Enjoy Les Misérables. But please get the history straight.

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A marvelous little church with a story to tell. (Photo: Nichole Robertson)

It’s Christmas Eve.  The world awaits in joyful expectation the coming of… Les Misérables in a theater near you.

Evocations of the 16th century (Photo: Nichole Robertson)

But please, do me a big favor, in the spirit of the season.  Please don’t say this film is about the French Revolution.  Many of us have repeatedly corrected the media, Huffington Post included, for this oft-repeated gaffe.  No surprise, perhaps, since even Director Tom Hooper seems a little dim about French history.

So let me help everyone sort this out.  The French Revolution began with the storming of the Bastille in 1789.  The principal events of Les Misérables take place in 1832. Different century. The July Revolution two years earlier had put the Orléanist monarchy on the throne, under the popular “Citizen King” Louis-Philippe.  Popular for awhile, that is.  Despite his unpretentious manners and a character that Les Miz author Victor Hugo commended as “good” and “admirable,” the income gap widened and the conditions of the working class deteriorated.  By the spring of 1832, a deadly cholera epidemic had exacerbated a severe economic crisis.

His death pulled the trigger.

In the early morning hours of June 5, crowds of workers, students, and others gathered in the streets of Paris.  The immediate trigger was the death of General Jean Maximilien Lamarque, who had been a friend to the poor and downtrodden.  The crowd had hoped to accompany Lamarque’s hearse before it took the general home to his native district in the southwest of France.  Those mourning and those with a political agenda merged into a mob that numbered in the tens of thousands – some witnesses claimed it eventually grew to 100,000.

The 30-year-old Victor Hugo was nearby, in the Tuileries Gardens, writing a play.  Then he heard gunfire from the direction of Les Halles.  Instead of going home to safety, he followed the sounds of gunfire through the deserted streets. He was unaware that the mob had taken half of Paris, and the barricades were everywhere in Les Halles.  According to Wikipedia, Hugo headed north up the Rue Montmartre, then turned right onto the Passage du Saumon, finally turning before the Rue du Bout du Monde (if this street still exists, it has a different name now): “Halfway down the alley, the grilles at either end were slammed shut. Hugo was surrounded by barricades and flung himself against a wall, as all the shops and stores had been closed for some time. He found shelter between some columns. For a quarter of an hour, bullets flew both ways.”  Three decades later, he would write about the unforgettable experience in Les Misérables.

I had hoped to visit some of the route during my recent visit to France.  Alas, my trip was too brief, and I couldn’t quite figure out what had happened, and where, on my Paris map.  I had to make the journey vicariously, later, through Mark Traugott‘s The Insurgent Barricade (University of California Press).

No wonder I was confused.  Traugott’s map of the insurrection shows that Lamarque’s funerary procession made a wide arc around the city’s right bank.  The insurrection affected both sides of the Seine, but the flash points were here, on the right bank.

Dragoons had been under orders to refrain from the use of deadly force, but when a shot rang out from somewhere, the crowd began to throw stones at the military.  The cry “To the barricades!” resounded through the streets. But what, exactly, did that mean?

According to Traugott:

“Insurgents began uprooting the saplings planted to replace the larger trees cut down during the July Days. They also scavenged planks and beams from nearby construction sites and improvised tools for prying up paving stones. These classic raw materials were natural choices because they added mass, helped knit the structure together, and were usually found in abundance right at the site of the barricade construction. Between 5 p.m., when the first sporadic gunfire was exchanged, and 6:30, when pitched battles were initially reported, dozens of barricades had been completed on both the right and left side of the Seine. Individual structures took as little as fifteen minutes to erect.

“Even as the first barricades were going up, a frantic search for arms began. Some rebels had to be content with sabers, staffs, or scythes, but rifles were the weapons of choice, and bands of insurgents boldly seized them from small patrols of soldiers encountered in the streets.  Others joined in pillaging the premises of Lepage frères, the largest of several Paris gunsmiths whose establishments were looted.”

Why, you may ask, have I chosen to illustrate this post about a doomed revolt with the elegant photos of Nichole Robertson over at Little Brown Pen?

This little gem of a 16th-century church is Église Saint-Merri.  The insurgents staged a desperate last stand in and around this church, at the heart of the district where the fiercest fighting took place.

