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Les Miserables: One of the Greatest Works of Literature
Les Mis?rables was written by Victor Hugo, and published in 1862. It has been translated into many different languages, and turned into a play and movie as when as being a book. When a friend asked Hugo why he wrote the book he replied as follows, “I condemn slavery, I banish poverty, I teach ignorance, I treat disease, I lighten the night, and I hate hatred. That is what I am, and that is why I have written Les Mis?rables.” The book Les Mis?rables tells of Hugo?s life, and of France in the early 1800?s while telling a tale of change, conflicts between classes, and justice. Hugo wanted this book to be as our government is for us, for the people by the people.
Victor Hugo was born in 1802 in Besancon, France. Hugo was a novelist, poet, political activist, and painter. It is because of this that Victor Hugo was a central figure and leader in the Romantic movement of France in the nineteenth-century. Hugo?s father was a general in the Napoleonic army. After schooling in France Hugo married his childhood lover in 1822. The 1840?s were a time of political involvement for Victor Hugo. Themes that show up in Les Mis?rables such as the unjust legal system and unfairness to the poor were issues that he spoke up on at the Chamber of Peers. In 1848 he was active in the revolution, which gave him first had experience of the fighting at the barricades which he talks about in Les Mis?rables, and spoke out against Louis Napoleon when he came into power. For speaking out against Napoleon Hugo was exiled to Belgium and then Germany, during which he wrote Les Mis?rables. This book ensured Victor Hugo?s place as legend, and when he returned to France in 1870 he was greeted with a hero?s welcome. (Novels 232) “When Les Miserables was published, it appeared simultaneously in Paris, London, Budapest, Brussels, Leipzig, Madrid, Milan, and Naples, and was translated into many other languages.” (Cerisola 246)
Les Mis?rables was one of the most influential works of the Romantic writing period. The romantic period was all about emotions and an individual?s imagination, apposed to the standards of the Enlightenment period. (Novels 243) In the nineteenth century, France was constantly undergoing changes in their politics. In 1795 Napoleon staged a Coup to overtake the government, he was in power until 1815 when he lost the battle of Waterloo. This is when the book Les Mis?rables starts. The last part of the book takes place in 1832 when an uprising started over the burial of a revolutionary hero named Lamarque. This set the stage for us to meet the young man Marius, who falls in love with Cosette. Hugo was exiled for his political beliefs, and this is when he wrote Les Mis?rables. It is an account of Hugo?s memory of Paris during the uprising, and shows his feelings towards the political situation in Paris. (Novels 244)
To begin, change. Change is an underlying theme throughout Hugo?s book. From the beginning when Jean Valjean is forced to change his personal beliefs, to the end when Marius is fighting for a country to change. In the beginning when Valjean steals from the Bishop, he sees something he has never seen before which forces him to change, love. The Bishop of Digne shows Valjean unconditional love, which gives the main character a new outlook on life. Because of what the Bishop did for him Jean Valjean learned to put others in front of himself, and puts this to action when raising Cosette. This change in Valjean is most present at the end when he saves Marius during the fights in the streets. He knows that Marius and Cosette love each other, and for this reason he saves Marius even though he himself hates Marius. The reason that Marius was on the frontlines is because he is against the political direction that France is taking. He is fighting to change the country in order to make it better for his family and friends, which are part of the middle-class in society.
Secondly is the struggle between economic classes. The struggle to succeed financially in the France that is talked about in Les Mis?rables is very prevalent. Valjean goes from being a convict in a prison to owning a company and being the mayor of a city. The people that work in his factory are struggling to make ends meet. One worker in the factory named Fantine has a daughter that is with another family and she has to pay for that family to take care of her daughter. As so many others in the city she was laid off and had to find another way to receive money. She sold her hair her teeth, and even her body in order to pay her daughter?s keepers to take care of her. This is also the struggle that Marius is fighting for. The middleclass people feel that they are not well represented, and they do not like the government, but they are not able to change things because of their class standing. A life and death struggle takes place at the barricades in Paris. This is where the government will be changed, and the injustices turned.
Lastly, is justice. Many times in Les Miserables there is justice, but also injustice. People like Fantine are put in jail after defending herself from a man who was beating her when she refused to give her body to him. This injustice was turned right when Valjean got news of it. He went down to the jail and told inspector Javert to release her, when Javert refused Valjean reminded him that he was the final law in the city and Javert will do as he says. Valjean takes Fantine back to his house and cares for her, and she talks about another injustice that was her being laid off from Valjean factory. So it seems as though another thing is being made right at the same time. Valjean is caring for a former employee that had to turn to prostitution because of him firing her. Another injustice throughout the entire book is Javert?s relentless pursuit of Valjean, Jean Valjean even says to him, “Why do you still bother me, I am a changed man. I work for the betterment of people now. Just leave me alone.” (Hugo) This injustice is made right at the end of the book when Javert has Valjean in his hands and then lets him go. Javert ends up killing himself over the grief of not following the law, and going against everything he always stood for.
Les Miserables has had great success in its 139 years. The success started the day it was published because it is a book written about the people by a man that the people respect. It is not only the people that respect him; other authors respect him because he was a leader of the Romantic Movement. This book will always be a classic because the struggles in the book will always exist.
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