Victor Hugo: Les Misérables – From Page to Stage

A research guide in association with the State Library of Victoria exhibition. This guide provides links and research advice to help you find out more about Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, and the history, politics and art of 19th-century France.

Paris in the 19th century

'Many years have already passed away since the author of this book, who is compelled, reluctantly, to speak of himself, was in Paris. Since then, Paris has been transformed. A new city has arisen, which to him is in some sense unknown.

He need not say that he loves Paris; Paris is the native city of his heart. Through demolition and reconstruction, the Paris of his youth, that Paris which he religiously treasures in his memory, has become a Paris of former times.

Let him be permitted to speak of that Paris as if it still existed.' (Les Misérables, vol 1 p 429).


Quai des orfevres

 Paris and its environs A Pugin (1831) p 133

During the reign of Napoleon III the Paris of Hugo's Les Misérables, with its narrow lanes and medieval buildings, was totally remodelled.

Under the direction of Georges-Eugene Haussmann, much of the city was razed and the current Paris with ordered grand boulevards, gardens and stately public buildings, took shape.

The Library holds a range of books about the architecture and historical development of Paris.

H88.19/92 Rue Haute des Ursins 
Charles Marville H88.19/92 

Photographic views of Paris by Charles Marville

Our Library holds an internationally significant collection of photographs by Charles Marville. These show the 'old' and 'new' Paris, pre and post Haussmann.

Marville's photographs were sent to Melbourne for display at the International Exhibition of 1880 and together with other items from the Exhibition were donated to the Library by the French government. See this post for more on Marville's life.

Ville de Paris: préfecture de police.

This fascinating collection of images of Paris during the 1870s focusses on police work and the early efforts in forensic investigation and were also donated by the French government following the 1880 Exhibition.

Choose the View online tab to look at the images.

Picturesque architecture in Paris,  etc. / Thomas Shotter Boys, 1839

This publication contains colour lithographs of Paris and other French cities completed during the 1830s, at the time Les Misérables was set. These colourful images contrast with the darker illustrations of Charles Meryon.

The volume was reissued in 1928 with notes and detailed descriptions of the history of the locations by E. Beresford Chancellor.

Rue Notre Dame Shotter Boys

St Etienne Shotter Boys

Rue Notre Dame p 78
St Etienne du Mont and the Pantheon p 86


Maps of Paris c1830

Our Library has digitised several maps of Paris from the period of Les Misérables.

Below is the Plan de Paris... (c. 1828). Click on the image to see the full size map. We also hold the Nouvelle carte routière du voyageur aux environs de Paris (1839)


SLV_VOYAGER2593523 Plan de Paris... (c. 1828).

Paris and Les Misérables

Parisian landmarks, back streets and sewers are all part of the action in Les Misérables:

Pont d'Austerlitz

'He arrived at the bridge of Austerlitz.. .....

"It is two sous," said the toll-keeper. "You are carrying a child who can walk. Pay for two."

He paid, annoyed that his passage should have attracted observation. Every flight should be a gliding. A large cart was passing the Seine at the same time and like him, was going towards the right bank. This could be made of use. He could go the whole length of the bridge in the shade of this cart........

.......From the point where he was he could see the whole length of the bridge of Austerlitz. Four shadows, at that moment, entered upon the bridge.' (vol 1, pp 432-3)

Pont d'Austerlitz

 Pont d'Austerlitz Paris and its environs A Pugin (1831) p 121

Luxembourg gardens

This was where Marius observes Jean Valjean and Cosette

'For more than a year Marius had noticed in a retired walk of the Luxembourg, the walk which borders the parapet of the Pépinière, a man and a girl quite young, nearly always sitting side by side, on the same seat, at the most retired end of the walk, near the Rue de l'Ouest.'  (vol 2 p 4)

The Church of St Paul St Louis

This was the church where Cosette and Marius are married.

'Ah! the sweet, pretty, charming little wedding that this is going to make! Saint-Denis du Saint Sacrament is our parish, but I have a dispensation so that you can be married at Saint-Paul's. The church is better. It was built by the Jesuits. It is more coquettish. It is opposite the fountain of Cardinal de Birague.' (vol 2, p 614)

Jardin Luxembourg 2235382 St Paul St Louis 395648 p393
Luxembourg gardens
Church of St Paul St Louis 
Paris illustre A Joanne (1863) p 393



'It was in the sewer of Paris that Jean Valjean found himself...' (vol 2 p 549)

'The track of the sewers echoes, so to speak, the track of the streets which overlie them. There were in Paris of that day two thousand two hundred streets. Picture to yourselves below them that forest of dark branches which is called the sewer...' (vol 2 p 551)


Elephant of the Bastille

Commissioned by Napoleon for the Place de la Bastille the elephant was planned to be a bronze. Initially a full size wooden and plaster model was built.  After Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo plans for the bronze were abandoned and the model fell into disrepair, eventually being demolished in 1846. In Les Misérables Gavroche makes his home in the decaying elephant.

'"And where is your room?"

"In the elephant," said Gavroche...' Vol 2, p 246

'It was an elephant forty feet high, constructed of framework and masonry, bearing on its back its tower, which resembled a house, .....It was gloomy, enigmatic, and immense. It was a mysterious and mighty phantom, visibly standing by the side of the invisible spectre of the Bastille. ...

Few strangers visited this edifice, no passer-by looked at it. It was falling into ruins; every season, the mortar which was detached from its sides made hideous wounds upon it. "The aediles," as the expression ran in fashionable dialect, had forgotten it ever since 1814.'  (vol 2, p 248)

Sewers 395648 p994 Bastille elephant
Paris sewer
Paris illustre A Joanne (1863) p 994
Elephant of the Bastille 
Paris and its environs A Pugin (1831) p 147


Quotations are from this edition: Les Misérables, translated by Charles E. Wilbour, 1909. 

Victor Hugo:

Les Misérables

From Page to Stage

Les Miserables website image


18 July to 9 November 2014

Daily 10am–6pm, Thurs 9pm

An exhibition at the
State Library of Victoria

Picture Gallery


Then & now

Hotel de Sens

Hotel de Sens

Picturesesque architecture in Paris....1839 Thomas Shotter Boys p 63

Click the View Larger Map link below image to compare the 1830s view with today.

Then & now

Hotel Cluny

Hotel Cluny

Picturesesque architecture in Paris.....1839 Thomas Shotter Boys p 55

Click the View Larger Map link below image to compare the 1830s view with today.

Then & now

St Etienne du Mont

St Etienne du Mont

Picturesesque architecture in Paris....1839 Thomas Shotter Boys p 83

Click the View Larger Map link below image to compare the 1830s view with today.

Note that the white pension with attics and chimney just beyond the church is still standing.

Rue des Chantres Charles Meryon
Rue des Chantres (1862)
plate 27