Les Misérable by Victor Hugo: The eternal novel

By Flavor Chris

It was 1862 when the historical novel “The Miserables” by Victor Hugo was published. There are five volumes that divide the author’s masterpiece, and each volume, except the fourth, bears the name of the main characters (Fantine, Cosette, Mario and Jean Valjean).

The bishop of Digne is the first character introduced in the book; it is found in the first volume: Monsignor Charles Francois Bienvenue Myriel, “an old man of about seventy-five years, who occupied that seat since 1806”.

The author talks a lot about this first character and describes him in great detail: we already know immediately that the bishop is the son of a councilor of the parliament of Aix and that in the past “he had spent his life in the beautiful world and in the amorous intrigues “. In the years of the Revolution, however, “the families of the members of parliament were decimated, driven out and persecuted and Charles Myriel emigrated to Italy, where his wife died”.

It is known of him that, precisely at that time in Italy, perhaps due to a mystical crisis, he became a priest. Along the story (in early October 1815 to be precise) the now noble and generous bishop of Digne meets a hungry and tired wanderer whom he gives hospitality to in his home.

That wanderer, however, is a young pruner named Jean Valjean, as well as an ex-inmate brutalized by prison and by that same law that condemned him for stealing a piece of bread (bread which, moreover, was used by the young pruner of Faverolles to feed the poor sister and her children). Jean Valjean, while staying in the bishop’s residence, steals silverware that he finds in some drawers; after which he escapes, but does not have time to escape and is captured by some brigadiers.

Brought back to the house of bishop Jean Valjean, he is freed and blessed by the bishop himself who gives him other candlesticks. The significant meeting with the bishop internally transforms Jean Valjean, but the man does not have time to say to himself “I am a miserable” who finds himself along a road, holding a forty-sous coin stolen from a child .

That same year Jean Valjean settled in Montreuil a mare and to hide his true identity he called himself dad Madeleine. It is thanks to the revolution in the manufacture of “black articles” that Papa Madeleine becomes rich; despite this he does charity actions and for this reason, in a few years, he is nominated mayor by the citizens.

Love for one’s neighbor even pushes dad Madeline to take care of Fantine, a former employee of one of her factories, expelled by the personnel director because she was a single mother.

Forced to entrust her daughter and become a prostitute out of necessity, Fantine, one fine day is surprised by the police inspector Javert while “leaping like a panther on a man, sticking her nails on his face, with the most frightening phrases that can fall into road mud from a guardhouse “. Destined for six months in prison, a prostitute is freed by her father Madeleine, who mediates between her and Javert.

The police inspector, opposed to freeing “the whore”, follows the orders of the mayor and from that moment the story gets complicated: Fantine becomes seriously ill and after a few weeks Javert, who had already suspected the mayor for some time, confesses to dad Madeleine of “having denounced him as an ancient convict who stole a bishop’s house”; but the inspector also reveals that dad Madeleine and Jean Valjean cannot be the same person as in Arras a man named Jean Valjean has been arrested and faces life imprisonment.

The exchange of identity pushes dad Madeleine to leave and once at the trial site, Jean Valjean publicly confesses to being “the real Jean Valjean”.

At this point dad Madeleine returns to Montreuil a mare to join Fantine, who dies under his eyes; at the same time Javert arrives to jail the former mayor.

Jean Valjean manages to escape but in 1823 he is taken back; later he manages to escape again by faking his death. Having promised Fantine to “send someone to fetch Cosette (to look after her)”, Jean Valjean, now a fugitive, goes to Montfermeil, where the terrible Thénardiers live, the spouses to whom Fantine’s daughter has been entrusted.

Among the Thénardiers, Cosette lives in miserable conditions and for this reason Jean Valjean, after paying a sum of money agreed with M. Thénardier, manages to take Cosette with him and goes to Paris to hide in the Gorbeau hovel.

Unfortunately, Javert, who has been promoted to inspector in Paris, manages to track down his prey right there, in the Gorbeau hovel.

Jean Valjean thus escapes together with Cosette and thanks to Fauchelevent, a former carter known in Montreuil, he hides in a convent called the Pepit-Picpus.

At this point, presumably around 1829, Jean Valjean and Cosette take up acco

mmodation on Rue Plumet. While strolling in the Luxembourg Gardens, Cosette sees a young man named Mario, a Bonapartist student disinherited by his monarchist grandfather.

A mutual understanding is established between the two even if they are seen only in the Luxembourg Gardens, from afar, without ever speaking to each other. It goes without saying that the plot becomes even more complicated since, Mario, who is the son of a Napoleonic officer, has sworn to himself to fulfill his father’s wishes, namely: to find a certain Thénardier, the man who saved his life, and do everything possible to repay the debt of gratitude.

The young man in love with Cosette, however, is unaware of the fact that Mr. Thénardier actually helped his father with the sole intention of stripping him of his wealth, and that moreover it is the same man who in Montfermeil treated his father cruelly. loved.

From here follows a complex and full of twists and turns up to the anti-monarchist revolt of June 1832, as well as the resolution of the plot, which at this point it is better not to reveal.

Without a doubt, the novel “The Miserable” is a demanding but at the same time essential and current reading.

Firstly, because the main protagonists are described as subjects whose youth are often “consumed in hard and poorly paid work” (see for example Luana, the 22-year-old girl who died in the factory on May 8, 2021); Secondly, because it represents an unjust society that “moves away and consumes the unavoidable abandonment of a thinking being” (see, for example, migrants, who are left at the mercy of their fate, in the open sea); Thirdly, because it raises great questions on the criminal question and on the sentence sanctioned by the law.

On the front page, however, the author’s intent is more than explicit and significant. In fact, he writes “[…] until the three problems of the century, the ugliness of man due to poverty, the degradation of women due to hunger and the atrophy of the child due to darkness, are not resolved […], books like this may not be useless. ” Beyond the interpretations, we should also focus on other very important aspects.

It can be said that the plot has been studied and designed down to the smallest detail: although there are many digressions and historical hints, however it is possible to follow the events and happenings well; The characters, through thoughts, words and actions, reveal a distinctive trait of their character; in addition, every single personal drama arouses curiosity and brings the reader closer to the character; The prose is elegant, poetic and flowing and one cannot help but read and reread descriptions such as the following: “As for Fantine, it was joy itself. Full of face and delicate in profile, deep blue eyes, soft eyelids, arched feet, admirably tapered wrists and ankles, white skin that let you see here and there the blue arborescence of veins, childish cheeks and fresh and the robust neck of the Aeginetic Junoes […] ”; The narrative rhythm stops from time to time but at the end of each chapter the reader is prompted to read the next page to find out how the story will unfold.

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