“LES MISERABLE” VERSUS “LESS MISERABLE” — Marilyn Armstrong

“Les Miserables” is coming to Boston. I know this because the advertisement for it is on TV every few minutes. I read the book originally in French, back when I could actually read French and sort of mumble in French if forced.

I never spoke the language well, but I could read surprisingly well. However, I have to admit that “Les Miserables” was very long and frankly, I just didn’t understand why whats-his-face, the detective didn’t just say “screw it” and go back to Paris. Buy a high-quality bottle of red and get bombed.

By the time I was nearing the end of the book I was sick of everybody and even though I don’t drink, I was ready to get bombed too.

Unlike most cop thrillers, no one got shot. No car chases. Okay, no cars, but how about horse and carriage chases? Or even people running fast? Something, please. A little action maybe?

Much less miserable!

So the other day with the advertisement reminding me that I should see the show — I didn’t see the play on Broadway or the movie. The book really did me in. I realized what we needed was an alternative to “Les Miz” titled “Less Miserable.”

It would be a book about thieves who are not all that miserable. They live comfortably in the suburbs of Paris. The real drama (which isn’t in the book, but is occasionally referred to) happens in court. Lawyers duking it out. Meanwhile, everyone adjourns to whatever they call a pub in France. I don’t think they taught us that word.

Much less miserable, don’t you think?

If I could write plays I’d enjoy writing “Less Miserable.” It would be a lot shorter than the original book and the police guy would give up after one long weekend. Why? Because his boss would object to so many overtime hours and tell him to pack it in.

Like real bosses do.

31 thoughts on ““LES MISERABLE” VERSUS “LESS MISERABLE” — Marilyn Armstrong

    • It IS depressing. I’m pretty sure that’s why it was called “Les Miserables.” It wasn’t supposed to be uplifting and … what a shock! … it isn’t. I think I dealt better with Russian literature because it was SO different from anything in my world, it was like reading books about living on Mars.

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  1. I think I’ve seen the musical about 7 or 8 times at this point, and watched the film over and over along the same number of times. Maybe I like it because I have a short attention span, so it’s somewhat new and fresh to me every time I see it and realize I’ve forget whole sections of the play.

    I’ve never read it. They got paid by the word, and ain’t nobody got enough time to wade through all those extra words ! (That being said, though, I went through a Dickens period in my teens and loved “A Tale of Two Cities”.

    As for Jabbert being a pain in the butt for chasing the criminal Jean ValJean, I have to mark that down to Jabbert’s reason for being, and his purpose in life deciding the fate of others, even though their only crime was a humane one – stealing food for people to eat.

    The scene in the musical where Jabbert obsesses over his purpose in life and reason for being and his unjust persecution of Jean ValJean to the point where he killed himself is one of my favorite rock arias (ballads?) to sing. While I’d never say Russell Crowe is a good singer, his acting ability brought a despair and pathos to his rendition of that song that still touches me, as did Anne Hathaway’s singing of “I dreamed a dream” as Fantine.

    Hugh Jackman, of course, gives proper anger to his role as Jean ValJean, just seeking a scrap of compassion and humanity in the world, and his efforts to make reparations to Cosette on behalf of the wrong he allowed to happen to her mother, Fantine, is so vibrant and honest in its faith that things can work out of one truly atones and tries to make reparations is exquisite (if one is allowed to use that word for male singing).

    While I know it’s a case of, to each his own, I’d recommend the musical any way I could get it even if I detest the whole french revolution middle section.

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  2. I tried reading the English version and it was tough to get through. I finally gave up. I did enjoy the musical, which I’ve seen twice, but not the movie. I’ve got the upcoming PBS mini-series queued up to be recorded on my DVR.

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  3. My grandfather read Les Miserable to his family every winter. I have the copy he read from (in English). They lived on the high plains of Montana, did not have electricity and yeah, I suppose they were “Plus Miserable” and maybe the book cheered them up (?). At least they weren’t galley slaves, right? As for me, I enjoyed the book so much I have refused to watch any of the musical derivations.

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  4. I love this, Marilyn! Thanks for making me laugh out loud. I admit I haven’t read Les Mis, but I don’t think I’ll bother now. I’ve never really fancied it, anyway. But your idea of Less Miserable is infinitely better! There’s got to be an opening for that… 🙂

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  5. An ‘off Broadway’ version came to Salt Lake some years ago (we boast a high quality theater). I admit to never wishing to see the play, nor read the book. And you’ve summed up WHY very nicely. The title sort of says it all…apparently people are MISERABLE. Well for depressives? That’s sort of like bringing coals to Newcastle, a saying I admit I don’t fully understand. I can make my own “Les Miserable” in real life, so why pay for the privilege of watching others ‘enjoying’ their own? And your play? Sounds lovely. Get writing! 😉

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    • There’s that. I’m not enthusiastic about watching human misery and tend to avoid anything that’s likely too “down” for me. Fortunately, Garry shares my tastes which is why we went to the movies and watched Dumbo — and liked it. If Mel Brooks was still working, HE could make a great version of Less Miserable. Alas, but he’s well into his 90s. Oh well. Next lifetime.

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  6. I thought I was the only one who found it boring! I also threw “Catcher in the Rye” across the room, fed up with the self-indulgence. Those are the only two “classics” that this English teacher can’t stand and won’t teach.
    Give me a “Cat’s Cradle” or “The Great Gatsby” or “Catch 22” or “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” and I’m a happy camper.

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    • To be fair, I’m ALSO not a fan of Jane Austin. The stilted relationships alone would have done me in, but Pride & Prejudice wound up in the beaver pond in front of my high school and Garry, also not an Austin fan, won’t watch ANY of the movies made from her books. I thought “Catcher” was also really self-indulgent and often, just silly. “The Great Gatsby” has grown over the years. I liked it when I first read it, but I like it a lot more now. But I’ve also read all the rest of Fitzgerald by now, too and a few biographies, so I read him with much more of a sense of the times and context and that matters.

      On the other hand, no people in MY world were EVER in the Austin universe. Not even as servants.

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    • How about “Ullysses”?? I couldn’t fathom and never, ever claimed to have read that tome. Bring me the head of James Joyce!

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  7. A teacher read this to us in class (can’t remember what year or how old I was). He read a bit each day. I was transfixed. Loved it. Incredibly the most powerful scene for me – even from the reading – was when the priest tells the cops that Jean did not steal the stuff from the church – and gives him 2 more silver candlesticks. This singular act of charity changes and mercy transforms him.
    Victor Hugo. Yeah!! GO VICTOR!!!

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