Book Review | Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Updated: Jun 27, 2020

Birth: February 26, 1802, Besancon, France

Death: May 22, 1885, Paris, France

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo - 1862

Born in 1802 in Besancon, the great French thinker and writer, Victor Hugo, grew up in poverty; he knew he had the talent for literature; At the age of 15, he won the Academy Award with a poem, and at 17, he received the Golden Lily, the biggest award of the Toulouse Literary Academy. He published his first book when he was 20 years old. In 1825 he received the title of Légion d'Honneur.

He continued his literary life, which he started with poetry, with the plays he wrote, and his novels followed him. When he opposed the government for the sake of defending his views, he was exiled. He was always with the oppressed. The return of exile continued to write books with great productivity, even though it was reintroduced into politics.

Although Victor Hugo died in Paris in 1885, he continues to live in the literary world with his masterpieces such as The Last Day of a Condemned Man, Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Cromwell.

Everything people say about Les Misérables is right, the good and the bad. It is one of the most heartbreaking, touching stories ever written. It is way too long and rambling. Some of the most fascinating characters of Western literature are in this book. Some of the most annoying and cliched ones, too. There is as much to love in "Les Misérables" as there is to loathe, so instead of regurgitating a synopsis of a story everyone already knows, I will tell you what I love about it, and what I hate about it.

But I must say that even if parts of it drive me nuts, I think this is the sort of masterpiece everyone should at least try to read once, even if you have to skim some particularly ponderous passages. Some themes in that story are simply too worldwide to be dismissed, even if slogging through almost 1500 pages can be an occasional pain.

Normally, I do not use the method of identifying characters separately in the reviews, but the content of this book has forced me to do so.

Jean Valjean: While he was hardened by prison, the core of this man is still hundred percent compassion and he is one of the most moving descriptions of the crushing power of forgivness ever to be put on paper. Jean Valjean's path to redeem himself and to built a prosperous life of hard-work and integrity, his munificence and self-sacrifice: his actions are so powerful and inspiring. In my eyes, he is one of the greatest heroes of classic literature.

Inspecteur Javert: The man-of-the-law who cannot imagine a world where rules are not obeyed just so, his relentless pursuit of Valjean, his eventual epiphany: he fascinates me in his stiffness of principle and inhumanity. Fantine all but crawls at his feet begging for mercy and he finds it easier to watch her die than to bend the rules. What a jerk, but what an amazing depiction of what happens when a fanatical obsession takes over and when justice becomes misguided and inflexible. He is as tragic as he is despicable.

Historical nitpicking: a lot of people mistakenly believe that the revolution in "Les Misérables" is the French Revolution, but it's actually a small uprising that took place many years after.

The social commentary about injustice, destitution, corruption and greed. Social justice is something Victor Hugo was always vocal about and I love him for it. He chose to write about criminals, thieves and other low-lives because he wanted his readership to pay attention to how easily institutions that are there to do good can be corrupted into oppressing the very people they should be serving and defending.

Marius de Pontmercy was the personality that I did not like in the book, which I remembered, and that I would have said if it were not in the book. He is a not a romantic hero, he is a stalker and a creep, and the absurd love story between him and Cosette bored me. Their romance is easily the most uninteresting part of the novel.

It's interesting to note that at one point, the Vatican banned "Les Misérables" because it painted the Church in a rather negative light. I find that ironic, because the message of forgiveness and redemption is so crucial to the story, but they have banned these kind of books for stranger reasons before.

I think that capturing the scope and complexity of this story on film might be a lost. No movie can fit this unique book in 2 hours and my advice is that you read it and find out what the fuss really is about. I can't guarantee you'll enjoy it, but you will never forget it.

“What Is Love? I have met in the streets a very poor young man who was in love. His hat was old, his coat worn, the water passed through his shoes and the stars through his soul” /Victor Hugo
“Laughter is sunshine, it chases winter from the human face.” /Victor Hugo
“Life's great happiness is to be convinced we are loved.” /Victor Hugo
“The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved in. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only.” /Victor Hugo
She dropped her head again on Marius' knees, and her eyelids closed. He thought the poor soul had departed. Eponine remained motionless. All at once, at the very moment when Marius fancied her asleep forever, she slowly opened her eyes in which appeared the sombre profundity of death, and said to him in a tone whose sweetness seemed already to proceed from another world: /Victor Hugo

“Promise to give me a kiss on my brow when I am dead... I shall feel it...”

"And by the way, Monsieur Marius, I believe that I was a little bit in love with you.” /Victor Hugo
“You ask me what forces me to speak? A strange thing; my conscience.” /Victor Hugo
“Not being heard is no reason for silence.” /Victor Hugo
“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in--what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.” /Victor Hugo
“The future has several names. For the weak, it is impossible; for the fainthearted, it is unknown; but for the valiant, it is ideal.” /Victor Hugo

“If I speak, I am condemned. If I stay silent, I am damned!”

“There is nothing like a dream to create the future.” /Victor Hugo
“He was fond of books, for they are cool and sure friends” /Victor Hugo
“He never went out without a book under his arm, and he often came back with two.” /Victor Hugo
“Those who do not weep, do not see.” /Victor Hugo
“A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is visible labor and there is invisible labor.” /Victor Hugo

“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”

“Teach the ignorant as much as you can; society is culpable in not providing a free education for all and it must answer for the night which it produces. If the soul is left in darkness sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.” /Victor Hugo
“To love another person is to see the face of God.” /Victor Hugo
“It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live.” /Victor Hugo
“To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.” /Victor Hugo
“You who suffer because you love, love still more. To die of love, is to live by it.” /Victor Hugo
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