Portrait of "Cosette" by Emile Bayard, from the original edition of Les Misérables (1862)
|Publisher||A. Lacroix, Verboeckhoven & Ce.|
Les Misérables (literally "The Miserable Ones"; usually pronounced /leɪ ˌmɪzəˈrɑːb/; French pronunciation: [le mizeʁabl(ə)]), translated variously from the French as The Miserable Ones, The Wretched, The Poor Ones, The Wretched Poor, or The Victims, is an 1862 novel by French author Victor Hugo and is widely considered one of the greatest 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, starting in 1815, the year of Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo.
The novel focuses on the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his experience of redemption. It examines the nature of law and grace, and expounds upon the history of France, architecture of Paris, politics, moral philosophy, antimonarchism, justice, religion, and the types and nature of romantic and familial love. The story is historical fiction because it contains factual, historic events, including the Paris Uprising of 1832 (not to be confused with the much earlier French Revolution).
Les Misérables is known to many through its numerous stage and screen adaptations, such as the stage musical of the same name, sometimes abbreviated "Les Mis" (pronounced /leɪ ˈmɪz/).
Les Misérables contains many plots, but the main thread is the story of ex-convict, Jean Valjean (known by his prison number, 24601), who becomes a force for good in the world, but cannot escape his dark past. The novel is divided into five volumes, each volume divided into books, and subdivided into chapters (for a total of 365 chapters). Each chapter is relatively short, usually no longer than a few pages. Nevertheless, the book as a whole is quite lengthy by common standards, often exceeding 1,200 pages in unabridged editions (1900 pages in French). Within the borders of the novel's story, 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 Digne. The peasant Jean Valjean has just been released from imprisonment in the Bagne of Toulon after nineteen years: five for stealing bread for his starving sister and his family, and fourteen more for numerous escape attempts. Upon being released, he is required to carry a yellow passport that marks him as a convict, despite having already paid his debt to society by serving his time in jail. Rejected by innkeepers, who do not want to take in a convict, Valjean sleeps on the street. This makes him even angrier and bitter. However, the benevolent Bishop Myriel, the Bishop of Digne, takes him in and gives him shelter. In the middle of the night, he steals the bishop’s silverware and runs. He is caught, but the bishop rescues him by claiming that the silverware was a gift and at that point gives him his two silver candlesticks as well, chastising him to the police for leaving in such a rush that he forgot these most valuable pieces. The bishop then "reminds" him of the promise, which Valjean has no recollection of making, to use the silver to make an honest man of himself. As Valjean broods over these words, he steals a child's silver coin purely out of habit. He chases the boy away (Petit Gervais) but soon after, he repents and decides to follow the bishop's advice. He searches the city for the child whose money he accidentally stole. At the same time, his theft is reported to the authorities, who now look for him as a repeat offender. If Valjean is caught, he will be forced to spend the rest of his life in prison, so he hides from the police.
Six years pass and Valjean, having assumed the pseudonym Monsieur Madeleine to avoid capture, has become a wealthy factory owner and is appointed mayor of his adopted town of Montreuil-sur-Mer. While walking down the street one day, he sees a man named Fauchelevent pinned down under his cart, caught by the wheels. When no one volunteers to lift the cart, he decides to rescue Fauchelevent himself. He crawls underneath the cart and manages to lift it, freeing him. The town's police inspector Javert, who was an adjutant guard at the Bagne of Toulon during Valjean's imprisonment, becomes suspicious of the mayor after witnessing his heroics. He knows the ex-convict Jean Valjean is also capable of such strength.
