Les Miserables, Volumes I, II, III, IV, and V

by Victor Hugo

Other authorsLynd Ward (Illustrator), André Maurois (Introduction), Lascelles Wraxall (Translator)
Hardcover, 1938





The Heritage Press (1938), Edition: First edition.


Story of Valjean, the ex-convict who rises against all odds from galley slave to mayor, and the fanatical police inspector who dedicates his life to recapturing Valjean.

User reviews

LibraryThing member dchaikin
Read with the le Salon Litteraire group read. This is a tough one for me to review because le Salon loves it so much. Instead, I find myself on the attack. It was too long; the narrator was too arrogant, too confident. I feel bad for not loving it.

The only positive I felt as I closed the book a couple weeks ago was that I had managed to finish it. But, really I did gain positive things. I love the musical, which I saw in my early teens and fondly recall my older sister explaining the story to me ahead of time so I wouldn’t get lost, and telling me that it’s not about the French revolution, but some other later obscure uprising. I had the sound track in college and can pretty much sing along with it. So, this book was necessary, it filled the background, undermined the musical’s integrity, and just put more of the picture together. So, I needed this book.

What did I take from it? A Parisian view of France in the mid 19th-century. This was written in 1862, after the last the Parisian and French attempted revolutions (1848, ircc). For over 50 years, from Bastille Day in 1789 to the founding of Napoleon Bonaparte III, France was a turmoil of attempted revolutions, with the search for something like liberty and self-determination constantly undermined by Kings and emperors. And Hugo takes us to the heart of it, to an obscure pointless bloody rebellion in Paris in 1832. He takes us to the barricades, and highlights the purity of the young healthy revolutionaries on the brink of a noble but utterly pointless death. And, it’s the barricades that are the heart of the book, IMO. They are a painful but intense experience that gives the books its figurative heft.

Which makes me realize that this is a war book. And, I should have realized this from the section on the Battle of Waterloo, a riveting and brilliant section that brings the battle to life, and is even somewhat accurate. It just makes sense. Hugo was the son of one of Napoleon’s generals, it’s in his blood. And the barricades were about fighting.

What I didn’t like was Hugo’s ego. He’s knows he’s right even if he doesn’t have the evidence to back it up. This confidence in his assertions was just – it was like listening to a religious fanatic. The certainty that you can’t argue against but just know that the certainty itself is wrong.

And it’s this ego that leads Hugo into the constant diversions. The 1st 100 pages develop a character and then drop him. Then there’s Waterloo, a strange convent, his theory on King Louis Philippe, on the uprisings, Argot, the Paris sewer system and on and on. The convent is the dullest part of the book, but it was actually quite humbly written and memorable afterwards. But the parts on Louis Philippe and the the French uprisings – pure nonsense. It’s just Fox News . And the part on the sewers, useless. If Jean Valjean doesn’t know where he’s going, why do we need to know?

What I missed - the emotion. Jean Valjean, Fantine, Cosette all left me flat. Javert and Marius were fantastic. Gillenormand was brilliant too. But, this is Valjean’s book, and he’s a dolt. A immensely strong dolt, but if it doesn’t have to do with a little gimmick that led to his fortune, or towards something preserving his freedom so he can overprotect Cosette, Valjean’s brain simply stops working. There’s nothing there. A big tough dolt. He gave me nothing, or at least I didn’t feel it. Ditto Fantine and Cosette, both dolts. Somewhere on LT it was mentioned that Hugo was something of a womanizer. This doesn’t surprise me. I can’t imagine he thought much of women, while at the same time I’m pretty sure he felt he thought quite highly of them.

Considering how much the Valjean and Fantine of the musical meant to me – it was disappointing to not like them in the book.

I should mention Eponine was one of my favorite characters in the book, despite how she turned out. I love her in the musical too, but that’s a very different Eponine. Gavrouche is brilliant. The bishop was interesting. Thenardier – cliché. The Friends of the ABC – brilliant all of them. I still feel hollow from the scene where most of them suddenly disappear from the living – which Hugo mentions so simply, almost as an aside.

And, I should also mention Hugo was something of wordsmith and he is very quotable. And his 1463 pages can be read somewhat quickly, but also won’t disappoint on close reading.

And, I should conclude something. But, I don’t know what to conclude, so I’ll leave it here. Apologies for the long wondering review – although I have to mention, it does seem kind of appropriate.
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LibraryThing member A_musing
Les Miserables is generally recognized as a ground-breaking work of fiction, a masterful and epic tale of social condemnation and individual redemption that serves as a foundation work in Western Culture. And, indeed, Les Mis itself has become a cottage industry, with its poor, miserable characters now gracing Broadway theatres, Loews cinemas and home theatre systems around the world.

