Les Misérables


Plot Summary

The novel opens with a character study of a kind, saintly priest, M. Myriel, who is the Bishop of Digne. The protagonist of the novel, Jean Valjean, finds temporary haven with Myriel after being released from prison. Valjean was convicted for stealing a loaf of bread, and because he repeatedly tried to escape, ended up serving a total of nineteen years of hard labor on the galleys. He is turned away from every door in Digne before the Bishop takes him in. That night, Valjean steals the Bishop’s silver. He is soon caught by the police, but the Bishop assures the authorities that the silver was not stolen. He then makes Valjean promise that he will use the money from the silver to become an honest man. Valjean is transformed by the Bishop’s kindness, and henceforward dedicates his life to helping the poor.

Under the pseudonym of Father Madeleine, Valjean takes up residence in a town called M. sur M. There, he makes wise investments in the town’s bead factory and becomes a wealthy philanthropist, known for his quiet lifestyle and extreme generosity. Madeleine becomes such a beloved figure in M. sur M. that he is appointed mayor. There is one man, however, who harbors suspicion about Madeleine’s shadowy past. The incorruptible police inspector, Javert, notices a resemblance between Mayor Madeleine and an old galley convict whom he once guarded named Jean Valjean.

A beautiful young woman named Fantine, a poor orphan, leaves her hometown of M. sur M. to make her way in Paris. There, she falls in love with an arrogant student named Tholomyes, who abandons her after she is pregnant with his child. When the child, Cosette, is two years old, Fantine returns to M. sur M. to find work, but she knows that she will never be hired if she is known to have an illegitimate child. She arranges for Cosette to be cared for by a family of innkeepers, the Thenardiers, in a small town outside of Paris called Montfermeil. The Thenardiers turn out to be greedy opportunists who swindle money out of Fantine for imaginary expenses, while treating Cosette cruelly....

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