80 pages 2 hours read

Victor Hugo

Les Miserables

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1862

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Socio-Historical Context: Revolution in Early 19th-Century France

Les Misérables is set in France between 1815 and 1832, with its climax taking place during the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris. This was an important period for France, and Hugo’s frequent asides commenting on the era’s political and social dynamics are an acknowledgement of how much this context matters to the novel.

The fraught politics of this age were rooted in the French Revolution beginning in 1789, which led to the abolition of the monarchy and the execution of King Louis XVI. In place of the monarchy, the French formed a Republic in 1792, though the new government struggled to cope with the food shortages and riots that continued to plague the French people. Politically, these early years of the Republic were chaotic and deadly, as the left-leaning Jacobin Club and its allies murdered tens of thousands of perceived enemies to the Republic. Dubbed the Reign of Terror, this period came to an end in 1794, when more conservative factions violently suppressed the Jacobins and other groups associated with the Left. The years between 1795 and 1799, though somewhat stable relative to previous years, were wracked by economic turmoil including hyperinflation, leading to a military coup that installed Napoleon as France’s head of state.