I was inspired today to focus on the famous French writer Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, because of my French phrase a day calendar. I’m trying to learn a bit of French before our summer European vacation.
Today’s quote from Victor Hugo was:
Lire, c’est voyager; voyager, c’est lire.
To read is to travel, to travel is to read.
I love this quote because it encompasses two of my great joys in life, and it comes from an author who influenced me very much when I was young.
It seems to me that most of us have or need sustaining stories in our lives. These our stories that guide us through the cycles of our lives, sometimes changing in their meanings and nuances. For me, the story of the long suffering fictional character Jean Valjean is one of them. I read Les Miserables long before it became a popular musical. We had an old worn copy of Les Miserables in our family bookcase, the same Art Deco black walnut antique in my home now. Many of the books in that wooden treasure box were classics of 19th century literature. Maybe that is why I have a special fondness in my heart for books written in the 1800’s. The Romantic movement in Europe particularly appealed to me then, and still does.
Reading was the only way that I could access a world far from away from my own in time and space. I always found reading to be a bit of a miracle, that we could through the imagination of gifted storytellers combined with our own, experience other worlds, some that actually existed, and some that are entirely fantasy.
A friend of mine once read Les Miserables and thought it to be a let down after seeing the musical version of it. She thought it was old-fashioned and preachy in the very scene that I liked the most. My favorite scene in the book is when a priest is told that Jean Valjean has stolen his silver and instead of turning him in, gives him some of the silver that he didn’t steal. That moment of generosity, forgiveness and lack of judgment seems so foolish to many modern readers. For me that scene demonstrates some of the central values of Christianity that too often are not practiced in any time. We might have a hard time believing that someone who was once a thief , put in prison for stealing bread to feed his sister’s children, could change so profoundly and lead a normal life. Unfortunately, I’m afraid our growing prison populations in America require a new Victor Hugo for our time.
I’m hoping to see Victor Hugo’s home in Paris this summer, when my family. That would create a beautiful cycle for me, just as going to Giverny to see Monet’s gardens will inspire my mom.
What are your favorite voyages from reading?
Do you have any plans for travel soon?