After reading Les Mis, I am convinced that it is indeed one of the most deservedly influential works in Western Literature. Hugo’s deep thoughts on the French revolution and its children have long challenged the imagination of middle school Parisians and untutored heartlanders struggling to follow a broadway score. His influence continues to be felt through stories that interweave historical fact and individual psychological turmoil, including such epic sagas as the Thorn Birds and the Forsyte Saga. Hugo simultaneously gives us insight into the society and culture, much as a good article in Newsweek might, and the kind of deep understanding of individual pathos I remember having upon first reading Freud when I was 15. It is a powerful combination.

While other great works, works like Moby Dick or Paradise Lost, challenge the reader, assume some reasonable level of knowledge and intelligence, and urge the reader to stretch their world view, Hugo has the wisdom to write for the less literary, indeed, we might even say, less literate, and meticulously clarifies everything that has already been made clear, and then repeats it again, helping us to understand even the most trivial points in great detail. Indeed, one of the beauties of this book is that if you miss something the first time, you will likely be able to catch it the fourth time, and thus need not read too closely. It is as if Hugo has anticipated the entire genre of the modern daytime serial drama.

In sum, Les Mis was everything I thought it would be, and deserves to be recognized as the groundbreaking, influential work it is, a work fully worthy of television serialization. Indeed, after completing it, I thought, "Wow! Now that's almost as good as the Epic of the Wheat!" High praise, indeed.
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LibraryThing member solla
I've just finished reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I read it once before, sometime between 18 and 20. I was absorbed in Jean Valjean's story from beginning to end, as well as in the stories of more minor characters, and perhaps half of the long digressions about economics, politics, the sewers of Paris, etc.

---Spoiler alert, although I don't really think the enjoyment of the book is based on not knowing the plot ---
But, I find that I have to begin near the end, because I ended up feelings the books strongest effects there when Jean Valjean reveals to Marius, now Cosette's husband, that he had been in the galley. It was apparent earlier on that Valjean saw Cosette's love for someone else as the end of his relationship with him, and I was puzzled by this, and I didn't see why he needed to tell Marius. Jean Valjean's reasoning was that he didn't want someone unwillingly to be associated with someone like him if they didn't want to, and he didn't want to live a lie. But, at the same time I was emotionally struck by his sense of shame about what seemed so trivial, having stolen a loaf of bread, and doing it to feed his sister's children. For this he felt so low as to be below the lowest in society. It didn't seem to matter that he had also created a business that benefited a town, saved several lives, given to the poor, still he needed to shrink and hide. Perhaps I felt this more strongly because I currently have a friend in jail on a serious charge. Maybe it is just knowing all the ways throughout history in which people have been made to feel unworthy, untouchable for things which now make no sense to us, and, at the same time it continues for reasons that are similarly senseless.

The other parts of the book that seem amazing to me are psychic struggles that occur within Jean Valjean - first when he has stolen the Bishops silver plates, and, on being brought back by the police, the bishop has said that he gave them to Valjean, and then brings out his candlesticks as well, telling Jean Valjean that he had forgotten them. Valjean has been hardened by his experience of 19 years in the galleys for stealing bread and then trying to escape, and the battle is whether to hold on to his bitterness or to allow himself to feel goodness.

The next struggle is after he has established himself in a town, creating an enterprise which has enriched him as well as the town. But another man has been falsely identified as him and is about to be sent to the galleys for life for stealing apples, and another offense which Valjean had committed shortly after his release. So he struggles over whether he needs to turn himself in. In all these times his struggles were wrenching to me. These are common struggles - the process of change from a habitual way of feeling to one that allows more of life inside; the desire to shrink into the shadows.

While some of his characters may be exagerated, perhaps Javert is in his dogged, unquestioning respect for authority, law and the upper class, the depiction of what Valjean struggles with in his own mind seems extremely realistic to me.

in the Le Salon Litteraire du Peuple pour le Peuple which is currently discussing the book, there are some comments about the depiction of women in a stereotyped way, even though most of this is done in what seem to be favorable statements about women, such as "One of the generosities of women is to yield." To me it makes no difference or little difference whether the stereotyped statements are positive or negative - it is always negative to impose a view that denies a person their full humanity and Hugo, to my eye, is definitely guilty of that. Toward the end I was beginning to feel that it was turning into a happily ever after story, with Cosette, who'd been an interesting enough kids, turning into this woman ready to submerge herself in her husband, and leave the room when he and her father had important things to discuss. Sure that was the view of the time, but then we appreciate Hugo for the ways in which he was able to see beyond his time, not for the ways he was limited by it.

There was a lot too that was good about the depiction of the relationship between Marius and his grandfather, and his grandfather's treatment of Marius's father, though that got glossed over in the end.