Sometime later, Valjean meets Fantine. Years earlier in Paris, she was very much in love with a man named Félix Tholomyès, who also fathered their daughter Cosette. His friends Listolier, Fameuil and Blachevelle were also paired with Fantine’s friends Dahlia, Zéphine and Favourite. They later abandon the women as a joke, leaving Fantine to care for Cosette by herself. When Fantine arrives at Montfermeil, she leaves Cosette to live with the Thénardiers, a corrupt innkeeper and his selfish, cruel wife. Fantine is unaware that they abuse her daughter and use her as forced labor for their inn, and continues to try to pay their growing, extortionate demands for her upkeep. She is later fired from her job at his factory due to the discovery of her illegitimate daughter and had been forced to resort to prostitution to pay for her daughter's board and expenses. Fantine is also slowly dying from an unnamed disease (probably tuberculosis). While roaming the streets, a dandy named Bamatabois harasses Fantine and puts snow down her back. She retaliates by attacking him. Javert sees this and arrests Fantine. She begs to be let go so she can provide for her daughter, but nonetheless Javert sentences her to six months in prison. Valjean then intervenes and orders Javert to release her. Javert strongly refuses but Valjean still persists and orders him dismissed. Valjean, seeing in Fantine similarities to his former life of hardship and pain, promises her that he will bring Cosette to her. He takes her to a hospital.
Later, Javert comes to see Valjean again. Javert admits he had accused him of being Jean Valjean to the Parisian authorities after Fantine was freed. However, he tells Valjean that he no longer suspects him because the authorities have announced that another man has been identified as the real Jean Valjean after being arrested and having noticeable similarities. This man's name is Champmathieu. He is not guilty, but is mistaken. His trial is set the next day. At first, Valjean is torn whether to reveal himself, but decides to do so to save the innocent man. He goes to the trial and reveals his true identity. He then returns to Montreuil-sur-Mer to see Fantine, followed by Javert, who confronts him. After grabbing Valjean, Javert reveals Valjean’s true identity to Fantine. Shocked, and with the severity of her illness, she falls back in her bed and dies. Valjean goes to Fantine, speaks to her in an inaudible whisper and kisses her hand. He then leaves with Javert.
Valjean manages to escape, only to be recaptured and sentenced to death. This was commuted by the king to penal servitude for life. While being sent to the prison at Toulon, a military port, Valjean saves a sailor about to fall from the ship's rigging. The crowd begins to call, "This man must be pardoned!" but Valjean fakes a slip and falls into the ocean to escape, relying on the belief that he has drowned.
Valjean arrives at Montfermeil on Christmas Eve. He finds Cosette fetching water in the woods alone and walks with her to the inn. After ordering a meal, he observes the Thénardiers’ abusive treatment of her. He also witnesses their pampered daughters Éponine and Azelma treating Cosette badly as well when they tell on her to their mother for holding their abandoned doll. Upon seeing this, Valjean goes out and returns a moment later holding an expensive new doll. He offers it to Cosette. At first she is unable to contemplate that the doll really is for her, but then happily takes it. This results in Mme. Thénardier becoming furious at Valjean, while M. Thénardier dismisses it, informing her that he can do as he wishes as long as he pays them. It also causes Éponine and Azelma to become envious of Cosette.
The next morning on Christmas Day, Valjean pays off the Thénardiers to obtain Cosette, and flees with her to Paris. Later, Javert finds Valjean’s new lodgings at Gorbeau House.
Valjean takes Cosette and they try to escape from Javert. They soon successfully find shelter in the Petit-Picpus convent with the help of Fauchelevent, the man whom Valjean rescued and who is a gardener for the convent. Valjean also becomes a gardener and Cosette becomes a student.
Eight years later, the Friends of the ABC, led by Enjolras, are preparing an anti-Orléanist revolution on the eve of the Paris uprising on June 5–6, 1832, following the death of General Lamarque, the only French leader who had sympathy towards the working class. They are also joined by the poor, including the Thénardiers' eldest son Gavroche, who is a street urchin.
