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The Essential Fantine

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Not only is she one of the most sympathetic characters in literature, she is also the woman responsible for my favourite song, “I Dreamed a Dream,” in my favourite musical, Les Misérables.

Fantine is in some ways the archetype of the ultimate mother, a woman deserted by a callous man, only to raise her little Cosette all on her own. However, she has no money to support herself and soon turns to prostitution to raise her daughter, going so far as to sell her teeth and hair. Along the way, she loses her beauty, her health and, finally, her hope.

This is what she reflects upon while singing “I Dreamed a Dream,” a song most recently popularized by Susan Boyle. Yet it’s the video below, in which Anne Hathaway sings the same song, which I believe best captures the pain Victor Hugo was trying to infuse into Fantine. It’s a tragedy that has resonated with audiences for years, but this particular version is especially poignant. And for me, it sings with the magic of melding art and music, something so difficult to do for any performer in any age.


As an aside, if you missed this live performance at the 2013 Oscars of the entire Les Mis crew, watch it. It’s pretty spectacular.



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I had a good day yesterday.

I’m like most people. Some days are good, some days are bad, and some days it rains (thank you, Bull Durham). On good days, I think a lot about the word “hope,” and that in turn gets me to thinking about languages and how we express ourselves.

Usually when I want to explore the meaning of a word, I compare the English with the Korean, which often leads to comparing it to the Chinese (roughly 70 percent of Korean words are derived from Chinese characters).

I do this because I’m often fascinated/surprised at the differences we have in our respective etymologies. But that’s the whole point: Language is not uniform around the world and reflects past cultures, histories and beliefs.

What’s interesting about “hope” is that it’s actually one of those rare cases of being – as they say in Korea – “Same-same but different.”

Take a look first at the English roots of the word:

Old English hopian “wish, expect, look forward (to something),” of unknown origin, a general North Sea Germanic word (cf. Old Frisian hopia, Middle Low German, Middle Dutch, Dutch hopen ; Middle High German hoffen “to hope,” borrowed from Low German). Some suggest a connection with hop (v.) on the notion of “leaping in expectation” [Klein].

The word “hope” in Korean is heemang (희망), NOT gidae (기대) as Google Translate would have you believe, and comes from the Chinese xīwàng (希望),  meaning “hope, rare, scarce” and wàng meaning “ambition, full moon, hope, desire, aspire to, expect.”

I suppose you could get creative and say that “hope” to the Chinese and Koreans is like the scarcity of a full moon (i.e. it only happens once every 29.53 days), but in reality they look at it the same way we English speakers do: there is a leap in expectation, an ambition for the rare, or – as the idiom goes in English in extreme cases – to hope against hope.

Then again, maybe languages bore you and you like to cling to the mythological instead, Pandora’s box and all.

Whatever the case, here’s to the hope of another good day, another one of those rare full moons which for those of us in the EST will be on November 4 at 1:24 a.m. EST, making it, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, a Full Beaver Moon.

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