As I read the book I was amazed at times by just how much Hugo seemed to know about conditions and events around the world. I don't know exactly when Marx's ideas became popular, but, Hugo discussed economic ideas that were similar and the problems of creating and distributing wealth. He seemed very familiar with political events in the United States, and elsewhere. I don't know about other writers who wrote about the difficulties of poverty at that time. Dickens was about that time. E.Nesbitt and Frances Burnett were writers of children's books who wrote about poverty in England perhaps 50 years later. If I compare him to Dickens he seems to me both more realistic and not so confused about class. Thinking of Oliver Twist one difference is that Oliver who had the audacity to ask for more never does actually steal - and he turns out to be of gentile birth. While bringing attention to the misery of the poor he's depicted as being able to rise above it, seemingly as a characteristic of his class. Hugo's depiction of poverty is a bit less of a fairy tale. Fantine does sleep with someone without marrying, so she has some responsibility for her fate, unlike Oliver, but she is is not villified for that, or depicted as a person of bad character. Jean Valjean really did steal the bread, and having done that, and suffered out of proportion for it, acquires a character that includes some hardening against the world.

I don't really have a summary for this discussion, except all in all it seems like a big and compassionate work. I liked it when I first read it and I still do.
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LibraryThing member Talbin
Okay, I'll just put it out there - I didn't like Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. When I finished it this afternoon, I cheered - I was so very glad it was over. I found the whole thing to be mawkishly sentimental and utterly predictable. The characters contained virtually no shades of gray, and the narrator's continual need to digress - and digress - and digress - drove me bonkers.

Here's the thing. The story itself could have probably been told in 300 pages or less. The other 1,162 pages were filled with the narrator's (Hugo's?) opinions about everything from the uselessness of convents, the history of riots in Paris, the greatness of the French people in general, the sanctity and purity of women and children, and even the worth of human excrement flowing through Paris's sewers. It seems as if Hugo decided that Les Miserables was his opportunity to discuss every fleeting idea or thought he'd ever had. In detail. With lots of name dropping. It drove this reader crazy.

And the story itself. I expected a little more in a "classic." I don't know about anyone else, but I found myself predicting the outcome of almost every scene. And it was so cloying, so maudlin - a paragon of 19th century melodrama at its worst.

So why am I giving Les Miserables 1.5 stars rather than one or even a half a star? 1. There were times when Hugo made me laugh. 2. Gavroche was a great character, finely drawn. 3. Because I read every one of its 1,463 pages.
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LibraryThing member Rachissy
I finished much faster than I anticipated but I just couldn’t put it down. The last book had a lot of action as the students of Paris built a barricade and revolted. Our boy, Marius, finds himself in the middle of the fray which is not going in their favor. Jean Valjean arrives and helps him out a bit and manages to help out a few other citizens while he’s there because, well, that’s just the way he rolls. While trying to help Marius, Jean Valjean has a long coming chit chat with the pesky Javert and attempt to work out some of their issues. All the while Cosette sits by and waits.

The book ends well for some and not so well for others which is about all I’m going to say. I loved it and will probably end up re-reading a few times. However I’ve been reading in e-book format on my laptop, which is less than pleasant and I won’t be doing that again. This is definitely a book I want to own so I’ll be going out and buying a REAL copy (I really dislike the term ‘dead tree book’ it’s so negative). I also think I’ll go for the abridged version and do without Hugo’s rambling. I don’t need the history lesson on France every time I want to read it. I would suggest to anyone thinking about giving it a read to just go for it. The first few chapters seem a little slow but it’s totally worth it to stick it out. At least I thought so.

I did finally watch the movie last night after I finished and it was pretty good. They took liberties, changed things and left stuff out but I guess that’s to be expected. I hate when people say “I don’t need to read the book, I can just watch the movie”. Even the best movie adaptation is just a portion of the whole story. Sometimes it’s barely a glimpse of the goodness that lies within the book. I love movies as much as the next person but it’s good to go straight to the source. Movies are an enhancement, not a replacement for reading.
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LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
Well this is nothing but the French War and Peace, is what this is. And if it doesn't quite plumb the psychological depths of the human individual like Tolstoy's work does, it contains more, far more, of the real, common human life that we share. "Man is a depth still more profound than the people", says Jean Valjean, but that good old man is wrong, and this book is 1463 pages of passionate refutation.… (more)
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
The author of the introduction I read in my edition of Les Miserables, Peter Washington, didn't seem to much admire the book or the author. He compared it unfavorably to Tolstoy's War and Peace and claimed that "Les Miserables rambles, there are huge digressions and absurdities of plot, the characters are often thin, the action melodramatic." I found that amusing because having recently read War and Peace I thought all that very much applied to Tolstoy's novel, and in more annoying ways that in Les Miserables. Maybe it's that I found Tolstoy's frequent digressions on the hive nature of history rather one-note. If Hugo digresses, at least it's on different subjects.