Empty chairs at empty tables. (Photo: Nichole Robertson)

The insurgents pleaded for help, but no help came. The citizens of Paris were not as quick to join the revolution as they were to join the unruly funeral procession.  In the theatrical production of  Les Miz, the army officer warns the insurgents via a loud-bailer:

You at the barricade listen to this!
No one is coming to help you to fight
You’re on your own
You have no friends
Give up your guns – or die!

And it was true.  According to Traugott, “The casualty toll among the insurgents, mounting as high as 800 dead and wounded, was particularly heavy because the people of Paris withheld their support, leaving most of the committed insurgents of June 1832 to pay for their rebellion with their lives.”

If nothing else, please remember is that the whole point of the French Revolution is that the revolutionaries  won.  Remember the beheading of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Robespierre et al.?  This was different. In 1832, writes Traugott, “The last guns were silenced a barely twenty-four hours after hostilities had begun.”

Eléphant_Bastille_Les_Misérables

Gustave Brion’s illustration for the novel in 1865

Postscript on 27 July, 2013:  Comments are continuing to trickle in for this post.  Today, Reader Karen wrote to ask: “Have enjoyed reading all the comments, but am still searching for an answer to the elephant in the movie.  Did that actually occur?  Was there an elephant structure in the area during that period?   If so – why?  Will it help if I actually finish reading the novel?”

I couldn’t resist the educational opportunity.  From Wikipedia:

The Elephant of the Bastille was a monument in Paris which existed between 1813 and 1846. Originally conceived in 1808 by Napoleon, the colossal statue was intended to be created out of bronze and placed in the Place de la Bastille, but only a plaster full-scale model was built. At 24 m (78 ft) in height the model itself became a recognisable construction and was immortalised by Victor Hugo in his novel Les Misérables (1862) in which it is used as a shelter by the street urchin Gavroche. …

The elephant itself was described negatively by Victor Hugo in Les Misérables; little other account of contemporary public perception is available.

It was falling into ruins; every season the plaster which detached itself from its sides formed hideous wounds upon it. “The aediles,” as the expression ran in elegant dialect, had forgotten it ever since 1814. There it stood in its corner, melancholy, sick, crumbling, surrounded by a rotten palisade, soiled continually by drunken coachmen; cracks meandered athwart its belly, a lath projected from its tail, tall grass flourished between its legs; and, as the level of the place had been rising all around it for a space of thirty years, by that slow and continuous movement which insensibly elevates the soil of large towns, it stood in a hollow, and it looked as though the ground were giving way beneath it. It was unclean, despised, repulsive, and superb, ugly in the eyes of the bourgeois, melancholy in the eyes of the thinker.   —Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, 1862


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99 Responses to “Enjoy Les Misérables. But please get the history straight.”

  1. Little Brown Pen » Les Misérables and Église Saint-Merri Says:

    [...] the use of my photos of Église Saint-Merri. Yesterday, she sent me a link to her article, “Enjoy Les Miserables. But Please Get the History Straight.” It’s a fun read that clears up a few common misconceptions and provides historical [...]

  2. Heidi Says:

    Thanks! I had a lot of questions after watching the new movie yesterday. This clears up a few things. I still have so many more questions as to how close to history the movie/story was.

  3. Cynthia Haven Says:

    You’re welcome, Heidi! Happy New Year!

  4. Abraham Says:

    Thanks! I was curious about the historical context after watching the film and this article helped clear up some confusions I had.

  5. julie Says:

    Thanks. I wanted to put some historical context to the movie as we realized that the dates were not what we had expected.

  6. Holly Says:

    thanks for this I was just explaining to my son that while it was a revolution oui, it was not THE revolution …. if you want a good movie about that A&E version of the Scarlett Pimpernel is fun

  7. Michelle Says:

    Frankly i thought that the movie was pretty clear that it did not involve the French Revolution. First, of course, there’s the date issues. Then, there’s the lack of a guillotine (surely most of us recall reading A Tale of Two Cities in high school?) At one point early on, the viewer is also told that the king is “back on the throne again”. Since Marie and her spouse (the king) were beheaded during the French Revolution, this would have to be a new king thereby suggesting a different uprising. But maybe I’ve just read too much French history.

