Monday, March 12, 2012

Soup or Salad? A Boxing Match between Hugo and Dickens. :)

I have only about 500 pages of Les Miserables left, which means I am just about 2/3 of the way through that elephantine book. It has been an Olympian task, I will admit, reading this 1463-page giant! I am not finished, of course, but I have found it to be a great stimulant to my mind. It demands me to think.

Think? The nerve!

I am reading the un-abridged version and I will admit that I know why they abridge the book. You see, Victor Hugo, in my opinion, did not decide whether he was writing a book of essays or a novel. Indeed, if you summed up all his dissertations on Waterloo, Napoleon, Convents, Bishops, the Parisian gamin, young love, beauty, guilt, prison, poverty, and everything else, you would find that bit far heavier in page-weight than the actual plot.
This, of course, got me to thinking--if Les Miserables was intended to be a social commentary (as I can only assume it was) what possessed Victor Hugo to write a novel? Okay. Let me first explain myself. I am a Dickens-girl. Every one of Charles Dickens' books are loaded with political, social, and occasionally spiritual commentaries and parallels. They can only be classified as Social Commentaries. So what is the difference between Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens?

Hugo--what a comely old bird!

Dickens--hair brilliantly askew. ;)

The difference is this:
                Victor Hugo made a salad, Charles Dickens made a brew.
               Victor chopped his words up coarsely, Charles stirred and stirred his stew.
               Flavors sep'rate, flavors mingled; both a mighty turn of phrase,
                But the stew will go down quicker--Hugo puts me in a daze.

Ahem. Forgive the lapse into poetry. :P That little ditty is the definition of these two authors in my opinion. Victor Hugo, while an amazing author, bewilders me with his constant division. He carries the plot for a few pages, then casts it aside while he lectures. You almost begin to wonder if his characters serve only as lackeys to carry his social-dissertations. I like his lectures. I like his plot. But in my opinion, he did rather a careless, clumsy job of mingling the two.

Charles Dickens, on the other hand, took his social ideas, his morals, his lectures, and mixed them into his plot and characters so seamlessly that, to speak childishly, "You can't find the pill amongst the jam." I have seldom felt the weariness in reading Dickens that I feel in finding myself at the brink of yet another 30-page ramble through a random history with Victor Hugo for an overly-zealous guide.
Now, please understand that I am not hacking on Les Miserables--I am actually enjoying the book and I will do a review once I am finished. I am merely commenting on Victor Hugo's style and the way he executed all the brilliant things kerbobbling around his mind.
I think it's a case of two men, one who loved his country best, the other his people. Victor Hugo's beloved is France--the country--and though he loves the people, his patriotism outshines his plot. Charles Dickens loved his people--social commentary comes through because he cared about what was happening to his countrymen and wished to set things right. Both men have noble motives--both are fabulous authors.

I suppose you just have to decide on a given day whether you'd rather have a salad or a bowl of soup. :)


Miss Dashwood said...

By George, she's GOT it! Wow, Rachel, this so perfectly described my feelings about Victor Hugo. Why all the lecturing??

I read an 800-page condensed version of Les Miz with all the lecturing cut out, but I can see how annoying it would be because I read bits and pieces of the unabridged one, too (planning to tackle the whole thing this summer).

I love how Dickens addresses people. Me, I'm a people person much more than a patriotic person, so Dickens' characters appeal to me tremendously. However, Hugo's characters are pretty doggone amazing too.

You know, Jane Austen did a lot of social commentary too, but she was a lot more subtle about it... now there's an author with beautifully drawn characters, another people person!

Also, I usually prefer salad to soup. Had to throw that in there. ;-)

Miss Dashwood said...

Haha, and when I said "why all the lecturing??" I was referring to Hugo. Not you. :D Just wanted to make sure that was clear...

Anne-girl said...

Delicious poetry!

Rhoswen Faerie Wrose said...

Oh dear... I have Les Mis on my to read fact, I have a copy of it in my NOOK waiting for me, and I have no idea if it is an abridged or un-abridged version. It is a B&N Classics one...who knows which way it will be.

I like your comparison and contrast, though. It is quite a way to put in understandably. Personally, I think I would drift more towards Dickens, but I'm willing to give Hugo that try, too. ;-)

Love the Olive Garden pic. ;-)

Unknown said...

Soup for me please! :) Dickens all the way!!