Serving God, Serving our Community

Faith, hope and love in Les Misérables

In 2009 an unknown 47 year-old walked on to the stage in a TV talent show.  She looked extremely unlikely to become a star.  But as she sang ‘I dreamed a dream’, the audience gasped in amazement, then  gave Susan Boyle a standing ovation.  Her song came from Les Misérables, itself an improbable candidate for global success.  Appearances can be deceptive.

Like Victor Hugo’s epic 19th Century novel, Les Misérables, on which it’s based, the 1985 stage musical wasn’t initially popular with critics, but it was adored by the public. Set in the deprived neighbourhoods of 1830s Paris, it has an almost Dickensian flavour.  There were huge contrasts between rich and poor, kindness and vice, honesty and hypocrisy, tragedy and triumph.  Memorable characters and rogues abound.

Victor Hugo, himself a passionate Republican, wrote Les Mis whilst in living exile in Guernsey.  The plight of the urban poor then was on a par with Third World poverty today and he longed to see a fairer society.  The human stories of ordinary people, caught up in the turmoil of life, contribute hugely to the appeal of Les Mis, whether as a book, a musical or in the 2012 blockbuster film with Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman..

They grapple with deep human questions like identity, hope, love, crime and punishment, honesty, social justice, and forgiveness.   Can I come to terms with losing a loved one?   Or seeing my dreams dashed?   How to respond to disappointment, grief and loss, survival and faith?  The drama, themes and emotions are heightened by memorable songs, such as  I dreamed a dream, Bring him home, Who am I? and  Empty chairs and empty tables.

Many of us still wonder about these issues ourselves.  Who am I?  Is there hope?  Can I make a fresh start in life?  Can I find forgiveness?  Can we build a more just society? Why does God let bad things happen to good people?   In one of his letters, St Paul reminded the Christians in Corinth that faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.

May we all experience each of these three more deeply during 2018.

Rev Fred Olney