Les Miserables: Nearly nine months in

I’ve been reading a chapter a day (on average) of Les Miserables for almost nine months now. In this quarter, the big new development has been the love story of Cosette and Marius. A prime example of the Idealized Romance in its most passionately unrealistic form, this reminded me of some psychological texts I’ve been reading lately which argue that the modern, western concept of romantic love is a deflection of what used to be found in religious practice and ritual. The beloved becomes a projection of the divine, an impossibly perfect vessel for all that the lover is longing for but cannot find in earthly life.

This is obviously unsustainable in reality, since we are in fact imperfect human beings, and the supreme spiritual activity of loving needs to fit itself to our fragile, limited natures. Fictional lovers often have a hard time understanding this, though, and tragedy often results.

The novel began with a portrait of a highly developed student of the spirit, the Bishop, whose gift of love to Jean Valjean set this long journey in motion. Now in the pair of young lovers, contrasted with the cruel, duplicitous Thenardiers, a new kind of love is challenged to come to maturity. How will their high ideals play out in a world full of evil, suffering, and death? That’s what I’m looking to find out in the next three months.

In the meantime, Hugo has provided us with some beautiful quotations about love (as translated by Julie Rose), which we can ponder as the story comes to a conclusion.

“God is behind all things, but all things hide God. Things are black, human beings opaque. To love someone is to make them transparent.”
“The future belongs even more to hearts than to minds. Loving is the only thing that can occupy and fill eternity. The infinite requires the inexhaustible.”
“Woe, alas! to whoever has loved only bodies, forms, appearances! Death will take everything from him. Try to love souls, and you will find them again.”

Are there books you have outgrown?

This question follows on from last month’s about rereading. As I grow older and reread some of my former favorites, I find that some of them have lost their luster. What formerly seemed so powerful and full of insight now shows its limitations. I might find it poorly written, or full of holes and inconsistencies I never noticed before, or simply uninspiring.

Is this due to age, or experience, or changing tastes? In what does the magic reside, and why does it sometimes flee?

I would hesitate to say it’s because I’ve become so much more wise and mature myself, and that anyone who adores these books must be on a lower level of literary appreciation. It’s more that some alchemical process has changed … some element has shifted in me and no longer wakens the corresponding reaction in the book.

If that reaction still occurs for other readers — fantastic! It was real for me the first time, and I’m glad it’s real for you.

But it leaves me a little sad, and longing for that wonderful, transcendent experience I once had. Fortunately, there are still so many books to discover and fall in love with, all over again. I hope I will never outgrow that.

Are there books you seem to have left behind, as you have changed and grown through life? Can you say what makes you feel that way?

Month in Review: August 2018

Things continued to be intense this month and I just didn’t have much time for reading. It’s one of those times when I have several books going but haven’t completed most of them…

I did manage to fit in rereads of some of my all-time favorites. Some of these are going to be part of the upcoming Witch Week celebration, this year hosted by Calmgrove and Lizzie Ross, and I’m very excited about the whole program. Watch for more details coming soon!

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Reviews

Other Books Read

  • The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope – Reread
  • A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin – Reread
  • The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson – Around the World
  • What’s Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies – Reread

Other Features and Events

 

Shared in the Sunday Post hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer, the Month in Review linkup at The Book Date, and the Monthly Wrap-up Round-up hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction