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Les Misérables historical setting

Les Misérables historical setting


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What is the period in French history portrayed in Les Misérables in the early 1800s? Also, who was the French King at that time - the restored King?

I thought the French Revolution was in the late 1700s, and did away with kings. Or did the "Napoleonic" period change that early in the 19th century?


The French Revolution occurred from 1789 to 1799.

The period covered by Les Miserable which is the June Rebellion of 1832.

Articles on the June Rebellion indicate the restored king was Louis Phillipe.


It depends on which part of the novel you're talking about. Part of it is set in 1815 (either under Napoleon I or Louis XVIII), part is set in 1823 (Louis XVIII) and part in 1832 (Louis-Philippe I).

The rebellion depicted in the novel has nothing to do with the French Revolution of 1789, but it is related to the July Revolution of 1830, in which Charles X was overthrown in favor of his cousin Louis-Philippe, who was expected to be more liberal-minded. However, he really wasn't that different from Charles, and many idealistic students were disappointed and ultimately revolted in 1832. But because only two years had passed since the last revolution, most of the people of Paris were tired of turmoil and did not rally to their cause.


"Les Miserables," by Victor Hugo, is set in the 1830s, toward the end of a cycle of events that started with the French Revolution and the overthrow of King Louis XVI, "Napoleon," and then the restoration of the French monarchy, first under Louis XVIII, (1815-24), then (Charles X, 1824-30) and then Louis Philippe (1830-1848), whose reign led to a "second Napoleon" (Napoleon III, actually).

Hugo was part of the so-called Romantic Movement in Europe, which did not reach France until the late 1820s. This built on the philosophy of the Enlightenment of the 18th century, with its emphasis on individual freedom and human progress. (The corresponding 1830s movement in the United States was the "Transcendentalism" of philosophers Emerson and Thoreau, which is sometimes referred to as the Second Great Awakening.)


Les Misérables historical setting - History

Let’s get the history right. Many people (history teachers included) mistakenly believe that Les Miserables takes place during the French Revolution. When the 2012 movie came out the same misconception was stated by cast members in interviews. So I am goint to try and sort this out for everyone.

The French Revolution began with the storming of the Bastille in 1789. The principal events of Les Misérables take place in 1832. There is actually a Second Revolution In the early morning hours of June 5, crowds of workers, students, and others gathered in the streets of Paris. The immediate trigger was the death of General Jean Maximilien Lamarque, who had been a friend to the poor and downtrodden. The crowd had hoped to accompany Lamarque’s hearse before it took the general home to his native district in the southwest of France. Those mourning and those with a political agenda merged into a mob that numbered in the tens of thousands – some witnesses claimed it eventually grew to 100,000.

The 30-year-old Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables, was nearby, in the Tuileries Gardens, writing a play. He heard gunfire, and instead of going home to safety, he followed the sounds of gunfire through the deserted streets. He was unaware that the mob had taken half of Paris and put up barricades. Hugo was surrounded by barricades and flung himself against a wall, as all the shops and stores had been closed for some time. He found shelter between some columns. For a quarter of an hour, bullets flew both ways.” Three decades later, he would write about the unforgettable experience in Les Misérables.

If you want to learn more about the history behind the movie. Click on the link below Les Miserables The History of the World’s Greatest Story. (It is a short video the actors are interviewed about the movie)


Les Miserables Historical Context

Romanticism was an intellectual and artistic movement that swept Europe and the United States in the late-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries. This movement was preceded by the Enlightenment, which emphasized reason as the basis of social life. The Enlightenment also promoted universal, formal standards, dating back to Greek and Roman classicism, for greatness in art. The artists, philosophers, writers, and composers of the Romantic movement rejected these standards and instead valued the individual imagination and experience as the basis of art and source of truth. Nature, the state of childhood, and emotion, rather than logic or scientific investigation, were considered the primary sources of eternal truth.

Victor Hugo was one of the leading writers of the Romantic movement in France, and Les Miserables was one of Its major works. The novel is Romantic in style and theme. It is written in a sweeping, emotional manner, taking the experience.


Les Miserables Chronology

I SHOULD POINT OUT THAT THIS IS A CHRONOLOGY OF THE NOVEL NOT THE MUSICAL, ALTHOUGH MANY OF THE EVENTS ARE THE SAME FOR OBVIOUS REASONS.

1739 - Monseigneur Bienvenu Myriel's birth.

1740 - Luc-Espirit Gillenormand's birth.

1768 - END OF THE YEAR: the births of Jean Valjean and Colonel George Pontmercy.

