Les Miserables, A Reader’s Diary

Classics Bookclub

It’s time for 5 Minutes for Books’ discussion of Les Miserables, our featured title in this month’s Classics Bookclub!

For my Les Miserables reading experience, I’ve adopted Carrie’s reading diary format…

2/7, 133 pages read

So far I find the story to be quite compelling and much easier to read than I anticipated. In fact, knowing this to be a translation, I’ve been pleasantly surpised by the beauty of the languge and expression. Many times I’ve wanted to jot down a phrase or quote because of its wisdom and beauty. I loved the gentle generousity of the bishop. His act of mercy was both surprising yet completely in character. Fantine’s story thus far is heartbreaking, though I suspect Valjean-turned-Madeleine will offer some hope…

2/13, 301 pages read

I’m still loving it. Hugo’s description of Madeleine’s struggle between self preservation and clear conscience was deeply moving. His sense of justice and right won out, character traits which continue to be evident; even as a prisoner he seeks to save the life of another. I despise the Thernardier’s. I wanted to applaud when Valjean finally left with little Cosette! And their narrow escape from Javert’s clutches? Very exciting!

2/14, 372 pages read

I am now weary of the sheer length of the book. Less than halfway through! Three books I am DYING to read came in the mail this week so I am all the more impatient. Plus, all this discussion of French war and politics isn’t compelling reading, in my opinion. And what about Cosette and Jean in the convent? I’m certain their story and Marius’s will criss cross at some point–perhaps sooner rather than later?!

2/20, 616 pages read

I am amazed by all the coincidental events of the story–Thernardier saves Marcus’s father (or so Marcus’s father believes), the same Thernardier who takes Cosette from Fantine, badly mistreating her before Jean Valjean saves her, the same Cosette Marcus falls in love with! Marcus also happens to rent an apartment next to the Thernardier’s, whose eldest daughter happens to beg from Valjean. And then Thernardier’s son happens to be the one who breaks him out of jail, not knowing it was his dad until he got there! Who knew France was such a small world? 🙂

2/21, 716 pages read

Jean Valjean, what a hero! To refuse to allow Marius to die, despite his hatred and his fear he may lose his dear Cosette to him! To involve himself in a doomed battle! To spare his nemesis Javert! To rescue Marius, wading through sewage and utter darkness and yuck!

Only a little over 100 pages left. I am determined to finish today–if not today then tomorrow!

2/21, ALL pages read!!!

Finis! What an ending! Thernardier the con man til the end and Jean Valjean dying from a broken heart. The final scene so sweet and so sad all at once. And, funny thing, one of my final impressions is frustration with the one dimensional characterization of Cosette. She seemed so spineless, do you agree?

I’m really glad I read it; I’m equally glad to be done!


I’ve never seen the movie or the musical nor even heard the soundtrack, much less read the book. Thus, I had no expectations nor any idea of the plot other than it was French and a classic (and long, very long). It is difficult, then, to write an analysis of an 850 page book one has only read once! Themes I noted: Redemption. Mercy. Law. Grace. Escalation of evil. Self sacrifice. Integrity. All of these timeless truths which render the novel relevant and compelling for multiple generations.

As I said, I am glad I read it. I don’t know that it will rank among my all time favorites but I did truly love the story (apart from all the political pontification that is!). I would love to see an adaptation–a movie or the musical or both!

See what others thought at the Classics Bookclub link up at 5 Minutes for Books.

Join us next month as we read Around the World in 80 Days!


Author: Lisa Spence

Wife, mother, Bible teacher, bibliophile, occasional blogger

8 thoughts on “Les Miserables, A Reader’s Diary”

  1. Whew — good job!Your highs and lows were the same as mine. When I started I thought “I love this book. It’s so wonderful” as I DID jot down the phrases, and then although I still enjoyed it (save the history and the war), I couldn’t believe I had so many pages to go still.And you’re right about Cosette.

  2. Very cool! I, too, agree with you on the beautiful language that the book opens with. Hugo had some awesome phrases and descriptions!So glad you enjoyed the book and it was really fun to read your diary of it!

  3. It was fantastic to chat with you and Jennifer about this today! (Or should I say, with ya’ll!) I hope you can get your hands on the music– I think you’ll love it.Interesting about Cosette– I’ve been thinking about your assessment and wondering, do you think she’s so flat because she really has been so sheltered (literally) her whole life, and she has no real idea of where she comes from? With no understanding of your background or family history, you kind of start on a blank page, and then with the addition of a major lack of life experiences, it must be hard to have many dimensions. Just a thought! 🙂

  4. Liked reading your diary. I am one who had a difficult time with the reading. Cosette – I actually thought that she grew to be an admirable girl thanks to Valjean. She was sheltered but she also learned to help those in need. She also was respectful to her “Papa” and to her husband. Good qualities. I suppose there could have been more depth in her character but she was not the central character so I forgave that.Congratulations on getting through the reading.

  5. I love the journal-type review and keep meaning to do something like that, but so far it hasn’t happened.I highly recommend you see the stage version. It is an emotional experience! I haven’t listened to the podcast yet but am on my way to just that.

  6. I admire your journal about my favorite novel of all time. The writing and these characters have captivated me for years. I finally took the time to write “The Wisdom of Les Miserables: Lessons From the Heart of Jean Valjean” and publish it last year. In the book I write my own reflections, as you have, on Victor Hugo’s themes and characters.If you’d like to take a look, visit http://www.blsinc.com/garrotto.htm and/or http://algarrotto.edublogs.org/.Sincerely,Alfred J. GarrottoAuthor

  7. I just finished this over the weekend and finished my review today, so I thought I’d come back and catch up with some of the reviews from 5MFB. I liked your journal style of reviewing — that’s probably better for such a long book.I got frustrated with many of the asides, as well, and loved the development of Valjean and the depiction of law (Javert) vs. grace (Valjean and the bishop). And though I had been wanting to read this for a long time, and I am glad I did, I did look longingly at other books waiting for me.I don’t think Cosette was spineless exactly — maybe childish, partly from living a sheltered life and partly from Hugo’s development of so many other characters and situations. I think she just got the short end of the development stick.

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