Review: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

The Chunkster Readalong was a year long challenge for 2012 at Kate's Library. I should have began early in the year, instead I waited till nearly October to begin. Another blogger also had a read-a-long for this book Historical Tapestry.
On Christmas Day the movie Les Miserables with Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, will begin. I will be at the theater that day, can't wait!
Film Trailer for Les Miserables.

Title: Les Miserables
Author: Victor Hugo
Publisher: Modern Library Classic/A Division of Random House 2009, First Published in 1862
Genre: Fiction
Labels: Classic Literature, French Literature, French Revolution, 19th Century, Convict, Orphan, Paris, France, The Classics Club, Back to the Classics Challenge
Format: Paperback 
Age: Adult
Pages: 1376
Rating: 5 Stars for Excellent

A good introduction lays the ground-work of what will be read in a novel. It's as if they are the tour guide director letting us know what kind of novel we'll be reading and important facts about the author and story. Then they leave us to read and explore on our own. In Les Miserables Adam Gopnik writes a very good introduction. He tells why Hugo was living in exile during the writing of this novel, that Hugo is "the moderator or voice in the story", Hugo's “love of contradiction”, his complex characters, dramatic heroes, and his "originality in a romantic novel." Gopnik states that Les Miserables is a "Gothic cathedral of a book."
Julie Rose is the translator. Since I do not speak French I will accept Gopnik's opinion that Rose is, "one of few translators to have rendered all of Hugo's magnificent novel without censorship." 

Jean Valjean is a man who committed a crime (petty theft). But, a crime no less and he was sentenced to prison. Years later in the town of Digne, France in 1832, a man in his late 40's arrives on foot looking to find "bed and board." Because of the way that he looked and the towns people mistrusted him, he was sent on his way. This man was haggard, "his soul had dried up." There was a bishop who did take him in. Once again this haggard man stole, his life seemed set for crime since he was marked as a prisoner.
Meanwhile, a lovely and naive girl named Fantine is the mistress of wealthy young man. Eventually his parents call him home to accept his life on a more serious tone, and he must let Fantine go. Fantine is left pregnant and with no means of providing for a child. Little Cosette is born. Fantine meets the Thenardier's who own an inn near Paris. Fantine leaves Cosette with them in order to work. She sends money to them every month. The years go by with Fantine still managing to send them money. The Thenardier's increase the price for keeping Cosette. 
Eventually the people where Fantine works find out about her illegitimate child. Fantine is branded as a soiled and tarnished woman. Her ability to send money for Cosette's care becomes more difficult. Fantine in desperation does what many women throughout time have done, they trade their body for money.  
There is a police detective named Javert. Javert is, "an absolutist, stoical, serious, austere, a gloom-filled dreamer, haughty." He is fervent in his quest to find those he believes are guilty. Like a tracking dog he doggedly pursues. His belief is that Jean Valjean is a criminal and must be caught. 
Both Valjean and Fantine are kindred spirits. They understand each other's plight. Valjean promises Fantine he will care for Cosette. Valjean's promise will be tested.

I can understand why people would be intimidated by this l-e-n-g-t-h-y novel. At 1,376 pages most readers would have to really be a serious reader to tackle it. I can also understand why people may be turned off by Hugo's fondness for philosophical tangents and turning everything in to a story. For example a town is not just a town but has an entire story to tell, a house is not just a house but has an entire story to tell. Hugo writes a long chapter on Waterloo, a famous battle of Napoleon. None of these issues bothered me, I just snickered and kept reading.

Key points in this story are:
  1. Hugo's use of punctuation, in order for the reader to pause in reading. This has an affect on the rhythm or cadence to the story. It also gives the reader a chance to soak in what's been read, and further to become emotionally involved in the soaking up of what we've read. Hugo wants a response from his reader, an emotional provocative response.
  2. Hugo's choice of what he defines as a hero. 
  3. We're shown the outer description or layer of a character, but we're shown the inner workings of a character: their temperament, mood, talent, quirkiness. Then Hugo goes even deeper to show us their soul. 
  4. Hugo specifically focuses on a person's conscience or lack of conscience. Their motives. The wrestling over their own past choices, or choices others have made that are shameful. The conviction in a person's heart. The deep desire to rise to the occasion of being a better person, or in doing a heroic act.
  5. Hugo describes the environment and backdrop of his scenes well. It is his characters, and always the characters, that are the prime focus.
Am I glad I read this novel? Of course I am! This is a novel that adheres to a reader's intellect, emotion, and spirit. Les Miserables is not a novel for entertainment purposes. It is a novel that pricks the soul and demands a response.

A few of my favorite quotes:
"That inborn light was on inside and there was somebody at home." page 75
"He had lurched from one suffering to the next and had gradually arrived at the conviction that life was a war; and that in this war he was the vanquished. He had no other weapon but his hate, and he resolved to hone it in jail and to take it with him when he got out." page 76
"As long as man is a child, God would like him to be innocent." page 477
"No ambition is fully realized, not in this world, at least. There is no heaven on earth in the age in which we live." page 501
"Thieves don't cease operating because they are in the hands of justice. They are not so easily put off." page 711
"They lived inside a golden moment." page 830
"To cut a long story short." page 1,024-----I laughed a loud at this sentence as it was on page 1,024.
"It was the heroism of monsters." page 1,027
"The bowels of Paris are bottomless. He was, like the prophet, in the belly of the monster whale." page 1,048
"This is the real bliss. There is no joy beyond these joys. Love is the sole ecstasy here. Everything else weeps. To love or to have loved that is enough. Don't ask for anything more. There is no other pearl to be found in the shadowy folds of life." page 1,129 *****This was my absolute favorite quote.

Link @ Amazon:
Paperback $11.29


  1. "Les Miserables is not a novel for entertainment purposes. It is a novel that pricks the soul and demands a response." Very true indeed. Les Mis invites deep contemplation and analysis. It motivates us to see beyond the obvious, beyond the prejudice that we sometimes have towards people.

  2. Thanks, Annette, for linking this in to Books You Loved. Hope you have a lovely Christmas.

  3. Haven't read this in a long time.

    Stopping by from Carole's December Books I Loved. I am in that list as #4.

    Silver's Reviews
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