Les Miserables

Hugo's sources

Valjean's character is loosely based on the life of Eugène François Vidocq, an ex-convict who became a successful businessman widely noted for his social engagement and philanthropy. Vidocq helped Hugo with his research for Claude Gueux and Le Dernier jour d'un condamné (The Last Day of a Condemned Man). In 1828, Vidocq, already pardoned, saved one of the workers in his paper factory by lifting a heavy cart on his shoulders as Valjean does.[15] Hugo's description of Valjean rescuing a sailor on the Orion drew almost word for word on a friend's letter describing such an incident. Hugo used Bienvenu de Miollis (1753–1843), the Bishop of Digne during the time in which Valjean encounters Myriel, as the model for Myriel.[16]

In 1841, Hugo saved a prostitute from arrest for assault. He used a short part of his dialogue with the police when recounting Valjean's rescue of Fantine in the novel.[17] On 22 February 1846, when he had begun work on the novel, Hugo witnessed the arrest of a bread thief while a Duchess and her child watched the scene pitilessly from their coach.[18][19] He spent several vacations in Montreuil-sur-Mer, which became the model for the town he calls M____-sur-M__.[20] During the 1832 revolt, Hugo walked the streets of Paris, saw the barricades blocking his way at points, and had to take shelter from gunfire.[21] He participated more directly in the 1848 Paris insurrection, helping to smash barricades and suppress both the popular revolt and its monarchist allies.[22]


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