The Wretched (Penguin Classics)
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A brilliant new translation by Christine Donougher of Victor Hugo's thrilling masterpiece, with an introduction by Robert Tombs. The Wretched (Les Misérables) is the basis for both the longest running musical on the West End and the highly-acclaimed film starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway.
Victor Hugo's tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty.
'A magnificent achievement. It reads easily, sometimes racily, and Hugo's narrative power is never let down ... An almost flawless translation, which brings the full flavour of one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century to new readers in the twenty-first' - William Doyle, Times Literary Supplement
'The year's most interesting publication from Penguin Classics was actually The Wretched [...] a new translation by Christine Donougher of the novel we all know as Les Misérables. You may think that 1,300 pages is a huge investment of time when the story is so familiar, but no adaptation can convey the addictive pleasure afforded by Victor Hugo's narrative voice: by turns chatty, crotchety, buoyant and savagely ironical, it's made to seem so contemporary and fresh in Donougher's rendering that the book has all the resonance of the most topical state-of-the-nation novel' - Telegraph
'Christine Donougher's seamless and very modern translation of Les Misérables has an astonishing effect in that it reminds readers that Hugo was going further than any Dickensian lament about social conditions [...] The Wretched touches the soul' - Herald Scotland
Victor Hugo was born in Besançon, France in 1802. In 1822 he published his first collection of poetry and in the same year, he married his childhood friend, Adèle Foucher. In 1831 he published his most famous youthful novel, Notre-Dame de Paris. A royalist and conservative as a young man, Hugo later became a committed social democrat and was exiled from France as a result of his political activities. In 1862, he wrote his longest and greatest novel, The Wretched (Les Misérables). After his death in 1885, his body lay in state under the Arc de Triomphe before being buried in the Panthéon.
Christine Donougher is a freelance translator and editor. She has translated numerous books from French and Italian, and won the 1992 Scott Moncrieff Translation Prize for her translation of Sylvie Germain's The Book of Nights.
Robert Tombs is Professor of History at St John's College, Cambridge. His most recent book is That Sweet Enemy: The French and the British from the Sun King to the Present, co-written with Isabelle Tombs.
strike at his way of life and his fortune? No one could have said. All anyone knew was that when he returned from Italy he was a priest. In 1804 Monsieur Myriel was parish priest of Brignolles. He was already old, and lived a very secluded life. Around the time of the coronation some parish matter, no one quite knows what any more, took him to Paris. Among other influential individuals that he applied to on behalf of his parishioners was Cardinal Fesch. The worthy priest happened to be waiting
francs to pressing creditors, which was a worry to him. Whatever fate’s relentless injustice towards him, Thénardier was one of those men who best understand, with the utmost insight and in the most modern way, what among barbarous peoples is a virtue and among civilized peoples a commodity: hospitality. He was also an excellent poacher and admired as a good shot. He had a certain cold, quiet laugh that was particularly dangerous. His theories as a landlord sometimes erupted from him in
governments. Metternich would gladly have hobbled it. Urged on in France by progress, in Europe it urged on those heel-dragging reactionaries, the monarchies. In tow, it towed. Meanwhile at home, poverty, the proletariat, wages, education, the penal system, prostitution, the condition of women, wealth, destitution, production, consumption, distribution, exchange, currency, credit, capital’s rights, labour’s rights – all these problems multiplied, looming grimly over society. Outside of the
mass of people, a hive of plucky, angry industry, this old neighbourhood was quivering with anticipation and yearning for upheaval. Everything was in turmoil – not that that was any excuse to stop working. It would be impossible to convey any idea of that characteristic energy and grimness. Hidden under the attic roofs of this neighbourhood are heart-breaking miseries. There are, too, exceptional and fiery intellects. It is particularly dangerous in respect of hardship and intellect for extremes
that, we’ll go to the Opéra. We’ll go in with the hired clappers. The hired clappers at the Opéra are very select. I wouldn’t go with the clappers on the boulevards. At the Opéra, imagine, there’s some who pay twenty sous, but they’re boobies. Wet rags we call them. And then we’ll go and watch the guillotine at work. I’ll show you the executioner. He lives in Rue des Marais. Monsieur Sanson. There’s a letter-box in his front door. Oh! we’ll have terrific fun!’ At that moment a drop of wax fell