Les Misérables is Not the French Revolution

Earlier this year, someone asked me how accurate Les Misérables was at portraying the Storming of the Bastille. My jaw dropped. I’d had people ask me how accurate Les Misérables was to the events of the French Revolution. It’s not something new. It happens all of the time. But the Storming of the Bastille? I was shocked.

Les Misérables is not the French Revolution. Les Misérables is a story about the June Rebellion of 1832, a rebellion that it generally forgotten to most people. I think that it is impossible to say that the June Rebellion and Les Misérables itself do not have any sort of relation to the French Revolution. I think that it’s pretty solid and safe to say that the June Rebellion had many influences from the French Revolution. So I thought that I would talk about some of the similarities and differences between the two revolutions.

The French Revolution

  • Fought an oppressive government
  • Largely unsuccessful
    • Overthrew a monarchy but brought in more tyranny in the beginning of the Reign of Terror.
  • Anger caused by hunger (largely) pushed for the beginning of the revolution
  • Started in 1789 and ended around 1791-1799 depending on who you ask
  • Was largely a religious revolution as well as a political revolution
  • People all throughout France were participating
  • Had clear political sectors
    • Jacobins
    • Girondins
    • Montagnards
    • Cordeliers
  • The guillotine
    • Thousands were executed throughout Paris alone.

June Rebellion of 1832

  • Fought an oppressive government
  • Largely unsuccessful
    • Most people who aided in the rebellion died and it was an Orléanist victory
  • Started on June 5, 1832 and ended on June 6, 1832
  • One clear political movement
    • Republican student movement
  • For the most part, the students were the only participants of this rebellion. They had aid, yes, but not on a large scale

***

Those are just some of the comparisons and contrasts. Why do you think that people get these two very different events confused?

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12 thoughts on “Les Misérables is Not the French Revolution

    1. That is my hope as well. I think that the June Rebellion needs to get more attention by historians, though. It’s so hard to find credible information on the Rebellion. I heard that a professor is trying to cover some lesser-known revolutions/rebellions in her new book, so maybe that will help as well!

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      1. Victor Hugo’s book is almost autobiographical if you actually think about it. Fantine’s story was created when Hugo himself intervened to prevent a prostitute from being arrested and the love story between Cosette and Marius was based around young Hugo and his first love. Things like that are really part of what makes Les Misérables so successful

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      2. Yes, that’s very true. I think that it would be cool if someone made a book, movie, or musical even, about how Victor Hugo wrote Les Miz and all of the things that contributed to and inspired his writing of the book.

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      3. Interesting idea. I believe Victor Hugo first started Les Mis in the 1830s. Little did he know how immensely successful his story would be. The story of the musical mirrors the story of the book. Both were panned by critics, but praised by the public

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      4. I always thought that it was interesting about how that played out; the critics being unimpressed and the public loving it. I love how Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens (among others) wrote about pressing issues of their day. I agree that he must have started developing the story years before actually getting it out there. I can’t see it being any other way.

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      5. Les Mis knows how to impact you in a way that you end up caring for every single one of the characters even the ones you just don’t even like. I cannot think of another musical where I go through as many emotions as Les Mis does. And I still feel like Les Mis is the most powerful musical that has ever encountered my life.

        Les Mis went above and beyond what I expect in a musical and I think that is why I think about musicals differently. Seeing emotions through the eyes of such a tragic musical made me look at musical emotions fresh and transformed the ones that I already was aware of

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