Today, we discuss chapter IV of book 1, volume 1 of Les Misérables: Works corresponding to Words.
This is one of the most important chapters in book 1. It is a magnificent chapter full of short and catchy aphorisms, worthy of being shared widely. Here, we can see the greatness of Victor Hugo's progressive soul. There is a lot of information to cover and it is very difficult to comment on it in a way that gives this chapter justice.
||[En.] (Hapgood translation)
||[En.] (modified translation)
|Être un saint, c’est l’exception ; être un juste, c’est la règle. Errez, défaillez, péchez, mais soyez des justes.
||To be a saint is the exception; to be an upright man is the rule. Err, fall, sin if you will, but be upright.
||To be a saint is the exception; to be just is the rule. Err, fall, sin if you will, but be just!
Chapter I briefly told us about the past of M. Myriel. It gave us an opportunity to review the historical context.
As Myriel set his budget in chapter II, we talked about economic matters and the unequal wealth distribution.
In chapter III we talked about the spiritual nature of the novel.
In chapter IV, we have a collection of seemingly unrelated stories. However, a second, more attentive reading reveals the common denominator in the whole chapter: Justice. Hugo approaches justice from different, complementary perspectives: divine justice, human justice, fiscal justice, justice within the judicial system, etc.
This one of the core chapters in book 1. We haven't gone as far as setting the stage for the events in book 2, yet. However this chapter represents some of the core philosophy of Myriel. The theme of this chapter, justice, echoes the title of book 1: "A just man". (This parallel is lost in Hapgood's translation, hence our modified translation. See section below about another translation problem.)
The chapter explores our human foibles although in somewhat forgiving manner. Our physical bodies bind us to imperfection. Everything is flawed about us, including both our judicial system and our approach towards divine justice. But this shouldn't prevent us from being just. Myriel, even before becoming a saint, was a just man. Sainthood may very well be unachievable for most/all of us, being just, however, is a basic requirement we should set for ourselves.
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