One of the students, Marius Pontmercy, has become alienated from his family (especially his grandfather M. Gillenormand) because of his liberal views. After the death of his father Colonel Georges Pontmercy, Marius discovers a note from him instructing his son to provide help to a sergeant named Thénardier who saved Pontmercy's life at Waterloo -- in reality M. Thénardier was looting corpses and only saved Pontmercy's life by accident; he had called himself a sergeant under Napoleon to avoid exposing himself as a robber. At the Luxembourg Gardens, Marius falls in love with the now grown and beautiful Cosette. The Thénardiers have also moved to Paris and now live in poverty after losing their inn. They live under the surname "Jondrette" at Gorbeau House (coincidentally, the same building Valjean and Cosette briefly lived in after leaving the Thénardiers' inn.) Marius lives there as well, next door to the Thénardiers.
Éponine, now ragged and emaciated, visits Marius at his apartment to beg for money. To impress him, she tries to prove her literacy by reading aloud from a book and by writing "The Cops Are Here" on a sheet of paper. Marius pities her and gives her some money. After Éponine leaves, Marius observes the "Jondrettes" in their apartment through a crack in the wall. A philanthropist and his daughter visit them—actually Valjean and Cosette. Marius immediately recognizes Cosette. After they leave, Marius asks Éponine to retrieve her address for him. Éponine, who is in love with Marius herself, reluctantly agrees to do so. The Thénardiers have also recognized Valjean and Cosette, and vow their revenge. M. Thénardier enlists the aid of the Patron-Minette, a well-known and very feared gang of murderers and robbers.
Marius overhears M. Thénardier's plan and goes to Javert to report the crime. He then goes back home and waits for Javert and the police to arrive. When Valjean returns with rent money, M. Thénardier, with Patron-Minette, ambushes him and he reveals his true identity to Valjean. Marius recognizes M. Thénardier as the man who "saved" his father's life at Waterloo and is caught in a dilemma. He tries to find a way to save Valjean while not betraying M. Thénardier. He sees the scrap of paper that Éponine earlier wrote on and throws it into the Thénardiers’ apartment through the crack. M. Thénardier reads it and thinks Éponine threw it inside. He, Mme. Thénardier and Patron-Minette try to escape, only to be stopped by Javert. He arrests all the Thénardiers and Patron-Minette (except Claquesous, who escapes during his transportation to prison, Montparnasse, who stops to run off with Éponine instead of joining in on the robbery, and Gavroche, who was not present and does not participate in his family's crimes). Valjean manages to escape the scene before Javert sees him.
After Éponine’s release from prison, she finds Marius and sadly tells him that she found Cosette’s address. She leads him to Valjean and Cosette's house at Rue Plumet, and Marius watches the house for a few days. He and Cosette then finally meet and declare their love for one another. M. Thénardier, Patron-Minette and Brujon manage to escape from prison with the aid of Gavroche. One night, during one of Marius’ visits with Cosette, the six men attempt to raid Valjean and Cosette's house. However, Éponine, who was sitting by the gates of the house, threatens to scream and awaken the whole neighborhood if the thieves do not leave. Hearing this, they reluctantly retire. Meanwhile, Cosette informs Marius that she and Valjean will be leaving for England in a week’s time, which greatly troubles the pair.
The next day, Valjean is sitting in the Champ de Mars. He is feeling troubled due to seeing M. Thénardier in the neighborhood several times. Unexpectedly, a note lands in his lap, which says "MOVE OUT." He sees a figure running away in the dim light. He goes back to his house tells Cosette they will be staying at their other house at Rue de l'Homme Arme and reconfirms with her about moving to England. Marius tries to get permission from M. Gillenormand to marry Cosette. His grandfather seems stern and angry, but has been longing for Marius' return. When tempers flare, he refuses, telling Marius to make Cosette his mistress instead. Insulted, Marius leaves. The following day, the students revolt and erect barricades in the narrow streets of Paris. Gavroche spots Javert and informs Enjolras that Javert is a spy. When Enjolras confronts him of this, he admits his identity and his orders to spy on the students. Enjolras and the other students tie him up to a pole in the Corinth restaurant. Later that evening, Marius goes back to Valjean and Cosette’s house at Rue Plumet, but finds the house no longer occupied. He then hears a voice telling him that his friends are waiting for him at the barricade. Distraught over Cosette gone, he heeds the voice and goes.
