The novel Les Misérables was written in 1862 by Victor Hugo. Behind the plot of Les Misérables lie inklings about the meaning of life and about human nature. Components of Romanticism and Realism are used by Hugo in order to successfully project his feelings about the plight of mankind. Various components of Romanticism and Realism can be found in Les Misérables, especially in the characters of Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert.
Romanticism was an artistic and intellectual movement in the history of ideas, originating in Western Europe in the late 18th century. Romanticism stresses strong emotion, imagination, and overturning of previous social conventions, particularly the position of the aristocracy. There was a strong element of historical and natural inevitability in the ideas of Romanticism, stressing the importance of "nature" in art and language. Romanticism is also noted for its elevation of the achievements of what it perceived as heroic individuals and artists. Realism was a mid-19th century movement, which started in France. The realists sought to render everyday characters, situations, dilemmas, and events; all in a realistic manner. Realism began as a reaction to Romanticism, in which subjects were treated idealistically. Realists tended to discard theatrical drama and classical forms of art in order to depict commonplace or 'realistic' themes.
Jean Valjean stands at the center of Les Misérables as a humanization of Romanticism. One characteristic of Romanticism is the interest in ordinary people, and Valjean is exactly that: an ordinary person. In the beginning of the novel, he starts off as a hardened criminal, but through love and compassion, he is able to transform himself into an honest man and becomes a testament to the redemptive power of feeling and kindness. A second characteristic of Romanticism is the inspiration of imagination, feelings, and emotions. By being treated with respect and love by the bishop Myriel, Valjean promises to...
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