Penguin Classics’ 1982 edition of Victor Hugo’s classic historical novel Les Miserables is set in France and chronicles the life and struggles of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict, who is determined to free himself from his past and get accepted into society. However, when, in a case of mistaken identity, an innocent man is wrongfully arrested for a crime that Valjean committed, he must come to terms with his own conscience. Being relentlessly pursued by policeman Javert, Valjean must stay out of prison, not for his own sake, but in order to keep his word, to the penniless prostitute Fantine and protect her baby daughter.
Hailed as a literary classic, and one of the longest novels ever written, Les Miserables is a heroic tale of valour and injustice that paints a poignant view of the many tragedies of war, through a myriad of fascinating characters like that of Fantine, a beautiful, illiterate, unwed mother, who loses her factory job and is forced to first sell her hair, and then her teeth in order to survive, finally resorting to prostitution. Cossette, is her illegitimate daughter, who is ill treated at the hands of the Thenardiers to whom she was entrusted, but Valjean rescues her from them, and cares for her as his own child.
Les Miserables is a rich exploration of two decades of French history, depicting the turmoils of the war, including the Battle of Waterloo and the 1830 revolution, and capturing the moral philosophies and themes of religion and love in French society, through its many sub-plots woven alongside the main storyline of Jean Valjean’s life struggles. Les Miserables was a huge literary commercial success, having been translated into different languages, and adapted into many plays, musicals, and films for radio and television. The most recent film adaptation is the 2012 film starring Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman.