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About the Author
Victor Hugo (1802-1885), novelist, poet, and dramatist, is one of the most important of French Romantic writers. Among his best-known works are The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) and Les Misérables(1862).
Victor Hugo was born in Besançon as the son of a army general, who taught young Victor to admire Napoleon as a hero. After the separation of his parents, he was raised and educated in Paris by his mother, where the family settled when Hugo was two. From 1815 to 1818 Hugo attended the Lycée Louis-le Grand in Paris. He began in early adolescence to write verse tragedies and poetry, and translated Virgil. Hugo's first collection of poems, Odes Et Poesies Diverses gained him a royal pension from Louis XVIII. In 1822 Hugo married Adèle Foucher who was the daughter of an officer at the ministry of war.
Hugo gained wider fame with his play Hernani (1830) and with his famous historical work The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) which became an instant success. Since its appearance in 1831 the story has become part of popular culture. The novel, set in 15th century Paris, tells a moving story of a gypsy girl Esmeralda and the deformed bell ringer, Quasimodo, who loves her.
In the 1830s Hugo published several volumes of lyric poetry, Hugo's lyrical style was rich, intense and full of powerful sounds and rhythms, and although it followed the bourgeois popular taste of the period it also had bitter personal tones.
In his later life Hugo became involved in politics as a supporter of the republican form of government. After three unsuccessful attempts, Hugo was elected in 1841 to the Académie Francaise. This triumph was shadowed by the death of Hugo's daughter Léopoldine in 1843. It was only after a decade that Hugo again published books. He devoted himself to politics, advocating social justice. After the 1848 revolution, with the formation of the Second Republic, Hugo was elected to the Constitutional Assembly and to the Legislative Assembly.
When the coup d'état by Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) took place in 1851, Hugo believed his life to be in danger. He fled to Brussels and then to Jersey and Guernsey in the English Channel. Hugo's partly voluntary exile lasted 20 years. During this time, he wrote at Hauteville House some his best works, including Les Chatimets (1853) and Les Misérables (1862), an epic story about social injustice.
The political upheaval in France and the proclamation of the Third Republic made Hugo return to France. During the period of the Paris Commune, Hugo lived in Brussels, from where he was expelled for sheltering defeated revolutionaries. After a short time of living as a refuge in Luxemburg, he returned to Paris and was elected senator. Hugo died in Paris on May 22, 1885. He was given a national funeral, attended by two million people, and buried in the Panthéon.
Les Misérables (1862)
Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean—the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread—Les Misérables ranks among the greatest novels of all time. In it, Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them to the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose.
Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier, and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérables gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait that resulted is larger than life, epic in scope—an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.
Questions for Les Misérables
How responsible is Jean Valjean for his financial success? How responsible is Bishop Myriel for it? Does it matter?
Why is Inspector Javert so committed to catching Jean Valjean? Support your answer with evidence from the text.
How does Javert react when Jean Valjean saves his life? Why? What does it tell us about the theme of justice in this book?
Do you find Bishop Myriel's kindness believable? Why or why not?
Which character in this book do you have the most sympathy for? Why?
Which character do you have the least sympathy for? Why?
What main lesson do you take away from Les Misérables? Is it a convincing one? Why or why not?
(Questions from Schmoop.com)
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