Though yes, the narrative is even more long-winded than you'd expect from 19th Century Western literature. Hugo's one of those authors who won't use one adjective when he can pile up a dozen in one sentence. When Hugo defends using argot, the lingo of thieves, he makes a good point that professions like stockbrokers have an argot of their own, but not satisfied with this example, he goes on and on for an entire page where a brief sentence would have sufficed. Were you one of those people who complained about Ayn Rand's long speechifying in her novels? Well, she was an admirer of Hugo, and I suspect this is where she got the habit from. I would have happily taken a hatchet to the chapters on the rules of the Bernardine-Benedictines and there's really no excuse for spending that much wordage on the sewers of Paris. But with many of the digressions, even when I was impatient to get back to the mainline of the story, I found many of them worth reading. Skip the chapter "The Tail" in Melville's Moby Dick, and I don't think you'd miss much unless you find the anatomy of whales fascinating. Skip the second epilogue of Tolstoy's War and Peace in my opinion you miss only crank theorizing. But within a lot of those digressions in Les Miserables are insights into the spirit of the 19th century.

Besides, I also rather prefer Hugo's characters to those of Tolstoy. Jean Valjean has the kind of largeness of character lacking in the cast of Tolstoy's historical novel to carry an epic. When Valjean first appears in the novel on page 66, he's been a galley slave for 19 years--initially sentenced because he stole a loaf of bread. Six years later he's a wealthy entrepreneur that lifted his town to prosperity and became its mayor, and likely would have continued to prosper were it not for Inspector Javert. And if Valjean is a hero worthy of an epic, than Javert makes a worthy villain, almost a force of nature, and interesting because he's above all motivated by devotion to the law. And for a full-on black villains, you can't do much better than Pere and Mere Thénardier. There are also vividly drawn secondary characters such as their children Gavroche and Eponine. (Even if I do agree with Jean Valjean that Marius, his adopted daughter's love interest, is a "booby." A good match for the ninny that is Cosette.)

Yes, there are coincidences that stretch credibility and larger-than-life characters and melodramatic rhetorical flourishes. And at times Hugo's chauvinism, his aggrandizement of his nation--much more evident than in Tolstoy or Dickens or Hawthorne--raised an eyebrow. And I certainly don't share Hugo's enthusiasm for revolution, riots ("emeutes") and mobs and I'm to put it mildly, dubious about Hugo's vision of "Progress." I wondered at times, just how much of the melody, the poetry of the writing I missed reading the Wilbour translation. Some claim that if you don't like Hugo, it might be Wilbour's fault. But I certainly found this mammoth epic more interesting than the equally lengthy War and Peace and clumsy translation or not, one with many beautiful and quotable passages.
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LibraryThing member Jthierer
Amazing. I know a lot of people read the abridged version to skip all the digressions about convents and sewer lines when really all you want to know is how Jean Valjean escapes, but I think you lose some of the experience by doing that. Yes, its long. Yes, I began to lost patience with the digressions by the end, but I also felt I understood not just the characters but also the world they lived in.… (more)
LibraryThing member SuzOls
Where do I begin? Maybe I should start with this: I love epic novels. There are not many therapies quite as effective as books with the ability to transport you out of your problems and into fictional ones. This book came at just the right time; half of it was read during a tumultous two week period in which my family moved slightly abruptly; the second half was devoured last month, while I recovered from some unexpected goodbye's.

I started Les Miserables with high expectations, and was not disappointed. Victor Hugo is champion of the touching moment. He will spend chapter after chapter setting up every tiny detail for the perfect moment. I found myself having to stop multiple times, I could read no more because I was crying too hard. Please do not be intimidated by this. The title is "The Miserable," and Hugo isn't afraid to bring you down to the level of the lowest to show you what must be the depths of despair. But woven into these troubles and woes are themes of hope and redemption. Thus, the tears and sorrow I felt were of the most satisfying variety.
It was those sweet little moments that make this novel so great. Victor Hugo is not afraid of spending adequate time to set things up for a devestating paragraph or shocking sentence. Victor Hugo is certainly not concerned about wasting your time. For example - he spends over four chapters describing the history of the sewer systems of Paris. Was it really necessary? Maybe some of us enjoy having this random bit of history to share with our naughty nerd friends. I wasn't quite so enthusiastic. I attempted to immerse myself in the quality of his writing, and forgive the putrid subject matter. We must allow these great novel writers some lee-way in this area. They spend so much time and thought masking their genius behind characters and intricate story plots. The greatest epic novels tend to have the longest diversions; if we take advantage of the treasure they have handed us, we must also submit ourselves to the occasional ramble. And when you realize exactly how smart this man is, you shan't mind submitting yourself to a (maybe) unnecessary diatribe.

So we plow through the history of Parisian sewers and find ourselves in a climax worthy of the highest accolades. For those of you worried about the time and stamina it takes to make it through a 1000+ page novel, have no fear. The book is constantly progressing, becoming more and more beautiful with each succuesive chapter.
Before I finish this perhaps conservative and certainly not over-exaggerated praise, I must mention the characters. To me, the characters are the most important element of any novel or work of prose. Hugo's characters were interesting. Although a few bordered cliche, they each had their fair share of peculiarities and were (to some extent) relatable. They certainly had not the four dimensional reality of Tolstoy, neither were they the caricatures of Dickens. Hugo found a lovely middle ground. Although his characters are life-like, they also seem to embody themes, ideas, and philosophies that play and interact within the story - creating a suprisingly interesting philosophical thought box.

Kudos to the man- for creating a novel that will outlive every rebellion and continue to reach the multitude with a message of the existence of undying love.
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LibraryThing member stixnstones004
I had high hopes for this book since I thoroughly enjoyed The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Unfortunately, the tendency to write chapters on obsolete details which is tedious at best in Hunchback is exponentially worse in Les Miserables. The story itself is amazing. The writing is eloquent and praiseworthy. However, the endless chapters on philosophy, or architecture, or, at one point, the monetary sense of using human excrement as fertilizer, had me wanting to bang my head against the wall. Nevertheless, I'm glad for once that I can never start a book without finishing it because the ending was so poignant and wonderful, though tragic, that I almost felt bad for hating the middle of the novel so much. I would have to say that my favorite character was Gavroche and therefore his death during the insurrection at the Rue de Chanvrerie was heartbreaking. In conclusion, I still regard Victor Hugo as a prominent and extremely talented writer but am going to forego any more of his novels for a while in favor of peace of mind.… (more)
LibraryThing member bkinetic
A wonderful book in part because it can be read at different levels, as an adventure novel, as beautiful love story and as a philosophical treatise that poses fascinating questions about the nature of right and wrong, ethical and unethical.
LibraryThing member DrMom
A book that I had to actually put down twice and stop reading, I was sobbing so hard. You know how some books just become "your" books... I read it when I was young and it changed my life. When the musical came out I was incensed; how could they POSSIBLY portray the beauty that is contained in its many pages. Any movie I had seen could NOT do justice to Hugo's words. But the musical actually did. I was amazed - and grateful. Now more people could feel its message. How I love this book. If you could only take 2 books with you to a desert island?? This would be one of them for me.… (more)
LibraryThing member amerynth
I got my copy of Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" when I was in high school (more than 20 years ago) after seeing the musical. I know I tackled reading it, as there are pen marks in some of the margins, but I'm not terribly sure I ever finished it. With the release of the new (and excellent) movie, I thought this was the time to give it a reread. I'm ever so glad I did.... and I had no trouble finishing it this time. In fact, it was hard to put down.

What you can you say about Hugo's epic that hasn't already been said? It's beautifully written with characters that leap off the page. The novel encompasses a huge amount of period French history, putting the characters in the thick of the action of some important (and unimportant events.) It is a story of redemption, of love, of suffering.

The only criticism I can lodge is that some of Hugo's tangents go on a bit long... (I now know more than I ever need to about Waterloo, for example) and pull away from the story. At times I wondered if we were ever going to get back to Jean Valjean's story. Still, I can't help giving this five stars because I just loved the book enough to overlook that minor quibble. This is truly just a great book.
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LibraryThing member danikah
Les Miserables was a wonderful novel. The novel seemed to me to become a full circle in the end from when Jean Valjean was a convict to being a beloved hero who granted the love of his life, his daughter, what she previously had only shown him-love. It was a very passionate, real life story that touched millions including myself.… (more)
LibraryThing member Clif
The poor are with us always. And this book about the poor remains with the reader in more than one way. First, it is so long that reading it will seem like living a lifetime. Second, it's a profound story that will likely remain in the reader's memory forever. It is a book that explores the human condition from the bottom up.

WARNING: LONG REVIEW FOLLOWS: (My more personal motives for listening to the book are covered in the second half of the review.)

Early in the book, the story's protagonist named Jean Valjean, experiences an incredible act of kindness at the hands of a saintly rural catholic bishop. Jean Valjean up to that point in his life had every reason to hate life and everything in it. The encounter with the bishop becomes a life-changing event for Jean Valjean. It's an incredible story of redemption and conversion. Moreover, this is a story written by an author who is not overtly religious. In fact, later in the book Hugo provides commentary about catholic monastic life that is not very flattering.

