Students and faculty turned to Victor Hugo's classic Les Miserables for perspective last week, noting parallels between the current economic downturn and the acute economic problems of France in the early 19th century.
The Department of Romance Languages and Literature, the University Community Service Center, and the France Chicago Center staged a marathon reading of the work in its original French, hoping to provoke recognition of the despair caused by the current economic crisis here and abroad. Volunteer readers were stationed on the quads during the day and in the Regenstein lobby during evenings and inclement weather since Thursday.
According to the sponsors, Hugo’s work, set in the chaos of post-revolutionary France, admirably describes the conditions that prevail in a recession. "No one has explored the subject of misery more deeply and more movingly than Victor Hugo," the event's poster said.
Surrounded by inflatable reading chairs and a collection jug for donations in front of a small exhibition by the Regenstein on the history of Les Miserables, readers took half-hour shifts reciting the French text.
The proceeds from the collection jug will go to Fonzoke, a non-profit microcredit company that focuses on helping destitute women in Haiti. Microcredit companies provide very small loans to those normally unable to meet regular credit requirements, so that they might begin businesses and gradually establish themselves as economically independent. The group hopes that for Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and marked by high crime rates and an unstable political situation, microloans might make serious inroads into vitalizing the local economy.