Understanding Les Misérables

This Web page has been designed to assist students to:

  • Explore 19th century Romanticism.
  • Develop perspective on social issues in 19th century France.
  • Deepen appreciation for Victor Hugo’s impact on the political, social, and literary worlds.

For ease of study, topics have been divided into 4 categories

  1. Victor Hugo
  2. Romantic Period
  3. France and Les Misérables
  4. Les Misérables:
    1. Overview
    2. Themes in focus

Note: Some of these categories will naturally overlap.

Victor Hugo (1802 - 1885)

One of the most important cultural figures of the 19th century, Victor Hugo is acknowledged for shaping politics, social reform, and literature. Although he said he wished to be buried as a pauper, Hugo’s funeral procession was attended by over one million people. He was laid to rest in the Pantheon in Paris, France.

Victor Hugo  PDF document (1.5mb) Background summary of Victor Hugo’s writing and political background which includes a detailed chronology of Hugo’s life.

Victor Hugo Summary of Victor Hugo’s life with an emphasis on his exiled years on the island of Guernsey.

Victor Hugo YouTube movie (9:22) summarizing Hugo’s life and Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables. The movie includes the famous telegraph between Hugo and his agent after Les Misérables was published, the reaction to Les Misérables from other literary people, and a film clip from the 1998 “Les Misérables” film.

Victor Hugo Fact sheet on Victor Hugo with a bibliography of his poetry, essays, novels, and correspondence.

Victor Hugo Short biography on Victor Hugo with a timeline at the bottom.

Victor Hugo Website devoted to Victor Hugo and his work, with links to Hugo’s work in translation, his quotes and speeches, and derivative works.

Victor Hugo A poem written by Henry Van Dyke in tribute to Victor Hugo.

Hauteville House Pictures and information about the house in which Hugo lived during his years of exile.

Victor Hugo, gravesite Pictures and information about Victor Hugo’s gravesite and funeral.

Victor Hugo, virtual movie YouTube movie (0:53) of Victor Hugo reading “Demain, des l’aube” in French. The English translation is in the movie notes.

Victor Hugo and France Website exploring France during Victor Hugo’s lifetime. Includes information on Women, Workers, and Revolutions.

Victor Hugo and Adele Links to read letters between Hugo and his wife, Adele, and background information on courtship and marriage during Hugo’s lifetime.

Romantic Period

Romanticism was a cultural and literary movement which began in the late 18th century and continued into the mid-19th century. It emphasized emotions and natural modes of artistic expression.

Romantic Period Summary essay about the Romantic Period of literature and its effect on France in the 1820s.

Romanticism Wikipedia article that offers an overview of the cultural movement from the 18th century into mid-way in the 19th century.

Victor Hugo, the Romantic Victor Hugo’s prominent role in French Romanticism and his pursuit of social liberty and freedom of the artist.

Victor Hugo, the Romantic An essay concerning Victor Hugo’s role in defining Romanticism in France and the world.

France and Les Misérables

Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables in reaction to what he saw going on around him in France. Although he wanted social and political reform, Hugo loved France and wanted to influence the French people as much as French leaders.

Les Misérables, The Play Information and news about theatrical and film productions of Les Misérables, including tour dates in London, the United States, and Spain. Website includes a video preview of the play.

Les Misérables Project Gutenberg site offers over eight file types for free download of Les Misérables. Includes bibliographic record and QR code for mobile phone download.

Les Misérables Links for annotating Les Misérables, humorous pieces about Les Misérables, and the Les Misérables fan fiction index.

France and Les Misérables A website featuring essays about living conditions in France during the time of Les Misérables.

Les Misérables Overview

Les Misérables PDF document (1.5mb) A summary of the novel which includes details about the events which triggered Hugo’s decision to write Les Misérables and the reaction in Europe and the United States when the novel was published. The document is illustrated with photographs from the play.

Les Misérables Wikipedia plot summary of the novel which includes descriptions for the major characters and some of the minor ones. References at the end of document are useful for further information.

Les Misérables Spark Notes plot summary and character list.

Les Misérables An essay reviewing Les Misérables by Edwin Percy Whipple, The Atlantic Monthly, July 1862.

Les Misérables An essay which compares Javert and Valjean.

Les Misérables A slideshow with facts, trivia, and comments on Les Misérables. (50 slides)

Les Misérables PDF document. Background information about the play, but scroll down to the Comprehension section for summaries on how 19th century technology impacted culture and politics. Includes tidbits about Hugo offering Tuesday dinner to poor children when Les Misérables was published.

Les Misérables Chart comparison of themes found in Les Misérables and other classic works of literature.

Theme in focus: Treatment of the Poor and Homeless

Society's Role with Poor and Homeless PDF document (815kb) Open-ended questions and discussion ideas about society’s treatment of the poor and homeless and the treatment of the “miserables” in Les Misérables.

The Plight of the Orphan Spark Notes summary on the troubles that befall the characters who are separated from family and friends and Hugo’s insistence on reform.

Working Class An essay about the working class and poor in Les Misérables.

The Dangerous Class An essay about how the poor were feared and treated in 19th century France.

Crime and Punishment

Society's Role with Crime and Punishment PDF document (815kb) Open-ended questions and discussion ideas about society’s rules about crime and punishment and Hugo’s thoughts about crime and punishment in Les Misérables.

Social Injustice in 19th Century France Spark Notes' summary on Hugo’s criticism on law enforcement and criminal justice in Les Misérables.

Prison Reform Essay about Victor Hugo’s Romanticism and how he wanted Les Misérables to reform French prison system.

Justice and Compassion Essay about how justice and compassion are expressed in Les Misérables.

Justice and Compassion Essay about how Hugo passes compassion from one character to the next in Les Misérables.