The BBC “Les Misérables” is fini! Get over it. Now go read the book.


I can tell that the BBC airing of Les Misérables is tout fini. For a month or so now, the Book Haven ratings have shot up into the thousands each weekend. No more. What were people looking for at the humble Book Haven when they could watch the multi-hour BBC splendor?

They were clicking on our all-time highest-ranking post: “Enjoy Les Misérables. But please get the history straight,” illustrated with photos from 16th-century church Église Saint-Merri, where the real-life insurgents staged a desperate last stand, in and around this church at the heart of the district where the fiercest fighting took place. Over the years, the single post has gotten about a million views. It also attracted the record number of comments – 150 – before we had to turn it off because of the relentless spam attacks that defeated even the Stanford techies.

The biggest mistake viewers make: even apparently educated fans refer to this as the French Revolution. Wrong. This is 1832 not 1789. Big difference. Different clothes, different leaders. The biggest difference of all: the revolutionaries won the French Revolution. The insurgents in 1832 lost, big time. Well, read the story here.

With the BBC film, there seems to be a second mistake: Victor Hugo did not write a musical. He wrote a novel. You can read about that here. Please don’t wait for the songs.

But I’m gratified that the long-ago post is still getting attention. And I still get letters, like this one from Doris Reffner last week:

“I wanted to thank you for your excellent article.  It was just what I needed to explain the musical Les Miserables to my twelve-year-old granddaughter.  Even her grandfather mistakenly thought it was about the ‘French Revolution,’ and we saw the musical at least twice as well as concert videos and the movie.  Perhaps we need to read the book.   If I can read a Russian classic novel, I guess I can work my way through a French one.  You provided great information, easily understood.  Thank you.”

Join Doris and go out and get the book. Hurry, before the next remake!

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2 Responses to “The BBC “Les Misérables” is fini! Get over it. Now go read the book.”

  1. George Says:

    About a dozen years ago, having seen a local high school production of the musical, I pulled Francois Furet’s Revolutionary France, 1770-1880 from the shelves to have a look for the event. I no longer have the book, but in my recollection, Furet gave it something between three-quarters of a page and a page and a half.

    I confess to have somewhat slurred the distinction between insurrection and rebellion. On the way out of the theatre I said to a Benedictine of my acquaintance that I hadn’t remembered the French Revolution as quite so pious. He laughed, and said, Yes, all that crossing themselves.

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Sounds like your Benedictine friend should read my post. I’ve written about the excesses of the French Revolution in Evolution of Desire, among other places. Good to hear from you, as always, George.