From the Pre-Revolutionary period to the 3rd Republic 1770-1870 - Part V

22 March 2023


Zoom lecture

Victor Hugo:

From "Les Misérables" to "The Miz"

with Sylvie Koneski

Les Misérables, Victor Hugo's masterpiece (1862) tells the story of the convict Jean Valjean, and the long road that leads him from misery to redemption. This most famous of all French novels, a "monster" work, aroused passions and criticisms in every era. It is also a historical epic on the Bourbon Restoration and the 1830 Revolution, and one that promotes the egalitarian socialism of the 1830s, the quest for the first modern social utopia.


The novel was an immediate and enormous success, receiving a triumphant popular welcome, exceeding all expectations but also virulent conservative criticism: "The purpose of Mr. Victor Hugo's book is to blow up all social institutions, one after the other, with something stronger than gunpowder that blows up mountains, with tears and pity..." (Barbey d’Aurevilly). This novel about poverty and uprising quickly broke sales records in the United States during the Civil War and would remain one of the most widely read novels in the nation for years to come.


Our presentation will also focus on the long career of Les Misérables and its characters after publication: More than 50 films, a dozen television series, the 1980 Robert Hossein musical, the 1985 English version, “Les Miz”, by Cameron Mackintosh, translated into 21 languages and performed in 40 countries and seen by more than 55 million spectators. Les Misérables is alive and well today, having attained the status of a universal myth to the great, probable delight and satisfaction of its original creator, Victor Hugo.

Victor Hugo in 1861, shortly before the publication of Les Misérables
Victor Hugo in 1861, shortly before the publication of Les Misérables

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