Les Misérables Summary – Victor Hugo

Les Misérables Summary - Victor Hugo
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“Les Misérables” is a historical novel written by Victor Hugo. It was first published in 1862.

Summary of Les Misérables Book

During his nineteen-year imprisonment for stealing a loaf of bread and subsequent escape attempts, the reformed convict Jean Valjean is released. When Valjean arrives in the town of Digne, no one wants to provide shelter due to his ex-convict status. In a desperate situation, Valjean knocks on the door of the kind bishop M. Myriel. Myriel treats Valjean kindly, and in return, Valjean repays the bishop by stealing his silverwares. When the police officers apprehend Valjean, Myriel intervenes, claiming that the silverware was a gift.

Authorities release Valjean, and Myriel asks him to become an honest man. Wanting to keep his promise, Valjean hides his identity and enters the town of Montreuil-sur-mer. Using the alias Madeleine, Valjean develops a manufacturing process that brings prosperity to the town and eventually becomes the mayor.

Fantine, a young beautiful woman from Montreuil, lives in Paris. She falls in love with the wealthy student Tholomyès, becomes pregnant, and is abandoned by him. Fantine returns to her hometown with her daughter Cosette. In the town of Montfermeil, they encounter the Thénardier family, who promise to care for Cosette as long as Fantine sends them a monthly allowance.

In Montreuil, Fantine finds work at Madeleine’s factory. However, when Fantine’s coworkers learn about Cosette, she is dismissed from her job. The Thénardiers demand more money to support Cosette, and Fantine turns to prostitution to make ends meet. One night, Javert, the police chief of Montreuil, arrests Fantine. Madeleine intervenes, but Fantine, who is already ill, dies of shock when she requests to see Cosette, and Madeleine promises to send her.

Several years later, Valjean escapes from prison and goes to Montfermeil to buy Cosette from the Thénardiers. Unbeknownst to Cosette, the Thénardiers are fraudulent. Valjean and Cosette move to a desolate area of Paris. However, Javert discovers their location, and they must flee. They seek refuge in a convent, where Cosette receives her education, and Valjean works as a gardener.

Marius Pontmercy, a young man living with his wealthy grandfather M. Gillenormand, discovers Cosette in a public park. It is love at first sight, but Valjean, determined to protect Cosette, ensures that she and Marius never meet. However, their paths cross again when Valjean visits the Jondret family, unaware that they are the Thénardiers. Valjean has to confront Javert after revealing his true identity. Javert comes to arrest Valjean while he is with Fantine, and Valjean is forced to deal with Javert to protect Cosette.

After the failed attempt by the Thénardiers to extort money from Valjean, Valjean quickly takes Marius and Cosette into hiding. However, Javert discovers them, and they must escape. When the barricades rise, Marius, feeling hopeless, decides to join his radical student friends, the ABC Friends, in their fight for freedom and democracy.

Despite the seemingly futile rebellion, Marius and the other students stand their ground, vowing to fight for freedom and democracy. Among the students, they discover Javert, whom they identify as a spy. The trap is thwarted, and the Thénardiers are arrested, but Javert escapes before Valjean’s identity is revealed.

Eponine, daughter of the Thénardiers, is in love with Marius and helps him discover where Cosette lives. Marius finally communicates with Cosette, and they declare their love for each other. However, Valjean swiftly shatters their happiness. Fearing he will lose Cosette, and troubled by the political unrest in the city, Valjean announces they will move to England. In despair, Marius rushes to his grandfather M. Gillenormand, hoping for permission to marry Cosette. Their meeting ends in a painful argument. When Marius returns to Cosette, both Valjean and Marius have disappeared. Heartbroken, Marius decides to join his radical student friends, and, armed with two pistols, he heads towards the barricades.

Although the rebellion seems hopeless, Marius and the other students still stand firm, pledging to fight for freedom and democracy. When they discover Javert, whom they recognize as a spy, among them, they capture him and tie him up. As the army launches its first attack on the barricades, Eponine sacrifices herself to save Marius. Dying in Marius’s arms, she gives him a letter from Cosette. Marius quickly writes a response and orders Gavroche, a child, to deliver it to Cosette.

Valjean intercepts the note and takes action to save the life of the man Cosette loves. Valjean arrives at the barricades just as Javert is about to execute Marius. Valjean volunteers to be executed in Marius’s place. However, when left alone, Valjean secretly releases Javert. When the army attacks the barricades, Valjean cradles the wounded Marius and escapes through the sewers. Hours later, Valjean emerges, and Javert arrests him. Valjean pleads with Javert to take the dying Marius to his grandfather. Javert agrees, torn between his duty and the man who saved his life. After Javert lets Valjean go, he drowns himself in the river.

Marius fully recovers, reconciles with his grandfather, and gains permission to marry Cosette. Their wedding is joyful, but Valjean’s confession of his criminal past to Marius casts a shadow. Marius, ashamed of suspecting Valjean, is unaware that Valjean is the man who saved his life at the barricades. Valjean withdraws alone, depressed, and near death. In the end, before dying, he leaves behind a legacy for the Thénardiers and Fantine to have a better life. Finally, Valjean’s soul is liberated, and he dies in peace.

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