugo started his own religion that is still practiced in Vietnam.

The novel has a reputation for having long digressions. This is true but I also think it is part of the charm of the novel. Les Misérables is not just about the story of Jean Valjean, a man sentenced to 19 years in the prison hulks for stealing a loaf of bread or Fantine, a grisette who has been kicked to the ground by life and is now struggling to find money for her daughter, or Marius, the son of a soldier who fought for Napoleon, raised by his royalist bourgeoisie grandfather. Les Misérables is more than that. It is also an outlet for Hugo's views on poverty, prejudice, war, nationalism,modern France, the criminal justice system, capital punishment, architecture, monasteries, and the Paris sewer system amongst other things. Many have said that Les Misérables is in part about Victor Hugo. One journalist writing just after Hugo's death said that Les Misérables contained "all that Victor Hugo knew and was expected to know". I fully agree with this. Les Misérables is as much the story of Victor Hugo as the story of Jean Valjean. If you read Les Misérables, you are going deep into the mind of Hugo. This makes reading the novel a rich and rewarding experience. Without the digressions, the novel would feel rather empty. If you have watched any of the TV or movie adaptations, you are missing out on some wonderful insights that only the novel can give you.

One of Hugo's strengths is his characterization. Marius and Cosette are more rounded characters in the novel than in the movie adaptations. Likewise the nine principal members of the Friends of the ABC student group are sketched out in great detail and you soon become acquainted with their various personalities unlike the movies which only focus on the leader Enjolras.

Do not be put off by the size of the novel. The text is actually very readable and you will find that you will get through the novel quite quickly. I actually found the novel much more readable than some shorter works by Dickens.

Now onto the translation. First a little bit of translation history. American Charles Wilbour was the first to translate the novel and his version was published by Carleton in 1862 just months after the novel was published in Brussels. The fact that Wilbour, at the age of just twenty nine, completed the translation so quickly is astounding. The translation is very close to Hugo's French and is highly regarded. The set was plagarised in the South in 1863 during the Civil War by publishers West and Johnson who removed many of the anti slavery texts that Hugo wrote. Thankfully once the war had ended, Carleton's one volume edition of Wilbour's original became the most dominant version and was constantly in print. An abridged version of Wilbour's translation was released in the UK by Catto & Windus in 1874. The unabridged version was finally released in the country in 1890.

The only downsides of Wilbour's translation are that it contained no footnotes and French verse parts were not translated. This was rectified in 1987 by an updated translation by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee, released by Signet. The vocabulary is more modern so the translation will appear more readable to someone who finds 19th Century texts difficult. This is the most common paperback version in the USA and has the musical logo on the cover. It is unabridged like the original Wilbour, has full place names instead of dashes (so you get Digne instead of D-, this was a revision Hugo himself made to the text in 1881) and French verse parts are translated into English in footnotes.

Sir Frederic Charles Lascelles Wraxall's translation was the first to be released in the UK and appeared in 1862, just before the release of the last volume of Wilbour's translation in America. Wraxall's translation was the only one to pay copyright to the publishers. It was advertised as the most "literal" translation. It is abridged as it deliberately misses chapters and books (Wraxall gives his reasons for this in the preface). The text was even further abridged from the fourth edition onwards. The omitted parts were translated in the USA by J Blamire for the 1886 Deluxe Edition by Routledge and this same text was used for the 1938 Heritage Press release with illustrations from Lynn Ward. Little Brown also supplemented the Wraxall text in 1887. Later reprints by various publishers, such as Allison & Co, supplemented the text using Wilbour. Even with the supplementations, the Wraxall version is still very poorly regarded. Hugo himself even voiced his disapproval.

The Wraxall translation was also heavily plagarised by others. The translation by William Walton et al. (actually a pseudonym of John Thomson of the Philadelphia Free Library), released in 1892 by the publisher G Barrie, borrows heavily from Wraxall.

Isobel F Hapgood's translation first appeared in 1887 and was published by Thomas Crowell. Hapgood's translation was generally very well regarded at the time, although some of the language used has become outdated. Hapgood's main defect is that she misses out the Cambronne section. This omission was restored by a handful of publishers in the early Twentieth Century including John Wannamaker, Dumont and Century Co. Crowell continued to publish a copyright version without the supplementation so it is clear that Hapgood did not approve of such additions.

In the 1890s Henry L Williams released a translation. This translation could almost be considered an adaptation. Williams specialised in cheap dime novels and his translation (if he did actually translate it himself) is a dumbed down and heavily abridged version issued to cater for the "lower end" of the market. His translation is called "The Outcasts".

The early years of the post war era was mainly filled with adaptations and abridgments of Wilbour's text (a famous abridgment by James K Robinson reduced Wilbour's text to under 400 pages). Norman Denny was the first person to offer a new translation in the Twentieth Century. This is the most common version available in the UK, released in 1976 by Folio Press (with bizarre illustrations) and by Penguin as a paperback in 1980. Highly readable but Denny takes great liberties with Hugo's text and a lot of material is omitted. Two sections are moved to the end of the book as appendixes. Penguin continues to print this but thankfully they have now released this superior translation by Christine Donougher.

Finally in 2008 an unabridged translation by Julie Rose was released by The Modern Library in the US and Vintage in the UK. The main criticism of this translation is that the vocabulary is very modern and at times feels awkward. For instance Rose uses the term "slimy spook" to describe Javert in one section. I have never heard this term before and I cannot imagine it being a good translation of the French term Mouchard. I do respect Rose for translating such a difficult text. Her translation just didn't click with me.

So now we come to the new translation by Christine Donougher. So why is this translation superior to the others? It is complete and unabridged, unlike Denny, Wraxall and Hapgood. It doesn't feel like the language has been dumbed down, unlike Rose. It has excellent notes and footnotes, unlike Wilbour and the updated versions of his text. The text flows well. I would say the closest translation to Donougher in terms of style is probably Hapgood. It is certainly as readable as say Denny.

The introduction, translation notes and timeline are fascinating. I think the publishers made the right decision in choosing Robert Tombs, a history Professor, to write the introduction rather than say a English Lit Professor. This means we have a greater emphasis on the historical aspects of the novel. Donougher's notes on the translation are quite interesting, especially how she dealt with Hugo's discussion of slang. The timeline is a lot more detailed than the ones given in previous translations and offers a wonderful overview on the life of Victor Hugo. The notes section at the end of the book is excellent and helps give the context to many scenes in the novel. My only complaint would be that the notes at the end of the book should reference which page number the note relates to.

Apologies for the extended essay. In summary Christine Donougher's translation of Les Misérables is the best version available in English and I would advise all fans of the novel to buy it. Well done to Penguin for publishing this splendid edition.
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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2000
I just finished reading the original unabridged version of this book, in French, and believe me, I was moved. So when my wife and I wanted to get an abridged version for her to read in English, we bought this one. On skimming through the book, and maybe it's just us, but we found no trace of Fantine's story before she ended up in Jean Valjean's care, or of Jean Valjean's rescue of Cosette from the Thénardiers, which are both very moving parts. If those are missing, there are probably other very touching and important parts missing. We plan on taking our version back and getting the full version. It would be better to just skip past the sections that talk about the convent, the battle of Waterloo, the sewer system, etc., because they're wasy to skip, and the rest of the book will still be there. Honestly, Les Mis is probably the best book I've ever read, but it has to be purchased in it's full format to really be truly appreciated.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2014
This review is from: The Wretched (Penguin Hardback Classics) (Hardcover)
I am sure that most people reading this review will already be familiar with the story of Les Misérables. You may have seen the hit musical, the movie based on that musical, a television adaptation or one of the many non musical movie adaptations. Needless to say Les Misérables is a story that has proved to be timeless and the social issues it examines are just as relevant today as in 1862 when the novel was first published. Part of the appeal of Les Misérables is that it has many themes and contains elements of many genres. Generally the novel is classified as a romance (in the style of say Walter Scott) but it is also a social commentary, a historical study of Nineteenth Century France, an examination of the human condition (the discussion of the moral dilemma faced by Jean Valjean in the first part of the novel is the most gripping thing I have read in any text), a love story, a detective story and an adventure story. Les Misérables has something for everyone. That is why I think the novel has a universal appeal.