  8. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Michelle, it doesn’t take too much reading of French history to know that this is a different generation, a different revolution. I’m always surprised people make this fantastic mistake. The ethos of the era was so entirely different – and the clothes and hairstyles are so entirely different.

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  12. Steve Coon Says:

    Eric Hazan’s wonderful book The Invention of Paris also discusses this scene from Hugo’s Les Miserables, and provides a bit more historical and geographic/topographic context. (Highly recommended for all who love Paris and its history.)

  13. Lana Says:

    The young boy “Gavroche” sings with a cockney accent…why?

  14. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Isn’t some sort of Cockney terminology included in the role? (I recall a reference to “toffs.”) I suppose he represents the equivalent class in Paris … but then of course, so would his sister Eponine. And all the other Thenardiers.

  15. Sara Says:

    I’m one of those who doesn’t know my history, and came here via the chairs, so I feel lucky to see this. Les Mis, what a nice door way into history.

  16. Sara Says:

    eek, and I’m one of those who don’t know correct grammar.. oye.

  17. Namaimo Says:

    I came here for the same reason we all did — the movie wasn’t about The French Revolution, but it was about a later revolution, not so successful, and there was a “King”! This answered some questions, still hungering for more answers, but at least I know the chronology, and can proceed from here. Nice, erudite site.

  18. StuE Says:

    So THE French Revolution was won and this one lost. The difference? More at the top end get to join in with the suffering when it’s won but little difference for the rest. Same as it ever was. Sorry getting a bit philosophical here but I was bit unsure of the exact setting and this has helped nicely. What happened next? When did they get a welfare state going?

  19. Shaz Says:

    Thanks for that information as I too was confused after seeing Les Mis the movie too – having not read the book or knowing little about the French Revolution (expecially not the dates) except of guillotines and “let them eat bread “quote by Marie Antoinette.

  20. Susanne Alleyn Says:

    Come to the Historical Fiction eBooks website for an additional explanation of the 43 years of history between “the French Revolution” and the 1832 events of Les Mis, which is not about Marie-Antoinette and guillotines but is very much about the LEGACY of the Revolution:
    http://hfebooks.com/no-its-not-actually-the-french-revolution-les-miserables-and-history-by-susanne-alleyn/

  21. Melodie Earickson Says:

    Very enlightening…I am almost fluent in French, and know a few things about the French Revolution, etc. but upon seeing Les Miserables, I was a bit confused…I guess it’s been too long since I cracked a history book. Thanks for the explanation of what was going on and when in this great movie. I’ve seen it twice already and loved it even more the second time.

  22. Andrea Worth Says:

    Merci cent fois. As other people have said, we didn’t know exactly what led people to the barricades. I was a French major, like the othe woman who wrote, but it could be confusing. As we were leaving the theater, one fellow said “I knew it would be sad because it was about the Revolution”. He obviously didn’t read the information as the movie started. Encore, merci.

  23. Sue Howard Says:

    Thanks for all the clarification. I hate to admit that I never liked History in school, so had no idea of what happened when, to whom, by whom, and why….. I had no idea if this was based on any kind of actual fact; I only knew of the buzz that it supposedly had something to do, loosely, with the French Revolution. Even my son knew more than I did, & said he thought the F.R. was much earlier! I still have love this production, having seen it 4 times on stage here in Seattle, & now the movie. Even tho I had to admit my ignorance, I do appreciate this helpful, concise explanation of what actually happened! Thanks & Kudos!

  24. Jose Says:

    I, too, was unsure of the role each of the characters in the movie played, or the purpose of the rebellion. I think, at the beginning of the movie, it would have been helpful if a short narrative of the historical background of the rebellion could have been included. As in a classroom, if a teacher gives a short overview of a topic that’s being introduced to the students for the first time, it perks-up their interest and makes for a better lesson for the day. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the movie and plan to see it again (with far better understanding this time!).

  25. Susanne Alleyn Says:

    A postscript:

    > According to Wikipedia, Hugo headed north up the Rue Montmartre, then turned right onto the Passage du Saumon, finally turning before the Rue du Bout du Monde (if this street still exists, it has a different name now)

    I finally took a squint at my 1789 map of Paris and compared it with the modern map. Rue du Bout du Monde still exists but is now Rue Leopold-Bellan. It’s part of the pedestrians-only area of old, narrow streets north of Saint-Eustache and runs east-west between Rue Montmartre and Rue Montorgeuil. Passage du Saumon, which looks like a tiny alley on the 1789 map, running south of and parallel to Rue du Bout du Monde, doesn’t seem to exist any more; or, if it does, may be the present-day Rue Bachaumont.

  26. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Thank you, Susanne! Aren’t maps wonderful? Can you send us a jpeg?

  27. Rachel Mathews Age 11 Says:

    Lana, someone who has a Cockney accent would of course sing with a Cockney accent. What other kind of accent would he sing with? I find it much more interesting that in the 1950 non-musical version of Les Miz Gavroch does NOT have an accent. Also, thank you Cynthia , for I did not know that Eponine was Gavroch’s sister; or did I simply misunderstand you? And if they ARE siblings, how come Eponine has a normal English accent? And why do any ofthem have English accents in the first place? They’re in FRANCE, after all! And not only do they have English accents, but their characteristics and behaviors are British as well. In spite of my confusion I am still very excited to see the traveling Broadway musical of Les Miz this summer in Sacramento! If anyone could explain to me so that I will notbe so confused, it would b e gladly appreciated. :)

  28. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Hello Rachel. Yes, in the book, Gavroche and Eponine are siblings. Samantha Barks doesn’t have a “normal English accent,” if there is such a thing. She has a different kind of accent – more North Country. She grew up on the Isle of Man.

    Most people don’t sing with any accents at all. Gavroche’s role obviously plays on his urchin-ness by retaining Cockney usages, diction, etc.

    What kind of accent would you expect them to have? Would an American accent be better? Why? An American accent would certainly sound odd to the British!

    French people don’t have accents when they’re speaking in French. They sound normal to each other. It would be strange and affected if they all put on French accents!

  29. Pat Hughes Says:

    Thank you for this post. I was reading Hugo and confused about this piece of history. You made it clear. Very nicely written!

  30. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Thank you! And you’re welcome, Pat.

  31. Gladys Perrier Says:

    I’m pretty sure that in the film they actually refer to the fact that they got rid of the monarchy, having beheaded the King and then replaced him but that the new King was just as bad. This, along with the lack of powdered wigs and painted faces, made it quite clear to me that this was quite some time after the French Revolution.

  32. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Yes, Gladys. Gavroche gives a quick rundown of 40 years of French history while bumping along on the back of a carriage. Some of the other characters also pepper their talk with historical references. The movie tries to articulate the historical changes that got jumbled and lost in the stage version of the musical, with some success.

    I, too, lament that so few people recognize the distinct fashion changes between the two eras – from the neoclassical, Empire styles to the open, romantic-era designs of the 1830s.

  33. Harith Says:

    Thank you for your priceless information. i was mixed up also about the French revolution and Les Misérables, i thought it was in the same period as the movie showed.

  34. Daniel Ritchie Says:

    Just one question. In the novel (forget the movie), when would you say the first scene takes place? My guess is about 1795.

  35. Cynthia Haven Says:

    The book opens in Digne, in Provence, in 1815.

  36. Daniel Ritchie Says:

    Thanks very much

  37. dan keefe Says:

    The revolutionaries didn’t win so much as the bourgeoisie in the French Revolution. The latter compromised with the authorities to keep out the very just claims of egalite. The bourgeoisie used the situation in order to leverage their own position,and ,thus,sold the people out! And, just because the insurgents lost in 1832 doesn’t mean that they were naive,nor wrongheaded. The effects of having little or no work,no bread, and suffering the greatest from the cholera outbreak, may have made it seem more *imperative* to them than to their so-called” betters*!!

    “If nothing else, please remember is that the whole point of the French Revolution is that the revolutionaries won. Remember the beheading of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Robespierre et al.? This was different. In 1832, writes Traugott, “The last guns were silenced a barely twenty-four hours after hostilities had begun.–Cynthia Haven “

  38. Joe Spieldenner Says:

    Where did you find the reference to Saint-Merri?? I visited, last week, and asked about the rebellion and they said they had no idea it was the site of any such thing…

  39. Cynthia Haven Says:

    I can’t even remember now, but it’s hardly a secret. Mostly I was looking for the route of the failed revolution to check out while I was in Paris, and uncovered this history. If you Google no doubt you can find lots.

  40. Martina Gonzalez Faber Says:

    Thankyou for this history, it is something useful people can use.

  41. Julia Says:

    Now I ❤ the musical and the movie! But I have to say it is nice to have that little history lesson.

  42. K Says:

    I believe the revolution in the movie is the June Rebellion, not the French Revolution.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/June_Rebellion

  43. Diane Says:

    Thank you so much for this!

  44. Lee Says:

    Just a thought on the accent of Gavroche. I think your thought on the artistic use of cockney to indicate his urchin street cred is probably right. But, in my view, it also links to the Atrful Dodger in Oliver! in conveying the class of the boy. As a Brit I found the absence of US accents quite refreshing!

  45. Deoxy Says:

    Ah, now it makes sense – I had always thought the events described in the musical must have been precursors tot eh French Revolution, but in the movie, it’s got the dates… which are, as you mentioned, WELL after that, not before. Thank you for clearing that up for me.

  46. Marilyn Says:

    I was disappointed in the Innkeeper and his wife in the movie. The stage productions I saw had much more interesting characters for the greedy, underhanded, but comic Thénardier couple. Monsieur Thénardier, the movie character, was colorless and added nothing to the film.
    In the book, Victor Hugo added so much geography, that it became tiresome if you are not acquainted with those areas in France. I read that he had written the story, and then went back to add the geographic portions.

  47. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Now that I’ve seen a lot more of France in the last couple years, I’ll have to reread some of those sections, Marilyn.

  48. Kay Says:

    So interesting to read this… I was at Les Mis at the Muny here in St. Louis Sunday night – great production by the way, but was confused about the history. The lady next to me said it was the French Revolution but I knew that date wise that was not correct. The music was great but it was sometimes hard to follow what was happening in the story. There were parts they left out … maybe for time’s sake; it was nearly 3 hours long as it was. Thanks for clearing up some points.

  49. Karen Says:

    Have enjoyed reading all the comments, but am still searching for an answer to the elephant in the movie. Did that actually occur? Was there an elephant structure in the area during that period? If so – why? Will it help if I actually finish reading the novel? :)

  50. Cynthia Haven Says:

    All is answered here, Karen:


    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_of_the_Bastille

    The Elephant of the Bastille was a monument in Paris which existed between 1813 and 1846. Originally conceived in 1808 by Napoleon, the colossal statue was intended to be created out of bronze and placed in the Place de la Bastille, but only a plaster full-scale model was built. At 24 m (78 ft) in height the model itself became a recognisable construction and was immortalised by Victor Hugo in his novel Les Misérables (1862) in which it is used as a shelter by the street urchin Gavroche. …

    The elephant itself was described negatively by Victor Hugo in Les Misérables; little other account of contemporary public perception is available. “It was falling into ruins; every season the plaster which detached itself from its sides formed hideous wounds upon it. “The aediles,” as the expression ran in elegant dialect, had forgotten it ever since 1814. There it stood in its corner, melancholy, sick, crumbling, surrounded by a rotten palisade, soiled continually by drunken coachmen; cracks meandered athwart its belly, a lath projected from its tail, tall grass flourished between its legs; and, as the level of the place had been rising all around it for a space of thirty years, by that slow and continuous movement which insensibly elevates the soil of large towns, it stood in a hollow, and it looked as though the ground were giving way beneath it. It was unclean, despised, repulsive, and superb, ugly in the eyes of the bourgeois, melancholy in the eyes of the thinker.” — Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, 1862

    In April 2012 a smaller replica of the elephant was built in Greenwich as part of the set of the 2012 film version of the musical Les Misérables.

  51. juan Says:

    I suppose he represents the equivalent class in Paris … but then of course, so would his sister Eponine. And all the other Thenardiers.

  52. Beth Says:

    I think you have the number of dead wrong. From what I’ve read, there were about 166 who died. Of those, about 93 were the rebels, and the rest from the other side. The number of wounded from both sides might have totaled around 800.

