We saw Les Misérables and although I do not like musicals it is interesting to pore over July Monarchy, the 1832 rebellion and 1848 as well as the emphasis on ambivalence in Hugo’s heroes (which Javert cannot handle). French history is instructive and I wish I knew it better as it might explain my institution, as well — some say we are like Mexico in the 1820s, but really we could be France in the 1850s or any modern nation-state in a moment of authoritarian peace after a set of civil wars following the revolution that has given it violent birth.
I read that the novel when new was criticized in Le Monde for containing such detailed instructions on organizing riots. Hugo was in exile on Jersey and when he heard rumors of the novel’s success he telegraphed the editor: ? and received the answer: !.
Most interesting to me about this film was that I saw it in the same theatre where I had seen Lincoln a few weeks earlier and where the latter film is still playing. That made two historical dramas about major 19th century conflicts over freedom and I thought: that 19th century is more heroic than later centuries.
What is as heroic in the 20th century? I am not talking about degrees of suffering. “Concentration camps” is not an acceptable answer nor is having defended Stalingrad. Nor having seen starvation, nor having undergone rationing. I am talking about heroic enterprises and ideals, not endurance.