Theorist of French Romanticism, Victor Hugo illustrates throughout his novels the main principles of this movement which opposes classicism: interest for nature, supremacy of feeling over reason, admiration of man''s intellectuial powers, the preference for exceptional characters who act in exceptional situations -complex characters where contrasting traits combine.
Illustrative for this type of characters is Jean Valjean, the central hero of The Miserables
. Emprisoned for having stolen bread, then forced to stay 19 years in prison because of his attempts to escape, Jean Valjean is going to preserve throughout his whole life, within his personality, some features of a convict: the great force, a certain ferocity and courage in front of death.
But he is, at the same time, a sensitive man who tries to help others and a good father for a girl who''s not even his.
Jean Valjean is, thus, a combination of antithetic traits- combination we can notice even from his phisical description: he started by seeming humble and ended by looking severe.
After being released from prison, Jean Valjean becomes the mayor of Montreuil sur mer. The promise he makes to Fantine -that of finding her daughter, his efforts to accomplish it, reveal an angel side of the hero. His love for Cosette is so pure and profound that it moves the reader.
Yet, the danger, the unexpected or difficult situations reveal the other side of his personality. He is in fact described as having in his soul two bags:in one he had the thoughts of a saint, in the other one, the talent of a convinct - and he searched in one or the other according to the situation. The author adds that the source of the first is God while society is responsible for the second. Besides Jean Valjean''s story, other threads are woven: Cosette and Marius'' love, historical events, The Thenardiers and their rackets.
An accomplished book, The Miserables
, is a great book to read.