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Les Misérables first editionFirst edition in five volumes
By Victor Hugo
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

First publication
1862

Literature form
Novel

Genres
Literary, historical fiction

Writing language
French

Author's country
France

Length
Approx. 560,500 words

Les Misérables

CRITIQUE | THE TEXT

Notable lines and passages

First lines

So long as there shall exist, by virtue of law and custom, decrees of damnation pronounced by society, artificially creating hells amid the civilization of earth, and adding the element of human fate to divine destiny; so long as the three great problems of the century—the degradation of man through pauperism, the corruption of woman through hunger, the crippling of children through lack of light—are unsolved; so long as social asphyxia is possible in any part of the world;—in other words, and with a still wider significance, so long as ignorance and poverty exist on earth, books of the nature of Les Misérables cannot fail to be of use.

"Preface"

In 1815, M. Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of Digne. He was an old man of about seventy-five years of age; he had occupied the see of Digne since 1806.

Volume One, Book One, Chapter I

Passages

True or false, that which is said of men often occupies as important a place in their lives, and above all in their destinies, as that which they do.

A little garden in which to walk, and immensity in which to dream. At one’s feet that which can be cultivated and plucked; over head that which one can study and meditate upon: some flowers on earth, and all the stars in the sky.

This is the second time, during his studies on the penal question and damnation by law, that the author of this book has come across the theft of a loaf of bread as the point of departure for the disaster of a destiny. Claude Gaux had stolen a loaf; Jean Valjean had stolen a loaf. English statistics prove the fact that four thefts out of five in London have hunger for their immediate cause.

Madame Thénardier was just intelligent enough to read this sort of books. She lived on them. In them she drowned what brains she possessed.

The prim little drawing-rooms on M. sur M., which, of course, had at first been closed to the artisan, opened both leaves of their folding-doors to the millionnaire. They made a thousand advances to him. He refused.
This time the good gossips had no trouble. "He is an ignorant man, of no education. No one knows where he came from. He would not know how to behave in society. It has not been absolutely proved that he knows how to read."
When they saw him making money, they said, “He is a man of business.” When they saw him scattering his money about, they said, "He is an ambitious man." When he was seen to decline honors, they said, “He is an adventurer.” When they saw him repulse society, they said, “He is a brute.”

He always took his meals alone, with an open book before him, which he read. He had a well-selected little library. He loved books; books are cold but safe friends. In proportion as leisure came to him with fortune, he seemed to take advantage of it to cultivate his mind.

We blame the church when she is saturated with intrigues, we despise the spiritual which is harsh toward the temporal; but we everywhere honor the thoughtful man.
We salute the man who kneels
A faith; this is a necessity for man. Woe to him who believes nothing.
One is not unoccupied because one is absorbed. There is visible labor and invisible labor
To contemplate is to labor, to think is to act.

"Excuse me, sir," said M. Leblanc with a politeness of accent, which at that moment seemed peculiarly strange and powerful, "I see that you are a villain!"

A compliment is something like a kiss through a veil.

Nothing is more extraordinary than the first breaking out of a riot. Everything bursts forth everywhere at once. Was it foreseen? Yes. Was it prepared? No. Whence comes it? From the pavements. Whence falls it? From the clouds. Here insurrection assumes the character of a plot; there of an improvisation. The first comer seizes a current of the throng and leads it whither he wills. A beginning full of terror, in which is mingled a sort of formidable gayety. First come clamors, the shops are closed, the displays of the merchants disappear; then come isolated shots; people flee; blows from gun-stocks beat against portes-cochères, servants can be heard laughing in the courtyards of houses and saying: "There’s going to be a row!"

There is such a thing as an uprising, and there is such a thing as insurrection; these are two separate phases of wrath; one is in the wrong, the other is in the right. In democratic states, the only ones which are founded on justice, it sometimes happens that the fraction usurps; then the whole rises and the necessary claim of its rights may proceed as far as resort to arms. In all questions which result from collective sovereignty, the war of the whole against the fraction is insurrection; the attack of the fraction against the whole is revolt....
The brawl of passions and ignorances is quite another thing from the shock of progress. Show me in what direction you are going. Rise, if you will, but let it be that you may grow great. There is no insurrection except in a forward direction. Any other sort of rising is bad; every violent step towards the rear is a revolt; to retreat is to commit a deed of violence against the human race. Insurrection is a fit of rage on the part of truth; the pavements which the uprising disturbs give forth the spark of right....
There is also a difference in the intensity of heat; insurrection is often a volcano, revolt is often only a fire of straw....
Insurrection is sometimes resurrection.
The solution of everything by universal suffrage being an absolutely modern fact, and all history anterior to this fact being, for the space of four thousand years, filled with violated right, and the suffering of peoples, each epoch of history brings with it that protest of which it is capable.

Those heaps of filth at the gate-posts, those tumbrils of mud which jolt through the street by night, those terrible casks of the street department, those fetid drippings of subterranean mire, which the pavements hide from you,—do you know what they are? They are the meadow in flower, the green grass, wild thyme, thyme and sage, they are game, they are cattle, they are the satisfied bellows of great oxen in the evening, they are perfumed hay, they are golden wheat, they are the bread on your table, they are the warm blood in your veins, they are health, they are joy, they are life. This is the will of that mysterious creation which is transformation on earth and transfiguration in heaven....
So that we may say that Paris’s great prodigality, its wonderful festival, its Beaujon folly, its orgy, its stream of gold from full hands, its pomp, its luxury, its magnificence, is its sewer system.

God, always within man, and refractory, He, the true conscience, to the false; a prohibition to the spark to die out; an order to the ray to remember the sun; an injunction to the soul to recognize the veritable absolute when confronted with the fictitious absolute, humanity which cannot be lost; the human heart indestructible; that splendid phenomenon, the finest, perhaps, of all our interior marvels, did Javert understand this? Did Javert penetrate it? Did Javert account for it to himself? Evidently he did not. But beneath the pressure of that incontestable incomprehensibility he felt his brain bursting.

These barely articulate words were heard to issue from his mouth:
"It is nothing to die; it is dreadful not to live."

To love, or to have loved—this suffices. Demand nothing more. There is no other pearl to be found in the shadowy folds of life. To love is a fulfilment.

Last lines

This stone is perfectly plain. In cutting it the only thought was the requirements of the tomb, and no other care was taken than to make the stone long enough and narrow enough to cover a man

No name is to be read there. Only, many years ago, a hand wrote upon it in pencil these four lines, which have become gradually illegible beneath the rain and the dust, and which are, to-day, probably effaced:

He sleeps. Although his fate was very strange,
He lived. He died when he had no longer his angel.
The thing came to pass simply, of itself,
As the night comes when day is gone.


— all quotes based on Project Gutenberg text, Isabel F. Hapgood translation.

 


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See also:

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A Tale of Two Cities

Author
Charles Dickens

Novel
Middlemarch

Author
George Eliot

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