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Les Misérables

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Les Misérables

Les Miserables is the great epic masterpiece of the mid-nineteenth century. Begun in 1845, the year Louis Philippe conferred a peerage and a lifetime seat in the Senate upon Victor Hugo, it was...
Les Miserables is the great epic masterpiece of the mid-nineteenth century. Begun in 1845, the year Louis Philippe conferred a peerage and a lifetime seat in the Senate upon Victor Hugo, it was...
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Description-
  • Les Miserables is the great epic masterpiece of the mid-nineteenth century. Begun in 1845, the year Louis Philippe conferred a peerage and a lifetime seat in the Senate upon Victor Hugo, it was completed when the author was living in exile in the Channel Islands. Les Miserables is a product as well as a document of the political, social, and religious upheaval that followed the Napoleonic Wars and Europe's great democratic revolutions. The story is centered on Jean Valjean, a peasant who enters the novel a hardened criminal after nineteen years spent in prison for stealing a loaf of bread for the starving children of his sister. The path of Valjean's last twenty-five years, leading from the French provinces to the battlefield of Waterloo and the ramparts of Paris during the Uprising of 1832, introduces us to secret societies of revolutionaries and the vast world of the French lower classes. Jean Valjean's flight from the police agent Javert--the prototype of over a hundred years of fictional detectives--culminates in one of the most famous scenes in all literature, the chase through the sewers of Paris. Les Miserables sold out its large first printing in twenty-four hours and has remained enormously popular. This edition is the classic English translation of Hugo's friend Charles Wilbour, which appeared the same year the novel was published in France.

Excerpts-
  • Chapter One 1815, M. Charles Franois-Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of D--. He was a man of seventy-five, and had occupied the bishopric of D-- since 1806. Although it in no manner concerns, even in the remotest degree, what we have to relate, it may not be useless, were it only for the sake of exactness in all things, to notice here the reports and gossip which had arisen on his account from the time of his arrival in the diocese.

    Be it true or false, what is said about men often has as much influence upon their lives, and especially upon their destinies, as what they do.

    M. Myriel was the son of a counsellor of the Parlement of Aix; of the rank given to the legal profession. His father, intending him to inherit his place, had contracted a marriage for him at the early age of eighteen or twenty, according to a widespread custom among parliamentary families. Charles Myriel, notwithstanding this marriage, had, it was said, been an object of much attention. His person was admirably moulded; although of slight figure, he was elegant and graceful; all the earlier part of his life had been devoted to the world and to its pleasures. The revolution came, events crowded upon each other; the parliamentary families, decimated, hunted, and pursued, were soon dispersed. M. Charles Myriel, on the first outbreak of the revolution, emigrated to Italy. His wife died there of a lung complaint with which she had been long threatened. They had no children. What followed in the fate of M. Myriel? The decay of the old French society, the fall of his own family, the tragic sights of '93, still more fearful, perhaps, to the exiles who beheld them from afar, magnified by fright--did these arouse in him ideas of renunciation and of solitude? Was he, in the midst of one of the reveries or emotions which then consumed his life, suddenly attacked by one of those mysterious and terrible blows which sometimes overwhelm, by smiting to the heart, the man whom public disasters could not shake, by aiming at life or fortune? No one could have answered; all that was known was that when he returned from Italy he was a priest.

    In 1804, M. Myriel was cure of B--(Brignolles). He was then an old man, and lived in the deepest seclusion.

    Near the time of the coronation, a trifling matter of business belonging to his curacy--what it was, is not now known precisely--took him to Paris.

    Among other personages of authority he went to Cardinal Fesch on behalf of his parishioners.

    One day, when the emperor had come to visit his uncle, the worthy cure, who was waiting in the ante-room, happened to be on the way of his Majesty. Napoleon noticing that the old man looked at him with a certain curiousness, turned around and said brusquely:

    'Who is this goodman who looks at me?'
About the Author-
  • Victor-Marie Hugo was born in 1802 at Besanon, where his father, an officer (eventually a general) under Napoleon, was stationed. In his first decade the family moved from post to post: Corsica, Naples, Madrid. After his parents separated in 1812, Hugo lived in Paris with his mother and brothers. His literary ambition--to be Chateaubriand or nothing--was evident from an early age, and by seventeen he had founded a literary magazine with his brother. At twenty he married Adele Foucher and published his first poetry collection, which earned him a small stipend from Louis XVIII. A first novel, Hans of Iceland (1823), won another stipend.

    Hugo became friends with Charles Nodier, leader of the Romantics, and with the critic Sainte-Beuve, but rapidly put himself at the forefront of literary trends. His innovative early poetry helped open up the relatively constricted traditions of French versification, and his plays--especially Cromwell, whose preface served as a manifesto of Romanticism, and Hernani, whose premiere was as stormy as that of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring--stirred up much protest for their break with dramatic convention. His literary outpouring between 1826 and 1843 encompassed eight volumes of poetry; four novels, including The Last Day of a Condemned Man (1829) and Notre-Dame de Paris (1831); ten plays (among them Le Roi's Amuse, the source for Verdi's Rigoletto); and a variety of critical writings.

    Hugo was elected to the Academie Francaise in 1841. The accidental death two years later of his eldest daughter and her husband devastated him and marked the end of his first literary period. By then politics had become central to his life. Though he was a Royalist in his youth, his views became increasingly liberal after the July revolution of 1830: Freedom in art, freedom in society, there is the double goal. Following the revolution of 1848, he was elected as a Republican to the National Assembly, where he campaigned for universal suffrage and free education and against the death penalty. He initially supported the political ascent of Louis Napoleon, but turned savagely against him after being denied a role in government following the coup de'tat of 1851.

    Hugo went into exile in Brussels and Jersey, launching fierce literary attacks on the Second Empire in The Story of a Crime, Napoleon the Little, and The Punishments. Between 1855 and 1870 he settled in Guernsey in the Channel Islands. There he was joined by his family, some friends, and his mistress Juliette Drouet, whom he had known since 1833, when as a young actress she had starred in his Lucrezia Borgia. His political interests were supplemented by other concerns. From around 1853 he became absorbed in experiments with spiritualism and table tapping. In his later years he wrote The Contemplations (1856), considered the peak of his lyric accomplishment, and a number of more elaborate poetic cycles derived from his theories concerning spirituality and history: the immense The Legend of the Centuries (1859-83) and its post-humously published successors The End of Satan (1886) and God (1891). In these same years he produced the novels Les Miserables (1862), Toilers of the Sea (1866), The Man Who Laughs (1869), and Ninety-Three (1873).

    After the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, Hugo returned to France and was reelected to the National Assembly, and then to the Senate. He had become a legendary figure and national icon, a presence so dominating that upon his death Emile Zola is said to have remarked with some relief: 'I thought he was going to bury us all!' Hugo's funeral in...

Reviews-
  • Jeanette Winterson, The Times (London)

    "Rich and gorgeous. This is the [translation] to read... and if you are flying, just carry it under your arm as you board, or better still, rebook your holiday and go by train, slowly, page by page."

  • The Denver Post "[A] magnificent story... marvelously captured in this new unabridged translation by Julie Rose."
  • Buffalo News (editor's choice) "A new translation by Julie Rose of Hugo's behemoth classic that is as racy and current and utterly arresting as it should be."
  • Diane Johnson "Vibrant and readable, idiomatic and well suited to a long narrative, [Julie Rose's new translation of Les Miserables] is closer to the captivating tone Hugo would have struck for his own contemporaries."
  • Alison Lurie "A lively, dramatic, and wonderfully readable translation of one of the greatest 19th-century novels."
  • The Agony Column (trashotron.com) "Some of us may have read Les Miserables back in the day, but... between Gopnik and Rose, you'll get two introductions that will offer you all the pleasures of your college instruction with none of the pain."
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    Random House Publishing Group
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