  53. Cynthia Haven Says:

    You may be right, Beth. I’m citing Mark Traugott’s book.

  54. judith Pipher Says:

    Great discussion, everyone! I needed some ammo to explain the dates and
    WHY this was NOT the French Revolution. Thanks so much for all of your expertise.

  55. donnajean Says:

    We the insurgents in Les Mis communists, either in name or philosophy? I wondered about the solid red flag, and the talk of bourgeoisie.

  56. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Karl Marx was a teenager at the time. I think they were generally outraged at the economic conditions and the widespread poverty.

  57. Classics Retold: Les Misérables (2012 film) | The Sleeping Latte Says:

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  58. Karen Says:

    People have to pay closer attention to the lyrics it seems. Gavroche states that they got rid of the king….and it was replaced by worse. Of course-most people don’t know the history of their own country so knowing the difference between the French Revolution and Madame Guilottine and the Insurection of 1832 is a bit too much!!! Most importantly-while based on real events-we all need to remember that this is a musical and a whole lot of poetic license was used(just as in “Sound of Music” and “King & I”-based on real events, but not history!!!!). Still one of my favorite musicals and I loved the book

  59. Kissycassandra Says:

    The elephant also appears in the musical Moulin Rouge. Clearly historic license was used because the scenes which prominantly feature the structure supposedly take place in 1899. Also, the elephant is practically bedazzled! I can understand why filmakers would want to use it or take liberties with it. It’s such an great visual oddity.

  60. Laura Wachowski Says:

    This was a very useful article, thank you. The movie was my very first exposure to Les Mis. I agree, the opening scroll told us it was post-Revolution, as did some dialogue and lyrics. Maybe people were still out in the lobby buying popcorn?

  61. Cynthia Haven Says:

    I suppose so, Laura. Welcome!

  62. terry peters Says:

    Was reading a synopsis last week of Les Miserables and learnt Gavroche is the son of the Thenardiers. Doesn’t affect the plot in any way, of course, but I never twigged that one before.

  63. Audio Book Rental Clubs Review | Books To Read Online Says:

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  64. Dixie Says:

    we learned all this in 10th grade History class. AP History. I say “learned” because I studied for the exams, wrote my essay & then promptly forgot all but the bare bones. Thanks for the Details!

  65. linda Moggio Says:

    Thank you for this clarification. I confess that I declined to talk about the history of the movie because I was totally confused about the conflict in dates and daren’t expose my stupidity.

  66. Classics Retold: Les Misérables (2012 film) | The Sleeping Latte Says:

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  67. Donna Says:

    Thanks for this explanation. I saw the play years ago and hated it, because I did not know the plot and the singing was difficult to understand. I knew I must have missed something, because everyone I knew was ga-ga over it. So when the movie came out I watched it, and fell in love! Later I got to see a live community theater production, which was excellent, and then another which was superb! Now I have the sound track blasting in my car all the time, and the tunes rotate through my head day and night! I can’t wait for it to come back to the San Diego Civic Theatre, where I first saw it.

    I was stunned to learn that Victor Hugo had actually been there at the time of the revolution! Can’t wait to share my new knowledge with everyone. It adds such depth to the telling of the story. Also, a couple of years ago I was in Paris and visited Montmartre, so had that connection to your explanation as well.

    I did know that this was not the French Revolution, but I am glad to have more historical context from which to love this magnificent production.

  68. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Glad it was helpful, Donna.

  69. Alice Reeds Says:

    Thank you for the clarification. I was aware of the time difference and the timeline, but it was nice to have it all in type in a consistent manner. I showed this to a friend when she was unwilling to believe me that Les Mis was not set during the Revolution, and she said that it was very informative. If I may ask, do you know if any of the characters (specifically the Amis) in Les Mis were based on living people?

  70. Susan Sherrell Says:

    Thanks for article and discussion. Read book over 20 years ago eventually saw musical twice numerous films now this film of the musical. Always loved it Nd knew it wasn’t the French revolution . But I always felt confused about what revolution it WAS about – why had I heard so
    Little about this one? What finally happened? You explain this plus give sources on how to find out more . I do appreciate this as gavrotte with his cockney accent is hard to understand as he reviews French history! A transcendent tale – and a sorrowful one about the costs of doomed revolutions.