There is a reoccurring motif in the book of a martyr sacrificing himself for the greater good. Early in the book the rural bishop gives away his personal wealth to help the poor. Thus the rural bishop is the Christ figure and Jean Valjean is the Apostle Paul figure. The bishop changes lives by living a life of love. In response to his encounter with the bishop, Jean Valjean lives a changed life by helping others. As the story continues, Jean Valjean becomes an alternative version of the Christ figure. The narrative includes a later scene with obvious parallels to the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jean Valjean suffers through a night of anguish deciding whether to save a falsely accused man by revealing his own true identity. Taking this action will cause Jean Valjean to sacrifice his own freedom for that of another person.

The motif of martyr for the greater good appears again later when the insurrectionists believe they are dying for the greater good by fighting for liberty, equality, and fraternity. From the perspective of 176 years later, the cause of the insurrectionists appears naively stupid, so I don't credit a Christ figure among the combatants. However, Jean Valjean shows up on the scene and again risks his life to save others. I count four lives that he saved during the insurrection. Two of the lives saved are obvious. I challenge readers to figure out who the third and fourth ones were.

During the battle scene, Inspector Javert is the recipient of an act of incredible kindness at the hands of Jean Valjean, whom he considers to be his enemy. When Javert reflects on the experience, he senses the call to become a changed person. This is an echo of Jean Valjean’s life changing experience early in the book. Javert concludes that he is unable to live with the call.

The rescue journey through the sewers in general, and the encounter with quick sand in particular, is reminiscent of Dante's Divine Comedy. It’s a tale of passage from Inferno (battle scene), through the trials of Purgatorio (sewers), to Paradiso (life and the marriage of his daughter). The scene where Jean Valjean slowly sinks into the quick sand is as ghastly as anything is from Dante's Inferno.

Those of you who are familiar with 19th Century literature know that their death scenes are always dramatic. They sure knew how to die in those days. Well, this book doesn't disappoint in that regard. It ends with a death scene that stretches out like the rest of the book.

The length of the unabridged version of the book is hard for a typical 21st Century reader to endure. There are many abridged versions available, but the abridged versions leave out Victor Hugo's pontifications about social and political conditions in 19th Century France. In addition, when Hugo develops a character in his story he writes a book length description. The same goes for descriptions of environmental surroundings. For example, Hugo includes a long and detailed description of the Battle of Waterloo to explain how two characters in the story met years prior to the current story being described. A modern editor would probably have cut some 30 pages from the Battle of Waterloo. However, the description of the battle is well done, and it alone is sufficient reason to read the book. In general, I believe the book is worth reading for the hardcore literature buff. For other more normal people it's too long, too 19th Century and too French.

Victor Hugo partly based this book on the real life story of Eugène François Vidocq. In the fictionalized Les Miserables, the Vidocq character is divided between Jean Valjean and his nemesis, Inspector Javert. Some parts of the book follow historical records, so the book may be considered a historical novel of sorts.


I became interested in the book after the East Hill Singers (of which I'm a volunteer) sang the song, Bring Him Home which comes from the musical, Les Miserables. It is a song of strong emotion than can apply to any family with a child in harms way. I wanted to learn more about the story behind the song. My preliminary research indicated that the song didn't fit well with the story as told in the book. The song was obviously written for the musical where Jean Valjean is praying to God during the night before battle to spare the life of Marius, his daughter's beau. Some critics believe that the song doesn't fit the book narrative because in the book Jean Valjean doesn't care much for his daughter's friend.

I argue to the contrary. I believe that the song fits with the book in an even more profound way than in the Musical. In the book the song best conveys the thoughts of Jean Valjean's following the battle while he his carrying the injured Marius to safety through the sewers of Paris. He's doing it not because he likes Marius, but because he loves his daughter. He proceeds to risk his life and expend all his strength to overcome numerous obstacles to save the life of someone he hardly knows. This in spite of the fact that he knows if he succeeds in saving Marius it will likely lead to his daughter leaving to be with Marius.

In the context of the preceding story, this is an act of sacrificial love. Valjean is a man who has suffered through a life with many losses. In addition, many of the losses he suffered were caused of his honesty and integrity. The nurturing of his adopted daughter was an important part of his life that gave him a reason to live. Now he's an old man, and by acting in a principled humane way he is bringing loss upon himself once again.

I think Valjean suffers more than necessary toward the end of the book. As is often the case, if all the characters in the story communicated honestly with each other in the way they should, the story wouldn't be nearly so dramatic.

I listened to an unabridged audio version downloaded from Audible.com originally recorded by Blackstone Audio.
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LibraryThing member Luli81
I can't express the sensations this book provoked in me. I thought I had read good books until I found this one. Jean Valljean, Fantine, Cossette... They showed me the meaning of living and dying in this unfair but beautiful world.
LibraryThing member yougotamber
This epic novel by Victor Hugo was quite a surprising treat. I think the enchantment felt was partially due to the lack of knowledge I had of this popular story. I've never seen any of the films or ventured out to see the play. Anyone who has ever read this will know Hugo tends to digress into many topics which stray from the story itself. Not knowing this, the first digression choked me like swallowing a huge pill. But slowly, after each one… I started to enjoy his digressions and wanted more. Hugo has a wonderful mind and really delves into some thought provoking ideas. All this stimulating writing had me highlighting like crazy.

