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.

Hugo's politics

'Equality, citizens, is not all vegetation on a level, a society of big spears of grass and little oaks; a neighbourhood of jealousies emasculating each other; it is, civilly, all aptitudes having equal opportunity; politically, all votes having equal weight; religiously, all consciences having equal rights. Equality has an organ : gratuitous and obligatory instruction. The right to the alphabet, we must begin by that.' (Les Misérables vol 2 p 470)

Les Misérables was written during a century of massive social upheaval in France. The Revolution of 1789, and subsequent uprisings in 1830 and 1848, saw the country go from monarchy to republic to empire and back again several times. Many supported the idea of universal suffrage and secular education, but putting these ideas into practice proved to be challenging.

As a young man, Hugo was a royalist, but over time he became increasingly disillusioned with those that held power in France. He saw that the poor were just as exploited as they were before the Revolution, and he became committed to social justice causes. He hoped that Les Misérables would persuade people to work towards creating a truly equal society.

In 1848, Hugo was elected to the Parliament as a conservative. In 1849 he broke with the conservatives when he gave a noted speech calling for the end of misery and poverty. Other progressive speeches called for universal suffrage, freedom of the press and free education for all children. Hugo’s advocacy to abolish the death penalty was renowned internationally.

These parliamentary speeches are published in Oeuvres complètes: actes et paroles I : avant l'exil, 1841-1851 (see the index p 604). They can also be viewed online. Scroll down to the Assemblée Constituante 1848 heading and subsequent pages.

Arrivant a jersey

 En arrivant a Jersey from Oeuvres complètes: actes et paroles II: pendant l'exil, 1852-1870 p 55


The library’s collection includes many books on this period of France’s history. Try searching the catalogue using the subject terms France history 19th century. You will find books written in the 19th century, such as History of France by Emile de Bonnechose and The torrent of the French revolutions  by J.F. Nerevy, as well as more recent books, such as A social history of France, 1789-1914 by Peter McPhee or Revolution and the republic : a history of political thought in France since the eighteenth century by Jeremy Jennings. 

Use the Refine results by options to narrow your search to the suggested subjects, or by date range.

Online books

Les Miserables on sentencing: Valjean, Fantine, Javert and the Bishop debate the principles is an ebook which examines injustice and the laws of sentencing and punishment, as seen from the perspectives of characters from the novel.

Many of Hugo's works have been digitised and can be read online for free. The last day of a condemned man is a short novel about the injustices of the death penalty, and Napoleon le petit is a political pamphlet in which Hugo criticises Napoleon III. 

Also search for our ebooks using terms such as France history 19th century 


Journal articles

Through the library catalogue, you can access many full text journal, newspaper and magazine articles.

A quick way to search for online articles is to select the Articles tab in the catalogue.

As with books, you can enter search terms, then use the facets on the side to narrow your search by subject, date, as well as article type.

Try combinations of different search terms, for instance:

1848 revolution France or Victor Hugo death penalty.

To read an article, click the View online tab. 

Ode Huitieme

L'Arc de Triomphe from Oeuvres complètes: odes et ballades p 161

Another way of searching for articles is to search within some of the article databases that the State Library subscribes to. These can be accessed within the Library by anyone, and outside the Library by Victorian registered Library users.

Multisubject databases such as  ProQuest and JSTOR are a good place to search for recent articles on politics and history.

JSTOR provides access to digitised books and back issues of journals going back to 1700. A search for 'Napoleon III' retrieves articles such as Personal history of the Second Empire. II. The opponents of the Prince-President and Anarchism and the Napoleonic revival.



Newspaper databases are a good place to find writing from the 19th-century about events in France. The library subscribes to large databases of historic British newspapers.

Digitised historic French newspapers such as Le Figaro can be accessed through Gallica, the digital library of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Events in France were of course reported on in Australia, and you can search for historic Australian news articles in Trove

More information on finding articles in historical newspapers can be found in our newspapers research guide


Caserne Suisse Rue de Babylone 29 July 1830  from Paris and its environs
Caserne Suisse Rue de Babylone 29 July 1830
from Paris and its environs p 189

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


The barricade

The barricade  Les Misérables (1887) vol 4 p 387

The barricade 
Les Misérables (1887) vol 4 p 387

Hugo and France in the Australian news

Royal pretenders

Royal pretenders from Evening news (Sydney), 18 February 1893 p 34

From galley bench to culture class

From galley bench to culture class from Sunday mail (Brisbane) 12 September 1937 p S1

Rue des Marmousets de la rue St. Landry Charles Marville H88.19/68 
Rue des Marmousets de la rue St. Landry
Charles Marville