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Les Miserables is an epic tale of hope, empathy, sympathy, redemption and hate set in post-revolutionary France. Written by acclaimed author Victor Hugo, Les Miserables follows the transformation of its two main characters from criminal to honest man and from dedicated reactionary to compassionate fellow man. Written sometime between 1845 and 1862, Hugo provides a detailed look into nineteenth century France’s society and politics. BY combining his story of redemption with the wrongdoings of the French government, Hugo sharply criticized French political policies and hoped his work may encourage change for the future.

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Hugo describes the setting of Les Miserables with great detail. Part of the motives of Hugo were to set a tone of miserable elements for the lead character Valjean, and for anyone who lived under the poverty line in France in the early nineteenth century. Poverty was rampant during these times and with the radical “science” of reactionaries, many people were condemned for life due to a mistake they may have made early in their life. The surroundings and details described are very accurate and play a very large role in the storyline. This description of the elements faced by the poor and underprivileged was an obvious stab at the government and greatly emphasizes the story’s plot of redemption. The characters in Les Miserables, while not historically factual characters, are very easily believed and would fit perfectly into the time period. Jean Valjean, the protagonist, is an ex-convict who leaves behind a life of theft and deceit for a life as an honest man. He takes on a new persona and makes his fortune honestly and ultimately makes his goal in life redemption. Javert is the story’s antagonist and is a reactionary who believes in the law and will stop at nothing to enforce the harsh laws of France. With no pity, he believes that humans are either inherently good or bad. He sees Valjean’s fortunes as an injustice and chases him relentlessly. Cosette is the adoptive daughter of Valjean, who came to father her through a promise to her mother Fantine, whom Valjean knew only a short time, but fell in love with her quickly. Fantine had fallen in love with a wealthy student who abandoned her and had Cosette out of wedlock. She left Cosette in the car of the Thenadiers and paid for her u…

…imself into the river. Marius is at first disgusted when he finds out about Valjean’s past, though when he discovers it was Valjean who saved his life, they reconcile on Valjean’s deathbed.

Les Miserables depicts the unjust class-based society of nineteenth century France. This system often turned good and honest people into beggars and thieves. Hugo obviously believed the social conditions of the time needed to be reformed, particularly in the areas of education, criminal justice and the treatment of women. The character of Fantine conveys all three of these. Undereducated, she works in a factory where she is fired for immorality and only then forced into prostitution so she could provide for her daughter. This novel provides a detailed look into the early nineteenth century condition in France. It is considered an historical novel for this reason. The novel shows how new and radical thought processes, especially that in the justice and political realm such as the reactionary movement, came to be and were outgrown by the good of all people. Thos is a great historical novel based on any definition of historical fiction.

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