Revisiting Les Misérables


I’m making a valiant effort to thin out my very thick personal library. Like any parting, there is grief, but I’m choosing instead to grip the joy and gratitude I’ve garnered from my books. When I picked up this 1232 page brick I faced the glacial reality that I would never read all the words again.

The next best thing was to read the bits I’d underlined in neat pencil.


Because I’m a wee bit obsessive about my books, I knew I had to copy those adored sentences into my commonplace book.


Two long road trips, several shorter drives, the odd minutes gleaned here and there… and I’ve added 30 pages to my journal of quotes from Les Misérables. All the joy, people. All the joy/grief/delight/disgust/admiration of this magnum opus comes flooding back.


It was the next best thing to reading every word. And so many quotes!




One thing remains. Giving this book a good home. A place where it can sit on a shelf, get a few loving glances with the whispered promise to read it sometime.


If my penciled copy of Hugo’s masterpiece sounds like something you want (free), leave a comment. In a week I’ll make a decision where it goes and mail/hand it to that person. Otherwise I’ll donate it.


Les Misérables, Quotes from Part 3, Marius


There are some great quotes about child raising in this section, some heart-wrenching. We are introduced to Gavroche, one of the most winsome characters in literature. Also some great thoughts on work/contemplation/sloth. Any bibliophile will love the charming Monsieur Mabeuf, a man who describes himself not as a royalist, a Bonapartis, or an anarchist—simply as a book-ist.

Give a youngster what is superfluous,
deprive him of what is needful,
and you have an urchin.

All monarchy is in the stroller,
all anarchy in the urchin.

To wander in contemplation,
that is to say, loiter,
is for a philosopher an excellent way
of passing the time.

He was one of those children who are most to be pitied,
those who possess parents but are still orphans.

…hypochondriacs…who spend their life dying…

Nothing so resembles an awakening as a return.

He knew Italian, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew,
but the four languages served him
for the reading of only four poets,
Dante, Juvenal, Aeschylus, and Isaiah.

To err is human,
to stroll is Parisian.

He was always down to his last penny,
but never to his last laugh.

‘Peace,’ said Joly, ‘is happiness in process of digestion.’

Old people need love as they need sunshine; it is warmth.

He never left home without a book under his arm,
and often came back with two.


Les Misérables, Quotes from Part One: Fantine


It’s been three weeks since I’ve finished Les Misérables. It is so enormous, that I find myself intimidated. I decided to break my responses into bits. One post will be Great Quotes from the Boring Parts; another post on Words I Learned from Les Miz; another, perhaps, on Problems with Hugo’s Theology. After those, I might gird myself with courage and write my response to this masterpiece.

For now, however, I will just shower you with favorite quotes from Part One: Fantine. Read them and you may be drawn to the source. Or not.

…in the remaining time he (Monseigneur Myriel) worked. That is to say, he dug his garden or read and wrote, and for him both kinds of work bore the same name; both he called gardening. ‘The spirit is a garden,’ he said.  P. 33 [Garden, read and write: a life I could love]

The devil may visit us, but God lives here.  p.47 [a great distinction]

With the admirable delicacy of instinct they knew that some forms of solicitude can be an encumbrance. p. 48 [Isn’t this profound? And so true?]

There are men who dig for gold; he dug for compassion. p. 69 [Monseignor Bienvenu: my favorite character. Name means well + come]

The priest’s forgiveness was the most formidable assault he had ever sustained; p. 116 [forgiveness = assault: intriguing]

She worked in order to live, and presently fell in love, also in order to live, for the heart, too, has its hunger. p.125

Gluttony punished the glutton. Indigestion was designed by God to impose morality on stomachs. p. 136 [Ouch!]

…with the chaste indecency of childhood, displayed a stretch of bare stomach. p. 145 [chaste indecency: another glorious paradox]

‘What’s your little girl’s name?’ ‘Cosette.’ In fact, it was Euphrasie, but the mother turned it into Cosette by the use of that touching alchemy of simple people which transforms Josef into Pepita and Françoise into Silette. It is a kind of linguistics which baffles the etymologist. We once knew a grandmother who contrived to turn Theodore into Gnon. p. 149 [Laugh out loud delight!]

The supreme happiness in life is the assurance of being loved; of being loved for oneself, even in spite of oneself… p. 162

He [Javert] possessed the conscience appropriate to his function, and his duties were his religion; he was a spy in the way that other men are priests.  p. 166 [a chilling comparison]

Curiosity is a form of gluttony: to see is to devour. p. 183 [Guilty as charged]

God moves the soul as He moves the oceans. p.213