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Victor Hugo, Val Jean & Isometrics
John Peterson John Peterson is offline
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04-09-2018, 08:37 AM
Hello Everyone,

I received an email from a Professor of Literature at a College in Vermont telling me that the reference that I made to Victor Hugo's novel 'Les Miserables' in my book Isometric Power Revolution totally amazed him. So much so that he discussed it with several of his colleagues and they all were awed that Victor Hugo would have been so specific in writing 'Les Miserable' that he would tell the reader the origin of Jean Valjean's extraordinary strength. He also stated, "Hugo is obviously telling his readers that Jean Valjean is intellectually
superior in that he has an understanding of physiology that he uses in order to make himself as fantastically strong physically as he is intellectually."

I was surprised that the reference in IPR would yield so much interest. My whole point in referring to it was to make my readers aware that Isometrics are nothing new. The actual quote in question comes from Victor Hugo's 'Les Miserables' Book Two: and the chapter title 'The Interior of Despair'.

One detail, which we must not omit, is that he possessed a physical strength which was not approached by a single one of the denizens of the galleys. At work, at paying out a cable or winding up a capstan, Jean Valjean was worth four men. He sometimes lifted and sustained enormous weights on his back; and when the occasion demanded it, he replaced that implement which is called a jack-screw, and was formerly called orgueil [pride], whence, we may remark in passing, is derived the name of the Rue Montorgueil, near the Halles [Fishmarket] in Paris. His comrades had nicknamed him Jean the Jack-screw. Once, when they were repairing the balcony of the town-hall at Toulon, one of those admirable caryatids of Puget, which support the balcony, became loosened, and was on the point of falling. Jean Valjean, who was present, supported the caryatid with his shoulder, and gave the workmen time to arrive.

His suppleness even exceeded his strength. Certain convicts who were forever dreaming of escape, ended by making a veritable science of force and skill combined. It is the science of muscles. An entire system of mysterious statics is daily practised by prisoners, men who are forever envious of the flies and birds. To climb a vertical surface, and to find points of support where hardly a projection was visible, was play to Jean Valjean. An angle of the wall being given, with the tension of his back and legs, with his elbows and his heels fitted into the unevenness of the stone, he raised himself as if by magic to the third story. He sometimes mounted thus even to the roof of the galley prison.

One other point that I would like to make is that I have also been criticized for referencing Jean Valjean in Isometric Power Revolution. Why? Because Jean Valjean is a fictional hero. However, if you do a little research on your own you will discover that Valjean was based of a very real friend of Victor Hugo's. In fact, Valjean's character is loosely based on the life of Eugène François Vidocq, an ex-convict who became a successful businessman widely noted for his social engagement and philanthropy. Vidocq helped Hugo with his research for Claude Gueux and Le Dernier jour d'un condamné (The Last Day of a Condemned Man). In 1828, Vidocq, already pardoned saved one of the workers in his paper factory by lifting a heavy cart on his shoulders as Valjean does. Hugo's description of Valjean rescuing a sailor on the Orion drew almost word for word on a friend's letter describing such an incident. On 22 February 1846, when he had begun work on the novel, Hugo then witnessed the arrest of a bread thief while a Duchess and her child watched the scene pitilessly from their coach. Bottom line: though Les Miserables is a novel it is a novel that is based in very real people and events..

---John Peterson
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