About the Book

Book Protagonist: Jean Valjean
Publication Date: 1862
Genre: Historical Fiction

Book Review

Les Misérables

By Victor Hugo

Commonly regarded as one of the greatest novels of all time, 'Les Misérables' has captivated readers for generations. It is an intricate novel filled with complex, powerful characters who struggle to find love, freedom, and redemption. 

Les Misérables was published in 1862 and follows some real and fictional events during the early-to-mid-1800s. The novel is well-regarded for its beautiful language, complex plot lines, and characters, and how well it translates to audiences throughout its long history. 

Contrasting and Powerful Characters 

No matter who you are or where you’re from, there’s very likely a character in the novel with whom you’re likely to sympathize. They are incredibly complex but are driven by relatable emotions and experiences, like loss, a desire for redemption, justice, and more.

Jean Valjean is the novel’s hero and protagonist, and his story of redemption and experiences with love are the central themes of the novel. Despite his criminal past, Valjean exhibits immense courage and strength of character. He proves that he is not the person that Inspector Javert thinks he is. 

Valjean undergoes a moral transformation from a hardened criminal to a compassionate individual who helps others in need. He demonstrates that people can escape their pasts, even when their pasts are filled with sorrow. 

Valjean is a wonderful foil for Inspector Javert. He is a law enforcement officer with a strong sense of justice (which sometimes leads him astray) who never wavers in his sense of duty. He has a deep sense of morality and is determined to uphold justice at all costs. His pursuit of Valjean reflects his single-minded commitment to the law and how he sees it as the only reliable source of order. 

It’s very easy to only see Javert as a villain, particularly after a surface-level reading of the novel. But, he is a victim of his times, as are many people, and has learned to cope with 19th-century French society in any way he can. 

The Role of Love

Those who have never read the novel before may be surprised to learn that love plays a very large role in almost every character’s development. Although it is set against scenes of war, poverty, and death, love is a bright and reoccurring theme that makes ‘Les Misérables‘ as emotionally poignant as it is. 

With his characters, Victor Hugo shows readers how love can be transformative, even amid pain and suffering. The relationship between Jean Valjean and Cosette exemplifies this. The latter is a symbol of innocence and hope in the face of the darkness that surrounds them. Valjean’s love for Cosette helps him overcome his struggles and continue fighting for justice, showing us how love can drive change.

The romantic and passionate relationship between Marius and Cosette is another stand-out example. Their quest to remain together shows how love can bring people together despite their differences. The novel is filled with truly wonderful quotes about love and how it endures. For example, Hugo wrote: 

The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved in. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only.

In these skillfully written lines, Hugo acknowledges the cliché nature of suggesting love at first sight while also elevating the experience to a fundamental truth of life and love. 

The World of Les Misérables 

One of the reasons that people love and hate the story of ‘Les Misérables‘ is due to its complexity. It is a sprawling tale that spans many years and places. The novel begins in 1815 in Montfermeil, a small village outside of Paris, and follows Jean Valjean, an ex-convict, as he attempts to turn his life around. As the story progresses, Valjean moves from place to place and visits various cities and towns, such as Digne, Montreuil-sur-Mer, and even the sewers of Paris. Each setting has its unique characteristics, which help to illustrate the stark contrast between the different parts of France.

The story spans over twenty years, beginning in 1815 and ending in 1837. During this time, many significant historical events take place, including the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror, and the June Rebellion. Hugo captures the atmosphere of the period with vivid detail and brings history to life. 

For some readers, the many characters, settings, backstories, and side stories Huge includes in the novel are too many. It can be difficult to remember who is who and what each character’s motivating experiences are. But Hugo’s dedication to developing each character also draws readers to the novel and the fact that, while reading, one is transported to another place and time that feels unusual and exciting. 

The Legacy and Importance of Les Misérables 

Today, most people who know the story of ‘Les Misérables have seen one of the novel’s many movie or musical adaptions. The story is performed as a play and musical worldwide, with various actors playing the many characters in the novel. One recent adaption saw some of Hollywood’s highest-paid actors staring in the roles of Jean Valjean, Javert, and Cosette. 

The fact that producers, directors, actors, and audiences continue to return to the world of ‘Les Misérables over and over is a testament to the long-lasting impact of the novel and its themes. Hugo created a world where every reader, or viewer as the case may be, can find someone and something to relate to. 

Les Misérables Review: A Tale of Love and Redemption
  • Story
  • Characters
  • Setting
  • Writing Style
  • Dialogue
  • Conclusion
  • Lasting Effect on Reader

Les Misérables Review

Les Misérables is one of the greatest novels of all time. Published by Victor Hugo in 1862, the book spans 20 years and follows dozens of characters as they seek out love, redemption, and freedom from oppression.


  • Beautifully written
  • Engaging storyline
  • Interesting characters


  • Many side stories
  • Very long and complicated
  • Can be hard to follow
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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