The Toilers of the Sea Paperback – Sep 10 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
Though it sold briskly when first published in 1866, Toilers of the Sea, by Victor Hugo (1802-1885), is rarely read in the U.S. today. In time for the bicentenary of Hugo's birth, Modern Library has commissioned a new translation by Scot James Hogarth for the first unabridged English edition of the novel, which tells the story of an illiterate fisherman from the Channel Islands who must free a ship that has run aground in order to win the hand of the woman he loves, a shipowner's daughter. Gilliat, the embattled fisherman, contends with sea storms and monstrous predators that Hugo describes in exhilarating detail. Intended to be part of a triptych with Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, the book laments the living conditions of impoverished workers, while celebrating their ingenuity and discipline.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
James Hogarth was educated at Edinburgh University, and was later undersecretary in the Scottish Office.
Graham Robb’s many books include Victor Hugo: A Biography, which won the 1997 Whitbread Biography Award.
Top Customer Reviews
To say that "Toilers..." is about Man's struggle with the sea would be an understatement of the actual theme of this beautiful work of unsurpassed literary craftsmanship.
Such is the theme of Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" too; but Hemingway depicts a revolting pessimism, showing that despite Man's heroic stature, all human will and effort is doomed to frustration and failure.
"Toilers..." goes beyond Man's struggle against the forces of nature which are uncontrollable and in purely physical terms, immeasurably more powerful than him.
The actual theme is this: Glorification of man's capacity to cross all possible barriers, surmount every obstacle - however difficult - and achieve a tough, rational goal.
Hugo glorifies intelligence, inventiveness, efficaciousness, will power, perseverance and endurance.
Gilliat, the hero, doesn't have to just fight the tempest and the wind; the paucity of resources or the aid of combined human effort; hunger and fever; the sea monster or the impossibility of any succor from land...
He has to struggle against lies and slander; against loneliness and rejection; against social prejudice, pointless hatred and meanness...
On the other hand, the adorable Mess Lethierry too has to fight against dogma and superstition, the upholders of a meaningless tradition and the destroyers of the human spirit; blind, stark irrationality and lack of appreciation for human ability; treachery, hypocrisy and deception...Read more ›
This is a new translation by James Hogarth (if Amazon has put this review with the right book). The translation is much smoother and more natural than the Hapgood/Artois/et al. translation, which is being sold by Signet as the "mass market paperback edition." That old translation is OK - but you should get the Hogarth; it is worth the extra money to have this novel in 21st Century prose.
So buy this and savor it!
The main character of The Toilers of the Sea is Gilliatt; a dreamy, pensive young man, who is generally unpopular in his neighborhood and lives in solitude. He makes his living as a fisherman and has a thing for birds. He's almost the split image of Marius (from Les Mis), if you replace the interest in politics with the interest in nature. He also is shy and withdrawn, is intimidated by women, and has a visionary, contemplative mind. Unfortunately, Gilliat falls in love with Deruchette; a shallow, silly girl, who is wholly underserving of him. This is one of the book's flaws. But the love story is typically Hugoesque, in which the object of Gilliatt's love is only the vague image of a woman and a voice over the garden wall. To win her hand in marriage, Gilliatt must go to rescue the steam engine of a wrecked ship from a forlorn, treacherous reef in the middle of the ocean.
This is what makes the book brilliant. Gilliatt, with hardly any resources, all alone, takes on a superhuman feat that would frighten the most valiant of men, against the ruthless forces of nature. This part is about 35% of the book, and alone makes the whole book worth reading.Read more ›
What strikes me first is the sheer power of Hugo's mind. In *The Toilers of the Sea* no less than in his two more famous works, he wields his pen like a Zeus-thrown thunderbolt, hurling down his words from the lofty heights of his thought with electrifying intensity, grandeur and drama. Few writers living today, however talented, come close to achieving this effect. Nor have they Hugo's breadth of knowledge and ability to write with it as he can: the effect is one of scope and depth, and more; awesome, but hard for me to put into words.
These qualities are in Hugo's straight narrative as well as his digressions, which are legion; readers who remember his long description of the sewers of Paris--stuck into the middle of *Les Miserables*, a novel about redemption--will know what I mean. The first fifty pages of *The Toilers of the Sea*, for example, are taken up in the geographical, historical and cultural background of the setting; later, several pages each are spent on such subjects as the nature of hypocrisy, the winds at sea, and the myth and mystique of that eight-tentacled demon of the deep, the octopus. Brilliant in themselves as these digressions are, they are seldom integrated seamlessly into the story. But I will not gripe, for they are well-written and give a contemporary readership much-needed context.
Certainly they do not detract from the plot, however much they interrupt it.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Hugo was the greatest storyteller of all time: the tightest structures (with some exceptions), most integrated themes, most complicated yet logical plots, almost addictive tempos... Read morePublished on Aug. 21 2003 by Toiler
This is a fantastic story. If you have to choose one Hugo book to read this should be the one. The sheer tenacity and ingenuity of the protagonist will improve your outlook on... Read morePublished on Aug. 21 2002 by J. Kane
This has to be one of Victor Hugo's lesser-known masterpieces. The descriptions of people, time, and place are rich and vivid, and full of pathos. Read morePublished on Oct. 29 2001 by Ryan Carr
I own the Collected Works of Victor Hugo, 15 vols. Last summer I found the time to read all of them. Read morePublished on May 28 2001 by Angry Mofo
Hugo's story of one man's ultimate struggle with the sea illustrates the fantastic wonders, dangers, and joys of the ocean. Read morePublished on Dec 7 2000
This visionary novel about a loner who rescues, singled-handedly, the engine of a wrecked steamship far out at sea, is the purest expression of the heroic in man that Hugo ever... Read morePublished on Nov. 9 2000 by Mr. A