So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, 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 women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so 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.
The book which the reader has before him at this moment is, from one end to the other, in its entirety and details ... a progress from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsehood to truth, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from corruption to life; from bestiality to duty, from hell to heaven, from nothingness to God. The starting point: matter, destination: the soul. The hydra at the beginning, the angel at the end.
I don't know whether it will be read by everyone, but it is meant for everyone. It addresses England as well as Spain, Italy as well as France, Germany as well as Ireland, the republics that harbour slaves as well as empires that have serfs. Social problems go beyond frontiers. Humankind's wounds, those huge sores that litter the world, do not stop at the blue and red lines drawn on maps. Wherever men go in ignorance or despair, wherever women sell themselves for bread, wherever children lack a book to learn from or a warm hearth, Les Miserables knocks at the door and says: "open up, I am here for you".
Volume I – Fantine
Volume II – Cosette
Volume III – Marius
Volume IV – The Idyll in the Rue Plumet and the Epic in the Rue St. Denis
Volume V – Jean Valjean
- Jean Valjean (also known as Monsieur Madeleine, Ultime Fauchelevent, Monsieur Leblanc, and Urbain Fabre) – The protagonist of the novel. Convicted for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister's seven starving children and sent to prison for five years, he is paroled from prison nineteen years later (after four unsuccessful escape attempts added twelve years and fighting back during the second escape attempt added two extra years). Rejected by society for being a former convict, he encounters Bishop Myriel, who turns his life around by showing him mercy and encouraging him to become a new man. While sitting and pondering what Bishop Myriel had said, he puts his shoe on a forty-sou piece dropped by a young wanderer. Valjean threatens the boy with his stick when the boy attempts to rouse Valjean from his reverie and recover his money. He tells a passing priest his name, and the name of the boy, and this allows the police to charge him with armed robbery – a sentence that, if he were caught again, would return him to prison for life. He assumes a new identity (Monsieur Madeleine) in order to pursue an honest life. He introduces new manufacturing techniques and eventually builds two factories and becomes one of the richest men in the area. By popular acclaim he is made mayor. He confronts Javert over Fantine's punishment, turns himself in to the police to save another man from prison for life, and rescues Cosette from the Thénardiers. Discovered by Javert in Paris because of his generosity to the poor, he evades capture for the next several years in a convent. He saves Marius from imprisonment and probable death at the barricade, reveals his true identity to Marius and Cosette after their wedding, and is reunited with them just before his death, having kept his promise to the bishop and to Fantine, the image of whom is the last thing he sees before dying.
- Javert – A fanatic police inspector. He serves as the main antagonist of the novel. Born in the prisons to a convict father and a gypsy mother, he renounces both of them and starts working as a guard in the prison, including one stint as the overseer for the chain gang of which Valjean is part (and here witnesses firsthand Valjean's enormous strength and just what he looks like). Eventually he joins the police force in the small town identified only as M____-sur-M__. He arrests Fantine and butts heads with Valjean/Madeleine, who orders him to release Fantine. Valjean dismisses Javert in front of his squad and Javert, seeking revenge, reports to the Police Inspector that he has discovered Jean Valjean. He is told that he must be incorrect, as a man mistakenly believed to be Jean Valjean was just arrested. He requests of M. Madeline that he be dismissed in disgrace, for he cannot be less harsh on himself than on others. When the real Jean Valjean turns himself in, Javert is promoted to the Paris police force where he arrests Valjean and sends him back to prison. After Valjean escapes again, Javert attempts one more arrest in vain. He then almost recaptures Valjean at Gorbeau house when he arrests the Thénardiers and Patron-Minette. Later, while working undercover behind the barricade, his identity is discovered. Valjean pretends to execute Javert, but releases him. When Javert next encounters Valjean emerging from the sewers, he allows him to make a brief visit home and then walks off instead of arresting him. Javert can not reconcile his devotion to the law with his recognition that the lawful course is immoral. He takes his own life by jumping into theSeine.
- Fantine – A beautiful Parisian grisette abandoned with a small child by her lover Félix Tholomyès. Fantine leaves her daughter Cosette in the care of the Thénardiers, innkeepers in the village of Montfermeil. Mme. Thénardier spoils her own daughters and abuses Cosette. Fantine finds work at Monsieur Madeleine's factory. Illiterate, she has others write letters to the Thénardiers on her behalf. A female supervisor discovers that she is an unwed mother and dismisses her. To meet the Thénardiers' repeated demands for money, she sells her hair and two front teeth, and turns to prostitution. She becomes ill. Valjean learns of her plight when Javert arrests her for attacking a man who called her insulting names and threw snow down her back, and sends her to a hospital. As Javert confronts Valjean in her hospital room, because her illness has made her so weak, she dies of shock after Javert reveals that Valjean is a convict and hasn't brought her daughter Cosette to her (after the doctor encouraged that incorrect belief that Jean Valjean's recent absence was because he was bringing her daughter to her).
