“Les Miserables” was not the first book I loved, but it is the book I’ve loved the longest.
Victor Hugo’s writing frequently is intimidating; he uses sometimes page-length sentences and digressions (that sometimes end up mattering in the big picture but other times seem not to), and it can be very easy to get lost. “Les Miserables” takes place on a large scope in terms of setting, time, and, of course, the physical length of the novel as a thing that a person picks up and engages with. There’s a reason why the book is referred to (affectionately) as the “Brick.”
I find it difficult to explain what exactly it is about “Les Miserables” that means so much to me as a reader and as a person in general. It is easier for me to rely on Upton Sinclair’s preface to the book, when he states that “So long as there shall exist…a social condemnation, which…artificially creates hell on earth…so long as the three problems of age…are not solved…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.”
Books like “Les Miserables” are not pleasant to read, but they are necessary. They remind us what it is to be human, and what it is to feel sympathy for our fellow man. They remind us that it is our job to make the world better for tomorrow, even if we may not be around to immediately feel the difference ourselves.
Today is what some people refer to as “Barricade Day,” referring specifically to the June Rebellion that appears in “Les Miserables,” led by the student group Les Amis de l’ABC.
Today more than ever, we should focus on reading and engaging with literature and media that remind us to strive towards social progress. We shouldn’t let our politics be motivated by pettiness or hatred; we should be striving to uplift our fellow man. Unfortunately, sometimes it is easier to convince people that they should care about other people through literature than through the actual events that are happening around them, but if that is what it takes, then we should continue reading. We should continue to look for the books like “Les Miserables.”