While Marius fights at the barricade, a soldier makes it in and aims at Marius. However, a man steps between them and puts his hand and body in front of the musket. The soldier fires, fatally shooting the man. The man then calls Marius by his name. Marius, and the reader, discover that it is actually Éponine, dressed in men's clothes. Dying, she confesses that it was she who told him to go to the barricade, in hoping that the two would die together. The author also states to the reader that it was also Éponine who anonymously threw the note to Valjean. Éponine gives Marius a letter which is addressed to him. It is written by Cosette, which she also confesses to obtaining a day earlier. After Éponine dies, Marius reads Cosette's letter and writes a farewell letter to her. It is given to Valjean by Gavroche. Valjean, learning that Cosette's lover is fighting, is at first relieved, but an hour later, he puts on a National Guard uniform, arms himself with a gun and ammunition, and leaves his home.
Valjean arrives at the barricade and immediately saves a man's life, though he is still not certain if he wants to protect Marius or to kill him. Marius recognizes Valjean upon seeing him. Enjolras announces that they are almost out of cartridges. Overhearing this, Gavroche goes to the other side of the barricade to collect more from the dead National Guardsmen. While doing so, he is shot and killed by the soldiers.
Later, Valjean saves Javert from being killed by the students. He volunteers to execute Javert himself, and Enjolras grants permission. Valjean takes Javert out of sight, and then shoots into the air while letting him go. As the barricade falls, Valjean carries off the injured and unconscious Marius. All the other students, including Enjolras, are killed. Valjean escapes through the sewers, carrying Marius' body on his shoulders. At the exit, he runs into Javert, whom he persuades to give him time to return Marius to his family. Javert grants this request. After leaving Marius at M. Gillenormand’s house, Valjean makes another request that he be permitted to go home momentarily, which Javert also allows. They arrive at Rue de l'Homme Arme and Javert informs Valjean that he will wait for him. As Valjean walks upstairs, he looks out the landing window and finds Javert gone. Javert is walking down the street alone, realizing that he is caught between his strict belief in the law and the mercy Valjean has shown him. He feels he can no longer give Valjean up to the authorities. Unable to cope with this dilemma, Javert commits suicide by throwing himself into the Seine.
Marius slowly recovers from his injuries and he and Cosette are soon married.
Meanwhile, M. Thénardier and his younger daughter Azelma are attending the Mardi Gras as "masks." M. Thénardier spots Valjean among the wedding party heading the opposite direction and bids Azelma to follow them. After the wedding, Valjean confesses to Marius that he is an ex-convict. Marius is horrified by the revelation. Convinced that Valjean is of poor moral character, he steers Cosette away from him. Valjean loses the will to live and takes to his bed.
Later, M. Thénardier approaches Marius in order to blackmail him with what he knows of Valjean, but, in doing so, he inadvertently reveals all of the good Valjean has done, including his saving Marius' life on the barricades. Stunned by these revelations, Marius confronts M. Thénardier with his crimes and offers him an immense amount of money if he departs and promises never to return. M. Thénardier accepts the offer, and he and Azelma travel to America where he becomes a slave trader.
As Marius and Cosette rush to Valjean's house, he informs her that Valjean saved his life at the barricade. They arrive to see him, but the great man is dying. In his final moments, he realizes happiness with his adopted daughter and son-in-law by his side. He also reveals Cosette's past to her as well as her mother's name. Joined with them in love, he dies.
