“Hugo’s genius was for the creation of simple and recognizable myth. The huge success of Les Misérables as a didactic work on behalf of the poor and oppressed is due to his poetic and myth-enlarged view of human nature.”


Victor Hugo was undoubtedly an intelligent and educated man. He was a true renaissance individual – interested in history, philosophy, architecture, and a whole host of other subjects. Like Charles Dickens, he had a genuine desire to highlight the plight of those who found themselves at the bottom of society. He was an admirable man. Les Miserables, his magnum opus, has an okay story and his ability to cause one to feel horror and sympathy for his characters is good.

Unfortunately this is obscured by his tendency to wander off the point and go into detailed explanations of the Latin root of a bird’s name or similar. An inordinate amount of space is spent on diversions of this nature (we’re not just talking the odd para here). Obviously if you have an interest in the fine detail of the Battle of Waterloo (*28 chapters* according to Wikipedia – I didn’t count) or the history of the Paris Sewer system, this is the book for you. However, I just found it unbelievably irrelevant and wearisome. At a whopping 1500 pages (including a full set of footnotes), the book is not a light undertaking and these diversions just got in the way of the story – I ended up skipping whole sections. Hugo clearly thought his audience was an interested in everything as he was – maybe they were at the time (but I doubt it). My advice would be to read an abridged version.


Reviewed by:

Debbie McCarthy

Added 27th April 2020

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Debbie McCarthy