For example, I loved the way Hugo compared a prison to a monastery and a convict to a nun, never would I have even thought to compare the two! I also loved the entire rant on slang; this topic is still being debated today. Also, the slang of long ago is proper speech today which strengthens his argument even more. He brings a refreshing look at what slang really is and how it should be treated.

One of my favorite characters in the book was actually a very minor character but one which brought about Hugo’s rant of slang. Gavroche, the street urchin who creates a nest in an elephant sculpture, has such cheer and resourcefulness for a child with nothing. This is admirable, yes… but Gavroche’s charm lies with his slangy speech. His speech is chock full of cute words for ordinary things and he tries to correct others when they use “proper” speech. His part is short but his character is so heartwarming and odd that it stuck with me.

Okay, so… this story is aptly named “The Miserable Wretches” because EVERYONE has horrible things happen to them BUT sometimes a happy ending is overrated. I’ll leave you with this quote straight out of the ending of the book:

“It is a terrible thing to be happy! How content one is! How all-sufficient one finds it! How, being in possession of the false object of life, happiness, one forgets the true object, duty!”

It was Hugo’s duty to deliver us a story with depth and feeling, not one of those dull (heard it all before) stories. With this, he has success… End of story.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
This book is an undeniable masterpiece. The sheer scope of the novel is praise-worthy. Then you add on fascinating characters, the complicated plot, which weaves countless lives together, the detailed history of France and so much more and it blows you away. The basic plot (there's no way to briefly sum up the whole thing) follows a convict named Jean Valjean. He was imprisoned for stealing bread and now, years later, he tries to make a life for himself in 19th century France.

The plot is complex and the characters are intricately connected in unexpected ways. I loved the Bishop at the very beginning of the story. His gentle heart and merciful choices make him unforgettable even though he is only in a brief section of the book. The police chief Javert is a villain of sorts. He is so focused on living by the letter of the law that he misses the point of true justice.

Hugo writes dozens of pages of French history in between actions scenes. By the time I made it through his wandering sidetracked thought I'd sometimes forget where we'd left the major characters. I just wish that Hugo had had a better editor. It's not even that the history lessons weren't interesting, it's just that they hindered the flow of the book (at more than 1,400 pages, it doesn't need to be hindered). Apparently Hugo told his editor that he wasn't allowed to remove anything from the book. ANYTHING. Not a single line. Now this obviously shows Hugo's passion for his work and his desire to maintain the integrity of his original vision, but there are editors for a reason. Sometimes authors aren't the best judge of what might improve their book after its been completed.

I loved the story. It's such an inspiring tale of redemption and sacrifice. There are so many beautiful lines in the novel that are a testament to Hugo's talent.

"One can no more prevent the mind from returning to an idea than the sea from returning to a shore. In the case of the sailor, this is called a tide; in the case of the guilty, it is called remorse."

