Les Miserables Dramaturgy Packet

Hello Everyone!

I’m doing pretty good at this whole ‘posting on a regular schedule’ thing, eh? I’m back with another dramaturgy packet and this time, it’s for one of my favorite musicals Les Miserables. I have a lot of feelings about it. And I mean a looooooot. My school did this musical last year and I not only was the dramaturg, but I also got to assistant direct. It was an amazing experience and because of that, this musical is extra special to me!

Let’s dive in! Also, if you use this in any form please credit me!


Les Miserables

Victor Hugo

  • Born to a general under Napoleon and a supporter of the ancien regime
  • Began writing poems early in life; gained a royal pension from Louis XVIII
  • Supporter of Republican movement; was elected to the Académie Française
  • Fled after coup d’état of 1851; wrote Les Mis while in voluntary exile
  • After the Proclamation of the Third Republic, Hugo returned to France and was elected Senator
  • Died in 1885; his funeral was attended by 3 million people


  • Flourished in France after fall of Napoléon
  • In response to Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution
  • Characterized by freedom of thought and expression, and idealization of nature
  • Prized creative spirit over formal rules
  • Victor Hugo- early adopter of romantic style; a leader of Romantic movement in France
  • Valjean- saintly virtue and piety
  • Fantine- sacrifice and love

Writing Les Mis

  • