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Writer's Reviews - The Miserables by Victor Hugo

Updated: 6 hours ago

The critical-literary analyses offered by WriTribe are a thousand words long. Each has been compiled with the intention of providing writers not only with a general introduction to the works presented, but also to reveal the added value inherent in each of them. 1,000 words go far beyond mere criticism or superficial praise; they are intended to point you to one or more secret elements, showing you what narrative techniques are masterfully employed by the author of the work in question. Written with the unique perspective of an author for authors, reviews aim to point out to you what added value you can glean from twenty literary classics. With this in mind, choosing the reading best suited to your need will prove much easier.

The cover of THE MISERABLES  by Victor Hugo



by Victor Hugo (1862)

The work at a glance

Les Miserables is a truly monumental novel, with a rather complex plot full of characters and events but whose greatness is now universally recognized. The story is set in 19th-century France in a time frame from 1815 to 1832 and traces the vicissitudes of several main characters. The main one is Jean Valjean, a man unjustly sentenced to hard labor for stealing a piece of bread.

However, after being released from prison Valjean remains scarred by his past and finds himself living in a society that still considers him a criminal. At this point, with the help of a bishop who offers him shelter and a second chance, Valjean begins a new life under a false identity and becomes an entrepreneur and mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer. Despite his efforts to make an honest living, however, he is constantly harassed by Javert, an inspector who is obsessed with enforcing the law and wants him caught.

Meanwhile, Fantine, a young mother who prostitutes herself to support her daughter Cosette, entrusted to a pair of evil innkeepers, the Thénardiers, appears. It is Valjean himself who promises Fantine, on the verge of death, to take care of Cosette in order to redeem her from the terrible situation in which she finds herself. Cosette thus becomes Valjean's adopted daughter, and the story takes a temporal leap forward: it focuses on Cosette and Marius Pontmercy, a young student, who fall hopelessly in love but whose love encounters obstacles given by their destitution, against the backdrop of the social struggles of the time. Indeed, the story culminates with the June 1832 revolt in Paris, also known as the Insurrection of the Wretched: an attempted rebellion by students and revolutionaries against the incumbent government.

Even the structure of the novel itself reflects this complexity; in fact, the book is divided into five parts, or books, each of which focuses on a specific moment in the lives of the main characters. Not only that, within these books Victor Hugo inserts digressions and side stories that help develop the main themes of the novel and explore the human and social condition of the time, all of which add further depth and meaning to the book as a whole.

Les miserables is an epic narrative that deals with universal themes such as justice, guilt and forgiveness, love, poverty, and compassion, chronicling the struggles of the last to achieve social redemption and offering an exciting picture of 19th-century French society and the turmoil that characterized it. All this through the complex changes of the protagonists, whose emotional depths Hugo investigates through a powerful and unique narrative style.


What you can learn from reading this work:

  1. Deep analysis of the characters' psychology and strong characterization

  2. Presence of ever-present social issues

  3. Mixing of different genres

  4. Stylistic innovation


One of the first elements that the work offers to the writer reading it is, from the very beginning, Hugo's great skill in constructing and characterizing the characters and deeply investigating their emotional aspects from which all their psychological complexity is outlined.

These traits emerge precisely through their vicissitudes - whether of love, redemption, sacrifice and redemption - making the protagonists Jean Valjean, Fantine, Cosette and Javert unforgettable characters because they engage the reader precisely on an emotional level. Hugo succeeded in the feat of creating complex and well-developed characters mainly because they embody the different aspects of humanity. Especially Jean Valjean, the real protagonist, represents an almost iconic character because he represents in the story a symbol of redemption and change.

Hugo throughout the novel, addressing social and universal themes important in every age, has made Les Miserables a historical fresco of considerable relevance but extremely topical because it provides insights into our contemporary civilization as well, thus making a nineteenth-century novel exciting even for today's readers.

Not only that, Hugo puts in place what is defined as social realism, which would later merge perfectly with the romanticism present in the novel: while on the one hand he describes in detail the social reality and problems of 19th-century France, addressing issues such as poverty, injustice and corruption, on the other hand the novel is imbued with passion, idealism and deep emotions, typical precisely of the Romantic style, all connotations that allow it to be classified not simply as a historical novel, but in which elements of other novelistic genres intersect to perfection without distorting it.

Even in the classicity of his literary style, so poetic and engaging, Victor Hugo introduces a number of stylistic innovations in the novel that are very interesting: interludes and digressions to delve into social, political and philosophical themes while also creating a real structure that somehow facilitates the detailed telling of characters and events. The subdivision and presence of books within the book, as we have seen, and creating subplots give ways to add further depth and breadth to the whole narrative.



Les Miserables is a majestic story in terms of characters and events, but it is also a story of hope, compassion, and deep humanity that make it a milestone in the history of literature of all time, consecrating Victor Hugo as an undisputed master for many writers even of later eras.

Because of this, the novel carries with it an unprecedented cultural legacy that is also reflected in other artistic fields. In fact, Les Miserables has inspired numerous adaptations: theatrical, cinematic (one cannot count the big screen performances) and musical, making the story and characters part of the collective imagination even today, so much so that its protagonists and their stories have become part of popular culture worldwide.

Among the many theatrical adaptations, the most important is probably the musical Les Misérables, created in 1980 by musician Claude-Michel Schoenberg, which has been performed almost continuously since the date of its release in the world's most prestigious theaters, including Broadway.

In conclusion, Victor Hugo's Les Miserables can be considered for all intents and purposes a genuine literary masterpiece that has left a lasting imprint on the history of literature even in the centuries to follow. Its narrative force and power, the universal themes that emerge and the social commitment with which the entire book is imbued have ensured that this novel is still considered one of the cornerstones of world literature, making it one of the most beloved and decisive works of all time.


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