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Criticism

Posted: Mon Jun 25, 2018 3:15 pm
by 23623
I hope no one's going to shoot me for starting this blasphemous topic. :oops:

So, here on this forum we all love Les Mis dearly and agree that it's one of the best novels ever written. But have you heard of or got any criticism of Les Mis? It could be about any aspect of the work.

For example, one of the most common criticisms I've heard is the stereotypical, misogynistic portrayal of women. The well developed characters in Les Mis are all men. They have a complicated backstory and a strong personality. Even minor characters who get probably like five lines in total *cough* Les Amis *cough* are attractive enough to provoke lengthy discussions. But most women in Les Mis are just there to prove a point. Fantine and Éponine are there to show the suffering of the people. Cosette, after adopted by Valjean, becomes more like a symbol embodying everything perfect than an actual person. Their character development always revolves around romance. Even for Cosette, who gets most screen time of all the women, her development is only limited to a sequence of "growing up, knowing how to dress herself, becoming pretty and finding the love of her life".

I'm sure there's more than that. Feel free to add yours. :)

Re: Criticism

Posted: Mon Jun 25, 2018 5:44 pm
by deHavilland
Hm, does the criticism (in regards to misogyny) go to Hugo for thinking the way most men thought during the time period he was writing from, or to ourselves for glorifying a piece of literature that is in some ways outdated -- despite the fact that in many ways it isn't? :twisted:

Re: Criticism

Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2018 2:17 am
by Rachel
Hugo was a wonderful writer and the long passages are very informative and the way novels are written has changed. That being said, I think you could cut down the sewer or Waterloo or convent sections significantly and not lose a whole lot. It drags, it makes the pacing weird, and I think Hugo could outline the important points a lot more succinctly than he does. I know that the book being an Odyssey is part of what makes it appealing, but it’d still be long and immersive and good even with significant edits to those sections.

Re: Criticism

Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2018 2:30 am
by deHavilland
(Hey, Rachel! :D )

Re: Criticism

Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2018 2:33 am
by Rachel
(Hey! Nice to yell about Les Mis again :D )

Re: Criticism

Posted: Tue Jul 31, 2018 4:01 pm
by Auf die Barrikaden
Never ever put hands on Waterloo or the sewers. Waterloo gives you so much insight of French society of the 1820s and 30s, coming from the Napoleonic era into the restauration you have to understand Waterloo. It is pivotal for Marius, for Thenardier, even so for the ABC friends. The sewers and its twin the catacombs were one of the main Paris attractions. Basically it's Hugo writing a tourist guide, but also describing and setting the scene for one of the most iconic moments in Les Mis.

Re: Criticism

Posted: Sat Aug 11, 2018 5:52 am
by omundovaigirando
I think including Waterloo, History, 1832, 1817, etc., was integral to understanding the plot and characters' motivations, and I learned a lot about Hugo's world, views and politics in general that I wouldn't have otherwise. However, I also think that a) the looong digressions could be moved to the back of the book and the reader referred to them before reading related sections to no great detriment; and b) Hugo does repeat himself — multiple times — even when one iteration is enough to understand his point. Which makes for an arduous read most of the time, but hey, we all love our sprawling epics.

Re: Criticism

Posted: Sat Aug 11, 2018 7:29 am
by omundovaigirando
I've also heard nitpicks about how implausible many coincidences are and how hypocritically Marius treats Valjean after his confession, though those are more story-related.

Re: Criticism

Posted: Sat Sep 01, 2018 1:12 pm
by Louise
23623 wrote:For example, one of the most common criticisms I've heard is the stereotypical, misogynistic portrayal of women. The well developed characters in Les Mis are all men. They have a complicated backstory and a strong personality. Even minor characters who get probably like five lines in total *cough* Les Amis *cough* are attractive enough to provoke lengthy discussions. But most women in Les Mis are just there to prove a point. Fantine and Éponine are there to show the suffering of the people. Cosette, after adopted by Valjean, becomes more like a symbol embodying everything perfect than an actual person. Their character development always revolves around romance. Even for Cosette, who gets most screen time of all the women, her development is only limited to a sequence of "growing up, knowing how to dress herself, becoming pretty and finding the love of her life".

I'm sure there's more than that. Feel free to add yours. :)


The only feisty woman in the whole book that I can recall, gets only a few mentions and is not even given a first name. That is Marius's mother, who stood up to her father until he reluctantly gave his consent for her to marry the man she loved. Marius's parents marriage was a true love match! It is quite clear in the story that M. Gillenmormand hated his son-in-law, so his younger daughter must have been a strong woman to get him to consent to the marriage.

A description of her from the book, section talking about M. Gllenmormand's daughters: "The younger was a delightful creature attracted towards everything that glitters, a lover of flowers, poetry and music, an ardent spirit soaring into boundless spaces who from her childhood had been in love with a romantic idea of heroism."

A few pages later, about Col. Pontmercy: "He [Col. Pontmercy] had found time, between two campaigns under the Empire, to marry Mlle Gillenormand. Her outraged parent had eventually consented to the match, saying with a sigh, 'Even the greatest families have to put up with it.'"