September 19th, 2009


Victor Hugo - Le dernier jour d'un condamné

Victor Hugo – Le dernier jour d’un condamné

As much of our holidays was spent in France (on our way to Spain and back), I decided to be brave and take a French book with me this year. It has been years since I last read a complete book in French, I guess even more than a decade, so I didn’t dare to pick a huge one.

On the other hand, Hugo seemed literate enough to be a good choice. In France I started reading it, on the way back home I finished the book. I liked reading it, I am proud to have finished it, but I have to admit that the subtleties of the language go beyond me. When reading in Dutch, German or English there is no thinking involved, no language barrier, my whole attention goes to the book itself. In Spanish it is more complicated already; hence I don’t read everything I want in Spanish.

My French is not good enough to get the extra layer that makes reading a good book so interesting. So I have read this book completely one dimensionally. Hugo describes the last 24 hours of someone waiting to be executed. As can be expected, the man in question doesn’t think he deserves the punishment. I did get most chapters. He describes how he got there, his environment, his trial. The last visit of his little daughter is very touching. Other chapters go past me. I read the words, I translate them in my head, but I don’t get the meaning.

I don’t get the little joke in chapter 47, consisting only of a note by the editor: ‘The original chapter 47 hasn’t been found’. Why does he think this is funny? As if the following chapters have been written by a real criminal on his way to his own guillotine. As if you really are writing your last words with your head on the block.

Probably a very good book…

Quote: “Monsieur! Il y a bientôt un an qu’elle ne m’a vu, la pauvre enfant. Elle m’a oublié, visage, parole, accent ; et puis, qui me reconnaîtrait avec cette barbe, ces habits en cette pâleur ? (p. 85)

Translation (mine, therefore far from perfect): “Sir! It must soon be a year since she last saw me, the poor child. She has forgotten me, my face, my words, and my accent; but then, who would have recognised me with this beard, these clothes and this paleness?”

(the book is available for free via Project Gutenberg)

Number: 09-040
Title: Le dernier jour d’un condamné
Author: Victor Hugo
Language: French
Year: 1832
# Pages: 97 (8579)
Category: Literature
ISBN: 2-277-30070-5