On this Labor Day, an ode to utilizing art to raise social consciousness. It is odd, though perhaps fitting, that Hugo’s Les Miserables is best known today as a musical. Upton Sinclair included it in his 1915 Anthology of Social Protest. From its debut, the book that is still one of the half-dozen greatest novels in the world struck a tone of moral redemption and social revolution that resonated with the common populace, with a literary style that appealed to intellectuals. It is a rare instance of the joined interests of working people with the aristocracy – one we would do well to remember and hopefully one of the reasons, beyond the singing, that it lives on today. Here’s Hugo’s author preface:
SO long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.