The first two volumes of Les Misérables were published on April 3, 1862, heralded by a massive advertising campaign; the remainder of the novel appeared on 15 May 1862. At the time, Victor Hugo enjoyed a reputation as one of France's foremost poets, and the appearance of the novel was a highly anticipated event. Critical reactions were wide-ranging and often negative; some critics found the subject matter immoral, others complained of its excessive sentimentality, and still others were disquieted by its apparent sympathy with the revolutionaries. The Goncourt brothers expressed their great dissatisfaction, judging the novel artificial and disappointing. Flaubert could find within it "neither truth nor greatness." French critic Charles Baudelaire reviewed the work glowingly in newspapers, but in private castigated it as "tasteless and inept."
The book was a great commercial success. The shortest correspondence in history is between Hugo and his publisher Hurst & Blackett in 1862. It is said Hugo was on vacation when Les Misérables (which is over 1200 pages) was published. He telegraphed the single-character message "?" to his publisher, who replied with a single "!". First translated into foreign languages (including Italian, Greek, and Portuguese) the same year it originally appeared, it proved popular not only in France, but across Europe. It has been a popular book ever since it was published, and was a great favorite among the Confederate soldiers of the American Civil War, who occasionally called themselves "Lee's Miserables" (a reference to their deteriorating conditions under General Robert E. Lee). Its popularity continues to this day, and many view it as one of the most important novels ever written.
Les Misérables (1862) is a novel by Victor Hugo which many consider to be one of the greatest works of world literature. It tells of the interwoven lives of its characters over several decades of the early 19th Century, focusing to a great extent on the conflicts between the hero Jean Valjean, a fugitive who spent nearly 20 years of his life as prisoner "24601" and police inspector Javert who hunts for him. Others who feature prominently are Cosette the orphaned girl who Valjean raises as a daughter, Marius the revolutionary who loves her, and the villain Thenardier who had horribly exploited Cosette until she was rescued by Valjean. It was originally published in five volumes, four named after some of the primary characters within it. The primary translation used in creating this collection of quotations was that of Charles E. Wilbour.
See also: Les Misérables (the theatrical musical by Boublil and Schonberg)
Que s’était-il passé dans cette âme?
Cette fois la pièce de quarante sous lui échappa, et vint rouler vers la broussaille jusqu’à Jean Valjean.
Hélas! qu’est-ce que toutes ces destinées ainsi poussées pêle-mêle? où vont-elles? pourquoi sont-elles ainsi?
Celui qui sait cela voit toute l’ombre.
Il est seul. Il s’appelle Dieu.
— À quoi bon ces figures immobiles du côté du mystère? À quoi servent-elles ? qu’est-ce qu’elles font?
Hélas ! en présence de l’obscurité qui nous environne et qui nous attend, ne sachant pas ce que la dispersion immense fera de nous, nous répondons: Il n’y a pas d’œuvre plus sublime peut-être que celle que font ces âmes. Et nous ajoutons: Il n’y a peut-être pas de travail plus utile.
Alas! in the presence of that obscurity which surrounds us and awaits us, not knowing what the vast dispersion of all things will do with us, we answer: There is, perhaps, no work more sublime than that which is accomplished by these souls; and we add, There is no labour, perhaps, more useful.
Pour nous, toute la question est dans la quantité de pensée qui se mêle à la prière.
Leibniz priant, cela est grand; Voltaire adorant, cela est beau. Deo erexit Voltaire.
On le voit, à la façon de tous les nouveaux venus dans une religion, sa conversion l’enivrait, il se précipitait dans l’adhésion et il allait trop loin. Sa nature était ainsi: une fois sur une pente, il lui était presque impossible d’enrayer. Le fanatisme pour l’épée le gagnait et compliquait dans son esprit l’enthousiasme pour l’idée. Il ne s’apercevait point qu’avec le génie, et pêle-mêle, il admirait la force, c’est-à-dire qu’il installait dans les deux compartiments de son idolâtrie, d’un côté ce qui est divin, de l’autre ce qui est brutal. À plusieurs égards, il s’était mis à se tromper autrement. Il admettait tout. Il y a une manière de rencontrer l’erreur en allant à la vérité. Il avait une sorte de bonne foi violente qui prenait tout en bloc. Dans la voie nouvelle où il était entré, en jugeant les torts de l’ancien régime comme en mesurant la gloire de Napoléon, il négligeait les circonstances atténuantes.
