Les Miserables, again

Someone asked me about Dickens vs. Hugo, and I had this to say:

Dickens is great and all, but Hugo, he seemed to encompass everything about Paris at the time (except for the food). He's like Dickens on speed and a hell of a lot more longwinded, and if I remember correctly, Dickens never wrote about war, at least he wasn't known for it the way Hugo is.

I'd say Hugo is more on the level of Tolstoy. His description of battle have more fire and personality, but Tolstoy was trying to show that great currents of history and not people win wars, and the most successful generals are those that understand this (Russia didn't win against Napoleon, history won against Napoleon). Tolstoy has an incomparably more complex sense of proportion, where Hugo is all passions and disproportion--Valjean is a gentle giant, Gavroche a midget wit, Javert a tall predator.

Yu can make a strong case for Tolstoy being ultimately the greater artist, and I'd have to agree with you (the way he writes about normal life is just about this side of Godlike), but my tastes tend to lean towards Hugo and his excesses. At this level of writing, however, you're really comparing titans.

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