What the Editors Are Reading

About 20 years ago the late George Garrett, a professor of English and writing at the University of Virginia and a contributing editor to this magazine, told me an anecdote meant to illustrate the intellectual and social naiveté of students at one of the most prestigious schools in the country.  After George requested his sophomore (as I recall) class write an essay about a theatrical performance they had attended, one student confessed that he’d never yet seen a play, opera, etc., but that his father had promised to take him to see “Lame Is Robb” at the Kennedy Center the following month.  I thought of George, therefore, and of the crippled border collie on the Scottish moors, while reading a recent critical essay about Les misérables in an English magazine.  I had not looked at Victor Hugo’s novel since being assigned it in French class at prep school, but only a couple years ago I reread his Notre-Dame de Paris and enjoyed it very much.  As I couldn’t find a French edition of Les misérables in my library, I ordered a copy from my foreign-books supplier in New York and have begun reading the novel in the Penguin Classics Edition while waiting for the Folio Classique one to arrive.

Published a quarter-century before Flaubert invented the modern novel, today Les misérables is an example of how not to write a novel—one...

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