What Is the Plot of "Les Miserables"?


Quick Answer

"Les Miserables" takes place just after the French Revolution and follows convict Jean Valjean as he assumes a new name and becomes a respected citizen after being released from a prison sentence of 19 years. Valjean is constantly on the run from Javert, a police inspector, and becomes the guardian of a young girl named Cosette, who falls in love with a young lawyer named Marius.

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Full Answer

Jean Valjean is originally imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. Upon his release from prison, a bishop influences him to start a new life in the town of Montreuil. There, Valjean becomes a prosperous businessman and hires a young girl, Fantine, at his manufacturing facility. Fantine loses her job and turns to prostitution, only to be caught and tried by Javert. Valjean, operating under a secret identity, manages to keep her out of jail.

Fantine catches a fever, and Valjean promises to bring her daughter Cosette to her before she dies. However, Valjean is quickly forced to admit to his past and is arrested. Following his escape, Valjean rescues Cosette from her guardians, flees to Paris, and takes shelter in a convent.

Marius is a young lawyer who falls in with a group of political radicals. He falls in love with Cosette but is heartbroken when Valjean decides to flee with her to England. While Valjean and Cosette are in hiding, Marius becomes part of a political insurrection. Valjean eventually joins the insurrection as well. He spares the life of Javert, on trial for spying, only to be arrested by him later. Javert eventually releases Valjean and commits suicide. Marius, now wed to Cosette, learns about Valjean's past in time to console him on his deathbed.

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