Author`s biographical and literary background
Born on February 26, 1802 in Besancon, France, novelist Victor-Marie Hugo grew up during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon Bonaparte was the general during the French Revolution and the first consul of the French Republic. Victor Hugo’s family then resided mostly in Corsica and Spain, famous bailiwick of Napoleon Bonaparte. His father Joseph-Leopold-Sigisbert Hugo was an army officer and eventually rose to the ranks of a general under Napoleon Bonaparte.
However, his parents got separated eventually. With this, the young Hugo spent a large part of his childhood in Paris with his mother. Although this has been the case, the young Victor did not lose with literary ambitions.
Victor Hugo’s literary prowess sprung the moment he was born. The literary talents of Hugo started when he was young. At an early age of 15, Hugo won a poetry writing contest. Two years after, he established a magazine together with his brother. After attending school in Paris, he married his childhood sweetheart Adle Foucher in 1822.
His literary career started with the publication of Hermani in 1830 then the famous Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831. However, Hugo lost his daughter in 1841 and had influenced him to be involved with politics which was at that time liberal in nature. With this idealism, Hugo was exiled for 19 years in Brussels where he had written literary compositions attacking the Napoleonic Empire. As his exile ends, Hugo was able to write the legendary Les Miserables in 1862. Upon returning to France in 1870, he held government positions but later on resigned. In 1878, he suffered a stroke and died on May 22 1885 due to pneumonia.
Hugo’s writing style is traditional in nature. It follows the natural story structure which consists of: rising action which was depicted by Valjean’s disclosure of his true identity at trial and his rescue of Cosette; climax which consist of dramatic interactions at the barricades between Valjean and Javert; and falling action which was depicted during Marius and Cosette’s wedding and Javert’s suicide. The author employed also the perspective of an omniscient narrator which knows the thoughts of characters especially particularly in politics and society.
The theme of Les Miserables is centered with the fundamental and universal ideas of the importance of love and compassion. In Les Miserables, it depicted that although a person may be called as social deviants, Jean Valjean was able to prove that there exists a way for him to transform and become someone better. He was able to learn how to share love to others especially with Cosette, who made him happy in times he was down and desperate.
In addition, Hugo also depicted the social ills during the nineteenth century in France. Les Miserables showed that society needs to reform the education system, criminal justice and the treatment of women. In the story, Jean Valjean became a victim of a partial justice system. He could have been a free man should criminal justice is not tilted to those wealthy people. Hugo also thought that women should be given high-regard in the society instead of becoming sex toys which can be used whenever the urge comes in.
sketch of the times in which the novel was written & how that impacts upon the plot
In the Answers.com website, it cited that Les Miserables paints a vivid picture of Paris’ seamier side. It also discusses the causes and results of revolution and includes topics ranging from the Battle of Waterloo. The novel shows a brave statement against human suffering, poverty and ignorance. Considering that Les Miserables was written during the time he was exiled in Brussels, this novel most probably carries Hugo’s thoughts and feelings on Parisian politics. He wanted to reform the government through free speech as well.
two literary characteristics which dominate novel
The two important characters in Les Miserables are Jean Valjean and Fantine.
Jean Valjean is an ex-convict. He became a hardened criminal after being sent to prison although he was an innocent man. He often encountered misfortunes in life but he finds fulfillment in loving his adopted daughter Cosette and helping people even if it means losing his own life.
Fantine, on the other hand, is a working glass who left her hometown to seek greener pastures in Paris. She had an affair with a student and left her pregnant. Although she had a difficult time to make the ends meet, she exerted effort in order to feed herself as well as her daughter Cosette. According to SparkNotes.com website, it stated that Fantine represented “the destruction that nineteenth-century French society cruelly wreaks on the less fortunate.”
The setting in Les Miserables was during the 1800 in France particularly during period of the Restoration. The major action is in Paris, but some episodes take place in neighboring towns.
Two quotations you consider essential to the plot and your reason(s) for selecting them
The first essential quotation is:
1.“So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation which, in the midst of civilization, artificially creates a hell on earth, and complicates with human fatality a destiny that is divine; so long as the three problems of the century – the degradation of man by the exploitation of his labor, the ruin of women by starvation, and the atrophy of childhood by physical and spiritual night – are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a still broader point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, there should be a need for books such as this.”
This quote is important since it shows the social ills during the 1800’s in France. This means that if people tend to be overly ignorant and that women were not treated the way she should be, many people would still become just like Jean Valjean who wanted to reform the whole government.
The second quote is:
2. “The bishop approached him and said, in a low voice, ‘Do not forget, ever, that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man.’ Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of any such promise, stood dumbfounded. The bishop had stressed these words as he spoke them. He continued solemnly, ‘Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belongs to evil, but to good. It is your soul I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”
The reason is:
This represents the promise of transformation. This quote merely shows that although a person maybe so bad, there is still a room for improvement. Jean Valjean, although not really a criminal by heart, opted to change for his adopted daughter Cosette as well as to keep his promise to the bishop. In addition, it strengthens the idea that also man has many ups and downs in life due to challenges in may encounter as he traversed a whirlwind journey, he would be able to survive if he by himself have the will to change.
Les Miserables. Retrieved March 18, 2007 from http://www.answers.com/topic/les-mis-rables
Les Miserables Victor Hugo. Retrieved March 18, 2007 from http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/lesmis/characters.html
Napoleon I of France. Wikipedia website. Retrieved March 18, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napoleon