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Les Miserables

Victor Hugo

Published: 1862

Les Misérables (translated variously from French as The Miserable Ones, The Wretched, The Poor Ones, The Wretched Poor, The Victims) (1862) is a novel by French author Victor Hugo, and among the best-known novels of the 19th century. It follows the lives and interactions of several French characters over a twenty year period in the early 19th century that includes the Napoleonic wars and subsequent decades. Principally focusing on the struggles of the protagonist—ex-convict Jean Valjean—who seeks to redeem himself, the novel also examines the impact of Valjean's actions for the sake of social commentary. It examines the nature of good, evil, and the law, in a sweeping story that expounds upon the history of France, architecture of Paris, politics, moral philosophy, law, justice, religion, and the types and nature of romantic and familial love. Hugo was inspired by the real-life criminal/policeman François Eugène Vidocq, and split his personalities into the two main characters in his novel. Les Misérables is known to many through its numerous stage and screen adaptations, of which the most famous is the stage musical of the same name, commonly known as "Les Mis" or, more commonly "Les Miz" (pronounced /leɪ ˈmɪz/).

Plot summary

Les Misérables contains a multitude of plots, but the thread that binds them together is the story of the ex-convict Jean Valjean who becomes a force for good in the world, but cannot escape his past. The novel is divided into five parts, each part divided into books, and subdivided into chapters. Each chapter is relatively short; usually no longer than a few pages. Nevertheless, the book in its entirety is quite lengthy by usual standards, well exceeding twelve hundred pages in unabridged editions. Within the borders of the novel's story arc, Hugo fills many pages with his thoughts on religion, politics, and society, including his three lengthy digressions, one being a discussion on enclosed religious orders, another being on argot, and most famously, his epic retelling of the Battle of Waterloo.

The story starts in 1815, in Toulon. After five years of imprisonment in the bagne of Toulon for stealing bread for his starving sister and her family, and fourteen more for numerous attempts to escape, the peasant Jean Valjean is released. However, he is required to carry a yellow passport, which marks him as a convict. Rejected by innkeepers, who do not want to take in a convict, Valjean sleeps on the street. However, the benevolent Bishop Myriel takes him in and gives him shelter. In the night, he steals the bishop’s silverware and runs. He is caught, but the bishop rescues him by claiming that the silver was a gift and at that point gives him two candlesticks as well. The bishop then tells him he must become an honest man and must perform good deeds for others. As Valjean broods over these words, he steals a child's money, and chases the child away. Soon after he realizes his mistake, and decides to follow the bishop's advice. He searches the city for the child whose money he stole. At the same time, his theft is reported to the authorities, which now look for him as a repeat offender.

(From Wikipedia, description text under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License )

Edition Project Gutenberg

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Main topics: love, kindness, clergy, criminal, destiny, imprisonment, childhood, fault, woman, war, heroism, injustice, justice, poverty, orphan, worker, people, police, progress, redemption, republic, revolution, sacrifice, society, city.

Full original french version also available in five volumes:
Les Misérables


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