I was destined to fall in love with Les Misérables.
On June 5th, 1987, my (very young) parents had tickets to see the musical on Broadway. They went for Chinese food first. My mother’s feet swelled up from the salt, and she had to wear her father’s shoes home; my grandfather, fastidious and always expertly coiffed, had to walk home in (what I’m sure were beautiful, definitely identical) socks. A few hours later, I decided that that last rendition of “One Day More” was worth being born over. (In a slightly ironic turn of events which I doubt my mother found funny, given the circumstances, I did wait “one day more” — 23 hours, to be exact — to actually make my appearance.)
Many who have seen the play are under the false impression — I do hope that since seeing the movie, they’ve changed their proverbial tunes — that Les Misérables tells the story of the French Revolution, which it does not. As I’ve come to begin saying during my walking tours of Paris, and I quote, “Paris during the 18th and 19th centuries was wrought with revolution. 1789, 1830, 1831, 1832, 1848, at which point, Napoleon the Third said… enough is enough!”
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The French Revolution with a capital R is the one with Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI and lots of people losing their heads, literally and figuratively. By the time General Lamarque — and the fictional Enjolras, Marius (who, by the way, was a big Napoleon fan before meeting up with his new buddies), and Gavroche — came along, these particular royals were long dead.. by about 40 years or so. That’s pretty much akin to confusing the Vietnam War with the Iraq War, for a frame of reference. What our friends of the A B C Café (A B C, by the way, is meant to be a calembour; it sounds like abaissé – oppressed [OK, OK, I'm done.]) were fighting was not the French Revolution or really a revolution at all. Their particular battle was the June Rebellion… which brings me to my point.
The June Rebellion happened between June 5th and June 7th, 1832.
Maybe that’s not so exciting to most, but it was fairly exciting to me when, two years ago, after having embarked on my first thesis (the subject of which was selected completely by accident, but that’s another story entirely), I noticed that the story I had fallen in love with on stage and then again, ten times harder, in print, was made for me.
Today, after three years of studying, it’s over. My masters thesis is turned in; the book is closed… for now. It’s sad, in a way. This is my first September not as a student. I saw Paris’ children heading off to their first day yesterday (no Labor Day here…), and I missed it a bit as I headed to work. This morning, as a dropped off my thesis, I thought about how, at least for the moment, that’s it for me. My English student, the Law Professor, thinks that the French university system is losing something by virtue of the fact that I’m not doing a doctorate. I’ll go with never say never on that one.
For now, I’m just excited to get excited about other books: I’ve been devouring American paperbacks in the metro now that leisure reading no longer makes me feel guilty. I’ve got a whole shelf of linguistics books that I’ve been meaning to get to for eight years. And Victor Hugo? Well… he’ll be waiting for me; I’ve got three copies of his masterpiece now, and I’m looking forward to scribbling more in the margins of my two-tome paperback, leafing carefully through my illustrated 2nd edition and stroking the leather bindings of my brand new illustrated Jean-Jacques Pauvert edition, bound in burgundy and gold. No matter how far I stray, he’s always going to be around. I don’t usually believe in these sorts of things, but one thing is sure as far as me and Victor are concerned: we were meant to be.
Tant qu’il existera, par le fait des lois et des moeurs, une damnation sociale créant artificiellement, en pleine civiliation, des enfers, et compliquant d’une fatalité humaine la destinée qui est divine; tant que les trois problèmes du siècle, la dégradation de l’homme par le prolétariat, la déchéance de la femme par la faim, l’atrophie de l’enfant par la nuit, ne seront pas résolus; tant que, dans de certaines régios, l’asphyxie sociale sera possible; en d’autres termes, et à un point de vue plus étendu encore, tant qu’il y aura sur la terre ignorance et misère, des livres de la nature de celui-ci ne pourront ne pas être inutiles.