About the Book

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


Les Misérables

By Victor Hugo

'Les Misérables' is a story of how everyday people can build a more just society through small acts of courage and hope despite difficult circumstances and the past.

The novel is quite long, detailing the lives of various characters in France, many of whom play secondary roles. Primarily though, it follows the lives and struggles of Valjean, Cosette, Eponine, Fantine, and Marius as they deal with the politics of 19th-century France and their individual hopes and dreams.

Spoiler-Free Summary

Les Misérables‘ is an epic tale of courage and perseverance set in early 19th-century France. The story follows Jean Valjean, a prisoner recently released from prison after serving almost 20 years for stealing a small amount of bread. Valjean’s determination to lead a life of moral rectitude and become a model of justice is soon tested as the relentless pursuit of Javert, a ruthless police inspector, follows him through France.

During his travels, Valjean meets Fantine, a struggling factory worker, and a single mother desperate to provide for her daughter Cosette. Valjean helps Fantine as much as he can before she tragically dies. Valjean, Cosette, and a young man named Marius Pontmercy all soon find themselves in the midst of the Paris Uprising of 1832, an uprising driven by passionate citizens eager to throw off oppression.

The complex tale explores themes of mercy and justice, forgiveness, sacrifice, and morality. Valjean’s lifelong struggle to uphold the law while avoiding the persecution of Javert serves as the spine of the story.

Plot Summary of Les Misérables

Spoiler alert: important details of the novel are revealed below.

In the first chapters of ‘Les Misérables,’ the reader is introduced to Jean Valjean, a prisoner who recently finished a 19-year sentence for stealing bread. He stays at the home of Bishop Myriel, hoping to start his life off on a new foot. But, out of desperation and poverty, Valjean steals the bishop’s silverware. Kindly, Myriel gifts Valjean the silver when he’s rearrested by police. Years pass, and Valjean becomes the mayor of a small town, Montreuil-sur-mer. 

Readers are also introduced to Fantine, a young woman who falls in love and gets pregnant. Her lover, Tholomyès, leaves her alone to contend with her pregnancy, birth, and later poverty. She knows that no one will hire her if they know she’s had a child out of wedlock, so she gives her baby, Cosette, to the Thénardiers to take care of. Fantine is later fired from her job after her coworkers find out about her child, and she has to start working as a prostitute. She’s about to be arrested when Valjean intervenes and sits at Fantine’s bedside while she dies. At the same time, the police inspector Javert catches up with him and arrests him.

Valjean soon escapes from prison and travels to Montfermeil in order to keep his promise to Fantine and find Cosette. The Thénardiers are revealed to be an incredibly cruel family who has done nothing to give Cosette a happy life. They have two daughters, one of whom, Eponine, plays an important role in the novel. 

Valjean takes Cosette to Paris, and Javert finds them, forcing them to flee. They spend time living in a convent afterward while Cosette goes to school. 

Readers then learn about Marius Pontmercy, a young man from a wealthy family. Marius decides to live a poor life as a law student and joins the Friends of the ABC, a revolutionary group led by Enjolras. When Marius sees Cosette in a park, he falls in love with her immediately. Eponiine, who’s been living nearby with her parents under assumed names, falls in love with Marius. But he’s still entirely dedicated to Cosette and her to him. Valjean disapproves and disappears with her, breaking Marius’ heart. 

Marius and his friends start a political uprising and attempt to fight for democracy behind a series of barricades. Javert has disguised himself among the troops, and they discover him. Eponine then sacrifices her life to save Marius’ and dies in his arms. 

Valjean, realizing that he’s wronged his daughter, decides to find Marius and ensure that nothing happens to him. He volunteers to execute Javert but decides to let him go. 

Valjean tries to flee with a very injured and unconscious Marius through the sewers, but Javert finds them and is torn between his duty and what he knows is right. He throws himself into the river, committing suicide, after letting Valjean go. 

Marius recovers from his injuries, and he and Cosette get married. Marius learns about Valjean’s past and tells Cosette, worried that he’s a bad influence on his new wife. Valjean, depressed and lonely, is near death. The novel ends with a reconciliation, and Valjean is able to die happily with his family around him after Marius learns that Valjean is the one who saved him.


What kind of novel is Les Misérables

Les Misérables‘ is an epic historical novel written by Victor Hugo. It tells the story of redemption and the human condition in 19th-century France, with characters ranging from criminals to saints. It has been adapted numerous times for the stage and screen, showcasing its enduring power.

What are Victor Hugo’s books known for? 

Victor Hugo is renowned for his richly descriptive stories, such as ‘Les Misérables‘ and ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame.’ His books are known for their unforgettable characters, captivating plot lines, and inspiring themes.

What is the style of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables

Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Misérables‘ is a classic novel in the style of historical fiction, romanticism, and social commentary. He brilliantly uses the settings of nineteenth-century France to illustrate how the revolutionary and Napoleonic periods changed people’s lives.

Why is Les Misérables important? 

Les Misérables‘ is an important story of the power of hope and the enduring strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity. Its message of justice and redemption transcends time, showing us the power of grace, compassion, and second chances. 

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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