About the Author
Victor Hugo (1802-1885), novelist, poet, and dramatist, is one of the most important of French Romantic writers. Among his best-known works are The Hunchback of Notre Dame(1831) and Les Miserables(1862).
Kenneth C. Mondschein has a Ph.D in history from Fordham University (defense passed December 18, 2009). His expertise is in Western history from antiquity to the present, with a specializations in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, global expansion and colonization, and the history of science and technology. He also holds a Master of Arts in History from Boston University.
Date of Birth:February 26, 1802
Date of Death:May 22, 1885
Place of Birth:Besançon, France
Place of Death:Paris, France
Education:Pension Cordier, Paris, 1815-18
Read an Excerpt
So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilisation, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age--the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of woman by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night--are not yet solved; as long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless. Hauteville House, 1862.
1815, M. Charles Franois-Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of D----. He was a man of seventy-five, and had occupied the bishopric of D---- since 1806. Although it in no manner concerns, even in the remotest degree, what we have to relate, it may not be useless, were it only for the sake of exactness in all things, to notice here the reports and gossip which had arisen on his account from the time of his arrival in the diocese.
Be it true or false, what is said about men often has as much influence upon their lives, and especially upon their destinies, as what they do.
M. Myriel was the son of a counsellor of the Parlement of Aix; of the rank given to the legal profession. His father, intending him to inherit his place, had contracted a marriage for him at the early age of eighteen or twenty, according to a widespread custom among parliamentary families. Charles Myriel, notwithstanding this marriage, had, it was said, been an object of much attention. His person was admirably moulded; although of slight figure, he was elegant andgraceful; all the earlier part of his life had been devoted to the world and to its pleasures. The revolution came, events crowded upon each other; the parliamentary families, decimated, hunted, and pursued, were soon dispersed. M. Charles Myriel, on the first outbreak of the revolution, emigrated to Italy. His wife died there of a lung complaint with which she had been long threatened. They had no children. What followed in the fate of M. Myriel? The decay of the old French society, the fall of his own family, the tragic sights of '93, still more fearful, perhaps, to the exiles who beheld them from afar, magnified by fright--did these arouse in him ideas of renunciation and of solitude? Was he, in the midst of one of the reveries or emotions which then consumed his life, suddenly attacked by one of those mysterious and terrible blows which sometimes overwhelm, by smiting to the heart, the man whom public disasters could not shake, by aiming at life or fortune? No one could have answered; all that was known was that when he returned from Italy he was a priest.
In 1804, M. Myriel was cure of B----(Brignolles). He was then an old man, and lived in the deepest seclusion.
Near the time of the coronation, a trifling matter of business belonging to his curacy--what it was, is not now known precisely--took him to Paris.
Among other personages of authority he went to Cardinal Fesch on behalf of his parishioners.
One day, when the emperor had come to visit his uncle, the worthy cure, who was waiting in the ante-room, happened to be on the way of his Majesty. Napoleon noticing that the old man looked at him with a certain curiousness, turned around and said brusquely:
'Who is this goodman who looks at me?'
Table of Contents
I. A Just Man
II. The Fall
III. In the Year 1817
IV. To Confide is Sometimes to Deliver into a Person's Power
V. The Descent
VII. The Champmathieu Affair
VIII. A Counter-Blow
II. The Ship Orion
III. Accomplishment of the Promise Made to the Dead Woman
IV. The Gorbeau Hovel
V. For a Black Hunt, A Mute Pack
VI. Le Petit-Picpus
VIII. Cemeteries Take That Which is Committed Them
I. Paris Studies in its Atom
II. The Great Bourgeois
III. The Grandfather and the Grandson
IV. The Friends of the ABC
V. The Excellence of Misfortune
VI. The Conjunction of Two Stars
VII. Patron Minette
VIII. The Wicked Poor Man
I. A Few Pages of History
III. The House in the Rue Plumet
IV. Succor From Below May Turn Out to be Succor From on High
V. The End of Which Does Not Resemble the Beginning
VI. Little Gavroche
VIII. Enchantments and Desolations
IX. Whither are They Going?
X. The 5th of June, 1832
XI.The Atom Fraternizes with the Hurricane
XIII. Marius Enters the Shadow
XIV. The Grandeurs of Despair
XV. The Rue de l'Homme Arme
I. The War Between Four Walls
II. The Intestine of the Leviathan
III. Mud but the Soul
IV. Javert Derailed
V. Grandson and Grandfather
VI. The Sleepless Night
VII. The Last Draught from the Cup
VIII. Fading Away of the Twilight
IX. Supreme Shadow, Supreme Dawn
What People are Saying About This
Hugo's genius was for the creation of simple and recognisable myth. The huge success of Les Miserables as a didactic work on behalf of the poor and oppressed is due to its poetic and myth-enlarged view of human nature... Hugo himself called this novel 'a religious work'; and it has indeed the necessary air of having been written by God in one of his more accessible and saleable moods.
Reading Group Guide
The book which the reader now holds in his hands, from one end to the other...treats the advance from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsity to truth, from darkness to daylight, from blind appetite to conscience, from decay to life, from bestiality to duty, from Heaven to Hell, from Limbo to God. Matter itself is the starting point, and the point of arrival is the soul.
—Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
Twenty years in the conception and execution, Les Misérables was first published in France and Belgium in 1862, a year which found Victor Hugo in exile from his beloved France. Enemies and admirers throughout the world devoured his works—poetry, political tracts, and fiction—and the effect of these works upon the public was always sensational. On the morning of 15 May, a mob filled the streets around Pagnerre's book shop, eyeing the stacks of copies of Les Misérables that stretched between floor and ceiling. A few hours later, they had all—thousands of books—been sold. Hugo's critics were quick to condemn him for making money by dramatizing the misery of the poor, while the poor themselves bought, read, and discussed his book in unprecedented numbers. True to Hugo's political stance, he had written a book about the people that was for the people, a book that demanded a change in society's judgement of its citizens.
The story is set between 1815 and 1832, the years of Hugo's youth. The descriptions of Paris, the characterizations of Gavroche and other Parisian stock characters, and such statements as, "To err is human, to stroll is Parisian" all attest to Hugo's unswerving adoration of his home city. Exile no doubt encouraged the romantic meanderings of Hugo's prose. The protagonist of Les Misérables, Jean Valjean, is also in exile from the world of men because of the desperate crime he committed in his youth. Liberated from prison, Valjean hides his identity and becomes a successful man, as charitable as he is rich and powerful. His altruism leads him to promise Fantine, a dying prostitute, that he will seek out her exploited young daughter Cosette after her death. The ensuing love between "father" and "daughter" (Cosette) is miraculous, redeeming Valjean and bestowing happiness on his otherwise grim life. To some extent, Hugo also was seeking redemption, having, for much of his youth, ignored the populist concerns of Republican France. He sacrificed his lifestyle in Paris for justice, and Les Misérables, "the Magna Carta of the human race," is a testament of this humanitarian awakening.
The Revolution and Republic of France had failed to redress the unconscionable social conditions in which many French citizens languished. Les Misérables became an expression of and an inspiration for that attempt. Hugo initially entitled his work, Les Misre ("the poverty"), but changed it to Les Misérables, which, in Hugo's time, denoted everyone from the poor to the outcasts and insurrectionists. In Hugo's lifetime, the schism between "haves" and "have-nots" was vast; an unbalanced economy made jobs scarce for those who earned their living by work. This was an era without a welfare system, unemployment benefits, or worker's compensation. The closest thing to a homeless shelter was prison, a macabre dungeon where inmates slept on bare planks and ate rancid food. To this place the disabled, insane, hungry, or desperate citizens of France eventually found their way. The one hope of the poor for relief was charity from those who were, if not indifferent to their plight, outright hostile to it.
Les Misérables vindicates those members of society forced by unemployment and starvation to commit crimes—in Jean Valjean's case, the theft of a loaf of bread—who are thereafter outcast from society. It is fairly common parlance today to suggest that prison creates more hardened criminals than it reforms, but the idea was radical to Hugo's contemporaries. "Perrot de Chezelles, in an 'Examination of Les Misérables,' defended the excellence of a State which persecuted convicts even after their release, and derided the notion that poverty and ignorance had anything to do with crime. Criminals were evil." Jean Valjean morally surpasses characters working on behalf of this excellent State. The poor and the disenfranchised understood Hugo's message, accepted the affirmation he gave them, and worshipped him as their spokesman. Workers pooled their money to buy the book not one of them could afford on their own. The struggling people of France had found an articulate illustration of the unjust forces arrayed against them.
Hugo's gift to the people simultaneously affirms that every citizen is important to the health of the nation and emphasizes how that fact gives each individual responsibility for the conditions we all share. Hugo sees the world as a convoluted pattern: "Nothing is truly small...within that inexhaustible compass, from the sun to the grub, there is no room for disdain; each thing needs every other thing." He illustrates a system full of injustice, but in that same sphere, a single gesture of kindness redeems the world; he shows us a civilization based on self-interest and profit, but in one generous act the possibilities of a better world become manifest; he portrays people who regard their neighbors with suspicion and contempt, but with one vow of love, humanity's faith is born anew. Les Misérables is one of history's greatest manifestos of hope for humankind.
The immense popularity of this story has not diminished over time. Since the original 1935 film version, there have been several other international films entitled Les Misérables including a Spring 1998 release starring Liam Neeson and Uma Thurman. The "most popular musical in the world" has toured the globe several times and has been running on Broadway since March 1987. Why does this story continue to charm and inspire audiences and readers? In our time, as there was in Hugo's, there is cause for despair: greed and violence undermine true progress; human life is rendered meaningless through materialism and nihilism; children the world over suffer neglect, poverty, and ignorance. Who does not identify with Jean Valjean's arduous journey through the sewers, and who does not long for an escape like his emergence into the pristine Parisian dusk? Hugo illustrates how the most profound revolution takes place in our individual consciences, how every moment we are faced with decisions to do right or wrong, and how to make in our hearts pitched battles against our own worst impulses. Les Misérables incites us to make the best fight of our lives the fight to become authentically good people and gives us hope that our efforts will not be in vain. Time cannot change the necessity or urgency of that message—only people can.
ABOUT VICTOR HUGO
Victor Hugo died in 1885 as one of the most famous Europeans in history. The number of people who attended Hugo's funeral ceremony was larger than the normal population of Paris. On the first of April, Hugo's pauper's coffin, which he had requested in his will, was carried from the Arc de Triomphe to his final resting place at the Panthéon. At eighty-three years old, Hugo had outlived two siblings, his wife, three out of four of his children, and thousands of admirers and critics who had watched his career transform and flourish. Prolific and protean as an artist, a politician, and a man, Hugo was capable of testing the limits of extremes, having learned the tension of polar opposites from his parents early in life. Victor-Marie Hugo was born on 26 February 1802 to Sophie Trébuchet and Joseph-Léopold-Sigisbert Hugo. His father was a decorated General in Napoléon's army, stationed in Italy and Spain during much of young Victor's youth. His mother was not only a Monarchist, but was involved in a plot to overthrow Napoléon. Under the care of his stoic mother, Hugo grew into a traditionalist, sworn to preserving the neo-Classical tradition of French literature and the rights of the French monarchy.
Hugo's literary talent was first publicized when he was seventeen years old. In 1819, he submitted two poems to the Académie Française, winning the Golden Amaranth for one poem and the Golden Lily, the Académie's highest honor, for another. (Hugo was elected to the Académie in 1841.) He published 112 articles and twenty-two poems in Le Conservateur Littéraire, the magazine founded by his brother Abel. These writings all supported traditional French literature and castigated early Romanticism, an ideology that soon thereafter lured Hugo to its camp with its irresistible ideals of freedom, honesty, and originality.
In 1830, Hugo's play Hernani put all Paris on its feet. The play opened at the Comédie Française and was attended by the new and the old aesthetic regimes. Ignoring the classical unities and their stale dignity of speech, Hernani was cheered by the Romantics and insulted, booed, and declaimed by the older, more conservative "kneeheads." Aesthetic disagreements escalated into riots, and duels were even fought over Hugo's play. Thus began a volatile and prolific career, each work fresh, surprising, and loaded with that Hugolian tendency to incite controversy. Hugo's literary output was staggering and the following is but a brief list of his major works: (poetry) Les Châtiments, Les Feuilles d'automne, La Légende des siécles, Les Orientales, Odes et Ballades, Les Rayons et les ombres, L'Art d'^etre grand-pére, (novels) Bug-Jargal, Notre Dame de Paris, Les Misérables, Les Travailleurs de la mer, L'Homme qui rit, Ruy Blas. Add to this his political and cultural commentary, his travelogues, letters, speeches, and plays, and you have a corpus of work that scholars are still compiling, publishing, and analyzing.
Hugo made no attempt to separate his life as a writer from his life as a citizen. In 1845, Hugo was made a pair de France (life peer and member of the Upper House), a position which should have endeared him to powerful circles and alienated him from the people. Yet a comfortable existence acquiescing to unjust powers was not to be Hugo's destiny, as he often proclaimed, "Not to believe in the people is to be a political atheist." During the revolutions, riots, and massacres of 1848 and 1849, Hugo abandoned the regime of Louis-Napoléon, nephew of Napoléon Bonaparte, because of its increasing authoritarianism; and when Louis-Napoléon was confirmed the leader of the Republic, Hugo and thousands of other thinkers, dissenters, and literati went into exile. For the next twenty years, Hugo disseminated his works from Belgium and the small islands in the English Channel, smuggling political satires and polemical verse in sardine tins, walking sticks, and baggy trousers. It was at this period Hugo produced his magnificent excoriation of Louis-Napoléon, Napoléon-le-Petit, as well as Les Châtiments (The Punishments), an explosion of poetic wrath directed at the emperor. Throughout his life, Hugo worked to further Republican virtues, affirming education and a democratic distribution of property, denouncing the unbalance of power and capital punishment.
Hugo's home, however, did not quite match the utilitarian simplicity of his ascetic ideal Jean Valjean. He had proven that one could get rich writing books; it was partially Hugo's love of humanity that had made him a millionaire. The two women he loved—his wife Adèle and his mistress Juliette— shared in a large part of the work—answering letters, copying manuscripts, etc.—and a small part of the glory. Hugo had married his childhood sweetheart against his parents' wishes in 1822, and they had four children. This family avoided the actress and ex-prostitute who resided down the street from them, Juliette. Her affair with Hugo lasted for fifty years, perhaps the longest extra-marital affair in history. Neither a model of virtue or simplicity, Hugo nonetheless inspired the people of many nations and many generations to act with greater regard for others.
Today it is hard to imagine a playwright whose works young men die defending, a poet whose followers cry for revolution, a thinker whose thoughts change world history. Hugo was all of these and his legacy survives through his tremendous literary bequest. He lived in a time when children were shot in the streets of Paris and governments were violently overthrown every twenty years. His presence was a beacon and a pillar, a palpable force to struggle against or with, a mad blend of courage, genius, and kindness. It is not his godliness which assures Hugo's place in eternity, but his humanity.
Notre-Dame of Paris
Translated with an Introduction by John Sturrock
This powerful evocation of Paris in 1482 and the tragic tale of Quasimodo has become the classic example of French romanticism.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The unabridged version is what you should read. That's what the author Victor Hugo wanted us to read. He did not write 1463 pages for people to butcher it up to an abridged version. And with the abridged version you don't fully get the affect of the book. I know people don't have a very good attention span these days but it's so worth it to read the unabridged version. The abridged version takes alot of important parts out. If you are in a hurry and need a quick read for school or something like that get the spark notes or cliff notes. Please show the author respect by reading the unbutchered version. I'm dissappointed in BN for publishing the abridged version. Les Miserables is one of the most greatest books on the world. Don't let the size of the book discourage you. When you look at it like this some of us read 1000 some pages a month when we add up all the books we've read.
I've read both the unabridged version and this abridged version. This version summarizes parts of the book where Hugo gets a bit long winded and spends several pages just to make one point that could easily be made by one paragraph. I prefer this version.
Hugo's Jean Valjean will have you sharing his feelings as society both praises and condemns him. Society praises his accomplishments yet can condemn him for past mistakes and for which overrule anything he did or could have done to better himself and those around him. While reading this novel I often wonder how close to the truth this treatment was. I suspect, very close.
I loved this book. It is skillfully written and truly a classic. I would recommend reading the full version, not the abridged because there is a lot that you miss. A wonderful book full of action and love. It is now my favorite book ever!
