Les Miserables is a French historical novel by Victor Hugo, first published in 1862, that is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century. In the English-speaking world, the novel is usually referred to by its original French title (variations include The Miserable, The Wretched, The Miserable Ones, The Poor Ones, The Wretched Poor and The Victims, and The Dispossessed). Beginning in 1815 and culminating in the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris, the novel follows the lives and interactions of several characters, focusing on the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his experience of redemption. Examining the nature of law and grace, the novel elaborates upon the history of France, the architecture and urban design of Paris, politics, moral philosophy, antimonarchism, justice, religion, and the types and nature of romantic and familial love. Les Miserables has been popularized through numerous adaptations for the stage, television, and film, including a musical and a film adaptation of that musical. The appearance of the novel was highly anticipated and advertised. Critical reactions were diverse, but most of them were negative. Commercially, the work was a great success globally. Upton Sinclair described the novel as "one of the half-dozen greatest novels of the world," and remarked that Hugo set forth the purpose of Les Miserables in the Preface: So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age-the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night-are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless. Towards the end of the novel, Hugo explains the work's overarching structure: The book which the reader has before him at this moment is, from one end to the other, in its entirety and details ... a progress from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsehood to truth, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from corruption to life; from bestiality to duty, from hell to heaven, from nothingness to God. The starting point: matter, destination: the soul. The hydra at the beginning, the angel at the end. The novel contains various subplots, but the main thread is the story of ex-convict Jean Valjean, who becomes a force for good in the world but cannot escape his criminal past. The novel is divided into five volumes, each volume divided into several books, and subdivided into chapters, for a total of 48 books and 365 chapters. Each chapter is relatively short, commonly no longer than a few pages. The novel as a whole is one of the longest ever written, with approximately 1,500 pages in unabridged English-language editions, and 1,900 pages in French. Hugo explained his ambitions for the novel to his Italian publisher: I don't know whether it will be read by everyone, but it is meant for everyone. It addresses England as well as Spain, Italy as well as France, Germany as well as Ireland, the republics that harbour slaves as well as empires that have serfs. Social problems go beyond frontiers. Humankind's wounds, those huge sores that litter the world, do not stop at the blue and red lines drawn on maps. Wherever men go in ignorance or despair, wherever women sell themselves for bread, wherever children lack a book to learn from or a warm hearth, Les Miserables knocks at the door and says: "open up, I am here for you."
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