Victor Hugo and Les Misérables

If the radical is the idea, yes, I am a radical…A society which admits poverty, a religion which admits hell, a humanity which sanctions war, seem to me an inferior society, an inferior religion and humanity, and it towards the higher society, the higher humanity and religion that I turn: society without a king, humanity without frontiers, religion without a book…I condemn slavery, I banish poverty, I teach ignorance, I treat disease, I lighten the night, and I hate hatred. That is what I am, and that is why I have written Les Misérables

-Victor Hugo

This a quote written by Victor Hugo, the author of the masterpieces, Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables. This quote explains why Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables. Victor Hugo lived during a very rough time period in France. It was post French Revolution and France was still recovering from the aftermath. Multiple rebellions happened, a weak government existed, women weren’t being treated fairly, and misery seemed to exist all the time. Victor Hugo noticed all of this and his book helps show just how bad France was at the time. Much of his book is based off of things that Victor Hugo observed and some characters were created off of that.

He wrote Les Mis to show light in the midst of darkness. That book is a tragedy covered with darkness but with a beautiful spirituality that helps guide the book. The heartbreaking and the inspirational natures are wonderfully interlocked together. Victor Hugo based Fantine after a prostitute he saw being harassed by an abusive customer and he intervened to prevent her from being arrested and he began to wonder if she had a child and that was how he created Fantine. He observed part of the June Rebellion of 1832 and he  included the rebellion in the book. His book shows the worst and the best of society at the time period.

The Thenardiers represent the very worst of society because of how abusive, unloving, cruel, selfish, and greedy they were and there was no redeeming factor in them. They treated their five children unfairly. Their children were Eponine, Azelma, Gavroche, and two unnamed younger brothers. They raised Eponine and Azelma and kicked out the rest of their children. They terribly abused Young Cosette during the time she lived with them, but she was rescued by Jean Valjean. They raised their daughters, Eponine and Azelma to be criminals and taught them how to lie and to steal and to be cruel towards others. The abuse they used on Cosette was used on both Eponine and Azelma. I cannot imagine what must have been like for the Thenardiers’ daughters.

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Despite all of the abuse, Eponine was brave despite feeling neglected and lonely and she never knew what it felt to be loved by someone else. The only source of light in her life was Marius, but he could never be hers.

Cosette represents hope and light and was raised by a loving father. Eponine is not quite as greedy or selfish as her parents, but sometimes she does act in destructive ways due to jealously. I think it was important that Eponine was a Thenardier and she does raise above her upbringing in both the book and musical. Even though Eponine was killed at the barricades, her parents didn’t seem to care that both her and Gavroche didn’t survive the uprising.

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The Thenardiers do represent the very worst of humanity, but there are those that represent the very best of humanity. The bishop for instance represents that. The bishop gave Valjean a second chance in life. The bishop gave Valjean a place to sleep, food to eat and treated him with compassion and kindness. Even when Valjean stole the bishop’s silver, the bishop forgave Valjean and gave the silver to Vavljean as gift. Valjean lived by the bishop’s example throughout the rest of the book. He showed compassion towards the poor especially towards Fantine and rescued the broken Cosette from the hands of the evil Thenardiers. When a man was falsely accused of being Valjean, Valjean turned himself in and confessed his real identity. He rescued Marius at the barricade for the sake of his daughter.

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Les Mis represents humanity as a whole and is truly about the survival of the human spirit. Victor Hugo knew that as long as poverty, ignorance, and misery exist, his book will always be relevant. The musical stays very faithful to the book despite some differences in the characters. For instance, Eponine and Marius are only just acquaintances in the book, but in the musical they are portrayed as friends. Les Mis is still universal because poverty,  misery and ignorance still exist, but at the same time, sacrifice, hope, love, compassion, forgiveness, and redemption still exist on the face of this earth. I understand the success of Les Mis. It is extremely powerful and filled with several emotions. It knows how to strongly emotionally connect you.

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Author: mphadventuregirl

I am a strong spiritual person who is a big fan of musicals. This blog deals with spirituality and musicals. I am finding that by writing about these, I am realizing I know more about each of them then I think I do. I hope you find my blog inspiring!

