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Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables and the Novels of the Grotesque


Karen Masters-Wicks

This important study focuses on the novels of Victor Hugo, one of the most well-known French authors of the nineteenth century. Through close readings of his most celebrated narratives, Les Misérables and Notre Dame de Paris; his juvenelia, Han d'Islande, Bug-Jargal, and Le Dernier jour d'un condamné; and his later fiction, Les Travailleurs de la mer, L'Homme qui rit, and Quatrevingt-treize, the author breaks new ground in her elaboration of the problem of the grotesque esthetic between Hugo's novels and his romantic manifesto of 1827, the «Préface de Cromwell,» in which he argues for inclusion of the grotesque as an esthetic part of the new romantic drama. This «modern» esthetic of contrast thus becomes the point of departure from which his narrative springs. It is the cornerstone of the differentiation between romantic and classical literature. Hugo takes as his starting point the breakdown of all esthetic codes and creates a new framework for reading literature, that is, a romanticism of overcodified deformations.