the Thénardiers



re review by Tobias Grey of The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of “Les Misérables” by David Bellos

The New York Times Book Review, April 2, 2017






Re productions associated with Victor Hugo’’s novel Les Misérables, the reviewer, Tobias Grey, notes:

Perhaps the most damaging deformation belongs to the all-conquering stage musical “Les Miz” [Les Misérables], which turns Monsieur and Madame Thénardier — the novel’s most egregious characters– into bathetic comic relief. The lawless innkeeping couple who set out to blackmail the remorseful hero, Jean Valjean, are treated by Hugo with the utmost seriousness. “The figure of Thénardier is a warning that Satan may make his own use of the legitimate grievances of the poor,” Bellos counsels.

Right on! Finally, someone has made this point. I read Hugo’s novel in its entirety. The Thénardiers are right up there with all time evil, scary characters in literature: Fagin, Simon Legree, Wolf Larsen — you name them. They are not lovable sinners, miscreants a la Sir John Falsatff.  And, they treat Cosette (the little girl) horribly.

The reviewer goes on to make another point:

It’s a shame there are not more personal anecdotes of this nature. It could have been jolly, for instance, if Bellos had done a bit of shoe-leather reporting and, say, infiltrated La Société des Amis de Victor Hugo, France’s leading association for all things pertaining to the author of “Les Misérables.” What are the burning points of contention among Misérablists?

Who cares about what La Société des Amis de Victor Hugo is up to? This is pertinent or essential material in a book about a great novel? I don’t think so.



— Roger W. Smith

   April 2, 2017


P.S. “Master of the House”: an annoying, idiotic song if there ever was one.

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; classical music; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Besides (1), a personal site, he also hosts websites devoted to (2) the author Theodore Dreiser and (3) to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin.
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