"Religion, Society, and Nature! these are the three struggles of man. They constitute at the same time his three needs. In Notre-Dame de Paris the author denounced the first; in Les Misérables he exemplified the second; in this book he indicates the third."
This is taken from the preface to Les Travailleurs de la Mer. Having read Les Misérables and Notre Dame, I really felt like completing a philosophical trilogy upon starting this book.
Short summary: Gilliatt is an outsider in a small village on the island of Guernesey. One day he falls in love with the beautiful Deruchette. Deruchette is Mess Lethierry's cousin, and he loves her above everything, next to his steamship called Durande. On day his captain, Sieur Clubin, intentionally causes the Durande to shipwreck so he can run away with a fortune. Lethierry is devastated. Witnesses assure, however, that the machine of the ship is unhurt and still on the cliffs. Deruchette says that she will marry the man who can bring her father's machine home safely. Gilliatt smells his chance, and sets out for the dangerous cliffs. He works for weeks, starving himself, defying storms and even a kraken, and finally manages to return the machine home. On the very same night, he hears Deruchette declaring her love to another man, and knows he does not want to marry her while she's loving another, but Lethierry tells him she should be his. He selflessly helps her and her lover to marry without her uncle's knowledge and they run away to England. Gilliatt returns to the ocean and drowns himself.
The last sentence of this German translation was gorgeous: I looked up the English and French version, but they weren't nearly as striking. When both the ship with the newly-weds and Gilliatts head are out of sight, the last sentence says: Und nichts war mehr, als das Meer. I LOVE that.
Although the translation from 1866 (the same year Hugo published his book) is well done, this edition is very poorly edited, there are lots of interpunction failures and spelling mistakes. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book a lot. Not as much as the 'first two' in this 'trilogy', but still Hugo's brilliant voice and his view on the world shimmered through clearly. I could smell the salty winds, I could feel the sand on my skin, just like Gilliatt's willpower and desperation.