Originally published in 1862, Les Miserables is a novel in five volumes that relates the experiences of Jean Valjean over the course of 15 years during his time in prison for stealing a loaf of... More > bread, his release and slow redemption. Hugo also recounts the stories of Valjean's nemesis, Javert, Fantine and her daughter Cosette as well as a host of other characters, major and minor.
By pitting a downcast set of individuals against an over-bearing state, Hugo manages to combine his Romantic viewpoint with a political perspective. Although the novel was panned by critics at the time, it proved immensely popular with readers both in France and outside it in translation. In the modern era it has spawned an extremely successful musical stage version and a recent film version that relies more on the musical than strictly on the book.< Less
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Originally published in 1831 as Notre-Dame de Paris, The Hunchback of Notre Dame relates the story of Quasimodo, his love for the Gypsy girl Esmerelda, and the measures he takes when she is... More > threatened by the authority figure of Claude Frollo. Hugo's work has spawned many interpretations on film, television and in the theatre, and like Les Miserables, it might be considered less famous as a book than it is on the wide screen.
The novel provides an expression of Hugo's Romantic outlook that is early enough in his career not to be tainted by the political landscape but which instead makes use of established systems of authority in the Church and the Army. Clearly this is made necessary by setting the story at the end of the fifteenth century, but in doing so it shows Hugo in his earlier incarnation as the Romantic rather than the Politician.< Less
The Man Who Laughs
First published in 1869 and written whilst in exile on Guernsey, The Man Who Laughs is a novel recounting the fortunes and otherwise of Gwynplaine, first a boy and then a man with mysterious origins... More > who is so facially disfigured that he always appears to be laughing. The only person who doesn't appreciate his disfigurement is the blind girl Dea, whom Gwynplaine rescued from certain death in the novel's prologue.< Less