Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Mario Vargas Llosa - The Temptation of the Impossible

Diane Scharper reviews Mario Vargas Llosa's essay book The Temptation of the Impossible.
Known to Americans primarily as the author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables, Victor Hugo (1802-1885) is considered France's greatest poet and one of its greatest prose writers. Hugo's stature, according to The Temptation of the Impossible by Mario Vargas Llosa, is due mainly to the impact of Les Miserables.

Why did the novel exert such a profound influence on Hugo's literary status? And what does the story tell us about Victor Hugo himself? Vargas Llosa, a prolific Latin American novelist, journalist and scholar, grapples with the two questions. But he never actually answers them because Hugo, like Les Miserables - which in the unabridged version consists of 10 volumes - is super-sized. And as Vargas Llosa admits, it is impossible to know this great author of the Romantic period - even after spending "two years totally immersed" in his books.

As Vargas Llosa explains it in these essays (originally lectures that he delivered as a visiting professor at Oxford University), Hugo began Les Miserables after one of his plays bombed. The audience had laughed at the wrong places; the critics panned the performance, and Hugo became the butt of jokes. Not to be stopped, he continued to write, putting much of his dramatic energy into the novel, which became a larger-than-life narrative - noted for its theatricality. Read More

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