Les Miserables is the great epic masterpiece of the mid-nineteenth century. Begun in 1845, the year Louis Philippe conferred a peerage and a lifetime seat in the Senate upon Victor Hugo, it was completed when the author was living in exile in the Channel Islands. Les Miserables is a product as well as a document of the political, social, and religious upheaval that followed the Napoleonic Wars and Europe's great democratic revolutions. The story is centered on Jean Valjean, a peasant who enters the novel a hardened criminal after nineteen years spent in prison for stealing a loaf of bread for the starving children of his sister. The path of Valjean's last twenty-five years, leading from the French provinces to the battlefield of Waterloo and the ramparts of Paris during the Uprising of 1832, introduces us to secret societies of revolutionaries and the vast world of the French lower classes. Jean Valjean's flight from the police agent Javert--the prototype of over a hundred years of fictional detectives--culminates in one of the most famous scenes in all literature, the chase through the sewers of Paris.
Hugo's classic tale set against the backdrop of political upheaval in 19th-century France retains its timeless appeal in this notably condensed rendition of the struggles of former convict Jean Valjean. While the abridgment inevitably cuts many of the intricate subplots and minor characters who enrich Hugo's vast tome, this suspenseful central plot tracing Valjean's endeavor to emerge from desperate circumstances while being pursued by the duty-obsessed Inspector Javert remains intact and comprehensible to listeners. The principal characters retain their epic proportions, and the major themes of redemption through good works and the importance of authentic charity are undiminished. Narrator Michael York adds vigor and distinct characterizations to the broad cast of characters in this fittingly dramatic performance. Suitable for collections that do not already contain one of the many audio versions of this work (e.g., Audio Reviews, LJ 5/1/93). Linda Bredengerd, Hanley Lib., Univ. of Pittsburgh, Bradford -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 05, 1992
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Excerpt from Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilisation, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age -- the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of woman by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night -- are not yet solved; as long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.
Hauteville House, 1862.