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Les Misérables Overview

List as many adjectives as you can think of, in English and French, to describe
the characters in the pictures

Valjean et Cosette (enfant et adulte)

Victor Hugo (1802-1885)
Hugo was a famous French novelist, and the author of Les Misérables and
The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He was concerned with social and
political issues like education, human rights, and injustice. He was
married, but had a mistress for 50 years, an actress named Juliette
Drouet. Many of the letters he wrote to her have now been published.
The Novel
The novel itself was started in 1845 and
finished in 1861, and many people consider it
Hugo’s masterpiece. (Any French person who
has graduated high school is familiar with it.)
The book tells the story of several intertwined
characters, and highlights social problems, as
well as aspects of human nature (both good
and bad). The title basically means “the
miserable,” Hugo was very concerned with
the idea of misery, meaning poverty,
ignorance, lack of food or shelter, and being
outcast from “good” society for whatever

Les Misérables (literally "The Miserable Ones“) translated variously

from the French as The Miserable Ones, The Wretched, The Poor
Ones, The Wretched Poor, or The Victims), is an 1862 French novel
by author Victor Hugo and is widely considered one of the greatest
novels of the nineteenth century. It follows the lives and
interactions of several French characters over a seventeen-year
period in the early nineteenth century, starting in 1815 and
culminating in the 1832 June Rebellion.[1]
The Characters
-Jean Valjean- former convict,
adopts orphan Cosette, very
moral, tries to help people
-Inspecter Javert- rigid, doesn’t
believe people can change,
likes rules and order
-Monsieur and Madame
Thenardier- innkeepers,
dishonest, greedy, abuse
Cosette when she lives with
them, move to Paris when they
lose the inn
Fantine- young unmarried
mother, loves her daughter
and tries to support her, ends
up on the street corner, dies
French 2001 Movie Version
Characters, continued
Cosette- Fantine’s
daughter, mistreated as
child when Thenardier’s
servant, when grown
up falls in love with
Marius, a young
student who supports
revolution and change

French 2001 film

Eponine- Thenardier’s
daughter (in red), in Paris
she falls in love with
Marius (dies)

Musical versions
Characters Continued

Gavroche and the student

revolutionaries- Gavroche is a
homeless boy in Paris who is friends
with Eponine, Marius, and his fellow
students. All of them except Marius
are killed at the barricade during their

Bishop of Digne-
turns Valjean’s life
around when he lies
to save him from
Historical Links
• The June Rebellion, or the Paris Uprising of 1832,
was an unsuccessful, anti-monarchist insurrection
of Parisian Republicans—largely students—from
June 5 to June 6, 1832. The rebellion originated in
an attempt of the Republicans to reverse the July
Monarchy, shortly after the death of the powerful
Orleanist President of the Council, Casimir-Perier,
on May 16, 1832. The rebellion was the last
outbreak of violence linked with the July
Revolution. Author Victor Hugo described the
rebellion in his novel Les Misérables.
The novel focuses on the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean
and his experience of redemption. It examines the nature of
law and grace, and expatiates upon the history of France,
architecture of Paris, politics, moral philosophy,
antimonarchism, justice, religion, and the types and nature of
romantic and familial love. The story is historical fiction
because it contains factual and historic events. Contrary to
what some believe, it does not use the French Revolution as a
backdrop. The French Revolution took place in the eighteenth
century; Les Miserables takes place in the nineteenth. The
only "revolution" depicted is the June Rebellion, a student
• Les Misérables is known to many through its numerous
stage and screen adaptations, most notably the stage
musical of the same name, sometimes abbreviated "Les
Synopsis (novel)
• The major plot involves Jean Valjean, who is released from
prison, and through the kindness of Father Myriel, (the bishop
of Digne) becomes a new man. He gets a new name via
association with Myriel and his obvious kindness and
generosity to others and gradually builds a successful and
prosperous life for himself with a renovation of the jet-work
industry in Montreuil-sur-mer.
• One of his employees is-although unknown to him-fired by the
head mistress because of an illegitimate baby. Fantine goes
from one occupation to another, finally becoming a prostitute.
Synopsis cont.
• A minor incident takes place in the streets, and Fantine is
arrested by Javert. Valjean, who has become known as Mayor
Madeleine, forces Javert to release her and takes her into his
own house when he hears her story.
• Fantine is in extremely poor health, however, and dies without
ever seeing her child again, even though Valjean had promised
to get the child.
• Meanwhile, another man has been arrested and mistakenly
identified as Valjean. Valjean appears in court, revealing the
truth and losing both his business and his position in
Montreuil-sur-mer. Although he is arrested, he breaks out long
enough to hide his fortune. He spends additional time in
prison, working aboard a ship.
Synopsis cont.
• Eventually he escapes again and retrieves Cosette from the evil
Thenardiers whom Fantine had trusted to take care of the child.
• Then begins 10 years of hiding, moving from place to place, always
staying just ahead of Javert. Seven or eight happy years are spend
in a convent where Valjean works with the gardener and Cosette
attends a girls’ school.
- Feeling that Cosette must have an
opportunity to experience all of life, they
leave the convent when she is about 15.
Valjean is nearly betrayed and recaptured
due to the insidious if somewhat unwitting
deeds of the Thenardiers.
Synopsis cont.
• While Valjean is continuously on the lookout for people
who might have guessed his identity and makes their
home always in out of the way places, Cosette becomes
aware of her own femininity and beauty. She and Marius
spot each other and fall in love.
• Marius is a college student who has been raised by his
grandfather after the old man had disowned his son-in-
law for supporting Napoleon. Marius discovers the truth
about his father shortly after his death and enmity
develops between himself and his grandfather. With little
income, Marius in unable to marry Cosette and prevent
Valjean from taking her away again, and his grandfather
refuses to give consent for a marriage to someone he
assumes is beneath him.
Synopsis Cont.
• In Paris, politics, work issues, and various unsatisfactory
conditions are gradually bringing a faction of workers and
college students to the point of revolt. An insurrection takes
place; Marius joins in hoping to die since he will not be able to
have Cosette.
• Valjean joins the insurrection because he believes he is losing
Cosette’s love and because, although he hates him bitterly, he
intends to try to protect Marius for Cosette.
• When the barricades are finally overtaken, Valjean rescues Marius and
escapes through the city sewers. Marius is unconscious and does not
know who rescued him. When his health returns, he insists once again
on marrying Cosette, and this time the grandfather relents. Old
wounds are at least partially healed. As Javert is also dead, it would
seem that Cosette, Valjean, Marius and his grandfather could all form
one happy family. Cosette and Marius marry, but Valjean reveals the
truth of himself to Marius who gradually banishes him from even
seeing Cosette.