Over all I really enjoyed it. I was able to sink completely into the time period because of the books length and details. I do believe that trimming a few of the historical parts would have sharpened the focus on the plot, but that's just my opinion. I'm so glad I read it. It is one of those books that provide such a rich experience. It's not one I'll read every year or something, but it's a story that will stay in my soul for decades to come.
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LibraryThing member mhenry4
Les Miserables has everything. With the multiple plot lines and characters that everyone can relate to this book really appeals to everyone. It took me a LONG time to read this book, but it was worth every minute!
LibraryThing member NoLabelsUnleashed
Les Miserables is the type of work that I never get tired of reading, even if there's been years since I've read it. I'm also a big fan of the play, which I got a chance to see years ago.
LibraryThing member libraryhermit
One of my favourite books of all time. This Penguin that I bought in two separate volumes in the early 1980s had such small print, but so many pages. I remember in particular reading one section of it going down Highway 21 in South-Central Alberta, Canada, for those of you who know it. It is a small rural highway, just 2 lanes, where the level of traffic most of the time is passing a car only once every 1 or 2 minutes when at its most busy, and a car every 4 or 5 minutes when not busy, like the time I was on a Greyhound bus. I was going from Edmonton to Alix. The passenger beside me on that day said that I was sure reading a thick book with really small print. Of course I agreed with her.
You might think the next part is really goofy. But when I was trying to teach my kids not to steal, I read to them the part about when Jean Valjean steals the candle sticks from the Monsigneur. Of course this is a part of the book that nobody can ever forget. Maybe some day my kids will read the book. They have seen one of the movie versions, I do not know which. Does not matter. I also read it later on in the original French. Want to go back and read it a third time some time in the future.
I have read several of the other reviews posted about this book, and I can see their point about the book going on and on for too many pages. But on the other hand, I remember reading what someone else said or wrote somewhere, that novels were the Television of the 19th Century. This makes sense to me. If it is true as it is sometimes said, that there is a large part of the population that watches tv for 15 or 20 or more hours a week, then it seems trivial in comparison to spend 20 or 30 hours reading a massive French novel. I know which I prefer.
When characters are called dolts or shallow, I can see on what basis this statement is made, but I do not adopt absolute standards on those questions, only relative observations. Victor Hugo could have selected other ways of writing that would have made the reviewers not say that the characters are dolts or shallow, but it does not matter. This is the choice he made. I will take the book for what it is and not ask it to be something else.
But the above argument is contradictory and meaningless. Because if I think that the reviewers are dissing the book, that just means that I am dissing them and want to pick a fight with them, and therefore I am just as bad as them. Nothing is a contentious statement unless the passers-by who encounter it want it to be a contentious statement, and then they can contend about it all they want. You can want Jean Valjean to be a dolt, and he can be a dolt, or I can want you to be a dolt for saying that Jean Valjean is a dolt, but I could just hold it back and not worry about anybody being a dolt. Everybody is a dolt. But nobody is a dolt but thinking makes it so.
I better go now, before I say anything else stupid. (I do not think that Jean Valjean is a dolt. He just wanted to eat some bread and get some bread for his family, and he was stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time.)
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LibraryThing member faith93
Victor Hugo describes in this book criticizes social injustice in France
Showing the novel nature of good and evil and the law in the breathtaking story of the Paris landmarks show, ethics, philosophy, law, justice, religion and the nature of romantic and familial love.
Les Miserables great novel because Victor Hugo was a romantic at heart, and the book is filled with moments of great poetry and beauty. The depth of the internal vision and the fact that made him a classic for Aihddh time, one of the great works in Western literature even today after 150 years of writing, the book remains a powerful story of Les Miserables .… (more)
LibraryThing member cdeuker
What to say! When this book is good, it's absolutely fantastic. When it's boring, it's mind-numbingly boring. (Way more than you'll ever want to know about Waterloo. Also, a long, long argument that seeks to convince the reader that it's not a good idea to become a nun. I was convinced after one sentence.) Hugo's imagination is almost too fertile. He'll describe something, and then pile on details. Each detail, in and of itself, is marvelous. But there are so many!!!

Still, and extraordinary story written with passion by a GREAT writer. You just can't be in a hurry. Hugo isn't.
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LibraryThing member chrisblocker
Victor Hugo's classic Les Misérables is a good story bogged down by many digressions. It's probably what anyone should expect from the era. Authors of the time did frequently step away from the narrative and give their opinions about this matter or that, then tell you about the historical context (Hugo departed from his opinions occasionally to tell the story). More than once, Hugo wrote, “The following is an authentic incident which, although it has no bearing on our story...” “Although it has no bearing on our story”--this is a problem. Half the book could be eliminated and you'd still have the same story. Fortunately, the tale that is the backbone of Les Misérables is memorable enough than the reader still recalls the story by the time Hugo finishes his thirty or forty page rant.

So I will say flat out that Hugo was not a great novelist as we think of it today. Not only did he try to lure the reader into a book of philosophy, political theory, and whatever other train of thought Hugo wanted to follow, but he tried (unsuccessfully, I believe) to trick the reader with moments of suspense. He played this game where he tried to suspend the revelation for several chapters. Maybe it's effective the first couple times, but it becomes clear too early that it is a gimmick. This man, the man you've been reading about for the past thirty pages, is really...

All that thrown to the streets and left to beg, Hugo was a wonderful storyteller. The tales of Valjean, Fantine, Cosette, Marius, et al are epic. They may only be loosely connected to one another, but their bulk is comprised of one theme. Parallels can certainly be made to the Bible when viewed as a work of literature. Both are filled with tragedy, history, love, and enough digressions to reinterpret and make a religion out of. But the stories that many people remember from the Bible—Cain and Abel, Joseph and his brothers, Moses and the exodus, the birth of Jesus, the prodigal son, Paul on the road to Damascus, et cetera—these stories carry much of the same love, jealousy, anger, and hope that the stories in Les Misérables impart on the reader. And when you take a step back, look at the story in its full context, try not to let your annoyances or biases get in the way, you'll find a story of redemption. That is the Bible. And that is Les Misérables.
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LibraryThing member saphire6916
I have never read the book but I did paticipate in a musical about it and I highly recamend that you either read the book or the musical.


Local notes

Book two of two volume set


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