But, even then, how much would I miss? A language is a people’s culture bound in words. Even if understood, can a foreign language every truly be mastered? Can a culture other than one’s own ever fully be understood? I have never been to France. I did not live through the French Revolution. I do not understand all of Hugo’s cultural references. Even if I did learn French to read Les Misérables, which I will do someday, then, even then, something would be missing. Appreciation and awe, sometimes, is the only way to approach beauty, especially when, because of our limitations, our understandings fail.
And yet, Les Misérables is one of those rare books that cuts through language, culture, and time — it speaks directly to the soul. And when a work of art speaks that deeply, when it churns a longing within, there will always be a sense of loss mingled with an infinite joy — a novel of Les Misérables’ gravity transcends that which is visible. For both Valjean in his courtroom and Marius in his peepholed-hovel are not alone. We are with them, failing and stumbling, yet triumphant.
For who, after reading Les Misérables, does not seek to live better, to live an honorable life, to live a life worthy of two silver candlesticks?