I want to learn all I can, live as wisely as I can, and savor every moment on the journey.
Say what you will about him and his writing, but I adore Victor Hugo. I’ve had a thing for him ever since I read Les Misérables when I was a moody teenager, and my affection for his work has only grown. Oui, he may not be everyone’s favorite, but here are the main three reasons for my obsession with him:
1. I love the grandeur of his novels, especially Les Misérables.
Of course the realists criticized him: he was writing in a completely different plane from them. He wasn’t sketching the ordinary lives of realistic characters. Hugo wrote on the level of epics, portraying heroes and victims, observers and villains, virtues and vices, twists of fate and fatal plot twists.
And I love all of it. I guess some people don’t, and that’s okay. But even taking a few minutes to review the cliff notes synopsis of Les Misérables gives me chills. (Oddly enough, I still haven’t seen the new movie or a live show of the Broadway musical, but I’m sure I’ll love them too.) I’m reading The Hunchback of Notre-Dame right now, and it’s gripping my soul, though not quite as deeply as Les Misérables did.
[Update 8/21/2014] I finished The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, and it severly disappointed me. I hated it. My hero let me down…but he’s still one of my literary heroes!
2. I love that he was a thinker.
So, if you haven’t read Les Misérables or The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, keep in mind that you might want to read abridged versions, with the chapters of Hugo’s historical, non-story-related commentary cut out. These commentaries are rather interesting in themselves, but they would fit much better in some other nonfiction context, when readers aren’t thinking, “Hurry up with all this boring stuff and get back to the story!”
But I love it that he had all these interesting things to say, and I think his desire to put all his non-related thoughts into his novels is kind of sweet, because I can relate; I can just picture him thinking, “Ooo, this would be a good place to sneak in my treatise on European architecture! I’ve been wanting to do something with that for a while now…”
3. I love that his poems are simple and sincere.
He grieves, he ponders, he breathes in the air of a summer night—he feels, and he expresses it all through poetry that is accessible, not obscure. That scores huge points with me.
Because of Victor Hugo, I’ve developed a branched-off love of all things French. This love also grew out of taking a French I course when I went back to get courses toward a second (real) bachelor’s degree. I had already taken a semester of German, because I let someone talk me into it, but I decided to switch to French. On the first day of class, when the teacher asked us each why we were taking the class, I said, “Because I want to be able to read Victor Hugo in French someday.” 🙂 But through the class I also fell in love with the beauty of the French language and culture. Now I’m getting closer to my goal, but I’ve still got a ways to go before I’ll be able to easily read Hugo’s original work.