  71. Caro P Says:

    Thank you so much Cynthia! I love the musical and film, but wanted to know the connections. Spent a useful hour reading Wikipedia but your explanation far more helpful!

  72. Cynthia Haven Says:

    You’re welcome, Caro!

  73. James Says:

    Get over yourselves. Get history right you say?? Rofl who cares?! It’s a damn movie NOT a history lesson in a classroom. If you want Hollywood to be historically accurate then shut the hell up and make your own damn movie.
    It was ALWAYS a musical since it was written! NEVER a historically accurate depiction.

  74. Cynthia Haven Says:

    I don’t think you read my post carefully, James, since you have misconstrued everything I wrote within it. Given your attitudes towards history and learning, it doesn’t surprise me that you are not an attentive or thoughtful reader. Sad.

  75. Rachel Says:

    Thanks for the great info! I was watching Les Mis, and Googled French Revolution, and the dates didn’t match- had to solve that mystery!

  76. Baudrier Says:

    To get the history straight please have a look to both authors :

    Bouchet (Thomas).- Les barricades des 5-6 juin 1832 In Histoire des mouvements sociaux en France de 1814 à nos jours ; ss la dir. de Michel Pigenet et Danielle Tartakowsky.- Paris : La Découverte, 2012, pp. 113-120. ISBN 978-2-7071-6985-3

    Baudrier (Pierre).- Insurgés et forces de l’ordre en 1832. Alexandre Deschapelles et Robert Richard O’Reilly, Bulletin de l’Association d’Histoire et d’Archéologie du XXe arrondissement de Paris, Numéro 50, 4e trimestre 2011, pp. 7-27

    P B

  77. Mary Hudson Says:

    Dear Cynthia, Thank you for all your posts. I got involved by wondering whether to show my dvd of Les Mis to my 15 year old Granddaughter who I am home-schooling, her topic being the French Revolution. Had to get the dates right, so have now decided to show it to her after we have looked at the Revolution not during. So love the book and the staged version, but thought the film was excellent. Any ideas how I can introduce the Revolution in an interesting way?

  78. Cynthia Haven Says:

    You could try Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities, for a start. I think kids generally like the French Revolution. They’re gory little creatures and there are plenty of executions to ponder.

  79. adventures and holidays: paris | Hannah Says... Says:

    […] in fact has nothing to do with Les Misérables which is set in Paris – you can find out more here.(Yeah…..okay I read blogs on the Stanford website for kicks – get over it! […]

  80. David Juliano Says:

    If you’re willing to take the time (4 hours), & can handle B&W/subtitles, the 1934 French film of “Les Miz” will answer most if not any questions you may have about the June Rebellion & the many characters in the story. The definitive adaptation of Hugo’s novel has no singing, but it’s excellent!

  81. Cynthia Haven Says:

    What a challenge! I may take you up on it, David.

  82. Mullen Davenport Says:

    I would sort of like to give this article to quite a few people in my life, including my history teachers! As a high school student and general theatre nut, it took very minimal reading up for me to discover that Les Mis was about the June Rebellion, as the French revolution as taught in all of my classes took place forty plus years before the events of Les Mis.
    Either way, this was a wonderful article, and I’ll most certainly be sharing this with people.

  83. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Thanks, and pass along a linkback to the Book Haven, please!

  84. Les Miserables (a history) | Grand Youth Says:

    […] in case you’re still confused about the historical setting this article helps explain it pretty […]

  85. Shirley Says:

    Well this clears up a lot for me, I have yet to read the book but I have watched the movies and plays over and over again, and love the music and story. It kinda makes me feel better to know that after they all died for France that later there actually was the real French Revolution and they won. I know they are just fictional, but as as for the real people who died as well.

  86. Cynthia Haven Says:

    You still have it wrong, Shirley. The “real” French Revolution was decades before the squashing of this comparatively minor revolt.

  87. LeilaWileypek Says:

    I have watched the current movie version and though I appreciate it but I feel it is lacking. Still a good try to adopt the masterpiece.