1773 - Thenardier's birth.

1775 - Mlle. Gillenormand's birth.

1785 - Mlle. Gillenormand's birth, Marius' mother.

1787 - Felix Tholomyes' birth, Fantine's lover and Cosette's father.

1788 - Mme. Thenardier's birth.

1795 - Jean Valjean steals a loaf of bread.

1796 - Fantine's birth. Valjean is sentenced to 5 years in prison. APRIL 22nd: Valjean is chained. MAY 19th: Valjean arrives at Toulon and becomes prisoner 24601.

1806 - Monseigneur Bienvenu is named Bishop of Digne.

1810 - Marius Pontmercy's birth.

1815 - JUNE 18th: Whilst at Waterloo, Thenardier steals from and saves Colonel Pontmercy. OCTOBER: Valjean is put parole and goes to the Bishop's house. FOLLOWING WATERLOO: Mme. Pontmercy's death. END OF THE YEAR: The births of Cosette and Eponine Thenardier. Valjean arrives at Montreuil-sur-mer.

1816 - Azelma Thenardier's birth.

1817 - Tholomyes abandons Fantine and Cosette.

1818 - SPRING: Fantine commits Cosette to the care of the Thenardiers and goes to Montreuil-sur-mer.

1819 - Javert arrives in Montreuil-sur-mer. M. Madeleine saves Fauchlevent, who then goes to the Petit-Picpus convent.

1820 - M. Madeleine is named Mayor of Montreuil-sur-mer. END OF THE YEAR: Fantine is fired from the factory and Gavroche Thenardier is born.

1821 - Monseigneur Bienvenu's death.

1823 - JANUARY 1st: Javert arrests Fantine but M Madeleine intervenes. MARCH: Valjean bursts into the trial at Arras and declares his true identity. Fantine dies and Valjean is arrested. JULY 20th: Valjean goes to prison and becomes prisoner 9430. NOVEMBER 16th: Valjean escapes from prison. DECEMBER 24th: Valjean arrives at Monfermeil. DECEMBER 25th: Valjean takes Cosette to Paris.

1824 - MARCH 20th: Cosette and Valjean establish themselves at Petit-Picpus.

1827 - Colonel Pontmercy's death.

1828 - Marius leaves Gillenormand's house.

1829 - Fauchlevent's death. OCTOBER: Valjean and Cosette rent 55 Rue Plumet.

1831 - JUNE 16th: Cosette first sees Marius in Luxemburg. JULY 2nd: Cosette walks in front of Marius. MIDDLE OF THE YEAR: First help from Marius to the Jondrette (Thenardier). OCTOBER: "The Chain".

1832 - FEBRUARY 3rd: Marius discovers that Jondrette is Thenardier. The Thenardiers' arrest. SPRING: Thenardier escapes from prison. APRIL: Marius first visits Cosette in the garden in Rue Plumet. END OF APRIL - JUNE 3rd: Cosette and Marius meet at Rue Plumet. Eponine stops a robbery at Rue Plumet. JUNE 4th: Marius visits in vain to Gillemormand. Valjean moves in Rue Homme-Arme. JUNE 5th: Lamarque's death. The Barricade is built. Mabeuf's and Eponine's death. JUNE 6th: Gavroche's death. Barricade falls. Valjean takes the wounded Marius to Gillenormand's house. JUNE 7th: Javert's suicide. NOVEMBER: Cosette gets engaged to Marius.

1833 - FEBRUARY 16th: Cosette's and Marius' wedding. APRIL: Last time that Valjean visits Cosette. SUMMER: Valjean's death.


Event Series to Explore Social History of Les Misérables

BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— Illinois Wesleyan will present a series of campus events titled “Les Misérables and Legacies of Social Justice,” all based on the social history of Victor Hugo’s classic novel. The series will include screenings of two film versions of Les Misérables, a Faculty Roundtable Discussion and guest lecturer Professor Casey Harison.

The events, which are free and open to the public, will be held in Beckman Auditorium of The Ames Library (1 Ames Plaza, Bloomington).

“This series, with a focus on Hugo's Les Misérables, will allow our students to understand and appreciate the significance of this particular seminal work from historical, literary, social, philosophical and aesthetic points of view. That’s what a good liberal arts education is all about,” said Associate Professor of History Robert Schultz.

