Les Misérables

Victor Hugo
Main Ideas

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.