Les Miserables is my new all-time favorite books. I love the richness of the story, the grandness and generosity of the sentiments, and the deep human insight. I find this old translation to be just lovely. I can open it to many a page and just read, like lovely poetry, for the beauty of the language. But it is most worthwhile for the depth of humanity that Hugo shows thru his precious character. Such Jean Valjean who stole my heart. As I mentioned in my headline the book is a must read. It would be a crime to miss this wonderful - you are among the miserable of the earth in a very different sense if you don't take the time to read it. Another wonderful element is the sense of history that you get from it. The Napoleonic wars still inspired passion. It's great to see the battle of Waterloo recounted from the French side. There a forty or fifty page chapter that is worth reading for the history alone - all triggered as an aside to explain why Valjean was convicted a second time despite his good works, because, in court, he referred in passing to Napoleon as "the Emperor." It brings history alive in a way that history books alone do not at times. And I usally look for those since I am a huge history buff. For anyone else who luvs to jog back into history pick up this book. It's definately worth the read.
This is my favorite book of all time. It is filled with great characters that one would sincerily care about, and has an unforgettable, yet sometimes misunderstood hero. I VERY highly recommend this book to all!!
"Not like the play." You're joking, right? You do realize the play was based off the novel (which was written approximately a hundred and fifty years ago) and not the other way around? Les Miserables is quite possibly the most brilliant work of all classic literature. Personally, I prefer the unabridged version, but I can understand why people would want the abridged, as Hugo does tend to get a bit long-winded... I was told once that authors back then were paid by the page or the word.
I bought this after enjoying the movie, unaware of its size. It took me a month to complete. Excepting this fact, and a few confusing tidbits here and there, this book is astounding. Hugo's writing is amazing, and I grew attached to every single one of the characters. It is most definently worth the time and money. And its not too terribly hard to understand- I was 12 when I read it and understood it fine. You have no excuse to not buy it.
It's in French, so non-French speakers beware
I keep missing parts of the book. This is no good for someone who already loves great literature and is trying to re-read.
Barnes & Noble really should not sell a classics edition of an abridged novel. If they want their classics books to be authoritative, they need to be unabridged. Nobody should read an abridged book, and nobody should be accepting of having other people make the decision for them of what is important and not.
Victor Hugo is to France what Abraham Lincoln is to the United States, What Mohandas Ghandi is to India. Les Miserables is not a work of Fiction in the simple sense - It is a vision from the mind of the great French Visionary, a tale from the mind of a man made a hero by his own humanity. It may sound cliche, I know - but this book has the ability to change your life...that is, assuming your willing to let that happen.
Read it a few years ago and fell in love w the characters. The situations and the tragities moved me.
I cannot read French.
No other story summarises so many human aspects as this one: forgiveness, sacrifice, passion, love, greed and deception. A masterpiece of literature.
Despite a large number of typos in the 1996 B&N unabridged edition, every word in it marks two masters--Hugo as editor, and Wilbour as translator. Don't lose out by choosing an abridged edition! All 1222 pages of the 1996 ed. are worth reading--twice.
The books are always better than the movie and they're are no scenes you've seen coming and you have to think this book deserves a five
For what you pay, it's great
What are you talking about? It is NOT in French!! Sure, the original nineteenth century novel is, but there are many versions translated to English. And why are you on here anyway if you're not reviewing the book? I already wrote my review a while back on this AND the Hapgood translation. (Here that? TRANSLATION. Such as, English translation.) Okay, sorry that I'm being rude 'cause that's really not my nature, but I'm a bit defensive because I LOVE this book and musical, and I think Victor Hugo was a genius, and I hope to read Les Miz in French one day.
I saw the movie adored it and im a bookworm should i read it? Rating for movie
I love this great novel!!! I couldn't put it down! Victor Hugo depicts a world that makes you feel the power of emotions from love to hatrid. One of the best books I've ever read !
If you're really up to it and like a good long book, the unabridged is about 4500 pages, but it's divided into 5 volumes and then the books in each, it's enough to keep you busy for a while :) I do like Hugo's writing style, it's descriptive in a way that it pulls you in, wanting to know more about what's going on, it s interesting the further you get into it. I don't feel bogged down as much anyway because I already got to the third chapter and pretty much get what's going on. Don't want to give spoilers away but I think anyone who appreciates classics and is familiar to this story even after watching the movie will be in for a treat. I read Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame and just like his style of writing. He's interesting :)
Why are people saying this is in French? Barnes & Noble (who publishes this edition) does not publish in French. I'll throw in a 5 star because it's a great book. I would recommend the unabridged but if 1463 pages is a bit daunting to you, at least pick up this version.
Just what I wanted to read after I saw the play, needed to find out more so decided to read the book. Glad I purchased it.
An amazingly poignant, moving and enthralling read. Definitely one of my top five favorite books.