Following is a schedule for the series:

  • Monday, Feb. 17: International Film Series (IFS) Screening of the 1958 French version of Les Misérables (with English subtitles) at 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, Feb. 20: IFS screening of the 2012 American film version of the Cameron Mackintosh musical Les Misérables (Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway) at 7 p.m.
  • Monday, Feb. 24: Faculty Roundtable Discussion titled “From the Social Thought of the French Enlightenment to the American Pop Culture Phenomenon: Moving Toward a Critical Understanding of ‘Les Miz’” at 4 p.m.
  • Thursday, Feb. 27: University of Southern Indiana Professor Casey Harison’s guest lecture, “Behind the Barricade: The Historical Background for Les Misérables” at 4 p.m.

Schultz and Associate Professor of French and Italian Scott Sheridan hope that the Les Misérables events will serve as critical discussion pieces surrounding the inauguration of Illinois Wesleyan’s Center For Human Rights and Social Justice on Feb. 21.

Professor Irving Epstein, director of the Center For Human Rights and Social Justice said, “The social justice themes that are expressed in Hugo's Les Misérables are timeless. It is thus fitting and appropriate that a new Center for Human Rights and Social Justice support Professors Schultz and Sheridan in their efforts to bring Professor Harison to our campus. His talk and the accompanying film versions of Les Miz will allow us to merge our appreciation of cultural and social history with a more focused understanding of social justice themes.”

“I’ve always considered the period when the last part of the book is set – known as the July Monarchy in France – an important transitional era, and so have retained an interest in it even as I shifted my research into other areas,” said Harison.

Harison earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of New Orleans. He received a master’s degree in history from Louisiana State University and a doctorate in history from University of Iowa. Since 1992, Harison has been a professor of history and the director for the Center for Communal Studies at the University of Indiana (USI).

His expertise on Les Misérables has been accumulating since the 1970s, and he conducted his dissertation research on the nineteenth-century French society on which Hugo’s novel is based.

The series is sponsored by Phi Alpha Theta History Honors Society, the Department of History, the Department of French and Italian, The Isaac Funk Endowed Professorship Fund, the Western European Studies Team of International Studies and the International Film Series.


Les Misérables

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Les Misérables, novel by Victor Hugo, published in French in 1862. It was an instant popular success and was quickly translated into several languages.

What is Les Misérables about?

Les Misérables centres on the character Jean Valjean, an ex-convict in 19th-century France. The story spans many years as it tells of Valjean’s release from prison and reformation as an industrialist while being constantly pursued by the morally strict inspector Javert. During this time he encounters a plethora of characters in Paris such as Fantine, a single mother who works as a prostitute to provide for her daughter, and Marius, a student and revolutionary who falls in love with Valjean’s adopted daughter, Cosette.

What are the themes in Les Misérables?

The themes of Les Misérables are concerned with social issues in 19th-century urban France. Victor Hugo uses Les Misérables to deliver critiques of wealth distribution, the justice system, industrialism, and republicanism.

Where is Les Misérables set?

Les Misérables is set in multiple locations in Paris and Montreuil-sur-Mer, often featuring places populated by the impoverished and downtrodden. Like some other notable authors of the era, such as Honoré de Balzac and Stendhal, Victor Hugo employs realist elements to tackle complex issues in urban French society.

Was Les Misérables adapted into a musical?

Les Misérables was adapted into a musical in 1980 by Alain Boublil, who wrote the book and the lyrics, and Claude-Michel Schönberg, who wrote the music. It won Best Musical at the 1987 Tony Awards and is considered one of the best musicals of all time.

Set in the Parisian underworld and plotted like a detective story, the work follows the fortunes of the convict Jean Valjean, a victim of society who has been imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. A hardened and streetwise criminal upon his release, he eventually softens and reforms, becoming a successful industrialist and mayor of a northern town. Despite this, he is haunted by an impulsive, regretted former crime and is pursued relentlessly by the police inspector Javert. Valjean eventually gives himself up for the sake of his adopted daughter, Cosette, and her husband, Marius.

Les Misérables presents a vast panorama of Parisian society and its underworld, and it contains many famous episodes and passages, among them a chapter on the Battle of Waterloo and the description of Valjean’s rescue of Marius by means of a flight through the sewers of Paris. A popular musical stage adaptation was produced in 1980.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Kathleen Kuiper, Senior Editor.


Valjean and Javert – the same person?

While the main characters featured in Les Miserables were not real people, many are closely inspired by historical figures or events from Hugo’s own life.

For example Jean Valjean, the book’s main protagonist, is thought to have been largely based on Eugene Francois Vidocq, a reformed ex-convict who later became the first director of French Sureté Nationale crime agency.

