One of the most widely read novels of all time, Les Misérables was the crowning literary achievement of Victor Hugo’s stunning career. Though he was considered the greatest French writer of his day, Hugo was forced to flee the country because of his opposition to Napoleon III. While in exile he completed Les Misérables, an enormous melodrama set against the background of political upheaval in France following the rule of Napoleon I. Les Misérables tells the story of the peasant Jean Valjean—unjustly imprisoned, baffled by destiny, and hounded by his nemesis, the magnificently realized, ambiguously malevolent police detective Javert. As Valjean struggles to redeem his past, we are thrust into the teeming underworld of Paris with all its poverty, ignorance, and suffering. Just as cruel tyranny threatens to extinguish the last vestiges of hope, rebellion sweeps over the land like wildfire, igniting a vast struggle for the democratic ideal in France. A monumental classic dedicated to the oppressed, the underdog, the laborer, the rebel, the orphan, and the misunderstood, Les Misérables is a rich, emotional novel that captures nothing less than the entirety of life in nineteenth-century France.
In 1815, M. Charles–François–Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of Digne He wasan old man of about seventy–five years of age; he had occupied the seeof Digne since 1806.
Although this detail has no connection whatever with the real substanceof what we are about to relate, it will not be superfluous, if merelyfor the sake of exactness in all points, to mention here the variousrumors and remarks which had been in circulation about him from the verymoment when he arrived in the diocese. True or false, that which is saidof men often occupies as important a place in their lives, and above allin their destinies, as that which they do. M. Myriel was the son of acouncillor of the Parliament of Aix; hence he belonged to the nobilityof the bar. It was said that his father, destining him to be the heir ofhis own post, had married him at a very early age, eighteen or twenty,in accordance with a custom which is rather widely prevalent inparliamentary families. In spite of this marriage, however, it was saidthat Charles Myriel created a great deal of talk. He was well formed,though rather short in stature, elegant, graceful, intelligent; thewhole of the first portion of his life had been devoted to the world andto gallantry.
The Revolution came; events succeeded each other with precipitation; theparliamentary families, decimated, pursued, hunted down, were dispersed.M. Charles Myriel emigrated to Italy at the very beginning of theRevolution. There his wife died of a malady of the chest, from which shehad long suffered. He had no children. What took place next in the fateof M. Myriel? The ruin of the French society of the olden days, the fallof his own family, the tragic spectacles of ‘93, which were, perhaps,even more alarming to the emigrants who viewed them from a distance,with the magnifying powers of terror,—did these cause the ideas ofrenunciation and solitude to germinate in him? Was he, in the midst ofthese distractions, these affections which absorbed his life, suddenlysmitten with one of those mysterious and terrible blows which sometimesoverwhelm, by striking to his heart, a man whom public catastropheswould not shake, by striking at his existence and his fortune? No onecould have told: all that was known was, that when he returned fromItaly he was a priest.