A Reflection Upon Society
"So long as there shall exist,
by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in
the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth,
and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality;
so long as the three problems of the age - the degradation of
man by poverty, the ruin of woman by starvation, and the dwarfing
of childhood by physical and spiritual night - are not solved;
as long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible;
in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so
long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this
cannot be useless."
Victor Hugo, preface to Les
Misérables (Hauteville House, 1862)
Victor Hugo's novel, Les Misérables,
when published in 1862, had attained, both in quality and quantity,
an epic sweep. the story about "a saint, a man, a woman,
and a child" was rich in reflection upon the nature of society.
Hugo's writing told of the suffering of the lower, "dangerous"
classes, and cried out that suffering of such magnitude was intolerable
and that such conditions must be changed through social action.
To support this social action, Hugo tried to convince his readers
that the poor, the outcast - the "misèrables"
- are 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.
This is an image
of Victor Hugo himself