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Les Miserables: 155 years later
June 30th marks the anniversary of one of greatest literature works of the 19th century, Victor Hugo’s landmark “Les Miserables.”
First conceived in 1830, Hugo would spend 17 years writing and perfecting his magnum opus. The novel contains various subplots, but the main thread is the story of ex-convict Jean Valjean, who becomes a force for good in the world but cannot escape his criminal past.
Les Miserables is one of the longest novels ever written: 1,500 pages in unabridged English-language editions and 1,900 pages in French.
Hugo explained his ambitions for the novel to his Italian publisher:
I don't know whether it will be read by everyone, but it is meant for everyone. It addresses England as well as Spain, Italy as well as France, Germany as well as Ireland, the republics that harbour slaves as well as empires that have serfs. Social problems go beyond frontiers. Humankind's wounds, those huge sores that litter the world, do not stop at the blue and red lines drawn on maps. Wherever men go in ignorance or despair, wherever women sell themselves for bread, wherever children lack a book to learn from or a warm hearth, Les Miserables knocks at the door and says: "open up, I am here for you".
(Behr, Complete Book, 39–42)
The printing history of this work is additional intriguing as Lacroix, Verboeckhoven & Co. in Brussels first published Les Miserables. The Paris edition was published a few days later. Les Miserable would go through several editions within the first year. The work was a commercial success and was translated into English, German, Italian, Greek, and Portuguese in 1862.