The novel also contains spiritual themes. The novel is popular with many conservative Christians but to be clear Hugo never mentions any particular religion. There are biblical allegories for sure in some parts of the novel but Hugo is more concerned with the spiritual side of man than organised religion. The introduction mentions Hugo started his own religion that is still practiced in Vietnam.

The novel has a reputation for having long digressions. This is true but I also think it is part of the charm of the novel. Les Misérables is not just about the story of Jean Valjean, a man sentenced to 19 years in the prison hulks for stealing a loaf of bread or Fantine, a grisette who has been kicked to the ground by life and is now struggling to find money for her daughter, or Marius, the son of a soldier who fought for Napoleon, raised by his royalist bourgeoisie grandfather. Les Misérables is more than that. It is also an outlet for Hugo's views on poverty, prejudice, war, nationalism,modern France, the criminal justice system, capital punishment, architecture, monasteries, and the Paris sewer system amongst other things. Many have said that Les Misérables is in part about Victor Hugo. One journalist writing just after Hugo's death said that Les Misérables contained "all that Victor Hugo knew and was expected to know". I fully agree with this. Les Misérables is as much the story of Victor Hugo as the story of Jean Valjean. If you read Les Misérables, you are going deep into the mind of Hugo. This makes reading the novel a rich and rewarding experience. Without the digressions, the novel would feel rather empty. If you have watched any of the TV or movie adaptations, you are missing out on some wonderful insights that only the novel can give you.

One of Hugo's strengths is his characterization. Marius and Cosette are more rounded characters in the novel than in the movie adaptations. Likewise the nine principal members of the Friends of the ABC student group are sketched out in great detail and you soon become acquainted with their various personalities unlike the movies which only focus on the leader Enjolras.

Do not be put off by the size of the novel. The text is actually very readable and you will find that you will get through the novel quite quickly. I actually found the novel much more readable than some shorter works by Dickens.

Now onto the translation. First a little bit of translation history. American Charles Wilbour was the first to translate the novel and his version was published by Carleton in 1862 just months after the novel was published in Brussels. The fact that Wilbour, at the age of just twenty nine, completed the translation so quickly is astounding. The translation is very close to Hugo's French and is highly regarded. The set was plagarised in the South in 1863 during the Civil War by publishers West and Johnson who removed many of the anti slavery texts that Hugo wrote. Thankfully once the war had ended, Carleton's one volume edition of Wilbour's original became the most dominant version and was constantly in print. An abridged version of Wilbour's translation was released in the UK by Catto & Windus in 1874. The unabridged version was finally released in the country in 1890.

The only downsides of Wilbour's translation are that it contained no footnotes and French verse parts were not translated. This was rectified in 1987 by an updated translation by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee, released by Signet. The vocabulary is more modern so the translation will appear more readable to someone who finds 19th Century texts difficult. This is the most common paperback version in the USA and has the musical logo on the cover. It is unabridged like the original Wilbour, has full place names instead of dashes (so you get Digne instead of D-, this was a revision Hugo himself made to the text in 1881) and French verse parts are translated into English in footnotes.

Sir Frederic Charles Lascelles Wraxall's translation was the first to be released in the UK and appeared in 1862, just before the release of the last volume of Wilbour's translation in America. Wraxall's translation was the only one to pay copyright to the publishers. It was advertised as the most "literal" translation. It is abridged as it deliberately misses chapters and books (Wraxall gives his reasons for this in the preface). The text was even further abridged from the fourth edition onwards. The omitted parts were translated in the USA by J Blamire for the 1886 Deluxe Edition by Routledge and this same text was used for the 1938 Heritage Press release with illustrations from Lynn Ward. Little Brown also supplemented the Wraxall text in 1887. Later reprints by various publishers, such as Allison & Co, supplemented the text using Wilbour. Even with the supplementations, the Wraxall version is still very poorly regarded. Hugo himself even voiced his disapproval.

The Wraxall translation was also heavily plagarised by others. The translation by William Walton et al. (actually a pseudonym of John Thomson of the Philadelphia Free Library), released in 1892 by the publisher G Barrie, borrows heavily from Wraxall.

Isobel F Hapgood's translation first appeared in 1887 and was published by Thomas Crowell. Hapgood's translation was generally very well regarded at the time, although some of the language used has become outdated. Hapgood's main defect is that she misses out the Cambronne section. This omission was restored by a handful of publishers in the early Twentieth Century including John Wannamaker, Dumont and Century Co. Crowell continued to publish a copyright version without the supplementation so it is clear that Hapgood did not approve of such additions.

In the 1890s Henry L Williams released a translation. This translation could almost be considered an adaptation. Williams specialised in cheap dime novels and his translation (if he did actually translate it himself) is a dumbed down and heavily abridged version issued to cater for the "lower end" of the market. His translation is called "The Outcasts".

The early years of the post war era was mainly filled with adaptations and abridgments of Wilbour's text (a famous abridgment by James K Robinson reduced Wilbour's text to under 400 pages). Norman Denny was the first person to offer a new translation in the Twentieth Century. This is the most common version available in the UK, released in 1976 by Folio Press (with bizarre illustrations) and by Penguin as a paperback in 1980. Highly readable but Denny takes great liberties with Hugo's text and a lot of material is omitted. Two sections are moved to the end of the book as appendixes. Penguin continues to print this but thankfully they have now released this superior translation by Christine Donougher.

Finally in 2008 an unabridged translation by Julie Rose was released by The Modern Library in the US and Vintage in the UK. The main criticism of this translation is that the vocabulary is very modern and at times feels awkward. For instance Rose uses the term "slimy spook" to describe Javert in one section. I have never heard this term before and I cannot imagine it being a good translation of the French term Mouchard. I do respect Rose for translating such a difficult text. Her translation just didn't click with me.

So now we come to the new translation by Christine Donougher. So why is this translation superior to the others? It is complete and unabridged, unlike Denny, Wraxall and Hapgood. It doesn't feel like the language has been dumbed down, unlike Rose. It has excellent notes and footnotes, unlike Wilbour and the updated versions of his text. The text flows well. I would say the closest translation to Donougher in terms of style is probably Hapgood. It is certainly as readable as say Denny.

The introduction, translation notes and timeline are fascinating. I think the publishers made the right decision in choosing Robert Tombs, a history Professor, to write the introduction rather than say a English Lit Professor. This means we have a greater emphasis on the historical aspects of the novel. Donougher's notes on the translation are quite interesting, especially how she dealt with Hugo's discussion of slang. The timeline is a lot more detailed than the ones given in previous translations and offers a wonderful overview on the life of Victor Hugo. The notes section at the end of the book is excellent and helps give the context to many scenes in the novel. My only complaint would be that the notes at the end of the book should reference which page number the note relates to.

Apologies for the extended essay. In summary Christine Donougher's translation of Les Misérables is the best version available in English and I would advise all fans of the novel to buy it. Well done to Penguin for publishing this splendid edition.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2005
Yes, it is that good. It is the most powerful and beautifully written novel that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. It takes devotion to read it, but it's worth it in the end. When I turned the last page, I cried because there was no more. Then I had to just hold it for a little while. A book like this can not be simply returned to a shelf. You need to hold it and think about it. It's rare that a book will ever receive THAT kind of reaction from a person.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2007
This is one of the most amazing stories I have ever read. I loved the musical and wanted the rest of the story. I wanted the unabridged version, but got this one as a gift. GREAT story--and well worth the read--but this abridgement is too severe in my view. I felt like too many chunks of the story were missing and left unexplained.

I recently bought another abridged (but still 880 pages) version (actually the Barnes & Noble version) and that one is just about right. Whatever they cut, I didn't miss (and there were still a few segments I could have skipped over).

