Les Misérables Historical Context 📖

‘Les Misérables’ is an iconic novel written by Victor Hugo in 1862. It has been adapted and re-imagined countless times since its debut, with modernized versions of the story being beloved by a new generation of fans.

Les Misérables

Victor Hugo

The French Revolution was a major turning point in European history, with the overthrow of the monarchy and the creation of a new republic. ‘Les Misérables’ by Victor Hugo was written roughly sixty years after the French Revolution and offered an interesting perspective on the events that occurred during that time.

The French Revolution

In the story of ‘Les Misérables,’ the French Revolution is depicted as a period of great hope and optimism for those oppressed for centuries under the rule of the monarchy. The revolution is seen as a time of great change and progress, with the abolishment of social class distinctions, the rise of new revolutionary leaders, and the formation of a new government. It is also portrayed as a period of great violence, as many former ruling class members were killed or exiled during the revolutionary process. 

The novel follows several characters affected by the events of the French Revolution. The main character of ‘Les Misérables,’ Jean Valjean, is a former prisoner who was released during the revolution and eventually became mayor of his hometown. Marius Pontmercy is a young revolutionary leader who fights for freedom and justice during the revolution. Enjolras is another leader in the revolution and one of Marius’ closest friends. The events of the revolution greatly impact these characters’ lives as they fight for their beliefs and country. 

Victor Hugo also uses his novel to explore some of the consequences of the French Revolution. While it brought about changes to French society, it also caused chaos and destruction across Europe. The new government struggled to keep order in France, and many countries were eager to take advantage of France’s weakened state. This is seen in ‘Les Misérables‘ when France is invaded by a foreign power, leading to further suffering for its citizens. 

The French Revolution is integral to Les Misérables,’ offering insight into its impact on French society and culture. Hugo paints a vivid picture of this historical period, exploring its positive and negative consequences. His novel is a reminder of how powerful and far-reaching revolutions can be and a cautionary tale about how quickly chaos can take over when unchecked.

The Industrial Revolution

The novel details the grueling work conditions faced by those working in the factories during the Industrial Revolution and their poor living conditions. Hugo portrays a world in which employers exploit their workers, do not provide them with enough wages to survive, and sometimes take advantage of child labor. He also shows how the introduction of new machines leads to a decrease in job opportunities for many, particularly those from the lower classes. 

Hugo’s powerful representation of life during the industrial revolution makes ‘Les Misérables‘ an important book today. By showing how these changes in society affected people personally, he helps us understand why the events of the French Revolution happened and how they ultimately led to social progress and improved working conditions.

The 1832 Rebellion

One of the most important historical events depicted in the novel is the 1832 Rebellion. This rebellion was an attempt by French citizens to overthrow the government and create a more democratic society.

The rebellion is depicted in the novel through the character of Marius Pontmercy, a young student of law who joins the revolutionaries in their cause. Marius is portrayed as a passionate idealist who is devoted to the idea of overthrowing the government and achieving a more just society. Through Marius’ story, readers get a glimpse of what life was like for revolutionaries during this period of history.

In the novel, Hugo paints a vivid picture of the rebellion, from its inception to its eventual failure. Hugo captures the tension between the revolutionaries and their enemies and the violence that erupted in some parts of France due to the rebellion. The novel also examines how the ideals and passions of the revolutionaries were often at odds with each other, leading to infighting and ultimately to failure.

Ultimately, Victor Hugo’s depiction of the 1832 Rebellion is an important reminder of how difficult it can be for ordinary people to stand up to oppressive regimes. While the revolt ultimately failed, it still inspired later revolutions and helped shape modern French democracy. 


When did Les Misérables take place?

Les Misérables takes place during the early 19th century in France, specifically between 1815 and 1832. This timeframe includes the Napoleonic wars, the French Revolution, and other significant events that impacted the characters’ lives. 

When was Les Misérables written? 

Victor Hugo wrote ‘Les Misérables‘ in 1862. It was originally published in French as a novel but has since been adapted into many forms of media, such as stage productions, films, television series, and more. 

Is Les Misérables based on a true story?

While ‘Les Misérables‘ is a work of fiction, the events depicted in the novel draw heavily from Hugo’s observations of 19th-century France. He drew inspiration from real-life historical figures and events to create a compelling story about love, justice, and sacrifice.

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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