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One Good Factor: Les Mis is right here to complicate your pleasure

Do you hear the individuals sing?

Should you’re a former theater child, an informal fan of French historical past, or any one of many hundreds of thousands of people that’ve seen any type of the longest-running musical in London’s West Finish, you most likely simply broke out into music.

Singing the songs of indignant males, it’s the music of a individuals who won’t be slaves once more.

When you begin, you’ll be able to’t cease.

I dreamed a dream in time passed by …

There, out within the darkness …

There’s a music for each emotion: love, heartbreak, anger, despair. Les Miserables, the musical based mostly on Victor Hugo’s sprawling Nineteenth-century novel about French revolutionaries, has launched one million goals and memes.

However whether or not you’re a superfan who needs to struggle me concerning the novel’s 100-page Battle of Waterloo digression or whether or not Nick Jonas was well-cast as Marius within the twenty fifth anniversary live performance (I’m down on Waterloo and up on Nick), or simply kind of keep in mind seeing the film 10 years in the past, Les Miserables is one thing that sticks with you. And that’s as a result of it’s one of many few items of artwork that manages to seize principally every part about humanity.

The musical has, in some ways, overtaken the novel within the cultural creativeness. The songs in Les Mis are so catchy that they turn out to be the be-all and end-all of the piece, one thing to be sung on highway journeys and, for many individuals, utterly divorced from the story. However what provides these songs their gravitas are the themes of Les Mis: It’s essentially about misplaced justice and social inequality. The important thing to not taking the songs of Les Mis with no consideration is wanting extra carefully on the e-book the musical is predicated on.

My first job out of school was in economics analysis. I lived in Zambia and interviewed individuals a couple of sewer system that was alleged to be constructed within the subsequent couple of months. The sewer system was deliberate for a “peri-urban” neighborhood positioned within the house the place the town met the countryside. Each month, they might look ahead to it to be constructed, and each month, it was not constructed. Each winter, due to the dearth of a sewer system, the streets flood, and cholera sweeps by means of a lot of peri-urban Lusaka.

This doesn’t, at first, look like it has to do with Les Mis. However as Victor Hugo, the creator, wrote: “The historical past of males is mirrored within the historical past of sewers.”

Les Mis is ready in Nineteenth-century peri-urban Paris, which is totally faraway from the truth of many upper-middle-class Individuals, and so is simple to think about as solely a musical set piece for romantic and revolutionary songs. However this setting seems lots like many peri-urban areas at present. The “justice” system that places Jean Valjean, one of many characters on the middle of the story, in jail for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his household seems uncomfortably like fashionable America.

On the finish of Les Miserables, Valjean has a confrontation along with his former pursuer, the cop Javert, who has no sense of mercy, within the Paris sewers.

On this a part of Les Miserables, the e-book, Hugo goes on a large digression concerning the sewer methods of Paris: their historical past, their current, and the chance for social progress and hygiene by means of their cleansing.

That is what Hugo is coping with within the e-book: inequality, injustice, and what occurs when you might have a large city and peri-urban atmosphere the place persons are going hungry. He digs into the way it’s actually unhealthy when individuals don’t have practical sewer methods and they’re pushed to revolution. He explicitly states this in his authentic epigraph!

“So long as social damnation exists, by means of legal guidelines and customs, artificially creating hell on the coronary heart of civilisation and muddying a future that’s divine with human calamity; so long as the three issues of the century — man’s debasement by means of the proletariat, girl’s demoralisation by means of starvation, the losing of the kid by means of darkness — usually are not resolved; so long as social suffocation is feasible in sure areas; in different phrases, and to take a good broader view, so long as ignorance and distress exist on this world, books just like the one you’re about to learn are, maybe, not totally ineffective.”

Social novels present a map of the situations that drive individuals to revolution and pressure individuals to have a look at the worst elements of the society we create. However, as this evaluation of the e-book says, Hugo’s personal phrases above present a restricted imaginative and prescient of what his e-book does. Literature does what economics can not: It supplies not solely coverage prescriptions that permit extra individuals to dwell, however supplies the explanations for residing.

The musical won’t fairly get throughout the social gravity of the novel, but it surely will get throughout the human half properly, displaying by means of music and dance the infinite vary of human expertise. The mixture of what individuals keep in mind — catchy songs — and what individuals overlook — severe social commentary — is what makes Les Mis so sensible.

The explanation the revolutionaries in Les Mis are combating and Hugo is writing is 1) for issues like higher sewer methods or social packages, and a pair of) due to the choices these sewer methods present to dwell. Eponine ought to be apprehensive about cholera; Eponine additionally sings a music that anybody, wherever who has skilled unrequited love can perceive. Les Mis begins with an exploration of an unjust justice system and supplies a solution within the mercy of the Bishop and the lifetime of Jean Valjean.

That’s the genius of fine artwork; it’s the genius of Les Mis. The memes are good. The singing is nice, and the jokes, and all that, as a result of that’s what makes us human. It’s not right here to kill your pleasure as a result of pleasure is what makes us human — it’s right here to complicate it. It says there’s poverty, there’s starvation, and it makes us inhuman to disregard it and never work towards social progress. And but, there’s pleasure, there’s love, and there’s magnificence and forgiveness and mercy.

In the end, we would like a world the place people are thriving. This can be a world with practical sewer methods and a world with singing. Les Miserables, in all its kinds, provides us a imaginative and prescient for each.

You’ll be able to learn Les Miserables totally free right here. For extra suggestions from the world of tradition, try the One Good Factor archives.



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