So if you want to experience the real Les Miserables and see what all of the fuss is about, I would skip this version and get a less severe abridgement or, if you dare, an unabridged version.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
I'm glad to see so many young people drawn to the book via the musical or the movie versions. If there were one writer I would want to know on a personal basis via his work it would have been Victor Hugo. He must have had an enormously generous heart and spirit as evidenced by his writing. This is probably the most sympathetic, almost God-like perspective of humanity that I have ever come across in literature. And what a sweeping cyclorama Hugo portrays. From the fields of Waterloo to the sewers of Paris, Hugo's eye of god sees everything. The Waterloo passages are often discarded in the abridgements, but to me they play an important part in allowing the reader to pull back and look at things from this god-like point-of-view. The great panoramic macrocosm of history is seen in conjunction with the vivid details of Jean Valjean's microcosmic struggle. Of course the characters, which I thought were rather cleverly encapsulated in the musical, are here given their true range and scope. That Hugo loved these characters is abundantly clear. This love is absorbed by the reader. Every time Jabert comes close to capturing Jean, it is as if we were in Jean's shoes. Hugo far outshines Dickens in his depiction of lower class existence in a 19th century European city. His Paris is inhabited by much more convincing urchins. All his characters in fact, are much more believable. Dickens is much more overtly sentimental. Hugo lets the story affect the reader. There is no sense of straining to convey an effect. With Dickens, I am always aware of the puppetmaster straining to get a point across. He is a polemical writer compared to Hugo. He relies on heavy-handed bathos. Hugo remains much more in the background and we are left essentially unaware of his machinations. That's why, for me, I respond more viscerally to Hugo as I respond more depply to great art in general. My primary appeal to readers is that they don't do Hugo the disservice of reading an abridged version of this novel. You may not be all that interested in the causes behind the rebellion that led to Marius's mounting of the barricade, but I assure you you will not be bored by the lengthier version. Great writers don't waste their time on superfluous details. Every word is there for a reason. Let the Master of the House display his wares in full.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2006
My two favorite classics of all time are Les Miserables and The Brothers Karamazov. Interestingly, I've read that Fyodor Dostoevsky was a great admirer of Victor Hugo and of Les Miserables in particular. To me, what these two authors have in common is the profound psychological and spiritual insight found in their work. Les Miserables, for instance, is the most heartbreaking but uplifting story I've ever read, and the life of Jean Valjean is the most inspiring I've ever encountered in fiction. That's why, to be honest, I prefer a good abridgment to the unabridged version: because the story of Jean Valjean comes into much clearer focus. Both versions are incredible, and I'd recommend reading the unabridged version to start with, but for me it's all about Valjean, about the love he shows, the sacrifices he makes, and his overwhelming gratitude toward God. I doubt I'll ever read another piece of fiction more moving and emotional than the final scenes of this book. Highly recommended.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 1998
I am a different man after reading this book. I hope to give more freely to those less fortunate. It's kind of silly to feel so profoundly about fictional characters, but I learned about love, courage, mercy, and justice from this book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2010
I actually purchased the Barnes and Noble Classic Version which had almost 900 pages and me being only 14 said, "Ok, I'll buy that one," because even though it was abridged it couldn't possibly be that abridged. But, when I got my package today, THIS one came and I was shocked to only see 400 pages and I was very dissapointed. Immediately i turned to the front pages and seen that the chapters were named differently it was large print in a way, and it left out the whole part about the Bishop of Digne, which is just repulsive, and i couldn't believe they did that. So beware because this one really chops up Victor Hugo's work, and i wouldn't even waste your time with this one!
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2006
As close to flawless as you could come, no other author can match the storytelling and characterisation. Describes a turbulent period in France, with incredible political and social commentary. Hugo's monumental work explores many themes i.e. why the Restoration was a backward step, the difference between a revolution and a riot; he describes many life's experiences and emotions: the myriad ways people can fall between the cracks into destitution (Fantine, Montepercy); one of the greatest descriptions of falling in love (Marius and Cosette) and how it feels to be in love, the greatest description of a battle (Waterloo), the desperation of a convict (reminds of Henry Charrier -Papillon), the making of men (Marius), unbounding heroism and selflessness(Eponine, Jean Valjean); explores patience, loss, asceticism, rebellion, fulfillment, nationalism, the administation of justice and the overriding theme is CONSCIENCE. I read this and then discovered that Hugo's own daughter lived in Barbados for a number of years living 'on the edge' of destitution. Small world.
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