Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables”

The Bishop of D-'s candlesticks change Jean Valjean's life in ways he never could have expected.

“Les Misérables” is, without a doubt, my favorite of any novel I have read. The character of Fantine had a huge impact on Laskenay in “The Crimson League” (as you can read in Laskenay’s character bio), but Fantine was never actually one of my favorite characters.

Les Miserable is principally the story of Jean Valjean. He is a French peasant in the early 19th century sent to the galleys for stealing bread. After nineteen years, he is released a hardened a bitter man. Due to his prison record, no one will give him a job or a place to sleep: only the bishop of a small town he is passing through will risk taking him in. Jean Valjean thanks him by stealing all his silver and taking off in the middle of the night. When the police arrest him, Valjean claims the bishop gave him the silver, and the police take him back to the bishop’s residence to confirm his assertion. To Valjean’s astonishment, the bishops says yes, he gave Valjean the silver, but he’s glad Valjean came back because he left his candlesticks. With those candlesticks, the bishop “buys Valjean’s soul for God.” Valjean’s life takes an entirely different direction from that point.

As I said, Fantine is not my favorite character in “Les Mis.” That would be Marius Pontmercy, a law student with a very intense and sensitive personality. I did not realize at the time, but looking back on “The Crimson League” after rereading “Les Mis,” the nobleman-scholar turned rebel Neslan Dormenor shares many of my favorite qualities of Marius: he holds himself to a high standard of integrity, he enjoys scholarly pursuits, and he is highly loyal. Marius is more interested in historical research and the role his father played in Napoleon’s army than in literature or poetry (Neslan’s interest), but a love for learning is a love for learning, when all is said and done.

“Les Misérables” is a true masterpiece. It speaks straight to the human heart, and I’ve always considered it a must-read for everyone. If you’d like to give it a try but aren’t interested in Hugo’s long digressions about the Battle of Waterloo, monastic life, and the history of the Paris sewers, you might want to grab an abridged version.

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