Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

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Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean—the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread—Les Misérables ranks among the greatest novels of all time. In it, Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them to the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose. Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier, and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérables gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait that resulted is larger than life, epic in scope—an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.

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Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

One evening in October 1815, an hour before sunset, a man with a long beard and dusty, torn clothes walked into the town of Digne. He was in his late forties, of medium height, broad-shouldered and strong. A leather cap half-hid his face, which was sunburnt and shining with sweat. His rough yellow shirt was unbuttoned, revealing a hairy chest. On his back was a heavy soldier’s bag, and in his hand was a large wooden stick.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

The townspeople, who had never seen him before, watched with interest as he stopped for water at a fountain. Children followed him to the marketplace, where he stopped for more water at another fountain. He then crossed the square towards an inn, and entered by the kitchen door.

The innkeeper, who was also the cook, was busy with his pots and pans, preparing a meal for a group of travellers who were laughing and joking in the next room.

‘What can I do for you, Monsieur?’ he asked without looking up.

‘A meal and a bed,’ said the stranger.

‘Of course.’ The innkeeper turned to look at him. Then, seeing the visitors rough appearance, he added, ‘If you can pay for it.’

‘I have money.’ The stranger produced an old leather purse from his jacket.

‘Then you’re welcome,’ the innkeeper said.

The stranger smiled with relief and sat down by the fire. He did not see a young boy run out with a note that the innkeeper had quickly written. He did not see the boy return a short time later and whisper something to the innkeeper.

‘When will the meal be ready?’ the stranger asked.

‘I’m sorry, Monsieur,’ the innkeeper said. ‘You can’t stay here. I’ve got no free rooms.’

‘Then put me in a stable. All I need is a quiet corner somewhere. After dinner

‘You can’t eat here either,’ the innkeeper interrupted. ‘I haven’t enough food.’

‘What about all that food in the pots?’

The innkeeper approached and, bending towards the man, said in a fierce whisper, ‘Get out. I know who you are. Your name is Jean Valjean. You’ve just been released from prison. I can’t serve people like you here.’

The man rose without another word, picked up his bag and stick, and left. Outside, it was growing dark and a cold wind was blowing from the mountains in the east. The man looked around, desperate for somewhere to spend the night. He tried another inn, but the same thing happened. He knocked on the doors of people’s houses, but news of his arrival had quickly spread and nobody would offer him shelter from the cold. He even tried sleeping in a garden, but was chased away by a dog. Finally, he found himself in the cathedral square. He shook his fist at the church and then, cold and hungry, he lay down on a stone bench by the doorway.

A few minutes later, an old woman came out of the cathedral and saw him lying there…

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