Rebellious Inspiration: Les Miserables

1870 illustration of the Paris Uprising

1870 illustration of the Paris Uprising

Article written by Robert Neblett, Les Miserables Dramaturg

One of the central historical events of the novel and the musical of Les Misérables is the 1832 street battle of the barricades. Many people mistake this rebellion as part of the French Revolution, which actually occurred more than 30 years prior.

Marius, Enjolras, Grantaire, and the other student revolutionaries of the ABC (abaissé) Café are fictional characters invented by Hugo. The Paris Uprising of June 5-6, 1832, also known as the June Rebellion, is historical fact. Hugo’s 1862 novel looks back in time 30 years to a period of social and political turmoil that pitted rich against poor, royalist versus republican, and inexperienced students versus the national guard.

Many catalysts set in motion the events that would erupt in this battle in the streets of Paris. Having never truly recovered from the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror which followed, food shortages and disease had spread through the slums of Paris after the decline of the Bonaparte Empire, which widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Several claims to the French throne sparked public debate over the legitimacy of the monarchy of King Louis-Phillipe.

However, the spark that set off the powder keg of public outrage was when General Jean Maximilien Lamarque died on June 1, 1932. Lamarque had been sympathetic to the poor and working classes, but the royalists attempted to hijack his funeral for their own political agenda. Groups of students and workers saw Lamarque’s death as a call to arms and his funeral as a perfect opportunity to make a public statement. Protestors seized his funeral carriage and diverted the funeral procession into the Place de la Bastille.

National guardsman shot into the crowd, causing a riot, during which barricades of furniture and crates and wagons were constructed to protect the protestors from the gunfire of the military. In the end, the 3,000 revolutionaries were no match for the 40,000 militia and army soldiers. 93 insurrectionists were killed, and the June Rebellion became a potent symbol for the growing republican cause, which ultimately resulted in the overthrow of the king in 1848.

Rebellious Inspiration

1870 illustration of the Paris Uprising

1870 illustration of the Paris Uprising

Article written by Robert Neblett, Les Misérables Dramaturg

One of the central historical events of the novel and the musical of Les Misérables is the 1832 street battle of the barricades. Many people mistake this rebellion as part of the French Revolution, which actually occurred more than 30 years prior.

Marius, Enjolras, Grantaire, and the other student revolutionaries of the ABC (abaissé) Café are fictional characters invented by Hugo. The Paris Uprising of June 5-6, 1832, also known as the June Rebellion, is historical fact. Hugo’s 1862 novel looks back in time 30 years to a period of social and political turmoil that pitted rich against poor, royalist versus republican, and inexperienced students versus the national guard.

Many catalysts set in motion the events that would erupt in this battle in the streets of Paris. Having never truly recovered from the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror which followed, food shortages and disease had spread through the slums of Paris after the decline of the Bonaparte Empire, which widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Several claims to the French throne sparked public debate over the legitimacy of the monarchy of King Louis-Phillipe.

However, the spark that set off the powder keg of public outrage was when General Jean Maximilien Lamarque died on June 1, 1932. Lamarque had been sympathetic to the poor and working classes, but the royalists attempted to hijack his funeral for their own political agenda. Groups of students and workers saw Lamarque’s death as a call to arms and his funeral as a perfect opportunity to make a public statement. Protestors seized his funeral carriage and diverted the funeral procession into the Place de la Bastille.

National guardsman shot into the crowd, causing a riot, during which barricades of furniture and crates and wagons were constructed to protect the protestors from the gunfire of the military. In the end, the 3,000 revolutionaries were no match for the 40,000 militia and army soldiers. 93 insurrectionists were killed, and the June Rebellion became a potent symbol for the growing republican cause, which ultimately resulted in the overthrow of the king in 1848.

Victor Hugo and Les Miserables

Author of Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

Author of Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

Article written by Robert Neblett, Les Misérables Dramaturg

Victor Hugo (1802-85) was a French poet, novelist, and playwright. He is most commonly associated with the Romantic movement of literature and art in 19th century Europe. Romanticism rejected the scientific goals of the Industrial Revolution and idealized heightened emotion, dreams, nature, a belief in the supernatural, and the superior role of the imagination in the creation of art and literature. The Romantics often reached back into the distant past for inspiration and rejected rules, tradition, and conventions that governed “proper” forms of art, such as those mandated by the French Academy, an intellectual and cultural organization dedicated to formalizing French language and literature.

Victor was the son of a military officer and moved frequently, which allowed him to see much of France and Europe. The early years of his life were filled with political and personal turmoil. Shortly after he was born, Napoléon Bonaparte was named Emperor of France, and Hugo’s childhood was marked by a period of violent political upheaval throughout the country. He secretly married Adèle Foucher when he was 19 years old, and they had several children. When his daughter Léopoldine drowned in 1843, he was devastated.

In 1830, his play Hernani incited riots among its audiences. Prior to its performance, French playwrights were required to adhere to the Neoclassical unities of place, time, and action in their dramatic writing. These rules basically meant that a play’s action must occur in a single venue, take place over a span of time no longer than 24 hours, and must follow a single main plot with no subplots. Hernani defied all of these conventions when it premiered at the Comedie Française in Paris and caused public outrage. Historians have discovered that much of this outrage was manipulated and manufactured by both Hugo and his opponents, the riots becoming acts of theatre in themselves.

In 1841, Hugo became a member of the French Academy, hoping to change its traditional values from within. After several years of open criticism of political leaders in France, he left the country in a period of self-appointed exile from 1851-1870. While in exile in England, he wrote many of his most popular works, including Les Misérables.

When he returned to France in 1870, he was considered a national hero. He became active in politics during the final years of his life. When he died from pneumonia in 1885, over two million people attended his funeral. He was buried in the Panthéon, along with the leading thinkers of his time.

Other novels by Hugo include:

Notre-Dame de Paris (1831) – also known as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The publication of Hugo’s novel would ultimately shame the civic leaders of Paris to restore the cathedral and renew an interest in medieval architecture throughout the city.

Quatre-vingt-treize (1874) – recounts the story of the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution.

Victor Hugo and Les Miserables

Author of Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

Author of Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

Article written by Robert Neblett, Les Misérables Dramaturg

Victor Hugo (1802-85) was a French poet, novelist, and playwright. He is most commonly associated with the Romantic movement of literature and art in 19th century Europe. Romanticism rejected the scientific goals of the Industrial Revolution and idealized heightened emotion, dreams, nature, a belief in the supernatural, and the superior role of the imagination in the creation of art and literature. The Romantics often reached back into the distant past for inspiration and rejected rules, tradition, and conventions that governed “proper” forms of art, such as those mandated by the French Academy, an intellectual and cultural organization dedicated to formalizing French language and literature.

Victor was the son of a military officer and moved frequently, which allowed him to see much of France and Europe. The early years of his life were filled with political and personal turmoil. Shortly after he was born, Napoléon Bonaparte was named Emperor of France, and Hugo’s childhood was marked by a period of violent political upheaval throughout the country. He secretly married Adèle Foucher when he was 19 years old, and they had several children. When his daughter Léopoldine drowned in 1843, he was devastated.

In 1830, his play Hernani incited riots among its audiences. Prior to its performance, French playwrights were required to adhere to the Neoclassical unities of place, time, and action in their dramatic writing. These rules basically meant that a play’s action must occur in a single venue, take place over a span of time no longer than 24 hours, and must follow a single main plot with no subplots. Hernani defied all of these conventions when it premiered at the Comedie Française in Paris and caused public outrage. Historians have discovered that much of this outrage was manipulated and manufactured by both Hugo and his opponents, the riots becoming acts of theatre in themselves.

In 1841, Hugo became a member of the French Academy, hoping to change its traditional values from within. After several years of open criticism of political leaders in France, he left the country in a period of self-appointed exile from 1851-1870. While in exile in England, he wrote many of his most popular works, including Les Misérables.

When he returned to France in 1870, he was considered a national hero. He became active in politics during the final years of his life. When he died from pneumonia in 1885, over two million people attended his funeral. He was buried in the Panthéon, along with the leading thinkers of his time.

Other novels by Hugo include:

Notre-Dame de Paris (1831) – also known as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The publication of Hugo’s novel would ultimately shame the civic leaders of Paris to restore the cathedral and renew an interest in medieval architecture throughout the city.

Quatre-vingt-treize (1874) – recounts the story of the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution.