Hugo's life spanned much of the 19th century: He was born in 1802 and died in 1885. He was educated in Paris, and had one wife, one mistress, and five children, including Ad?le, whose madness was immortalized in the Truffaut film "The Story of Ad?le H.". Hugo was deeply involved in politics; he was exiled from France in 1851 for his activities, and lived thereafter on the islands of Jersey and Guernsey. His vast oeuvre contains much greatness but also, perhaps because of its staggering volume, much that is mediocre and self-indulgent, and too immersed in Hugo's idea that life is a conflict between the light and the dark, with few shades of gray. A larger-than-life figure and in some ways a mad genius, Hugo was also a skillful artist. He wrote novels, plays, poems, and essays on virtually every issue, self-confidently commenting on literature, politics, social themes, and religion.
"I have quite finished 'Les Miserables'. I know very well that Victor Hugh analyses in a different way than do Balzac and Zola, but he probes to the bottom of things just as well."
"From the bare abstract, the story does not seem to promise much pleasure to novel-readers, yet it is all alive with the fiery genius of Victor Hugo, and the whole representation is so intense and vivid that it is impossible to escape from the fascination it exerts over the mind. Few who take the book up will leave it until they have read it through. It is morbid...but its morbid elements are so combined with sentiments abstractly Christian that it is calculated to wield a...pernicious influence.... Its tendency is to weaken that abhorrence of crime which is the great shield of most of the virtue which society possesses, and it does this by attempting to prove that society itself is responsible for crimes it cannot prevent, but can only punish....Considered as a passionate romance, appealing to the sympathies of the ordinary readers of novels, it will do infinitely more harm than good."
"Hugo's genius was for the creation of simple and recognisable myth. The huge success of 'Les Miserables' as a didactic work on behalf of the poor and oppressed is due to its poetic and myth-enlarged view of human nature....Hugo himself called this novel 'a religious work'; and it has indeed the necessary air of having been written by God in one of his more accessible and saleable moods."
From the Publisher
Hugo's wrenching story centers on Jean Valjean, an honest peasant sentenced to five years' hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread, then 19 more for trying to escape. Turned into a hardened and ruthless criminal by his experiences, he reforms, becomes mayor of a French town, but is tracked down by the pitiless detective Javert for another obscure crime, and incarcerated. Escaping again from the brutal French prison, he befriends a prostitute named Fantine and her daughter, Cosette. This 1862 novel is remarkable for its sympathetic portrayal of common people: prisoners, the poor, women of the streets--all the down-and-out victims of the gross inequities of class in 19th-century Europe.