Evolution of a Dream — a True Romance
Posted by Jo Robertson Jan 17 2013, 11:55 pm
“I dreamed a dream in time gone by, / When hope was high, and life worth living.
I dreamed that love would never die, / I dreamed that God would be forgiving.
Then I was young and unafraid, / And dreams were made and used and wasted.
There was no ransom to be paid, / No song unsung, no wine, untasted.”
Okay, I confess. I’ve just seen the film musical of Les Misérables, and while it wasn’t as stirring as the two stage productions I’ve seen, nor the vocalists as powerful, it had a certain tenderness and emotion and intimacy that the former lacked.
I admit to bawling during Fantine’s solo, weeping when Éponine and Jean Valjean died, and even tearing up a bit when Javert (ineptly played by Russell Crowe – sorry, Crowe fans, he’s got a great choir voice, but couldn’t pull off Javert) threw himself into the Seine.
I realized as I discussed this movie version with my daughter that Les Misérables is not a romance of the kind we read and discuss here in the Lair, but it IS a romance in the literary sense of the word. It’s the story of redemption and the overwhelming power of love – love of all kinds.
Students of literature are taught in college that art, books, and culture are one of three styles: romantic, realistic, and naturalistic.
Stories in the Romantic period are utimately optimistic; the writer and characters view the world through rose-tinted glasses, as it were. They’re highly emotional and approach life with grand idealism.
Realism is the style in which man and nature are shown in their elemental facets, in plain language and ordinary events, while Naturalism is the study of the world as if one were looking through dirt-smudged lenses – a study of man, nature, and the world’s gritty underbelly.
While Les Misérables is affectingly realistic and has strong naturalistic elements – simply the scene when Fantine sells first her locket, then her hair, her teeth (her front teeth in Hugo’s novel), and finally her body is so gripping that one could consider it a study in Naturalism. She’s pitted against a larger malevolent force over which she has no control and which ultimately destroys her.
But the play IS in the romantic vein for many reasons: at the end of the story, Fantine ushers Jean Valjean into heaven. He saved her child from a life of poverty and degradation. Lovers Marius and Cosette reunite. Valjean refuses to kill Javert. The story is highly idealistic, and for the most part, shows the world and man’s actions as we would want them to be rather than what they really are.
The most romantic element is Jean Valjean’s decision to sacrifice himself at the end. He asks an age-old question: “Who am I?” and redeems himself by the continuum of his actions since he left prison.
“Who am I? /Can I conceal myself for evermore?
Pretend I’m not the man I was before?”
He makes a deliberate choice to be a better man, to save Cosette, to rescue the innocent man whom Javert and the courts believe to be the runaway convict from all those years ago. He risks his life for Marius, who becomes in his heart the son he never had, and releases Javert when he could’ve killed him.
Finally, in the stage productions I’ve seen, I never paid much attention to Éponine, but in the film her role is exquisite. She plays a true romantic character – a woman whose unrequited love for Marius becomes the means of her redemptive nobility.
If that’s not romance, I don’t know what is.
What about you, readers? Have you seen the film musical of Les Miserables? What did you think of it? Have you read Victor Hugo’s very long novel (one of the longest novels ever written!). What’s your favorite musical?
Which of your favorite romance novels do you see being made into a musical?
Posted in Dreams, Jo Robertson, Le Miz, Les Miserables