Les Misérables, Victor Hugo

The Seven Ages of ParisLes Misébles is Victor Hugo’s magnum opus. This epic novel looks at French society in the 1820s and 1830s. Hugo’s novel is the story of Jean Valjean. Convicted for stealing bread to feed his sister’s starving child, Valjean becomes a convict and is sentenced to the galleys. Between his sentence and extra time for escape attempts, Valjean spends nearly 20 years at hard labor.

The story follows Valjean’s path to redemption after his parole. Along the way he meets the Bishop of D— (digne les bains) who points him to God. Valjean struggles and eventually commits another crime that would make him a fugitive for life.

Valjean eventually escapes and takes on a pseudonym. He invents a new manufacturing process and becomes rich. All the while employing as many of the poor in the community as he can. Eventually he becomes the mayor of the town respected by all.

Hugo’s novel illustrates the truism that no good deed goes unpunished.

Eventually the police capture a fugitive, an imbecile they believe is Valjean. Valjean, now the mayor must decide whether to lay low or speak out and take the prisoner’s place. He chooses to tell the truth.

Along the way he vows to raise Cosette, the daughter of a prostitute whom he raises as his own. His flight from the policeman, Inspector Javert, takes him to Paris on the brink of the revolution preceeding the Second Republic.

For American readers, the context is confusing because the revolution
depicted is not the revolution of 1789 that endid in the regicide and
brought on the terror. This is rather the revolution of 1832. This
revolution was against King Louis-Phillipe and the restored Bourbon

In Les Misérables, we see all layers of French society at the time. The bohemien students, the rabble in the street, the dying aristocracy all portrayed in some of the darkest days of the City of Lights. Hugo’s book  speaks to the human condition laid bare.

If you are interested, I would recommend that you also see the Broadway show version or even the High School version. I have seen the show several times on Broadway and on a couple of tours. I saw one of the first Hish School productions and it was just as moving as the Broadway version.

While this is a timeless story, it has not fared movie adaptation as well. The 1998 version featuring Liam Neeson, Geoffry Rush, Uma Thurman and Claire Danes is not worth  seeing. Last time I was in France I bought a multi-DVD version featuring Gerard Depardieu for my sister who teaches French. I hear it is better but it is in French.

Over the last few years I have been acquiring successively more advanced version of this book in French. I am currently reading at about a Junior High level. This is one of my favorite books.

This book is about the human condition — read it!








Les Misérables gets 5 of 5 dis-oriented smileys  ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-)


Purchase Les Misérables from Amazon.com.


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