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Les Misérables

Victor Hugo

Key Facts

Main ideas Key Facts

full title  · Les Misérables

author  · Victor Hugo

type of work  · Novel

genre  · Epic novel; historical novel

language  · French

time and place written  · 1845–1862; Paris and the Channel Islands (English possessions off the coast of France)

date of first publication  · 1862

publisher  · Pagnerre (Paris)

narrator  · An anonymous narrator

point of view  · The story is told from the perspective of an omniscient narrator who frequently addresses us. The narrator not only knows what the characters are thinking at all times but also has a detailed grasp of contemporary politics and society.

tone  · The tone tends to reflect the narrator’s empathy with the char-acters. When describing broader trends in politics and society, the tone reflects Hugo’s outspoken views on social reform.

tense  · Past

setting (time)  · 1789–1832

setting (place)  · France; primarily the cities of Arras, Digne, Montreuil-sur-mer, Montfermeil, Paris, and Toulon

protagonist  · Jean Valjean

major conflict  · Valjean struggles to transform himself from a thief into an honest man; over the years he struggles to stay a step ahead of the zealous police officer Javert and tries to raise his adopted daughter, Cosette.

rising action  · Valjean’s disclosure of his true identity at Champmathieu’s trial; Valjean’s rescue of Cosette from the Thénardiers; Marius’s first sight of Cosette in the Luxembourg Gardens.

climax  · Marius, Valjean, and Javert’s dramatic interactions at the barricades

falling action  · Marius and Cosette’s wedding; Javert’s suicide

themes  · The importance of love and compassion; social injustice in nineteenth-century France; the long-term effects of the French Revolution on French society

motifs  · The plight of orphans; disguises and pseudonyms; resurrection

symbols  · Myriel’s silver candlesticks; snakes, insects, and birds

foreshadowing  · The novel hints that Monsieur Madeleine is in fact Jean Valjean.