Victor Hugo – Les Miserables BACKGROUND : Victor Marie Hugo was the son of a general in Napoleon’s army, and much of his childhood was therefore spent amid the backdrop of Napoleon’s campaigns in Spain and in Italy. The first three years of his life were spent in Elba, where he learnt to speak the Italian dialect spoken in the island in addition to his mother tongue. Victor got a little education in a small school. At the age of eleven, Hugo returned to live with his mother in Paris, where he got a little education in a small and where he also became infatuated with books and literature.
By the time he was fifteen, he had already submitted one poem to a contest sponsored by the prestigious French Academy. There he learnt much from an old soldier, General Lahorie, who, obnoxious to Napoleon for the share he had taken in Moreau’s plot, lived secretly in the house, and from an old priest named Lariviere, who came every day to teach Victor and his two brothers.
In 1815, at the age of thirteen, he was sent to a boarding school to prepare for the Ecole Polytechnique. But he devoted himself, even at school, to verse-writing with greater ardour than to study.
He wrote in early youth more than one poem for a prize competition, composed a romance which some years later he elaborated into the story Bug Jargal, and in 1820, when only eighteen, joined his two brothers, Abel and Eugene, in publishing a literary journal called Le Conservateur Litteraire. Hugo published his first novel the year following his marriage (Han d’Islande, 1823) and his second three years later (Bug-Jargal, 1826). By the end of 1822 Victor Hugo was fully launched on a literary career, and for twenty years or more the story of his life is mainly the story of his literary output.
Because of his successful drama Cormwell, the preface to which, with its note of defiance to literary convention, caused him to be definitely accepted as the head of the Romantic School of poetry. The revolution of 1830 disturbed for a moment his literary activity, but as soon as things were quiet again he shut himself in his study with a bottle of ink, a pen, and an immense pile of paper. For six weeks he was never seen, except at dinner-time, and the result was : The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831).
During the next ten years four volumes of poetry and four dramas were published in 1841 came his election to the Academy, and in 1843 he published Les Burgraves, a drama which was less successful than his former plays, and which marks the close of his career as a dramatist. In the same year there came to him the greatest sorrow of his life. His most famous poem was ‘Demain, des l’aube’ in which he describes the crucial moment where he visits his daughters grave. As Hugo grew older, his politics became increasingly leftist, and he was forced to flee France in 1851 because of his opposition to the monarch Louis Napoleon.
Hugo remained in exile until 1870, when he returned to his home country as a national hero. He continued to write until his death in 1885. He was buried with every conceivable honor in one of the grandest funerals in modern French history. The Book – Les Miserable : Hugo began writing Les Miserables twenty years before its eventual publication in 1862. His goals in writing the novel were as lofty as the reputation it has subsequently acquired; Les Miserables is primarily a great humanitarian work that encourages compassion and hope in the face of adversity and injustice.
It is also, however, a historical novel of great scope and analysis, and it provides a detailed vision of nineteenth-century French politics and society. By coupling his story of redemption with a meticulous documentation of the injustices of France’s recent past, Hugo hoped Les Miserables would encourage a more progressive and democratic future. Driven by his commitment to reform and progress, Hugo wrote Les Miserables with nothing less than a literary and political revolution in mind.
Les Miserables employs Hugo’s style of imaginative realism and is set in an artificially created human hell that emphasizes the three major predicaments of the nineteenth century. Each of the three major characters in the novel symbolizes one of these predicaments: Jean Valjean represents the degradation of man in the proletariat, Fantine represents the subjection of women through hunger, and Cosette represents the atrophy of the child by darkness. In part, the novel’s fame has endured because Hugo successfully created characters that serve as symbols of larger problems without being flat devices.