hideous, terrifying, shadowy, mysterious, fantastic, nocturnal, crepuscular


To begin with the central problem: the exorbitant length. Les Misérables is one of the longest novels in European literature. But length is not just a question of pages, it’s also a question of tempo. And this is why Les Misérables is longer than the arithmetic of its length.

In his essay “The Curtain”, Milan Kundera writes how “aesthetic concepts began to interest me only when I first perceived their existential roots, when I came to understand them as existential concepts . . .” A form is not free-floating; it is not purely a technical exercise, an external imposition. It is intimately, intricately linked to what it describes. “In the art of the novel,” Kundera adds, “existential discoveries are inseparable from the transformation of form.”

And the most obvious transformation Victor Hugo effects in the novel’s form is sheer gargantuan size. This megalomania was a conscious choice on Hugo’s part. To describe his work in progress, he jotted down a list of hyperbolic adjectives: “Astounding, extraordinary, surprising, superhuman, supernatural, unheard of, savage, sinister, formidable, gigantic, savage, colossal, monstrous, deformed, disturbed, electrifying, lugubrious, funereal, hideous, terrifying, shadowy, mysterious, fantastic, nocturnal, crepuscular.”

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