Hats off to Hugo! Last night was the finale of a new mini-series of Les Miserables and it was riveting. I’m a huge fan of this story and once again, I’m amazed by Victor Hugo’s virtuoso performance. What an immortal storyteller he is — and how dangerously he wrote! He wasn’t afraid to tackle big themes, big conflicts, big problems: Poverty, war and its aftermath, greed, redemption – he takes them all on with gusto.
What a story! What a plot! And what memorable, fate-colliding characters he creates: Fantine, the young, fallen mother; Jean Val Jean, the tortured thief; Javert, his relentless pursuer; Cosette, a sweet innocent; and a money-mad ex soldier. Then there’s the kindly priest who sets Jean on the rocky road to redemption. Hugo lavishes many pages of ink in describing him in his novel. The priest’s story is reduced to to an inciting incident in the film, TV, and stage versions of Hugo’s tale, yet you still feel the power of his belief and the ripple effect of its influence.
All these characters all leap from the page to the stage to the screen – easily making the transition form one medium to another because of the vibrant characters Hugo creates.And the plot – what twists and turns it takes! How masterfully Hugo weaves together his story and has his characters collide and conflict again and again as it builds to climax.
I can just imagine the author standing before a wall in his villa looking at massive pieces of paper he’s bought from a butcher and tacked up so he can map out the way his massive saga unfolds. Mmmm – this is all just fanciful on my part, but He must have done some heavy plotting somehow to keep all the threads to his complex story straight.
Somehow, he keeps it all going and makes it believable. There’s a stong sense of fate and inevitability as there is in Hardy, and Hugo resorts to the same kind of coincidences that pepper Dickens’ novels. In his deft hands, these tools, which could seem clumsy and lead-footed, somehow seem to work.
But in the end, after all the themes are laid out and played out, after the characters battle each other and manage to survive, some battered, some beaten, what do we have? What’s the beating heart of the story? Love. The power of the old priest’s love of God and of a flawed, broken man. Love. The power of a young, desperate mother’s love for her daughter. Love. The power of the priest’s love to redeem Jean and free him to love an innocent child and save her. Love. The power of that innocent child to give Jean a sense of family and someone to protect and care for.
What a masterful writer Hugo is! Little wonder that his story has endured and been told and retold. Let’s bring his same passion and precision to the page as we all write on!
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