April 14, 2015

#04-005: Victor Hugo, Author of Les Miz

black-and-white photo of a man with a white beard and hair wearing a bow tie, vest, and coat
Victor Hugo

Note: From miserable Jean Valjean to the pathetic hunchback Quasimodo, Victor Hugo peopled his beloved Paris with anti-heroes we still love and admire today.

Get Ready: Is it possible for the setting of a book--in Hugo's case, the city of Paris--to become as important as any of the characters? Try to think of some examples.

French author Victor Hugo (1802-1885) was just twenty years older than the scientist Louis Pasteur. He is considered one of the greatest writers in the French language. 

When Hugo was a boy, his father governed provinces in Italy and Spain, under the administration of Napoleon. The boy learned much through travel. In mid-life, he spent 15 years living in exile, returning a national hero. As he entered his 80th year, Paris celebrated by holding a six-hour parade past his house, and the street he lived on was renamed in his honor.

Though best known as a poet in his native French, two of his novels are his best-known works to readers of English.

In recent years, one of these has been made into a musical play and later a movie. This is, of course, Les Miserables. The play and the film focus on the main plot of the novel, the pursuit of former prisoner Jean Valjean by the dogged police inspector Javert.

The novel is far more complex than this simple story, made up of some 1900 pages in French. In addition to Jean Valjean, there are the poor factory worker Fantine and her equally unfortunate daughter Cosette; Cosette's radical student boyfriend Marius Pontmercy and his fellow revolutionaries; Cosette's abusive foster family the Thénardiers, whose daughter Éponine is in love with Marius; and the kindly old Bishop of Digne, who contributes to Valjean's redemption.

This is a complex, mature novel, published when Hugo was around 60 years old. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (French title Notre-Dame de Paris) was the work of a much younger man, less than 30 years old. Its narrative is more straightforward, and its plot more romantic.

The hunchback Quasimodo lives in Notre Dame Cathedral under the protection of a priest named Frollo. Like many men, Quasimodo and Frollo love the Gypsy girl Esmerelda, as does an army captain named Phoebus.

Frollo later attempts to kill Phoebus, and Esmerelda is charged with the crime. Quasimodo saves her, but eventually she is captured and hanged. Frollo laughs at her misfortune, and, seeing this, Quasimodo pushes Frollo off a high place in the cathedral to his death. 

Quasimodo then stays by Esmerelda's grave until he dies of starvation, and their mingled bones are turned to dust.

Victor Hugo himself is buried in the Pantheon, a place of honor; and his face has been used on French currency.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Hugo

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. abusive
  2. dogged
  3. foster family
  4. Gypsy
  5. hunchback
  6. mingled
  7. misfortune
  8. radical
  9. revolutionaries
  10. starvation

  1. mixed together
  2. member of a wandering ethnic group, properly called Romani
  3. people rebelling against the government
  4. person with a bent spine
  5. relentless; never-stopping
  6. politically extreme
  7. severe hunger
  8. problem; bad luck
  9. people who raise a child who is not their own
  10. treating someone harshly

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 14, 2015

This lesson received 3 visits on my old site between April, 2016, and August, 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. j; 2. e; 3. i; 4. b; 5. d; 6. a; 7. h; 8. f; 9. c; 10. g