Victor Hugo’s Best Books 📚

Throughout his career, Victor Hugo wrote two incredibly famous novels: ‘Les Misérables’ and ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ along with several others that are less-commonly read today.

Victor Hugo

(1802-1885), French

Victor Hugo is one of the most famous and beloved French authors of all time. He is known for his compelling stories, unforgettable characters, and powerful writing style. Hugo’s works have been translated into multiple languages, and his books are beloved by readers from all walks of life.

Les Misérables 

Les Misérables is likely Hugo’s best-known novel, along with his ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame.’ It is an epic tale set in 19th-century France, focusing on the main character Jean Valjean, a convict released from prison after serving 19 years for a minor crime. After being released, he breaks his parole and escapes his pursuers. The story follows Valjean as he tries to rebuild his life and struggle against the social injustice of his era.

The novel is important for its vivid portrayal of life in France and its passionate defense of the oppressed. Hugo paints a stark picture of the harshness and poverty of the time and the cruel way in which the poor were treated by the wealthy and powerful. At the same time, he also celebrates the human spirit, showing how even the most desperate of people can rise up against their oppressors and fight for a better life.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Victor Hugo’s classic novel ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ is an important work in French literature. It tells the story of Quasimodo, a man living as a bell-ringer at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and Esmeralda, a beautiful gypsy dancer who takes refuge within its walls. Through the characters, Hugo explores themes of love, justice, faith, and redemption.

The novel is set in 15th-century France during a time of social unrest and religious persecution. Quasimodo is rejected by society due to his deformity and treated cruelly by archdeacon Claude Frollo.

Meanwhile, Esmeralda is sought after for her beauty, and she finds herself the object of affection from both Quasimodo and Frollo. As their stories intertwine, Hugo paints a vivid portrait of life in medieval Paris, from the dangerous back alleys to the grandeur of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Toilers of the Sea

Victor Hugo’s ‘Toilers of the Sea’ is one of his most important and influential works. Written in 1866, the novel is a story of struggle, sacrifice, and the human spirit in the face of impossible odds. The protagonist, Gilliat, is a sailor from the island of Guernsey who embarks on a quest to recover a sunken ship and marry Deruchette, with whom he’s in love. 

Along the way, he faces extreme hardship, as he must battle against powerful forces of nature, as well as the cruel and greedy hands of men.

At its core, ‘Toilers of the Sea’ is a story of resilience and determination. Through Gilliat’s journey, Hugo tells us that no matter how difficult the challenge may be, it is possible to overcome it with courage and hard work. He also uses the story to explore important social issues such as poverty and class inequality.


‘Ninety-Three’ is a powerful political novel that explores the French Revolution. It tells the story of the Revolt in the Vendée and Chouannerie. The novel was Hugo’s last and was published in 1874. The book follows three protagonists: Gauvain, Cimourdain, and Lantenac. 

Despite their differences in class, they are united in their desire to survive and endure the chaos of war. The novel also focuses on how different people respond to this crisis and how their beliefs and opinions can shape their actions and decisions.

The Legend of the Centuries

Originally written between 1855 and 1876, ‘The Legend of the Centuries’ or ‘The Legend of the Ages’ is a gigantic epic poem about human history and how it evolved. The poems were published in three groups between 1859 and 1883. The poetic collection demonstrates Hugo’s skill with storytelling as well as his beautiful verse/prose writing. 

Les Contemplations 

‘Les Contemplations’ is another poetry collection. It was published in 1856 and includes 156 individual poems spread out over six books. The poems are concerned with a variety of themes, including memory, death, love, and religion. The author also explores mourning, the love of young men, and sensual love, all in a lyrical style. 

The Last Day of a Condemned Man 

This short novella was published in 1829, very early in Hugo’s career. Within the novel, Hugo explores the cruelty of the death penalty, expressing his view that the entire mode of punishment should be abolished. The plot centers on a man who has been condemned to death via the guillotine. It’s unclear what he did, although it’s alluded to that he may have killed someone. 

The Man Who Laughs 

‘The Man Who Laughs’ is another less-commonly read Victor Hugo novel. It was published in 1869 and takes place in France in the 1600s before following characters into 18th-century England. It follows a young nobleman who travels around the country before being rescued from a storm. The man’s face is famously disfigured, permanently fixed with a huge smile. 


What is Victor Hugo’s best novel? 

Hugo’s best novel is commonly considered to be ‘Les Misérables.’ It is a long novel set in 19th-century France that follows several characters, all of whom struggle to survive and find happiness and love. 

What is Victor Hugo known for? 

Hugo is known as a French author who is responsible for two of the best-known 19th-century novels: ‘Les Misérables’ and ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame.’ His writing is both realistic and lyrical, inspiring and educating readers at the same time. 

Why was Victor Hugo exiled?

While a member of the National Assembly, Victor Hugo was exiled for speaking out against the social injustices of the time and expressing controversial views about freedom and the death penalty. 

Emma Baldwin
About Emma Baldwin
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues on Book Analysis.
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