I’ve never been so impacted by a book as I was by Les Misérables. The fictional characters are so lifelike and deep, and the style of writing is refreshing and thoughtful. I hope as you read this spoiler-free review, you will be inspired to go and read this literary treasure for yourself. Enjoy!
Summary and Characters
Les Misérables (written by Victor Hugo) is a story set in early nineteenth century France, following the life of former convict Jean Valjean (pronounced Jon Val-jon) in his struggles to leave his old life behind and throughout all his trials and setbacks, he relies on God to see him through. A little ways into the story Jean Valjean becomes a father and the sole guardian of Cosette (pronounced Co-zet), an orphaned child who had been cruelly mistreated by her former caretakers. Jean Valjean is on the run throughout most of the book from the law, particularly from a certain french officer named Javert (pronounced Ja-vere), whose sole mission in life, it seems, is to put Jean Valjean back in the galleys, a place where a convicted criminal is sentenced to the oars of a ship until he payed his debt.
A little further into the book we are introduced to Marius, a passionate dreamer of a man whose father was an esteemed colonel for Napoleon Bonaparte in the French revolution, and whose final words are Marius’s self-imposed duty to fulfill even if it means his own demise.
There are other characters such as Fantine, a destitute mother who works herself sick to provide for her child, Enjolras and his compatriots, who are Bonapartist to the very core, Gavroche, a sly little beggar boy who eagerly joins the Bonapartist uprising, and Eponine, a poor, threadbare girl whose love for a man leads her to the ultimate sacrifice.
How I found out about Les Misérables:
Last summer my family and I were visited by a pastor and his wife who have had a life changing impact on my parents and our household. We were talking about book lists and must reads, and the pastor stated that he had read Les Misérables that year for the third or fourth time in his life. His passion about the story and the impact it obviously had on his life really inspired me to pick up a copy, which I regrettably did not do until May of this year.
My Impression Overall
“…on the evening of a day in the beginning of October…a man travelling afoot entered the little town…”
That is the beginning of the story: simple, straight, and to the point. With each character Victor Hugo introduces, the description comes right along with it:
“A slouched leather cap half hid his face, bronzed by the sun and wind, and dripping with sweat…he wore a cravat twisted like a rope; coarse blue trousers, worn and shabby, white on one knee, and with holes in the other; an old ragged grey blouse, patched on one side with a piece of green cloth sewed with twine…In his hand he carried an enormous knotted stick: his stockingless feet were in hobnailed shoes; his hair was cropped and his beard was long.”
Hugo paints his characters exact and sharp, so that his audience will see them the way he does, with so much to detail that if you met Jean Valjean or Javert on the street, you would most likely recognize them instantly. I truly appreciated that aspect.
Now, I’ve only ever teared up twice when reading a book. The first time I was reading Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls, and the second is Les Misérables. The beauty and depth of the book (especially the ending) is so powerful, and the attachment you develop with the characters leaves you fervently wishing they were real and alive today. If there were five characters I could meet from all the hundreds of books I’ve read, they would be: Gandalf, Lucy Pevensie, Edmond Dantes, Beth March, and Jean Valjean.