Why It’s Worth Reading the Unabridged Les Miserables

I love this book:

I read it for the first time in 7th grade, after watching the Les Miserables The Musical 10th Anniversary Concert. I read a lot of stuff in 7th grade, thanks to having a science teacher who taught us pretty much nothing, gave us open-book tests, and just played videos the rest of the time.

It’s a hefty book:

I can practically hide my whole face behind it. 1260 pages. And they’re not fluff pages, either– they’re dense. Take this page for an example:

Yep. That’s a single paragraph taking up an entire page and then some. If my memory’s correct, there are even longer paragraphs; I just found this one flipping through the pages.

Why am I starting out with this? It’s not to brag. To be honest, most passages like the one above, I skip over now in subsequent readings. But I did read it all the first time– or at least, skimmed it.

Here’s the thing: If you’re going to read Les Miserables, it’s worth reading it unabridged, long descriptions and political and social commentary included. There’s just so much you might miss if you pick up an abridged copy, or flat-out assume that a particular chapter isn’t worth reading based on its title or the way it starts out.

For instance: An abridgment might leave out the first fifty pages, titled An Upright Man. After all, there’s no mention of Jean Valjean, arguably the main character of the novel. But this entire section tells the story of a very important character, who ends up changing the entire course of Valjean’s life when they meet. Don’t think of this section as unnecessary to the plot and therefore trimmable; think of it as its own little novella expounding on the character of the good Bishop who shows Valjean another way to live.

Later, in a chapter titled Waterloo, Victor Hugo treats readers to a description of the famous battle of Waterloo: examining the field of battle before, during, and after; inserting his suppositions of why it went poorly for Napoleon; and showing how the aftermath affected French society in the years that followed. Sure, once again, this is not entirely necessary to the plot of Valjean’s story, but it does offer valuable insight, as well as some truly thought-provoking passages. Just read it. But if you do insist on skipping the battle, make sure you still read the final segment, titled The Field of Battle at Night. That part, at least, truly is relevant to Valjean’s story, though it doesn’t become evident until the end.

The entire novel is full of gems or history, philosophy, and the study of human nature. I won’t expound on all of them here. But you’ll miss out on them if you rely on an abridgment.

Read the 1260 pages. You won’t regret it. And if you do regret it, well, maybe you need to re-examine your priorities (kidding-not-kidding).

5 thoughts on “Why It’s Worth Reading the Unabridged Les Miserables

  1. Actually reading no abridged is worth it. I would rather would any unabridged version of any of the classics—those feel like the real things.

    My journey with Les Mis started with the Les Mis film which eventually led to the book. Let me think- I have seen the film, the stage show six times, the 25th concert film, the 2019 concert film, and 10th concert film. This literally happened from 2013-2020. The stage show show—2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019.

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    1. I did not know there was a 2019 concert! Now I have to find that…

      BBC did a mini series of Les Mis that was quite good. I’ve been disappointed with every other screen adaptation I’ve seen, including the musical adaptation with Hugh Jackman et. al. I’ve never seen the entire musical onstage, but have enjoyed the concert editions.

      And I agree, I will always go for unabridged classics. Sometimes that means I don’t finish them, but I’d still rather that than “cheat” 😉

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      1. The only disappointment with the BBC mini series is I felt it needed more than six episodes- only problem

        Since I fell in love with Les Mis by the film, I did not have much of a problem with it. However, I did have a problem with it when I first saw it- I had to come in NOT knowing it was a tragedy. So, when I found out, I had no idea how to respond or react. But, for some reason a couple months later, gave the film a 2nd chance and the rest is history

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      2. Six episodes is still too short, for sure. But still more than any of the films have ever done. I remember watching a film from the late 90s that ended with Javert throwing himself into the river, and then Valjean walking with a smile on his face when he realizes he doesn’t have to worry about being pursued anymore. Like, what about the rest of the story?!

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