• The Thenardiers are a continuous nuisance and occasionally a real

threat throughout the book, but in spite of Thenardier’s intention to
bring harm to Valjean, he actually reveals the truth of Valjean’s history
to Marius.

• Valjean dies in the end, but it is with contentment after a joyful

reunion with Cosette. He is content to know that Cosette and Marius
have “forgiven” him, although it seems as though Valjean himself is the
one who has the right to be on the forgiving end of things.
Les Misérables- The Musical
• 1980- French musical version of novel premieres in
Paris- it’s a big success
• 1980s- Translated into English, re-worked a bit-
international success (West End, Broadway,
translated into many languages, still playing!)
• Logo based on original illustration
The Musical- trailer/sample

End of the Day

Film Versions
• There have been many film versions: French, British,
American, Italian, etc., starting 1913
• Two versions we will look at: American 1998, (watching
all) French/ International mini-series 2001 (film clip
• (There’s a new American musical version coming out
Christmas 2012)
La vie, le malheur, l'isolement, l'abandon, la
pauvreté, sont des champs de bataille qui ont
leurs héros ; héros obscurs plus grands parfois
que les héros illustres.
[Victor Hugo]
Extrait de Les Misérables

Ce n'est rien de mourir ; c'est

affreux de ne pas vivre.
Unit Vocab
Un forçat- convict pleurer- to cry un maire- mayor
Un évêque- a bishop perdre- to lose la vie- life
Le bagne- prison maintenant- now une usine- a factory
L’ auberge- (f) inn, public house le froid- the cold la faim- hunger
bouleversé- very upset heureux- happy habiller- to dress
découragé- discouraged malade- sick triste- sad
dur- hard une poupée- a doll un juge- a judge
fatigué- tired malhonnête- dishonest une dette- a debt
humilié- humiliated sans- cœur- heartless, insensitive
un orphelin, une orpheline- an orphan un veuf, une veuve- widower, widow
robuste- robust, sturdy un ouvrier, une ouvrière- worker
rude- coarse, rough l ’ argent- (m) money, silver
terrorisé- terrified, terrorised un inspecteur- an inspector, detective
trapu- stocky, heavyset un paysan, une paysanne- a peasant, farmer
craintif- fearful, nervous un étudiant, une étudiante- a student
un étranger, une étrangère- a stranger un gendarme- police, man-at-arms
Which vocab words are suggested by
the pictures below? d.
a. b. c.

f. g.
Which vocab words are suggested by
the pictures below?