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I had some unfortunate early experiences with Victor Hugo. For example, some bad translation by Charles Wilbour who should never be allowed near the French language without adult supervision**. And in the 80's, I saw the Los Angeles stage production of Les Miserables. It was typical Hollywoodization and was awful. So it kept me thinking that "Les Miz" was overrated.

I found out differently today. I saw the 25th Anniversary London production on a big screen in an auditorium. It was stirring, moving, powerful. Great songs and an effective cast.

I believe you can see it this week and perhaps next on most PBS stations. Then it goes away till about 2013 when it becomes a movie.

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** I was able to see first hand that he was bad on the first page of several books since I know French. And I read no further. (Plus I read a passage Ayn Rand translated from Hunchback and compared it to the clumsy, foolish, inert CW version.)

Edited by Philip Coates
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I had some unfortunate early experiences with Victor Hugo. For example, some bad translation by Charles Wilbour who should never be allowed near the French language without adult supervision**. And in the 80's, I saw the Los Angeles stage production of Les Miserables. It was typical Hollywoodization and was awful. So it kept me thinking that "Les Miz" was overrated.

I found out differently today. I saw the 25th Anniversary London production on a big screen in an auditorium. It was stirring, moving, powerful. Great songs and an effective cast.

I believe you can see it this week and perhaps next on most PBS stations. Then it goes away till about 2013 when it becomes a movie.

Reactions?

** I was able to see first hand that he was bad on the first page of several books since I know French. And I read no further. (Plus I read a passage Ayn Rand translated from Hunchback and compared it to the clumsy, foolish, inert CW version.)

I myself was appalled at the incivility of so many of the characters.

JR

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See, this is what degrades the quality of a list. A solely snarky response to a serious post.

And some of the repeated instigators of snarkiness will then complain when it provokes an irritated or 'insulting' response.

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Phil,

When I was a sophomore in college, I dropped out for a couple of semesters due to lack of funds. During that period, I read some fiction (and some Freud), including Les Miserables. I enjoyed it immensely. I do not know which translation it was. In those days, all such books for me were from the library.

I got to see the musical on stage in Chicago in around 2000. Loved it. Captured some of the book and its spirit, as I recall. We have watched the movie (1998) of the book. I remember only that I thought it was poor and that Neeson was wrong for Valjean.

In that off period in college, I think it was, I read also Ninety-Three and The Laughing Man. I adored both. My favorite character in the former was the revolutionary priest Cimourdain. My memory of the final scene from that first reading: The blade of the guillotine dropped. A pistol shot. The priest had fired a bullet through his own heart. “And those two souls—tragic brothers—flew away together, the dark of the one mingled with the light of the other.” My memory of the final scene from the first read of Laughing: On the boat at night, Dea has died, Ursus [a man] looks about for Dea's love Gwynplaine. He was gone. Alone, “there was Homo [a tame wolf] howling at the infinite.” Last year in the course of writing my essay "Truth of Will and Value," on Nietzsche and Rand (one of the sections on Fountainhead*), I needed and did order a copy of The Laughing Man. Though moving still, the writing was not so elegant as in my memory. I hope that is only due to awkward translation.

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It's a very tough book. I picked that one for a large, important school paper. It does have some very compelling moments. I wish I could read French.

Reading it is very exhausting.

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Did Rand ever publish any translations of Notre Dame? All I can remember is short passages from 93 and The Man Who Laughs in her introductions and a longer excerpt from the latter in "The Comprachicos."

("Hunchback" is not in the French title. Hugo supposedely hated it because it singles out one character in what is supposed to be a story about several equally important ones.)

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The translation I have of Les Miserables is by Fahnestock & MacAfee, and is an unabridged translation [most are truncated ones], but also have it in French, as with the others of Hugo - Notre Dame De Paris, The Man Who Laughed, Toilers of the Sea, and Ninety-three [indeed, his works are one of the reasons for learning French and why keep my fingers in it enough to coarsely read it]... very true, those translations done in the 19th and early 20th century were full of prudery, whatever the languages [Aristophanes, for instance, was terribly bowdlerized], tho Constance Garnett's Russian ones were considered quite good...

As for Ayn's translatings, they were only to the extent of providing those examples in her essays and articles - she never translated any of the books as such, as she was fluent in French...

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I saw the musical version of Les Miserables on Broadway shortly after it opened. I loved it. As you said, Phl, it was stirring, moving, and powerful- with a depth and passion one rarely sees on Broadway. For the tenth anniversary of the musical, at its conclusion, seventeen Jean Valjeans from seventeen different countries where it was being performed, came on stage to sing "Do You hear the People Sing? It was thrilling.

Barbara

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Barbara, they are doing something very similar in the current 25th Anniversary version. In the 'encore' section at the end there were four Jean Valjeans singing together and other cast members, including the original London cast from 1985. And it all worked. Also, a poignant moment - apparently Les Miz is wildly popular all across England, because a stream of hundreds of high school age kids "the Les Miz performers" of the future, streamed up all the aisles singling toward the stage.

Ted, if they are playing it on PBS where you live, it would be very obvious - it's in the evening, not every day, four hours long with the commercials and the title is something like 254th Anniversary of Les Miserables at the O2 [a stadium sized auditorium] in London.

I expect I will be reading the book in French - along with more of Hugo and Racine and Corneille (Le Cid) in due course.

Never tried anything this long when I took French literature in college. Now I have a reason.

(On another thread recently I translated a LaFontaine fable at Baal's request. Then X-Ray corrected the words I missed and posted a contemporary translation. It was excruciating - stilted, affected, lousy, idiot matic rather than idiomatic. It was so bad (and that was a very simple fable with almost primary school language) that I had to stop reading it. I'm amazed that I, with only six years of French and only a few very short visits, and not looking up any words could apparently do a better job in ten minutes off the cuff than a supposed 'professional'. . . . . Disgusting.)

> Did Rand ever publish any translations of Notre Dame?

Reidy, if memory serves it was a page or so in length and about Claude Frollo, the priest and his guilt-ridden longing for Esmeralda and she was using it to illustrate a psychological or literary point. Further details escape me, though.

Edited by Philip Coates
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Barbara, they are doing something very similar in the current 25th Anniversary version. In the 'encore' section at the end there were four Jean Valjeans singing together and other cast members, including the original London cast from 1985. And it all worked. Also, a poignant moment - apparently Les Miz is wildly popular all across England, because a stream of hundreds of high school age kids "the Les Miz performers" of the future, streamed up all the aisles singling toward the stage.

Ted, if they are playing it on PBS where you live, it would be very obvious - it's in the evening, not every day, four hours long with the commercials and the title is something like 254th Anniversary of Les Miserables at the O2 [a stadium sized auditorium] in London.

I expect I will be reading the book in French - along with more of Hugo and Racine and Corneille (Le Cid) in due course.

Never tried anything this long when I took French literature in college. Now I have a reason.

(On another thread recently I translated a LaFontaine fable at Baal's request. Then X-Ray corrected the words I missed and posted a contemporary translation. It was excruciating - stilted, affected, lousy, idiot matic rather than idiomatic. I'm amazed that I, with only six years of French and only a few very short visits, and not looking up any words could do a better job in ten minutes off the cuff than a supposed 'professional'. . . . . Disgusting.)

Thanks. I haven't found a listing through the end of this Sunday.

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Barbara, they are doing something very similar in the current 25th Anniversary version. In the 'encore' section at the end there were four Jean Valjeans singing together and other cast members, including the original London cast from 1985. And it all worked. Also, a poignant moment - apparently Les Miz is wildly popular all across England, because a stream of hundreds of high school age kids "the Les Miz performers" of the future, streamed up all the aisles singling toward the stage.

Ted, if they are playing it on PBS where you live, it would be very obvious - it's in the evening, not every day, four hours long with the commercials and the title is something like 254th Anniversary of Les Miserables at the O2 [a stadium sized auditorium] in London.

I expect I will be reading the book in French - along with more of Hugo and Racine and Corneille (Le Cid) in due course.

Never tried anything this long when I took French literature in college. Now I have a reason.

(On another thread recently I translated a LaFontaine fable at Baal's request. Then X-Ray corrected the words I missed and posted a contemporary translation. It was excruciating - stilted, affected, lousy, idiot matic rather than idiomatic. I'm amazed that I, with only six years of French and only a few very short visits, and not looking up any words could do a better job in ten minutes off the cuff than a supposed 'professional'. . . . . Disgusting.)

Thanks. I haven't found a listing through the end of this Sunday.

