Les Miserables (the title is the same in French and English) is the most well-known of Victor Hugo’s novels. It describes the miserable life of French workers, and especially their children. Hugo calls for social action to improve the unfortunate poor’s lives. This excerpt describes the character Marius, and how he has worked very hard to succeed in life.
Excerpt from Les Miserables
by Victor Hugo (1802-1885)
Misery is the same with anything else. As time passes, it gradually becomes bearable.
Marius had emerged from the narrow passage of his life; now the path widened out a bit. Through sheer hard work, courage, and a strong will, he had managed to earn around seven hundred francs a year. He had learned English and German. Thanks to Courfeyrac, the man who introduced him to his publisher friend, Marius held a position in the literary department of the publishing house, where he filled the useful role of utility. He wrote prospectuses, translated articles from journals, annotated publications, compiled biographies, and so on. His net gain, year in, year out, was seven hundred francs. He was able to survive on this income. How? Not badly. Here is how he lived.
For a yearly rent of thirty francs, Marius lived in a miserable little room without a fireplace in the Gorbeau tenement. There was only a bare minimum of furniture which belonged to him. He paid the old woman who took care of the building a sum three francs a month to sweep his room, and bring him some warm water, a fresh egg, and a small loaf of bread every morning. This egg and bread cost him between two and four cents, because eggs varied in price. At six o’clock in the evening, he went downstairs to eat dinner at Rousseau’s in the Rue Saint Jacques. He had no soup, but he ate a plate of meat for six pennies, half a plate of vegetables for three pennies, and a dessert for the same price. As for bread, he could eat as much as he liked for three pennies, but instead of wine, he drank water....
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