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

by Victor Hugo

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

Status

Available

Publication

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

Description

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 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 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 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 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 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.
LibraryThing member RBeene
It's long but well worth the read. I consider this my favorite classic novel.
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 charlie68
Great book, much better than any film version I've seen. A large book, started it in August, lyrical, descriptive and spiritual a book to read for anyone who wants to know the depth and breadth of love and grace.
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
I read 'War and Peace' partly because I felt I should, and partly because I had no idea about the story; likewise with 'Les Miserables', although in the case of the French epic I was at least partly familiar with the characters, particularly Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert.

So, what can be said about this book that hasn't been said before? It is a classic of world literature, though I don't recommend reading it as quickly as I did (I went on holiday for a week pretty much for the purpose of reading it). It overwhelms. The story, often so sad and dramatic, is peppered with philosophical insights, many expressed ten different ways in the same chapter by Victor Hugo, a man in love with his own ideas if ever there was one.

The story itself is immense, and will stay with me always - perhaps more than any other classic. I fell in love with Gavroche, and wish that Hugo had written a book just for him.
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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 allgenresbookworm
Not since The Poisonwood Bible has a book moved me and had such a complete impact on my soul. For years I had watched the musical and that was enough for me. Thanks to my group Who Doesn't Love a Classic? which has this for their year read this year, I would have never picked up this gem.

Now I see that I have only witnessed half the story and found myself reading for eight, nine hours at a time. It was the first thing I picked up in the morning and the last thing I put down at night. I longed to know more about M. Bienvenu and with each page I had a greater respect for him. I mourned with Jean Valjean when he passed.

Throughout the book is the constant reminder of redemption throughout the book. That is, except for the Thenardiers. Never have I loathed two people more in literature (perhaps I will change my mind when I read Dickens). They had zero redeeming qualities. While the musical may make them the comic relief, there is nothing comical about them in the book.

This took me almost three weeks to read and while I had been intimidated to read such a lengthy book, I found the language glorious and if it were not for sleep, I may have read this quicker.

I'm sure at the time this was written, the scenes of Waterloo and the sewer system was interesting. I must admit though, fifty pages describing the sewer system made me want to take a hot shower and stay there. I'm not interested all that much in the Napoleonic Wars and therefore didn't have a lot of interest in the pages and pages of Waterloo.

One of the best books I have ever read.
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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 Miguelnunonave
A masterpiece of realism and humanity, like only a French author could have ever written. The scope is huge, the story incredibly powerful and beautiful.
LibraryThing member jontseng
Despite an intimidating length and the author's (delightful) tendancy to wander off onto political/philosophical tangents, this book retains its power today for two principle reasons. Firstly it is immensely readable even in transation - an archetypal "page-turner". Secondly its simple themes of redemption, true love and human nature still call to the soul, although they could be criticised for being simplistic.… (more)
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 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 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 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 RobertDay
A stunning read, given that it is a doorstop-sized nineteenth-century novel with a cast of thousands. Dickens would make this story long-winded and turgid, with the sort of word-count padding you expect from hack writers of a later era; Hugo gives you exactly the information you need to portray the places, the people and the times.

The characters are not in any way idealised; Valjean is tragic, Javert is obsessed, Fantine drifts into prostitution as the victim of a rich kid and really remains a victim for the rest of her life, and Thénardier is an utter bastard. (If the well-known musical has a fault, it's that it sets out to make Thénardier and his wife lovable rogues, and they are anything but.)

All this is set against the background of major events, all of which are depicted with an almost journalistic immediacy. In the end, the major characters get what they deserve; Valjean gets absolution of a sort, Javert's obsession drives him to suicide when the truth of Valjean's goodness is no longer avoidable, and Thénardier gets a comfortable living on a plantation in the West Indies but dies a (hopefully) nasty death years down the line from a tropical disease.

Yes, I hate Thénardier; and that says something about the characterisation, because I don't normally do hate. And he isn't even a real person!
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LibraryThing member jmoncton
Les Miserables is one of those books that is perpetually on the shelf of books that should be read when you have spare time. At 1300 pages - that's a LOT of spare time. Is it worth picking up? If you've seen the amazing Broadway musical, then you already know the story of Jean Valjean, a convict who seeks redemption through good acts during his life. Does the book really add more? Yes! Les Miserables is more than the story of a single man. It is a social commentary about class structure in 19th century France and the inability of the poor to receive justice. It is a story about how a person can change - starting as a convict and ending as a saint. It is the story of heroism - people giving their lives for a cause. It is a story about love and the sacrifices people make for love. It is an amazing masterpiece worth every one of those pages.… (more)

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Book two of two volume set

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