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Les Miserables (Signet Classics) Mass Market Paperback – October 1, 2013
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“Hugo's genius was for the creation of simple and recognizable myth. The huge success of Les Misérables as a didactic work on behalf of the poor and oppressed is due to his poetic and myth-enlarged view of human nature.”—V. S. Pritchett
About the Author
Victor Hugo (1802–1885) was the son of a high-ranking officer in Napoleon Bonaparte’s Grand Army. A man of literature and politics, he participated in vast changes as France careened back and forth between empire and more democratic forms of government. As a young man in Paris, he became well-known and sometimes notorious for his poetry, fiction, and plays. In 1845, the year that he began writing his masterwork, Les Misérables, the king made him a peer of France, with a seat in the upper legislative body. There he advocated universal free education, general suffrage, and the abolition of capital punishment. When an uprising in 1848 ushered in a republic, he stopped writing Les Misérables and concentrated on politics. But in 1851, when the president proclaimed himself emperor, Hugo’s opposition forced him into a long exile on the British Channel Islands. There, in 1860, he resumed work on Les Misérables, finishing it the next year. With the downfall of the emperor in 1870, Hugo returned to France, where he received a hero’s welcome as a champion of democracy. At his death in 1885, two million people lined the streets of Paris as his coffin was borne to the Pantheon. There he was laid to rest with every honor the French nation could bestow.
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A number of interviews with Rose are available online, in which she discusses her work, and her work on this novel. The novel has a lengthy and detailed Translator's Preface, in which she discusses the novel, the translation process, and her approach to it. You also can find online some independent articles about this translation.
The great translator of Spanish language literature, Edith Grossman, said:
"I can't say what makes a book translatable, but I do think that all texts can be translated. The question of whether or not a work is "translatable" stems from a mistaken and widely held notion that a translation is really a one-for-one set of equivalences with the original--a straightforward lexical problem--when in fact it is a rewriting of the first text. Some, of course, are immensely difficult (they're usually just as difficult in the original) and challenge the translator's sensitivity to nuance, levels of meaning, and artistic impact in both languages. I see my work as translating meaning, not words."
Rose has spoken similarly about her work.
"I think the essential difference is that...and I'm not saying that translators always have to do this, there are reasons for departing a little bit further from a writer's text where it just won't work in English. I found on the contrary what really worked better in English was to follow Hugo much more closely than anyone else seems to have done. So I've actually followed his syntax as closely as possible, I've followed the rhythm of his sentences and I've actually broken it up the way he has and stuck more closely to what he says." -- Julie Rose, interview, 2009
She's translated more than thirty French works into English -- plays, poetry, novels, genre fiction. She worked on Les Miserables for three years. She has been awarded three international prizes for her translations. I'm willing to take the leap of faith -- she is "fluent in French." I recommend others accept the facts in plain sight, and do likewise.
I stopped reading works in translation in the early 1980s, and didn't start up again until around 2005. The reason I stopped was that I concluded that I could not hear the author's voice in the translated work. The reason I started again was that Rose, Grossman, and some others showed that they understood this challenge, accepted it, and that it is possible to capture the author's voice in a translation, by actually listening to the author's intent.
According to one account, the Rose translation is almost 100,000 words longer than the 1976 Denny "translation" -- that's how much material he excised from the novel to "improve it." Denny, in fact, is on record as saying that Victor Hugo was a terrible writer, and needed some "tidying up." If you're just looking to pad your reading CV with another of the "great books," then it doesn't matter which one you read. Might as well go with a shorter one. If you're looking to read the translation of Les Mis, that will make you feel like you are reading the original, hearing Victor Hugo's voice, then pick up Rose's translation.
I always liked the musical, but had never thought that I would like the book just as much. Two months later I can go back to riding the subway without having a les mis song stuck in my head from reading this book.
In Les Miserables it is possible to find merged various aspects related to France at the turn of the 19th century, on one hand the political events related to the internal strife between Napoleonic and forces loyal to the Monarchy and on the other the social economic situation of the French society at that time.
The story was divided into 5 great sections, that can be read together in one unabridged book or separated, as all of them are linked by the main character, Jean Valjean, the former starving poor convict, turned into an affluent righteous man, who happens to adopt and raise a ravenous little girl, Cosette (the destitute), who had been given up for adoption by her dirt-poor mother to a ruthless, devious couple
Even though very long, almost 1500 pages (I am referring to the unabriged version), the story runs smoothly, without bumps, and puts its focus in two historical events, one, the battle of Waterloo and the other the barricades, erected in Paris during the uprising generated in the French revolution, in these two events too many unnecessary details are uncovered, and I just have found this a little boring. Fortunately this is less than 10 % percent of the unabridged version.
To make up for that, the author, has deftly developed an array of very colorful characters of different social classes who represent the society of France of that time.
The end does not disappoint, however, the novel was not planned to makee the reader craving for the resolution of the ending but for making him delve on the events, and situations, in order to find the scattered rich gems of wisdom, the author, dropped in most of the chapters and to learn a bit about the French History
Victor Hugo, showed that he despised the explotaition of the destitute and the poor masses by the rich and also that exercised a powerful ethical thinking coupled with a deep religious conviction.