We see, like all new converts to a religion, his conversion intoxicated him, he plunged headlong into adhesion, and he went too far. His nature was such; once upon a descent it was almost impossible for him to hold back. Fanaticism for the sword took possession of him, and became complicated in his mind with enthusiasm for the idea. He did not perceive that along with genius, and indiscriminately, he was admiring force, that is to say that he was installing in the two compartments of his idolatry, on one side what is divine, and on the other what is brutal. In several respects he began to deceive himself in other matters. He admitted everything. There is a way of meeting error while on the road of truth. He had a sort of willful implicit faith which swallowed everything in mass. On the new path upon which he had entered, in judging the crimes of the ancient regime as well as in measuring the glory of Napoleon, he neglected the attenuating circumstances.
Avant que les sept hommes eussent eu le temps de se reconnaître et de s’élancer, lui s’était penché sous la cheminée, avait étendu la main vers le réchaud, puis s’était redressé, et maintenant Thénardier, la Thénardier et les bandits, refoulés par le saisissement au fond du bouge, le regardaient avec stupeur élevant au-dessus de sa tête le ciseau rouge d’où tombait une lueur sinistre, presque libre et dans une attitude formidable.
Il releva la manche de son bras gauche et ajouta:
En même temps il tendit son bras et posa sur la chair nue le ciseau ardent qu’il tenait dans sa main droite par le manche de bois.
On entendit le frémissement de la chair brûlée, l’odeur propre aux chambres de torture se répandit dans le taudis. Marius chancela éperdu d’horreur, les brigands eux-mêmes eurent un frisson, le visage de l’étrange vieillard se contracta à peine, et, tandis que le fer rouge s’enfonçait dans la plaie fumante, impassible et presque auguste, il attachait sur Thénardier son beau regard sans haine où la souffrance s’évanouissait dans une majesté sereine.
Full title: Saint Denis and Idyl of the Rue Plumet
La vraie division humaine est celle-ci: les lumineux et les ténébreux.
Diminuer le nombre des ténébreux, augmenter le nombre des lumineux, voilà le but. C’est pourquoi nous crions: enseignement! science!
Chut! chut! dit tout bas Jean Valjean. Pourquoi dire tout cela?
Mais vous! s’écria Marius avec une colère où il y avait de la vénération, pourquoi ne l’avez-vous pas dit? C’est votre faute aussi. Vous sauvez la vie aux gens, et vous le leur cachez! Vous faites plus, sous prétexte de vous démasquer, vous vous calomniez. C’est affreux... La vérité, c’est toute la vérité; et vous ne l’avez pas dite. Vous étiez monsieur Madeleine, pourquoi ne pas l’avoir dit? Vous aviez sauvé Javert, pourquoi ne pas l’avoir dit? Je vous devais la vie, pourquoi ne pas l’avoir dit?
"Hush! hush!" said Jean Valjean in a whisper. "Why tell all that?"
"Why have not you told it? It is your fault, too. You save people's lives, and you hide it from them! You do more, under pretence of unmasking yourself, you calumniate, yourself. It is frightful... The truth is the whole truth; and you did not tell it. You were Monsieur Madeleine, why not have said so? You had saved Javert, why not have said so? I owe my life to you! why not have said so?"
On n’y lit aucun nom.
by , translated by Isabel F. Hapgood
|Les Misérables (1862), one of the most well known
novels of the 19th century, 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—to redeem himself through good
works, the novel examines the impact of Valjean's actions as social
Translated from the original French by Isabel F. Hapgood
|This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.|
Here are sentences from other pages on Les Mis