“A faith is a necessity to a man. Woe to him who believes in nothing.”
“A great artist is a great man in a great child.”
Who can say why some works of art endure, why their roots are so strong that they give birth again and again to new versions of themselves? Les Miserables by Victor Hugo was published in 1862 and was a huge commercial success, though the novel was roundly panned by some of France’s most distinguished writers.
The title alone has been interpreted in many ways: The Wretched, The Miserable, The Poor Ones, The Wretched Poor, The Victims. The original story is sprawling: the French version is 1900 pages. Yet somehow, out of this epic novel, with its unforgettable cast of characters and improbable plot, an amazing musical was born. A global hit currently in its 27th year, Les Mis, as it’s affectionately known, has been seen by a staggering 60 million people in 42 countries in 21 languages — and shows no sign of fading away.
Now, this timeless story is being reinterpreted once again, this time as a blockbuster movie musical being directed by Tom Hooper, the Oscar-winning director of The King’s Speech.
Who better to explain this story’s timeless appeal than the author himself? Here’s what our boy Victor said in the preface to his novel:
“So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”
Now that’s writing dangerously. Bravo, Victor!