The Importance of “Turning” in LES MISÉRBALES

One of my favorite songs from Les Misérables is “Turning”, the song that is sung before “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” by some women and children after the falling of the barricades. To me, it is one of the most heartbreaking songs of the show.

One of the saddest lines of the song is this:

“They were schoolboys, never held a gun. Fighting for a new world that would rise up like the sun. Where’s that new world now the fight’s done?”

I think that this is just so heartbreaking because it’s so true. Those lines alone just scream out the story of the barricade boys and the June Rebellion. And it hurts because every word of that is true.

The June Rebellion of 1832 was ineffective. It didn’t change much, if anything at all. Everything just went back to the way that it was, barely shaking up the way things were done. In fact, it’s been agreed, even amongst historians that the only reason why the June Rebellion is remembered at all is because of Les Misérables.

“Did you see them going off to fight? Children of the barricade who didn’t last the night.”

Yet another sad line from “Turning”. Something that a lot of people don’t seem to really understand is that the June Rebellion only lasted two days–one night–and that it wasn’t just made that way for the sake of storytelling.

Why I think that “Turning” is an important part of Les Miz

I think that “Turning” is the song that tells the most about the June Rebellion of 1832. In the musical, dates are not explicitly said by any of the characters, though depending on the production, dates will appear on or above the set. Most people, I think, are unaware of the French Revolution’s time span and so these dates don’t really mean anything to people who are not big Les Miz fans or history geeks. But to me, “Turning” clearly sets the June Rebellion apart from the French Revolution.

The French Revolution lasted for years. The June Rebellion of 1832 lasted a night–two days if you want to be gracious. And goodness’s sakes, if that doesn’t set the two apart massively, then I don’t know what does.

“Turning” is also a song that I just feel is a sort of requiem for those who fought during the actual June Rebellion. A sort of song in their memory. Maybe I’m just being overly sentimental or thinking too much about it (I tend to do both a lot). But I like to think of it that way. It just adds a little more heart into Les Miz (though, let’s be 100% honest, it has a lot of heart in it already as it is).

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13 thoughts on “The Importance of “Turning” in LES MISÉRBALES

    1. Yes, that’s very true. It’s kind of sad because the June Rebellion kind of ended what I like to call France’s Era of Revolution and still not many people know of it. I suppose that because of the short-lived nature of it, there just isn’t as much primary source material and credible historical documentation of the actual event so it’s very hard for it to be studied by historians.

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      1. Yep. I think it would be really interesting if one day we knew more about the historical people who fought during the Rebellion. If I’m remembering correctly, Victor Hugo based characters like Enjolras off of people he knew in his life. It would be kind of cool to see how the actual people live on in their Les Miz character counterparts.

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      2. Marius is supposedly based off of young Victor Hugo. Hugo based the love story off of him and his first love, which is a huge reason why I love the two together. He actually prevented a prostitute from being arrested and he began to wonder if she had a child and Fantine was created. In some ways Les Mis is kind of autobiographical

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      3. I was going to do a big school project on the lesser known rebellions and revolutions that took place in France around the time but abandoned it because of lack of primary sources. Now that I think of it though, writing about Victor Hugo’s writing of Les Miz actually would have fit the theme perfectly.

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      4. That’s super cool! For my project, I settled for writing about Camille Desmoulins, a French Revolutionary whom I kind of just stumbled upon by accident. He kind of reminds me of some of the students in Les Miz actually.

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      5. I will still blog about Les Mis. If I ever see the stage show again, there will be a review for sure. And me wanting to rewrite character analysis’ because they felt like plot summaries the first time around. There is just so much to explore about the musical and it is hard to believe you can keep on finding more and more thing in it

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      6. Yeah, that’s 100% true. I find it amazing that, after years of being obsessed with Les Miz, I still find new things to think and talk about within it. There’s always something new to learn and discover within it!

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