  88. obat kuat murah Says:

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    Enjoy Les Misérables. But please get the history straight. | The Book Haven

  89. Sylvia Kerley Says:

    I wonder if my question is relevant to this site?

    Many years ago, my husband took me to London to see Les Miserables. I know there was a guillotine scene in it. Music was playing and heads were being chopped off and thrown to the man with the basket; I had the distinct feeling (from the music) that this was going to turn into a game of football and commented on this to my husband. It did.

    Recently, my son took is family to London to see Les Miserables. Guess what, no guillotine scene. He says I must have imagined it which makes me jump up and down with irritation.

    Please, please someone, tell me that there was such a scene and that they have since removed it from the performance.

  90. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Sorry, Sylvia. I’ve seen several productions – no guillotine scene. However, there’s no accounting for what an inventive (and historically inaccurate) director might have done.

  91. Sylvia Kerley Says:

    Cynthia, thank you so much for taking the time to reply. It is much appreciated. I am so puzzled about this. Who could I ask please.

  92. Cynthia Haven Says:

    To my knowledge, no one was guillotined after the 1832 uprising. It was an uprising that was squashed in the streets. I have never heard of any production of “Les Miserables” that includes a guillotine. It seems highly unlikely, because I don’t know where a director would inject such a scene. Or why. Could you be confusing it with “Tale of Two Cities”? Poulenc’s “Dialogue of the Carmelites”?

  93. Sylvia Kerley Says:

    Good morning Cynthia. I don’t think Tale of Two Cities was a musical?
    Never mind, I shall just have to agree with my son, that I am imagining this very clear memory!!! Thanks for replying.

  94. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Nope. A novel. I thought it might have a onstage version – it was made into several movies. And Poulenc’s work is of course an opera, which is kind of a musical.

  95. william oakes Says:

    actually, the incident of 1832 was precipitated when a section of bonaparte’s elephant trunk collapsed, fell and crushed the mistress of a popular maison close of the time. “a bas l’elephant blanche!” was the battlecry used. hugo himself stood briefly upon a barricade, to observe, and then retired to a tavern to get drunk. beware of the revisionist historian, and never more so than when he is a hollywood producer! as, gladiator; commodus was real (who did enter the arena to pursue lions with a bow, and occasionally slew actual gladiators, as amusements, and no doubt closely defended by his pretorians), as was aurelius; however, they had absolutely nothing to do with another in history; also, never was there a general maximus. even historians find it difficult to write history (montaigne, not being one, was often incorrect); hollywood scriptwriters simply run amok.

  96. Rob Bass Says:

    RE: Kerley/Haven and Les Mis, A Tale of Two Cities and guillotines. I, too, am unaware of a guillotine ever being in the musical Les Mis. A Tale of Two Cities has been made into three (that I know of) musicals. One, with book, music and lyrics by Jill Santoriello, and a guillotine, ran on Broadway from Sep 18 – Nov 9, 2008. It never played in London. The novel is also a musical by David Pomeranz, Stephen David Horwich and David Soames that ran in London in 2012 and features a guillotine. And there is a 1968 version titled Two Cities, The Spectacular New Musical, written by Jeff Wayne. A guillotine is in the musical The Scarlet Pimpernel with music by Frank Wildhorn and book and lyrics by Nan Knighton. It ran on Broadway at various times and in various versions known as SP 1.0, SP 2.0, SP 3.0 and SP 4.0 from 1997 – 2000. It has played in the UK, but I don’t know if specifically in London.

  97. Rand Says:

    Let’s all celebrate Bastille Day tomorrow. Play French music or eat French food or make a French “connection”.

  98. Steve Gifford Says:

    I get the time frame of Les Mis but if the revolutionaries won the French Revolution why were the conditions for the people still crap for years and continued to get worse up to and beyond the barricades defeat? Who did the revolutionaries who won represent?

  99. Cynthia Haven Says:

    That’s what happens after most revolutions. The revolutionaries who win wind up representing … themselves. The tyrants who follow usually bring blood (Robespierre), or totalitarianism (Lenin, Stalin) – at the very least, decades of instability. Can you think of many exceptions? The American Revolution really was exceptional in this regard – but it was more a colonial revolt rather than a true revolution, wasn’t it?

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