- Cosette (a nickname, formally Euphrasie, also known as "the Lark", Mademoiselle Lanoire, Ursula) – The illegitimate daughter of Fantine and Tholomyès. From approximately the age of three to the age of eight, she is beaten and forced to work as a drudge for the Thénardiers. After her mother Fantine dies, Valjean ransoms Cosette from the Thénardiers and cares for her as if she were his daughter. Nuns in a Paris convent educate her. She grows up to become very beautiful. She falls in love with Marius Pontmercy and marries him near the novel's conclusion.
- Marius Pontmercy – A young law student loosely associated with the Friends of the ABC. He shares the political principles of his father, who died at Waterloo, and has a tempestuous relationship with his royalist grandfather, Monsieur Gillenormand. He falls in love with Cosette and fights on the barricades when he believes Valjean has taken her to London. After he and Cosette marry, he recognizes Thénardier as a swindler and pays him to leave France.
- Éponine (the Jondrette girl) – The Thénardiers' elder daughter. As a child, she is pampered and spoiled by her parents, but ends up a street urchin when she reaches adolescence. She participates in her father's crimes and begging schemes to obtain money. She is blindly in love with Marius. At Marius' request, she finds Valjean and Cosette's house for him and sadly leads him there. She also prevents her father, Patron-Minette and Brujon from robbing the house during one of Marius' visits there to see Cosette. After disguising herself as a boy, she manipulates Marius into going to the barricades, hoping that they will die together. Wanting to die before Marius, she reaches out her hand to stop a soldier from shooting at him; she is mortally wounded as the bullet goes through her hand and her back. As she is dying, she confesses all this to Marius, and gives him a letter from Cosette. Her final request to Marius is that once she has passed, he will kiss her on the forehead. He fulfills her request not because of romantic feelings on his part, but out of pity for her hard life.
- Monsieur Thénardier and Madame Thénardier (also known as the Jondrettes, M. Fabantou, M. Thénard. Some translations identify her as the Thenardiess) – Husband and wife, parents of five children: two daughters, Éponine and Azelma, and three sons,Gavroche and two unnamed younger sons. As innkeepers, they abuse Cosette as a child and extract payment from Fantine for her support, until Valjean takes Cosette away. They become bankrupt and relocate under the name Jondrette to a house in Paris called the Gorbeau house, living in the room next to Marius. The husband associates with a criminal group called "the Patron-Minette" and conspires to rob Valjean until he is thwarted by Marius. Javert arrests the couple. The wife dies in prison. Her husband attempts to blackmail Marius with his knowledge of Valjean's past, but Marius pays him to leave the country. He becomes a slave trader in the United States.
- Enjolras – The leader of Les Amis de l'ABC (Friends of the ABC) in the Paris uprising. Passionately committed to republican principles and the idea of progress. He and Grantaire are executed by the National Guards after the barricade falls.
- Gavroche – The unloved middle child and eldest son of the Thénardiers. He lives on his own as a street urchin and sleeps inside anelephant statue outside the Bastille. He briefly takes care of his two younger brothers, unaware they are related to him. He takes part in the barricades and is killed while collecting bullets from dead National Guardsmen.
- Bishop Myriel – The bishop of Digne (full name Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel, also called Monseigneur Bienvenu) – A kindly old priest promoted to bishop after a chance encounter with Napoleon. After Valjean steals some silver from him, he saves Valjean from being arrested and inspires Valjean to change his ways.
Friends of the ABC
- Bahorel – A dandy and an idler from a peasant background, who is known well around the student cafes of Paris.
- Combeferre – A philosophical student who is second to Enjolras in the group.
- Courfeyrac – Marius' closest friend in the book, who provides him with financial assistance and with lodging after the Gorbeau house affair. Courfeyrac is charismatic and one of the more enthusiastic members of the Friends of the ABC.
- Enjolras (see Major characters)
- Feuilly – A fan maker who studies the subject of revolution deeply.
