Edhird's Blog

Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit


2 Comments

Search for the historical Victor Hugo

 Victor Hugo1By the Rev. Dr.  Ed Hird

With the success of the movie Les Miserables, people have been looking again at the author Victor Hugo.  What is it about Hugo that enabled him to write what Leo Tolstoy called the greatest of all novels? Who was the real historical Victor Hugo?

Every day around 3,000 words are published about Victor Hugo.  It has been said that to read the complete works of Hugo would take no less than ten years.  Every important poet, novelist and dramatist of his age was shaped by Hugo’s prolific endeavours.   Some call him the greatest of French poets.  He was the dominant figure in 19th century French literature.  By the time he left France in 1851, Hugo was seen as the most famous living writer in the world.  Upon his return to France, thousands of people in Paris chanted ‘Vive Victor Hugo’, reciting his poetry, and throwing flowers on him.  On his eightieth birthday, six hundred thousand Parisians marched past his house in his honor.  At his death, a day of national mourning was declared.

By the time Hugo died in 1883, he had become a symbol of France with all its struggles and challenges.  Hugo lived through bloody uprising after uprising.  Almost a million Frenchmen had died during this revolutionary period, half of them under the age of twenty-eight.  Les Miserables with its passionate message about the barricades reflect this deep trauma of chaos upon unending chaos.

When Hugo was born, his parents were horrified by his appearance.  His own mother could not bear to look at him. His own doctor indicated that without a miracle, Victor would not last out the month.  With an enormous head and a tiny body, his father said that Victor looked like the gargoyles of Notre Dame.  Such an insensitive comment led to his second most favorite novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Ironically after the success of his Hunchback novel, all the nouveau riche wanted their homes to be ornamented with gargoyles.

Sophie HugoVictor adored his mother Sophie but she cared little for her children.  During his childhood, Victor deeply resented his father Leopold who was always away at war.  As an adult, Victor became his father’s closest companion.  His own parents had divided loyalties between the royalists and the republicans.  Hugo’s parents met in Brittany while his Napoleonic father was stamping out a local royalist rebellion.  Both of his parents were unfaithful to their marriage vows, something that repeated itself in Victor’s own marriage.

While only fifteen, Victor applied for the French Academy’s annual poetry contest.  His poetry was so advanced that the Academy refused to accept him until his mother produced his birth certificate. Victor loved to write, commenting that ‘every thought that has ever crossed my mind sooner or later finds it onto paper. …Ideas are my sinews and substance.’

His father Leopold saw Victor’s involvement in literature as being like ‘pouring good wine down an open sewer’.  So he refused to help fund his literary education: “If you were to elect a career as a lawyer or physician, I would gladly make sacrifices to see through university.”  Victor often went without food in his early literary years, saying ‘I shall prove to my father that a poet can make sums far larger than the wages of an Imperial General.’  With great talent and a strong work ethic, Victor became one of a very small band who could earn their living with their pens.  One of Victor’s closest friends was Alexandre Dumas, the famous author of the Count of Monte Cristo and the Three Musketeers.

Adele HugoOne of Victor’s greatest sorrows was that his wife Adele was indifferent to his writings.  Even his passionate love poems for his wife, she ignored.  Adele warned Victor that ‘it is the fault of passionate men to set the women they love upon a pedestal. To be placed so high produces dizziness, and dizziness leads to a fall.’  Adele’s affair with her husband’s best friend Saint-Beauve crushed Victor, leading him into his own ongoing infidelity. There was great tragedy in Hugo’s life with his own brother Eugene having a mental breakdown at Victor’s wedding and his youngest daughter suffering the same fate after being abandoned by her lover Pinson.  One of the deepest wounds was the drowning of Victor’s daughter Leopoldine shortly after her marriage.   Out of this great sorrow came great dramatic writing, especially in his novel Les Miserables.  Andre Maurois commented that Hugo possessed and would retain all his life long, one precious gift: the power to give to the events of everyday life a dramatic intensity.