25 thoughts on “Victor Hugo and Les Misérables”

    1. When I read the unabridged of Les Misérables, I read the entire book without skipping over anything. It was a tough read, but by using my strong knowledge of the musical helped me get through. I was able to mark up the leading characters of the musical and write in songs.

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      1. Yeah, I agree. I think that it’s one of those musicals that sticks with you forever in some way, shape, of form. I have, of course, met people who aren’t Les Miz fans but for the most part, they always agree that it’s inspirational and something that they are glad they saw even if maybe, it wasn’t their favorite thing in the world

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      2. The first time I saw Les Mis (the movie), I didn’t know if I liked it or not. But went straight to researching, so without me realizing it, I was moved by the first time. But when I saw Les Mis the second time, I knew there was something special about the musical

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      3. To be honest, when I went to see the movie (also the first time I’d seen Les Miz), it was kinda just a “Ok, I’ll go. Sounds kinda interesting and I don’t really have anything else to do so… I guess that I’ll go.” sort of scenario. But I am glad that I did go because I just can’t imagine my life without Les Miz now

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      4. When I first went, I was a bit unsure. I was like: I’ll go, but I ‘m only going for “I Dreamed a Dream”. After Fantine died, I was thinking “wait a minute, Les Mis is a tragedy? and “hold on a sec, musicals can be tragic”. Due to both those realizations, I didn’t know how to respond to the rest of the movie. I watched it in such shock and confusion all the way to the end. I am so glad as a matter of fact that I didn’t know Les Mis was tragic because if I had known, I wouldn’t have gone

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      5. Funnily enough, the first time I watched Les Miz, because I didn’t know what to expect, I was constantly waiting for a huge dance number. The songs that stuck with me the first time seeing Les Miz where “Look Down”, “I Dreamed a Dream”, “Do You Hear the People Sing”, “ABC Café / Red & Black”, and “On My Own”.

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      6. The only songs that stuck with me were “I Dreamed a Dream” (already knew that song), “Do You Hear the People Sing” ( came out humming that song) and “Master of the House” (was stuck in my dad’s head). So I didn’t fully remember much of the numbers. I remembered scenes, but not the number that they belonged to.

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      7. My dad also gets “Master of the House” stuck in his head whenever I play my CD or watch the movie and he’s singing the chorus for about a week or just singing different words to the tune. I remember “Do You Hear the People Sing” leaving a particular impact on me

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      8. “Do You Hear the People Sing” has been stuck in my head since December of 2012. I think Les Mis has the most powerful ending to a musical ever. Besides “Do You Hear The People Sing”, I have had the finale of Rent stuck in my head for almost the exact same amount of time

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      9. I love how the end of Les Mis represents heaven. You get to see all the students again and in heaven, there is Valjean, Eponine, and Fantine.

        Even though Marius and Cosette live, they are still part of the song. Its sad that all Marius and Cosette have left is each other. Cosette’s father just died and Marius lost all of his friends at the barricade. Their ending isn’t all that happy either.

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      10. Definitely. That reminds me of something I read something once but I can’t remember exactly what it was… it was something like “Sometimes living is not the better thing. Not when one is all alone.” (That’s definitely not exactly what it was but…) I feel like that kind of applies to “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” as well

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      11. You are so right that it can apply to Empty Chairs at Empty Chairs. At least Cosette in the musical learned of her father’s past and of her mother’s fate. These two characters faced a lot of trauma in their life. I am glad Cosette and Marius lived. Valjean died on the night of Cosette’s wedding, which is quite sad for Cosette

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      12. Yeah, that’s definitely true. There’s a lot of tragedy in the finale of Les Miz. I think that a lot of people forget about Marius and Cosette’s tragedies that they face just because they live. But in a lot of ways, the tragedy is that they do live. Because everyone else that mattered so much to them are gone

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      13. They have to live with that reality that everyone they loved are dead. Marius lost all of his friends during the uprising and Cosette just watched his adopted father die. They may live, but it still is tragic that all they have left is each other. They have to live with the reality that everyone that matters to them are dead except for one another

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      14. Never really thought of it like that. The ending of Les Mis is just that perfect. It is extremely uplifting. It can be easy to forget how high the death toll is in Les Mis. Cosette and Marius are the best characters who actually live

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