the miserable people, the wretched poor

The Author of Les Misérables was born on February 26th 1802 in France, and spent his childhood in Paris with his mother while his father, a general and a governor of an Italian province, lived in Italy. At the age of twelve,the author and his elder brothers were sent to school. There they spent their leisure time writing poems and plays. The author, however, had been interested to poetry from a much younger age. The author also gained public recognition as a poet at an early age, winning two poetry contests and received a royal salary before he reached the age of twenty-one. Later on, not only did he became rich and famous, but he also became the official poet of France for fifteen years. The author has been recognized as a man who could easily come up with stories and poems to create, and is known to have produced a large amount of literary works which were, in general, a great success.
the author when young
Though he married in 1822, to Adèle Foucher, the author tended to stray away from his wife, having relationships with several women, but especially with Juliette Drouet. However, this was also due to the fact that his wife had made a lover because she was tired of giving birth and of her husbands' selfishness.
The author disagreed with a new style of literature called of neoclassicism (logical, clear and based on the classical style), and instead favored a style called German balladry (artistically matching stories with music). The author also created a new style of writing: imaginative realism (realistic stories with exaggerated symbolism.) However, the authors' apartment in Paris often became a place where aspiring writers of the Romantic Movement (strong emotional writing with imaginative descriptions and experiences of people) came to gather, and the author himself is refered to as the supreme poet of French romanticism. The author himself created an attitude of romanticism, and became determined to prove the power of romanticism in the theatre as well, and though he met opposition, his plays, such as Hernani were also a great success.
the author when old
In 1831, Notre Dame de Paris, also known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame in English was published. In this novel, the author paints a picture of life during the middle ages, and is one of his most famous works.
It was a while after this that the author started to take a great interest in politics. After the 1848 Revolution and the fall of fame for King Louis Phillipe, he was elected as a deputy to the National Assembly. However, though he first supported the president, Louis Napoleon, he quickly became disappointed with him, asking for the freedom of the press. He broke bonds with Napoleon III (1849), and when the man claimed himself Emperor (1850), the author urged people to fight - unfortunately causing many casualties.
Because of this the author's life was in danger, he fled to the British Channel Islands. The author produced many works during his seventeen years of exile. However the author led an unpleasant life in Britain, for his family longed for the familiar surroundings of Paris. Though his poetry was fueled by his new surroundings, his family broke down, and the author too began to explore the supernatural by contacting with dead spirits. It was in this foreign land, however, that the author published the work in question: Les Misérables (1862), maybe his best piece of work, but definitely his best-known piece of literature. When Napoleon III lost power in 1870, the author returned to France and resumed his role in politics in the Third Republic by being elected as a senator to the Assembly .
Gaining world-wide fame and honored through time, the author was an enthusiastic and devoted man until he died on May 22nd 1885 in Paris. The whole country of France mourned for him and state funeral was held in which the public could also attend. After being placed underneath the Arc de Triomphe, the author's body made its last journey in a pauper's hearse (following the author's wishes) to the Panthéon, to be buried among the numerous other French history makers. The author of Les Misérables, a man who left a mark in the history of France and the history if the world, went by the name of

one of the many abridged english translations (400 pages)
an unabridged english translation (1488 pages)
The Book , Les Misérables, is a melancholic yet powerful novel which is sure to touch the heart of any person that is fortunate enough to come across it and allows themselves to be taken captive by its exciting events and empathetic characters. This poignant novel is a romance, an adventure, a mystery, a social commentary, a fable, a tragedy, and a success story. Set in the 1800s, Les Misérables twists and turns as it follows the equally complex life of its protagonist and hero, ex-convict Jean Valjean. Released from prison after nearly two decades of service, Jean Valjean is rejected by everyone - except for a tranquil priest, the Bishop Myriel. Jean Valjean is stupefied and struck by the kind-heartedness of the Bishop who calls him "my brother". However, hardened by his nineteen years in the galleys, Jean Valjean steals the Bishop's silver cutlery and runs away during the night, only to be dragged back to the Bishop's doorstep the next morning. Despite this treacherous act, Bishop Myriel not only forgives Jean Valjean but says that he gave Jean Valjean the cutlery, and furthermore, presents the criminal his last valuables - two silver candlesticks.
"Forget not, never forget that you have promised me
to use this silver to become an honest man."
With these words that were whispered to him by the Bishop, Jean Valjean sets out again on the road of life, striving to become a good man. On his way he meets several people who are also recorded faithfully into the author's extensive story. These people aid and distract Jean Valjean from his goal - and are all, including Jean Valjean "Les Misérables". Javert, a cold-hearted police officer trying to drag Jean Valjean back into the galleys, a poor mother named Fantine, who lives to send money to her beloved daughter Cosette, the corrupted and Thérnardiers entrusted with Cosette, and a young man named Marius who is separated from his father because of his grandfather's beliefs. However, though it is relatively easy to grow rich and gain the reputation of being a "good gentleman," Jean Valjean constantly stuggles with himself to feel truely honest, and when he finally gains happiness through his fatherly love for Cosette, too soon does he find himself sacrificing it again - for the happiness of his beloved little girl.
These mixture of feelings and having to choose between what is advantageous for him and what is morally right and push Jean Valjean to go to the extremes to do incredible acts, like putting his own life at stake to rescue his enemies, sacrificing his riches and identity to say the truth, adopting Cosette after Fantine passes away, rescuing the endlessly tenacious Javert, and letting his own heart to break for the happiness of his beloved Cosette, who drifts away from him as she grows older and eventually falls in love with Marius. Jean Valjean fights with his conscience and fears until he is drained like a squeezed sponge - all for the sake of fulfilling his promise with his honored Bishop Myriel and to find inner peace.

Louis III
The Time Period during which Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables, was when he had fled from France due to the rise of the prince-president, Napolean III (who later claimed himself Emperor, making the Second Republic the Second Empire.) However, the formation of the story had started much earlier in the author's mind - as early as 1829. France at the time of Napoleon III underwent many changes, such as the modernization of France. Napolean III also decided to help the workers under harsh conditions during the rapid industrial development during that time. However, there were also many wars against other European countries, and Napoleon III used force to control and prevent opposition.
An enemy of Napoleon III, Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables as a social commentary, hoping for political (and literary) reform. This was because he was at first a royalist, but then a supporter of Napoleon I, then a republican and opposer of Napoleon III. Victor Hugo believed in free education, the right to vote, compassion and hope - He believed that he should help those in poverty through his literature. Indeed, though the middle class had won the French Revolution, the working class and the poor were still left in poverty.
Les Misérables itself is set during the early half of the 19th century, starting with Napoleon I and the Battle of Waterloo and continuing until the 1832 Republican uprisings (the first in about thirty years). Students and workers began to fight because of their opposition of Louis Phillipe ("the citizen king" who had gradually gained more control), but were painfully crushed by the government. France during the 1800s was in turmoil with its many short-lived rulers and reccuring revolutions.

Connection Corner!

The Tale of Despereaux (Book):
getimage.jpgBoth by the author Kate Dicamillo, who may be better known for the novel Because of Winn-Dixie, these two books are about an unusual mouse and a toy rabbit.The Tale of Despereaux has now been made into a delightful animation by Universal Studios.
Despereaux, and the many other main characters of the book are all "different" and don't simply follow what "everyone else" does. Because of this, they are -or slowly become- excluded or treated harshly by the society they live in. While some react with revenge and anger, others, like Despereaux -who's name means "despair" in French but lives up valiantly to the opposite of his name- stick to their own beliefs and dreams. Eventually, as the story progresses, these characters lives connect into one big story, each character's dreams and reactions to "exile" playing a role.
This portrayal of the ostracized, unjustly hated and "just simply" avoided, represented, mostly, through animals in a fairy tale-like, dreamy narrative, connects to the characters in Les Misérables, who the reader sympathizes with for their efforts and their desperate, "despairing" lives - but would probably ignore in real-life.
Edward Tulane is a magnificent toy rabbit - so magnificent that he himself thinks that he is perfect. He is so full of himself, that though is owned by a little girl, Eward does not know how to love. However, after being seperated from his little owner by a sudden disaster, Edward - who used to spend everyday on a chair in a living room looking at the same scenery every day - finally "gets a life". By experiencing the lifestyles, the different levels of affection, and effect of their lives on his life, Edward meets and leaves many owners. Eventually, Edward returns to his previous appearance - but he can never become his original arrogant and empty self again.
The life of Eward Tulane and the lives of his various owners are very similar to the life of Jean Valjean and the many people he meets on the way. Both books show the reader the complexity - the joys, sufferings and changes - of life and the continuous molding of man.
For More Information: Kate DiCamillo's Website

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007 Film):
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is a horror and romance musical made into a film. Based on a popular and famous Broadway musical (just like Les Misérables has been turned into a popular, long-running musical!) and possibly a real man, Sweeney Todd is about a man who "never forgets and never forgives." Ripped from his once flowery life with his beautiful Wife and baby daughter, twisted with hatred towards society and seeking revenge, Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) acts out his revenge on the streets of London by working with Mrs Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), an owner of a meat pie shop.
This movie is connected to Les Misérables, for it deals with those at the bottom of society, corruption, losing hope, and the strength of people with power and authority. Who knows, perhaps Jean Valjean would have become Sweeney Todd if he had never known Bishop Myriel?
For More Information: Sweeney Todd - Official Movie Site

The Pilgrim's Progress (Book):
The Pilgrim's Progress, by the author John Bunyan, is a 17th century Christian novel about a man named Christian and his life-long journey to reach the Celestial City written in the form of an adventure story. Christian is helped by his friends and fellow travelers and somtimes becomes distracted from the route that he is supposed to be taking - landing him in life-threatening danger. However, though he sometimes loses hope, or becomes depressed, Christian trudges along with the hope and faith of reaching his goal.
This story is connected to Les Misérables because it is about the struggles and triumphs while heading for a certain goal. Jean Valjean is trying to be a good man (most likely a good Christian man because Bishop Myriel was a priest and France was a Catholic country during Victor Hugo's time) and Christian is trying to be a good Christian. However, though they both struggle, one difference is that Christian finds inner peace on the way to his goal, while Jean Valjean is looking for it throughout his whole travel. However, overall, if you were to take out the other characters in the Les Misérables, the life that Christian and Jean Valjean lead are quite similar.
For More Information: John Bunyan and The Pilgrim's Progress - A Review