Ground-zero in Les Miserables was the gracious Bishop Bienvenue who transformed Jean Valjean by his generous act of forgiveness.  Victor Hugo’s son Charles was upset by his father’s choosing of Bishop Bienvenue.  Charles suggested instead that his father should have made Bienvenue to be a medical doctor instead of a clergyman.  Victor replied to his son: ‘Man needs religion. Man needs God. I say it out loud, I pray every night…”  Victor held that humanity is an ‘unspeakable miracle.’   Of all the French Romantics, Hugo made the most explicit usage of the Bible.

I thank God for the life and work of Victor Hugo who had such a passion for life, freedom and forgiveness, especially as seen in his novel Les Miserables.

 

(Click to watch)

 

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News

award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form.  Dr. JI Packer wrote the foreword, saying “I heartily commend what he has written.” The book focuses on strengthening a new generation of healthy leaders. Drawing on examples from Titus’ healthy leadership in the pirate island of Crete, it shows how we can embrace a holistically healthy life.

In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook. It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 


2 Comments

The Joy of Les Miserables

By the Rev. Dr.  Ed Hird

eiffel tower in paris france

Photo by Nextvoyage on Pexels.com

People have been raving about the musical version of Les Miserable which has already had around three hundred million dollars in worldwide box office sales.

Nicky Gumbel calls it a superb film, a triumph of grace over law, good over evil, love over hate. Eric Metaxas said that it is one of the most vivid, most moving examples of God’s goodness and mercy currently playing at a movie theatre near you. I enjoyed the new movie so much that it inspired me to again watch the 1998 version with Liam Neeson and Uma Thurman. Though my wife and I saw the Les Miserables production many years at Queen Elizabeth Theatre, this time round seemed to be striking a deeper chord with myself. The original novel, which I now have in eBook version, has been in print for over 150 years. Upton Sinclair calls the novel Les Miserables one of the five greatest novels of the world. With 1500 pages (1900 in French), it is also one of the longest novels ever written.

Many of you already know this delightful story of how an embittered ex-convict named Jean Valjean stole from a bishop who turns the other cheek and challenges Valjean to become a new man. Victor Hugo has the bishop say: “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.” In gratitude, Valjean spends the rest of his life showing amazing grace, love and forgiveness to others. The forgiven forgive. Valjean’s life is based loosely on the life of Eugène François Vidocq, an ex-convict who became a thriving entrepreneur known for his good works. In 1828, Vidocq, like Valjean, rescued one of his factory workers by lifting a heavy cart on his shoulders.

The tension in the movie between forgiveness and judgment is expressed through the police inspector Javert relentlessly pursuing Valjean. Javert tells Prisoner 24601 (Valjean) that ‘men like you can never change’. Again and again Valjean shocks Javert by forgiving the unforgivable. Valjean offered to Javert the same radical reconciliation and healing that had been given to him. Javert cannot handle forgiveness because he is so fixated on people getting what they deserve. Javert was legalistic and self-righteous. This caused him to persecute the very person whose life had been transformed, the very person who was doing so much good for others. Javert’s compassion is completely lacking. Life becomes no more than following the rules and trusting in one’s own efforts. For Javert, God is an unforgiving moralistic tyrant. For Valjean, God is personal, caring and loving.

Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine was spectacular, particularly in her singing of ‘I Dreamed a Dream.’ In 1841, Hugo personally rescued a prostitute from arrest for assault. We grieve with Fantine over the injustice of her losing her job and being forced into prostitution to feed her child Cossette. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times notes that Les Miserables ‘delivers an emotional wallop when it counts. You can walk into the theater as an agnostic, but you may just leave singing with the choir.’

Les Miserables reminds us that anyone can change; anyone can become a new person. We are not fated to be bitter and miserable. We can choose the way of forgiveness and joy. We can choose to be a new creation like Valjean. My prayer for those reading this article is that the movie Les Miserables may inspire each of us to forgive and serve one another as did Valjean.

 

The Rev. Dr.  Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News

award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form.  Dr. JI Packer wrote the foreword, saying “I heartily commend what he has written.” The book focuses on strengthening a new generation of healthy leaders. Drawing on examples from Titus’ healthy leadership in the pirate island of Crete, it shows how we can embrace a holistically healthy life.

In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook. It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca