Posted by: istop4books | May 4, 2008

A May Update

An Update to Les Miserables – which I am reading for Bookcrossing Readalong about 50-80 pages per week:

This has to be one of the best books I have ever read. I had no idea of the depth and profundity of Hugo’s writing. Among some of the passages I’ve found most memorable:

The brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over, men recognize that the human race has been harshly treated but that it has moved forward.

“A dry eye goes with a dead soul.”

Regarding the human mind: “The is one spectacle greater than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle greater than the sky, That is the interior of the soul.

Regarding the Catholic Monasteries and Convents of 19th Century France:

The Carmelites: “…go barefoot and wear a willow twig around their throats and never sit down.”

The Bernadine-Benedictines of Martin Verga: “…abstain from meat all year; fast during Lent and many other days, rise out of their first sleep at 1 am to read their breviary and chant matins until 3 am, sleep on straw and in coarse wollen sheets in all seasons, never take baths, never light a fire, scourge themselves every Friday, observe the rule of silence, speak to one another only at recesses, which are very short, and wear a hair shirt for six months, from the 14 Sept, .. until Easter. ..–the rules say all year, but this haircloth chemise, intolerable in the heat of summer, produced fevers and nervous spasms. …when the nuns put on this chemise, they have three or four days of fever ” “Each of them in turn performed what they call the reparation, a prayer for all sins…” “During 12 consecutive hours, from 4 to 4, the sister who performs the reparation stays on her knees on the stone facing the Holy Sacrament, her hands clasped and a rope around her neck. Whe fatigue becomes insupportable, she prostrates herself, her face against the ground and her arms stretched out in a cross.” “They say interchangeably, “to perform this reparation” or “to be at the post.” “The nuns even prefer, out of humility, this latter expression, which involves an idea of torture and abasement.” Among other realities for these nuns: they never brush their teeth, never say my or mine, they utter holy statements as salutations and at different times of the day, almost mechanically, do public confessions on their knees once a week, and receive due penalties. “These nuns are not joyous, rosy, and cheerful, as the daughters of the other orders often are. They are pale and serious. Between 1825 and 1830 three went insane.” “The convent, the old-style convent particularly, …is one of the gloomiest concretions of the Middle Ages. The cloister was the intersecting point of horrors. The Catholic cloister, properly speaking, is filled with the black radiance of death.'” “Do these women think? No. Do they have a will? No. Do they love? No. Do they live? No. Their nerves have turned to bone, their bones to rock. “

Hugo’s comments are real, they are current even in the 21st Century and they show this man to be one of unusual insight. He has a lot to say about the society inhabiting 19th Century France and he goes about saying it in a way that is at once entertaining and educational, it makes you stop and think, and it makes you wonder what is it that we’ve learned in these more than 150 years since this novel was penned. Not much at all.


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