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Dr Bradley Stephens Discusses Les Misérables at Clifton College

10 November 2016

Dr Bradley Stephens from the School of Modern Languages made a short trip to Clifton College on Tuesday to talk to French students about Les Misérables.

The pupils, who are currently studying Hugo’s famous novel as part of their A-Level studies, listened to Dr Stephens' talk 'What Les Misérables Tells Us About the Arts and Humanities'. The presentation, in the school’s Languages Café, was arranged by Miranda Motley from Clifton’s Modern Languages department with the aim to strengthen pupils’ understanding of the text and its wider legacy.

Dr Stephens specialises in French literature from the nineteenth century, with two books published on Victor Hugo, while he is currently writing a biography of the French novelist for Reaktion Books’ Critical Lives series.   

Ms. Motley said that the talk was a great success, with students feeling enthused and inspired by the ideas offered.

"This links closely to the new A level specification for Modern Languages in which all pupils will study a piece of literature in the target language. It also gave our pupils a flavour of what Modern Language study at university may have to offer.

Thanks to Miss Motley for inviting in her former lecturer and to Mr. Lewis for organising the event. We look forward to working closely with Bristol University again in the future."

Phoebe Fawcett, an upper sixth languages student, said:

"Before listening to Dr Stephens, Cosette always seemed, to me, to be lacking in both strength and personality. She began as the typical Cinderella character – rising from rags to riches – yet she learns nothing in between and quite frankly, she did not inspire me.

However, wandering back from this talk to home, I had much to dwell on. Who knew one character could spur such a deep internal debate on a Tuesday evening?"

I appreciate the opportunity to listen to a man as passionate about this book as I am for languages and instill the excitement I have for next year when I begin the path that Dr Stephens took by studying French at university."

Another student, George McHattie, said that the talk showed him how the novel is interpreted across the world. He said:

"Les Mis has been published in many different forms all over the world. In Japan it has even been turned into a video game.

However, they all have one thing in common; viewing Cosette as a figure, who is there purely to look pretty and to be used by the male characters. Even in the Japanese fighting game, Cosette’s special move is to call in the help of her father.

The talk showed this common theme in all of the different versions of Les Misérables – that Cosette is still seen as a weak, and overall, helpless figure amongst the power of the men."

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