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The Unfortunate Ones

I am so excited about the movie version of Les Miserables coming out this Christmas! I'm sure it's a big surprise that Les Mis is one of my favorite musicals, and this version looks wonderful!

The General's Mistress and its sequels, the story of Elza, spans the same time as Les Miserables, from Valjean's crime to the barricades of the June Rebellion in 1832. The General's Mistress is about the first few years of that, from 1795 to 1800. Elza is about the same age as Valjean and Fantine.

But Elza is not Fantine. There is the moment in The General's Mistress when she could be. There is the point about halfway through the book when that could be her story. She is out of options, out of any sane way to move forward, sick and broke and fallen. There is that moment, scraped to bone. But what's at the core of Elza, when you've peeled away everything of her life and exposed bedrock, is Lydias. And so she does the unthinkable. If there is no way for a woman to go on, no future, she becomes a man. She becomes someone a lot like Georg in The Ravens of Falkenau, someone a lot like Lydias. She becomes Charles instead of Elza. What sane woman would do that? Well, she's not sane, she's decided, and she will not die, and so it's time to become someone who will live. The heroine dies tragically at this point -- that's how the stories go. Ruined and alone, she dies. But Elza won't, so instead of dying as the heroine she becomes the hero. She becomes the trickster, and takes the road to Italy as a scoundrel actor, the pretty boy with the lethal blade.

There are many versions of Les Mis in many languages -- it also won't surprise you that this is my favorite version of Do You Hear the People Sing -- the original French version which is darker than the English version and preserves more of the spirit of blood and fire reflected in the real marching song of revolution, La Marseillaise. This is an audio only version, and one I've listened to many times while writing Elza.

Elza begins her journey completely apolitical. As far as she's concerned, revolution and counter revolution, Jacobins and Girondins and the rest are nothing but the excuses of men jockeying for power. It doesn't truly matter who wins this week, because for most people the results will be the same. Leaders come and go and one party is in power or another, and for a woman it's "nothing more than the snarling of curs over a meal." All the professions of one ideal or another are just reasons to oppose each other. Politics is simply an excuse for power. Elza is very cynical at twenty.

Over the course of the books we see her become instead the most devoted of partisans, the agent who is willing to lay down her life for what she believes, who is willing to sacrifice her happiness and all that she has so that this world -- our world -- might exist. How does a cynical twenty year old party girl turn into the spymistress with the fate of Europe in her hands? How do you get from Girls Just Wanna Have Fun to Dame Judi Dench's M?

One step at a time. The General's Mistress is the first step on that road.

And one last clip, just because it's awesome. Courtesy of bwinter, this is the flashmob version of One Day More in Warsaw.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 14th, 2012 02:30 pm (UTC)
Same here.
Oct. 15th, 2012 09:21 pm (UTC)
I definitely can't wait to see it!
Oct. 15th, 2012 09:21 pm (UTC)
It looks like it's going to be really good, doesn't it?
Oct. 14th, 2012 02:33 pm (UTC)
Reading Les Miserables was my fourth year French class. The school didn't technically offer a fourth year, but there were three of us, and the French teacher agreed to give up his free period to teach us. We read assigned sections for four days a week and had a test on Fridays, and I absolutely loved it. (Of course I wanted to be a student revolutionary. Doesn't everyone?) It was the first time I became fluent enough in another language to remember not the words of a novel but the images - the way I remember most books I read in English - and the images have stuck with me ever since.

I love the clips! I need to hear the musical in French, I think - and the flashmob is just fantastic! Gorgeous theater!
Oct. 15th, 2012 09:23 pm (UTC)
I read part of it in French in high school -- not all, as that would have taken the full year and it was a survey! And then I read the full book in English years later. But I first found Hugo in tenth grade, when I did the Retour de Russie for a National French Competition.
Oct. 14th, 2012 07:09 pm (UTC)
Wow! I really want to see this, but I will be away travelling by the time it comes out... I guess I'll have to wait for the DVD release.
Oct. 16th, 2012 04:52 pm (UTC)
It does look really good, doesn't it?
Oct. 15th, 2012 01:22 pm (UTC)
I first read Les Mis the summer between 9th and 10th grade (I was I think 15 or thereabouts) We'd read an abridged version that year for literature and I wasn't happy knowing there were 1000 MORE pages they'd cut out of the abridged version. That summer, I sat up in our front yard climbing sycamore tree, high up, with a full fledged copy of Les Mis in my hands.

The french version is just gorgeous! Thx for sharing it with us.
Oct. 16th, 2012 04:53 pm (UTC)
That's such a good story! I read the abridged version in high school and the full version later. Isn't the French version of the song so different?
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )