Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Remembering Les Miserables

I watched the 25th anniversary concert of "Les Miserables" on public television this weekend.

It still captures something deep in me. I am still as enthralled, moved, inspired, as I was the first time I saw the black and white version on television.

I was thirteen at the time, and my mother watched the Sunday afternoon matinée every week. I think I must have identified with Cosette and her isolated life. I'm sure I dreamed of someone like Marius who would open the world to me. But the scene that remained in my mind for years afterward was Javert throwing himself into the Seine.

I couldn't have told you then what it was about that scene that lodged so deeply in me. I don't think I understood the drastic difference between living under the law and living in grace, but I did know how it felt to be afraid to do anything for fear of being wrong or doing something wrong. I was raised to be obedient to a fault.

I was a junior in high school when I discovered Victor Hugo and realized that Les Miserables was a book. It took me a while, but I waded through all the French history for the amazing story Hugo told.

The copy I read looked something like this one. I own several other old copies/translations now, and still go back and wade through the politics occasionally.

And of course, then there was "Les Mis." I saw it at the Fox Theater in Atlanta (where "Gone With the Wind" was released) a few years after it debuted. And once more in Mobile. It always moves me to tears.
Hugo was an amazing writer. He was a Romantic in an age when French Classicists ruled the literary scene and had the power to sensor words they didn't consider Classic.

Hugo deliberately antagonized them. If he couldn't find the right word, he invented one, something that just wasn't done by the French Classicists. His plays and poetry demanded freedom for the artists of the world, but he was paid by the king. Eventually he had enough and refused the stipend. Not long after that he moved his family to the Isle of Guernsey in England to avoid being arrested. He wrote Les Miserables there. It had been thirty years since he wrote "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," his only other novel.

I love the concept of living in grace that Jean Valjean embodies. I'm not sure how Hugo's life reflected it, I've never read a biography of him. Maybe that's something I'll put on my "to read" list. But he certainly never let himself be bottled in by the sensors, the literary legalists, of the day.

For me, as a writer, I think living in grace for myself means allowing myself to struggle, to fail, to begin again, while not allowing myself to remain there. Always moving forward, always working toward honing my craft, yet being patient with myself, too.

In her post last Poetry Friday at A Year of Reading, Mary Lee called it approximation, as opposed to perfection. That's a good description for it, I think.

So this week I'm wishing you grace for where you are. Peace in the process, whether it's a manuscript or just life in general.

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