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Victor Hugo's Jean Valjean & Isometrics
John Peterson John Peterson is offline
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05-08-2019, 04:44 PM
Hello Everyone,

I have received an e-mail asking about a new version of Victor Hugo's 'Les Miserables' that is currently playing on BBC. The man that sent me the e-mail states that this is the most outstanding portrayal of each of Victor Hugo's characters that he has ever seen. So far I have NOT seen it but will look into it later tonight.

The same man that sent me the e-mail stated that was looking for the reference to Isometric Contraction in Hugo's Novel but could NOT find it,

Here's where it is at:

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 practiced 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.

Note: It is true that 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. The man's name was 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 in 'Les Miserables'. Hugo's description of Valjean rescuing a sailor on the Orion drew almost word for word on his 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 on very real people, events and the very real misery as Hugo states through one of his characters, “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness. (Monseigneur Bienvenu in 'Les Miserables' )”

---John Peterson
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