Les Misérables: Notes

Les Misérables: Notes

Les Misérables: Notes

Les Misérables: Notes


The original CliffsNotes study guides offer expert commentary on major themes, plots, characters, literary devices, and historical background.


  • Life and Background of the Author
  • Introduction to the Novel
  • A Brief Synopsis
  • Critical Commentaries
  • Essay Topics and Review Questions
  • Selected Bibliography

    Jean Valjean, after spending nineteen years in jail and in the galleys for stealing a loaf of bread and for several attempts to escape, is finally released, but his past keeps haunting him. At Digne, he is repeatedly refused shelter for the night. Only the saintly bishop, Monseigneur Myriel, welcomes him. Valjean repays his host’s hospitality by stealing his silverware. When the police bring him back, the bishop protects his errant guest by pretending that the silverware is a gift. With a pious lie, he convinces them that the convict has promised to reform. After one more theft, Jean Valjean does indeed repent. Under the name of M. Madeleine he starts a factory and brings prosperity to the town of Montreuil.

    Next, Hugo introduces the pathetic young girl Fantine. Alone and burdened with an illegitimate child, she is on the way back to her hometown of Montreuil, to find a job. On the road, she entrusts her daughter to an innkeeper and his wife, the Thénardiers.

    In Montreuil, Fantine finds a job in...

  • Excerpt

    Saintly bishop whose compassionate treatment causes the reformation of the ex-convict Valjean. He is also called “M. Bienvenu.”

    Mlle. Baptistine

    Sister of the bishop.

    Mme. Magliore

    Housekeeper for the bishop and his sister.

    Jean Valjean

    Ex-convict still pursued by the law, who strives for moral perfection and achieves a kind of sainthood in his love for the little orphan Cosette. He is also known as M. Madeleine and M. Leblanc.

    Little Gervais

    Chimney sweep from whom Valjean steals a coin, his last criminal act for which Javert inexorably trails him.


    A beautiful girl of unknown parentage who comes to Paris at the age of fifteen. She falls in love with Tholomyès and bears an illegitimate child, Cosette. Forced to give up her child, Fantine is crushed and ultimately destroyed by adversity.


    Illegitimate daughter of Fantine, originally named Euphrasie. She has a wretched childhood as the ward of the brutal innkeeper Thénardier but later finds happiness in Valjean’s devoted care and in the love of a young man.

    Félix Tholomyès

    A student, Fantine’s lover, and father of Cosette.


    An evil innkeeper who mistreats Cosette during her childhood, lures Valjean into an ambush, and commits various other crimes. He is also known as Jondrette and Fabantou.

    Mme. Thénardier

    A virago whose sweeping malevolence spares only her husband and her two daughters.


    Older daughter of the Thénardiers. As a child she is spoiled at Cosette’s expense; later she becomes a . . .

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