Supposedly they showed it on March 6th Ted <<<<there is a phone number in this link - this is their pledge week also and they are running the old Laugh In series of shows.

The 25th anniversary concert of Les Miserables, which was presented at London's O2 Arena Oct. 3, 2010, airs on PBS stations around the country March 6 at 7 PM ET; check local listings. In the New York metropolitan area, viewers can watch the concert on WNET/Thirteen.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I had some unfortunate early experiences with Victor Hugo. For example, some bad translation by Charles Wilbour who should never be allowed near the French language without adult supervision**. And in the 80's, I saw the Los Angeles stage production of Les Miserables. It was typical Hollywoodization and was awful. So it kept me thinking that "Les Miz" was overrated.

I found out differently today. I saw the 25th Anniversary London production on a big screen in an auditorium. It was stirring, moving, powerful. Great songs and an effective cast.

I believe you can see it this week and perhaps next on most PBS stations. Then it goes away till about 2013 when it becomes a movie.

Reactions?

** I was able to see first hand that he was bad on the first page of several books since I know French. And I read no further. (Plus I read a passage Ayn Rand translated from Hunchback and compared it to the clumsy, foolish, inert CW version.)

My lady friend and I are Victor Hugo nuts. We saw the American tour of the new production in its first stop in Nov/December 2010 at the Paper Mill Playhouse in NJ. It was phenomenal--I recognized the VH original artwork that forms part of the concept and scenery for this new production.

I've read pretty much all major VH translations in English, because I collect old books and my college library got a big endowment of VH books probably around 1915 (there's a whole stack dedicated to him) and which I've probably spent the most time standing in front of, perusing. I'm beginning to study his work in French (really cheap collections in e-book form).

I was an Ayn Rand fan. She was a Victor Hugo fan. So, in our high school, we had a cultural cross-generation or some sort of strange amalgamation--we made sure a lot of students and teachers at our high school knew about Ayn Rand and Victor Hugo, you could say, because we were the leaders of the political and school activism club, and I was the editor of the school newspaper. She writes essays for the Ayn Rand essay contests and, if there were a VH essay contest, I would enter! Société des Amis de Victor Hugo! It just creates an interesting dynamic and friendship because we still hang out and share and explore our passions with the world.

Personally, Ayn Rand made me realize how great the soul could be, Victor Hugo showed me how expansive it could be. I experienced clarity, logical inexorability and focus reading Ayn Rand, but reading Victor Hugo, a whole new universe opened up to me, in my soul, for me to explore. Just an enormous sense of freedom, which I think liberated AR when she was young, and which many newcomers to Objectivism would find liberating in the search for their sense of identity, as well.

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The 25th anniversary concert edition of the musical is a superb rendition. It's on DVD, for those who don't manage to catch it on PBS this month (or by other means). The staging preserves much of the character interaction, with all performers in costume. Major works of stagecraft (the cart Valjean lifts, the barricades) are shown on large screens over the performers and their huge backing choir.

It's a fuller and more musically flavorful version than the also-superb "dream cast" that made a concert edition on the show's 10th anniversary. One point of much contention is that of Marius, now played by Nick Jonas, of the (yes) Jonas Brothers pop group. Many decry his voice for its not being operatic, as was that of Michael Ball in the original cast and in 1995. Yet he's still a fine singer, is a notably better actor, to me, and actually physically fits the part of Marius. Ball never convinced me that he could ever play someone in his late teens, and Jonas is actually 19.

I've been fortunate to see the national touring companies twice on stage, and the stagecraft and use of space and physical dimensions has been superb and unforgettable. Yet it's the score and libretto, with its recursive melodies, rhythms, and phrases, that make the production resonate. Every scene works, and the repetitions add to the narrative drive. Each major character has a showcase solo (or near solo) number of great passion and intelligent thoughts.

It inevitably departs from Hugo's dramatic thrusts, in simplifying the plot mechanics and making more of some characters (notably the parasitic Thenardiers) for dramatic balance. Yet nothing works against Hugo's story line or character framing.

I hope to make it to the revised edition, featuring stage decoration from Hugo's own art, this Summer in Los Angeles.

At the end of the concert is a screen placard finally, formally, announcing the long-awaited film version of the musical. It's a project that I hope to follow somewhat from the inside, as the head of production at Working Title (producing it with Universal Pictures) is a classmate of mine from high school. We'll see what may develop!

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