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Extra resources for Hugo's Les Miserables (Cliffs Notes)
He is one of the first to move away from the classical tradition of the Alexandrine couplet (which, nevertheless, he can handle magnificently) toward more complex and subtle forms of verse borrowed from the Middle Ages and from his own rich imagination. He reshapes not only the form, but the vocabulary of poetry, and injects it with a new variety and richness. In contrast with most poets who are skilled in the use of only two or three poetic devices, Hugo is master of all. He is a splendid rhetorician but is also adept in the music of poetry.
But to support this social action Hugo must be convinced, and convince others, that the poor, the outcastthe misérablesare worth saving: that even the most impudent, scruffy street gamin has something to contribute to society, that even the most hardened convict is capable of great good. And the most appealing and enduring quality of Les Misérables is the fact that it is permeated by this unquenchable belief in the spiritual possibilities of man. Plot and Structure Like that of Notre Dame de Paris, the plot of Les Misérables is fundamentally melodramatic; its events are often improbable and it moves in the realm of the socially and psychologically abnormal.
In both thought and feeling, Les Misérables is far more profound than Notre Dame de Paris. In writing it, Hugo came to grips with the social problems of his own day; and this demanded much reflection upon the nature of society and, therefore, upon the nature of man. In 1830, the average life expectancy of a French worker's child was two years. Hugo, unlike many of his contemporaries, did not consider this statistic as "inevitable," or "the fault of the parents," but evaluated it in human terms, and cried out that suffering of such magnitude was intolerable and that such conditions must be changed through social action.