One of the novel’s most iconic passages, when Valjean saves a man trapped beneath a heavy cart, comes from accounts of Vidocq (who like the Les Mis hero was a factory owner) doing exactly the same thing with one of his workers.

Intriguingly, his exploits later in life also inspired the character of Inspector Javert, Valjean’s nemesis. Vidocq is also considered one of the fathers of modern criminology.

More loosely, significant moments in the story are thought to be based on Hugo’s own experiences.

These include the author witnessing a police officer apprehending a man who had stolen a loaf of bread in 1829, and Hugo apparently saving a prostitute from arrest for assault in 1841.


A Reader’s Response: An Introduction to Les Miserables

The story of Les Miserables is celebrated as a classic tale of romance, revolution, and the best and worst of humanity. It’s author, Victor Hugo, lived during a turbulent time in France which is reflected in his work. Hugo was the youngest child and grew up to marry his childhood sweetheart. He was the author of many great novels, although his life was full of personal tragedy including the deaths of his sons and institutionalization of his daughter, as well as the infidelity of his wife. He was involved in politics as an advocate of “liberty and justice” and “stood for the rights of the poor.” His experiences influenced much of his work. Les Miserables is set against the political backdrop of French Restoration Period which came about after the exile of Napoleon and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. This period is also marked by an upsurge in romantic literature. Many of these romantic elements can be seen in Hugo’s pieces. Appreciation of nature, beauty in the grotesque, and “value of the creative spirit” are all displayed in Les Miserables. This novel also makes use of the “Byronic Hero,” a “brooding” “exile” common to the romantic genre.

The idea of a character with a “dark past, fierce passions, and superior intellect” reminds me of Mr. Rochester in the novel Jane Eyre. That novel shares many romantic elements with Les Miserables. The empathy for the poor and lifting up of common people makes me think of Charles Dickens, although I am not a fan of Dickens’ writing style. I really liked seeing how interesting a life Victor Hugo led. Writers don’t have to be boring introverts! I think the writers that most appeal to the people are able to do so because they are part of the people and share in real life experiences.

Are all of Hugo’s works romantic? Is his romantic style more a matter of personal preference or just a product of the times?

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My History Cafe

This week, my boyfriend took me to see Les Miserables at the West End. Despite being a huge fan of the film adaptation and having sung all the songs in my high school choir, I had never been able to see the show on stage. It didn’t disappoint. But, before this turns into a review of the musical or – worse – a lengthy love letter to the musical that is Les Mis, I wanted to look into the history behind the story – and the tragic events that inspired the novel it’s based on.

Many people (myself included, originally) assume that Les Miserables is about the French Revolution of 1789-99. Les Miserables is actually set about thirty years after this Revolution, and concerns a rebellion that occurred in Paris in June 1832 against the rule of King Louis-Philippe. Two years earlier, another revolution (it was a tumultuous time) had put the popular ‘Citizen King’ Louis-Philippe on the throne. But popularity can only excuse so much, and the widening of the income gap, the deterioration of working class living conditions and a deadly cholera epidemic all served to exacerbate an already severe economic crisis. The result? An unhappy public and a less-popular ‘Citizen King.’

The June Rebellion began in the early hours of 5th June, when a crowd led by students and workers and numbering tens of thousands gathered in the streets of Paris. The death of General Lemarque (“his death is the sign we await!”) served as the call to action the rebels were waiting for – Lemarque had been a friend to the poor and the wretched surely the people would rise to the cause now their greatest ally was gone?

Victor Hugo was thirty years old at the time, writing a play in the nearby Tuileries Gardens. He heard gunfire from the direction of Les Halles and went to investigate, unaware that by this point the rebel mob had taken over half of Paris and were in the process of putting up barricades around the city. Soon becoming trapped between several barricades, with the battle raging around him, Hugo found shelter between some columns and waited while the bullets flew overhead. Three decades later, he brought this experience to life in the novel ‘Les Miserables’.

Unfortunately for the rebels, the citizens of Paris weren’t as keen to join the rebellion proper as they were to take part in the rowdy funeral march hours earlier. Lacking popular support, the June rebellion was crushed barely twenty-four hours later, leaving as many as 800 revolutionaries dead and wounded.

This was a very different revolution indeed, then, to the French Revolution of the eighteenth century. While there are many more unfortunate characters and tragic sub-plots within Les Mis, this failed rebellion and the dreadful waste of life it resulted in alone is worthy of Hugo’s emotive title ‘The Miserables’.


Watch the video: The trailer for the new production of Les Misérables (May 2022).