- Grantaire – Grantaire is an alcoholic student who has little interest of revolution or democracy (and at times scoffs at these ideas), but is part of the Friends of the ABC purely out of his admiration of Enjolras. Grantaire is cynical and upholds a philosophy ofNihilism, making him the opposite of Enjolras. This is emphasized in the novel, where their relationship is compared to that ofOrestes and his companion Pylades. Enjolras, in return, thinks little of Grantaire. During the uprising Grantaire finds himself holed-up in a wine shop and drinks himself into a stupor. Upon awaking he finds Enjolras hiding in the shop. When the army eventually arrives, Grantaire requests to be executed alongside Enjolras. Despite his stoicism and pessimism, Grantaire exchanges a smile with Enjolras before they are killed.
- Jean Prouvaire – A very well-spoken romantic.
- Joly – Student of medicine who has unusual theories about health. He is also a hypochondriac and the happiest of Les Amis.
- Lesgle [also Lègle, Laigle, L'Aigle (The Eagle) or Bossuet] – The oldest member of the group, Lesgle was granted a dukedom byLouis XVIII after helping him into a carriage. He is considered to be notoriously unlucky, a theory which he assumed when he started balding aged twenty-five. Lesgle is the one who introduced Marius to the Friends of the ABC, and saved him from expulsion from college by calling out "here" when Marius' name is read from the register in his absence.
- Marius Pontmercy (see Major characters)
- Azelma – The younger daughter of the Thénardiers. Like her sister Éponine, she is spoiled as a child, impoverished when older. She abets her father's failed robbery of Valjean. On Marius and Cosette's wedding day, she tails Valjean on her father's orders. She travels to America with her father at the end of the novel.
- Bamatabois – An idler who harasses Fantine. Later a juror at Champmathieu's trial.
- (Mlle) Baptistine Myriel – Bishop Myriel's sister. She loves and venerates her brother.
- Bougon, Madame (called Ma'am Burgon) – Housekeeper of Gorbeau House.
- Brevet – An ex-convict from Toulon who knew Valjean there; released one year after Valjean. In 1823, he is serving time in the prison in Arras for an unknown crime. He is the first to claim that Champmathieu is really Valjean. He used to wear knitted, checkered suspenders.
- Brujon – A robber and criminal. He participates in crimes with M. Thénardier and the Patron-Minette gang (such as the Gorbeau Robbery and the attempted robbery at the Rue Plumet). The author describes Brujon as being "a sprightly young fellow, very cunning and very adroit, with a flurried and plaintive appearance."
- Champmathieu – A vagabond who is misidentified as Valjean after being caught stealing apples.
- Chenildieu – A lifer from Toulon. He and Valjean were chain mates for five years. He once tried to unsuccessfully remove his lifer's brand TFP ("travaux forcés à perpetuité", "forced labour for life") by putting his shoulder on a chafing dish full of embers. He is described as a small, wiry but energetic man.
- Cochepaille – Another lifer from Toulon. He used to be a shepherd from the Pyrenees who became a smuggler. He is described as stupid and has a tattoo on his arm, 1 Mars 1815.
- Colonel Georges Pontmercy – Marius's father and an officer in Napoleon's army. Wounded at Waterloo, Pontmercy erroneously believes M. Thénardier saved his life. He tells Marius of this great debt. He loves Marius and although M. Gillenormand does not allow him to visit, he continually hid behind a pillar in the church on Sunday so that he could at least look at Marius from a distance). Napoleon made him a baron, but the next regime refused to recognize his barony or his status as a colonel, instead referring to him only as a commandant. The book usually calls him "The colonel."
- Fauchelevent – A failed businessman whom Valjean (as M. Madeleine) saves from being crushed under a carriage. Valjean gets him a position as gardener at a Paris convent, where Fauchelevent later provides sanctuary for Valjean and Cosette and allows Valjean to pose as his brother.
- Mabeuf – An elderly churchwarden, friend of Colonel Pontmercy, who after the Colonel's death befriends his son Marius and helps Marius realize his father loved him. Mabeuf loves plants and books, but sells his books and prints in order to live. When Mabeuf finds a purse in his yard, he takes it to the police. After selling his last book, he joins the students in the insurrection. He is shot dead raising the flag atop the barricade.
- Mademoiselle Gillenormand – Daughter of M. Gillenormand, with whom she lives. Her late half-sister (M. Gillenormand's daughter from another marriage), was Marius' mother.
- Magloire, Madame – Domestic servant to Bishop Myriel and his sister.
- Magnon – Former servant of M. Gillenormand and friend of the Thénardiers. She had been receiving child support payments from M. Gillenormand for her two illegitimate sons, who she claimed were fathered by him. When her sons died in an epidemic, she had them replaced with the Thénardiers' two youngest sons so that she could protect her income. The Thénardiers get a portion of the payments. She is incorrectly arrested for involvement in the Gorbeau robbery.
- Monsieur Gillenormand – Marius' grandfather. A monarchist, he disagrees sharply with Marius on political issues, and they have several arguments. He attempts to keep Marius from being influenced by his father, Colonel Georges Pontmercy. While in perpetual conflict over ideas, he does illustrate his love for his grandson.
- Mother Innocente (a.k.a. Marguerite de Blemeur) – The prioress of the Petit-Picpus convent.
- Patron-Minette – A quartet of bandits who assist in the Thénardiers' ambush of Valjean at Gorbeau House and the attempted robbery at the Rue Plumet. The gang consists of Montparnasse, Claquesous, Babet, and Gueulemer. Claquesous, who escaped from the carriage transporting him to prison after the Gorbeau Robbery, joins the revolution under the guise of "Le Cabuc" and is executed by Enjolras for firing on civilians.
- Petit Gervais – A a travelling Savoyard boy who drops a coin. Valjean, still a man of criminal mind, places his foot on the coin and refuses to return it.
- Sister Simplice – A famously truthful nun who cares for Fantine on her sickbed and lies to Javert to protect Valjean.
- Félix Tholomyès – Fantine's lover and Cosette's biological father. A rich, self-centered student, he abandons Fantine when their daughter is 2.
- Toussaint – Valjean and Cosette's servant in Paris. She has a slight stutter.
- Two little boys – The two unnamed youngest sons of the Thénardiers, whom they send to Magnon to replace her two dead sons. Living on the streets, they encounter Gavroche, who is unaware they are his siblings but treats them like they are his brothers. After Gavroche's death, they retrieve bread tossed by a bourgeois man to geese in a fountain at the Luxembourg Gardens.
- Charles E. Wilbour. New York: Carleton Publishing Company, June 1862. The first American translation. The first volume was available for purchase in New York beginning 7 June 1862. Also New York and London: George Routledge and Sons, 1879.
- Lascelles Wraxall. London: Hurst and Blackett, October 1862. The first British translation.
- Translator identified as "A.F." Richmond, Virginia, 1863. Published by West and Johnston publishers. The Editor's Preface announces its intention of correcting errors in Wilbour's translation. It said that some passages "exclusively intended for the French readers of the book" were being omitted, as well as "[a] few scattered sentences reflecting on slavery" because "the absence of a few antislavery paragraphs will hardly be complained of by Southern readers." Because of paper shortages in wartime, the passages omitted became longer with each successive volume.
- Isabel Florence Hapgood. Published 1887, this translation is available at Project Gutenberg.
- Norman Denny. Folio Press, 1976. A modern British translation later re-published in paperback by Penguin Books, ISBN 0-14-044430-0. The translator explains in an introduction that he has placed two of the novel's longer digressive passages into appendices and made some minor abridgements in the text.
- Lee Fahnestock and Norman McAfee. Signet Classics. 3 March 1987. An unabridged edition based on the Wilbour translation with its language modernized. Paperback ISBN 0-451-52526-4
- Julie Rose. 2007. Vintage Classics, 3 July 2008. A new translation of the full work, with a detailed biographical sketch of Victor Hugo's life, a chronology, and notes. ISBN 978-0-09-951113-7
- The 1935 film directed by Richard Boleslawski, starring Fredric March and Charles Laughton, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture
- The 1937 radio adaptation by Orson Welles
- The 1958 film adaptation directed by Jean-Paul Le Chanois, with an international cast starring Jean Gabin, Bernard Blier, Bourvil. Called "the most memorable film version", it was filmed in East Germany and was overtly political.
- The 1980 musical, by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg
- The 1998 film, starring Liam Neeson
- The 2000 TV miniseries, starring Gérard Depardieu
- The 2012 film, starring Hugh Jackman
- Laura Kalpakian's Cosette: The Sequel To Les Misérables was published in 1995. It continues the story of Cosette and Marius, but is more a sequel to the musical than to the original novel.
- In 2001, two French novels by François Cérésa that continue Hugo's story appeared: Cosette ou le temps des illusions and Marius ou le fugitif. The latter has been published in an English translation. Javert appears as a hero who survived his suicide attempt and become religious; Thénardier returns from America; Marius is unjustly imprisoned. The works were the subject of an unsuccessful lawsuit brought by Hugo's great-great-grandson.