The Opinion of a Reader...This is not the first time that I have read Les Misérables. From as far back into my childhood as I can remember, I have a very hungry book worm, and have devoured books at a ferocious rate in both English and Japanese (in Japanese it is titled Aa Mujyou, which translates to "Oh Heartlessness"). Thus, it was natural that I should come across so famous a book as the Victor Hugo's classic story of Les Miserables, and so I had already read two children's abridged versions of Les Misérables in Japanese. However, when I had to chose between Heart of Darkness and Les Misérables, I still could not stop my self from choosing Les Misérables - and I like to believe that it has been worth it, even though I have never read Heart of Darkness. Now coming to think of it, for some reason I have this fascination for this long story. Perhaps it is because whenever the topic Les Misérables comes up, my mother usually expresses how amazed she was when she watched the musical at the Queen's Theatre in London; And perhaps I had wanted to read it again, this time in English. And again, now for the thrid time, I have been satisfied. But for now I will only talk about the english translation that I have read.
Soon after dipping into the world of Victor Hugo, I found out that I had fallen in love with his sentances. I must say that he has the most delightful way of phrasing and structuring his writing, and personally, his writing style is "just the way I like it." However, when it comes to explain, like most thing that you adore, it is hard to explain. It is a sort of far off and dreamy, yet detailed style where you can understand exactly what the author is trying to say, even if he had said in an unusual way. This wonderfully descriptive yet capturing style decipts action scenes well, but also uses this way of phrasing that gradually narrows down onto the situation or feeling of a character while broadening the description out to express a the big picture that could apply for anyone. Another similar thing is the atmosphere of the world inside the book - the tone and mood. Again, it takes some difficulty in explaining, but to put it plainly, it is fuzzy like an old black and white movie but detailed like a high quality black and white movie, where you can clearly see the actors and background, and easily hear what they are saying.
I would guess that most people's favourite character is Cosette, the Lark. Cosette is a poor child who cannot remember her mother, Fantine, and has to work like a slave under the Thénardiers, who have agreed to look after Cosette with the money that Fantine sends them every month. The Thenardiérs' hatred towards Cosette grows greater and greater as Cosette grows bigger and bigger - though she is very small for her age because of undernourishment and bad treatment. Cosette is a honest, sweet little girl who grows up to become a beautiful lady; the stereotypical "young lady" in any old film or book, who is geniunely loving, kind, pure-hearted, innocent, and fragile. However what I can't understand is why the Thenardiérs pamper their two daughters. Perhaps it is because by marrying off Eponine and Azelma to rich men would make them rich? Or maybe it is simply because they were the first two children that were born to them, probably when they were still out of debt and happily running their inn. For I thought that in most families and cultures, though not so much now, sons were favored more than daughters.
However, for me, Cosette is only second best, and my favorite character is Jean Valjean. I consider him as an ideal hero of any kind of story - a gently but strong man who helps others unconditionally and doesn't take credit, while in reality he is fighting with much bigger personal issues. You almost forget, especially if you are young, that for the majority of the book Jean Valjean is a middle aged man. Jean Valjean has this charm about him that Victor Hugo creates, and that is a charm that the reader feels for certain characters because they feel so much pity and empathy for Jean Valjean that the other characters in the book - except for perhaps Bishop Myriel - never notice because they are so taken up with the way Jean Valjean acts. But inside, Jean Valjean is just as much, and even more miserable, and empty, and hopeless as the other, much poorer characters of the book. Perhaps the other characters in the book can be characterized as those who have not met the Bishop yet.
The main ideas and themes that the author is trying to put across to the reader, is about Les Misérables. There are other themes, such as the political motives of Victor Hugo and the theme of love, but in the end, it can all be whittled down to the title. Now, the reason why the title is not translated into English (though it is in Japanese) is because it cannot be translated; there is no such word as Misérables in a French dictionary. But, loosely translated, it means the "the wretched poor, or the miserable people." And this just sums everything up. I believe that every single character in this book is one of these. They are all pulled down by an invisible weight. Although some have experienced imprisonment, like Jean Valjean, but these people are all suffering from imprisonment within, which is worse than physical punishment. Today, in countries throughout the world, many people are still being oppressed, put in prison, or even killed for what they believe in and think to be right. However, though it is easy to kill people or lock away someone, that does not mean that that person has given up his beliefs. To be imprisoned or killed is physical, but to change a person's mind needs the work of the actual persons' will - a mental or inner feeling. Likewise, the people in the story are struggling with mental suffering, which is far more difficult compared to a physical struggle. It is like a bad burn or brand that never quite heals or disappears. But, the point is that though they are suffering, the people in this story haven't lost their minds and their hearts - while some try to ignore the feeling, some do not realize it yet, and some are fighting, still fighting, to find the key - the key to peace and freedom. They fight for freedom.


From Les Misérables, the famous Musical:
Jean Valjean makes a anguished face asthe irremovable brand across his chest marks him forever as "Prisoner #24601.” The people in Les Misérables are not in jail, but their misery and hopelessness makes them prisoners of society in society, and prisoners of themselves. Like prisoners in prison, they are not free or at peace –they are not free and at peace inside.

As you can see, I am a great fan of this story. I truly believe that it is a brilliant book. I am convinced that it will continue to touch the heart of many generations to come, and that it will leave a big print on society - just as it has. For one thing, it made me cry - and that is really saying something. But, to understand what I am trying to say, you must pick up the book and see for yourself.
- Angela S. -