Les Miserables: Essay Q&A
1. Discuss the period of time wherein "Les Miserable" is set.
Hugo's masterpiece covers a large portion of Revolutionary French history. The battle of Waterloo, the revolving-door of governments, and the numerous street barricade rebellions of the city of Paris during the 1830s all serve as a background for the story.
The French Revolution brought about great changes in the society and government of France. The revolution, which lasted from 1789 to 1799, also had far-reaching effects on the rest of Europe. "It introduced democratic ideals to France but did not make the nation a democracy. However, it ended supreme rule by French kings and strengthened the middle class." (Durant, 12) After the revolution began, no European kings, nobles, or other members of the aristocracy could take their powers for granted or ignore the ideals of liberty and equality.
The streets of Paris saw numerous riots when the people felt that King Louis Philippe was unable to end political corruption. Students and radical republicans joined forces with discontented workers to built barricades in the poorest quarters of the city. The men, most of them unemployed, built their barricades with iron grillwork, paving stones, overturned carriages and furniture. They also cut down the trees lining the streets. Between 1827 and 1849 the streets of Paris saw barricades eight times, always in the city's eastern half. Three times these barricades were a prelude to revolution.
2. Describe the setting for the novel "Les Miserable"?
Amidst the redemption story, the love story, the bravery and heroism story, the setting for Les Miserables is the Parisian underworld. The novel depicts the living conditions and political problems of France and Paris during the French revolutions of 1830, 1832, and 1848. In doing so, Hugo portrays the life of the revolutionary middle class.
Victor Hugo uses Fantine to exemplify the life of the single working woman. He shows how people take advantage of her and how she is thrown deeper and deeper into poverty and desperation by her circumstances. Even though she is able to procure a job as a factory worker, and finds a foster home for her illegitimate daughter, she has difficulty in making ends meet and becomes a prostitute in order to meet the payments that her daughter's caretakers require.
Men had a wider range of opportunities and could work almost anywhere. Many men were skilled artisans, shopkeepers, factory workers, or unskilled migrant workers. Unfortunately jobs were not abundant and most people were poor and out of work.
The working class lived either in boarding houses or apartments. Single workers would usually rent a room in a Boarding house and share a bed with another worker. Workers with families usually rented an apartment which consisted of one or two rooms. Usually it was shared with another family or with another generation of the same family. The rooms had no heat or candles for light and no water. The facilities were shared by all the occupants of the building and were located either on a landing or in the courtyard. The Thenadiers represent the struggles that a poor family had to endure. They try running an inn and when that fails they have nothing and live in utter poverty. They scheme and plot to try to get money but everything fails.
In order to escape the crowded conditions of the home, the cafe provided a certain amount of relief. It offered entertainment and served as a meeting place mostly for men. This setting serves as the background at various times throughout the novel.
3. Develop the following thesis: The doctrine of French romanticism was set forth by Victor Hugo.
The upheavals of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era were accompanied by new intellectual trends. An important figure in the Romantic Movement was Victor Hugo. He deviated from the traditional dramatic structure in the early 1830's when Romanticism was in its infancy. Victor Hugo not only wrote about Romanticism but he also lived the life of an ideal Romantic.
He personified the Romantic image when he left France in 1851. Prior to this exile, he became active in politics and hoped to become Prime Minister of the new government established by the younger Bonaparte; the attempt was a failure. Disillusioned when Bonaparte seized absolute control, Hugo became a violent critic of the new regime and went into exile in 1851.
The primary belief of the romantic was in the goodness of humanity; the rediscovery of the artist as a supremely individual creator; the development of nationalistic pride; and the delight of the senses and emotions over reason and intellect. Interest in religion and in the powers of faith were also important during the Romantic period, however the Romantics generally rejected absolute systems, whether they were philosophical or religious, in favor of the idea that each person (and humankind collectively) must create the system by which to live.
Victor Hugo, in his poems, novels, and plays followed these beliefs and provided the greatest momentum to the romantic movement throughout the world.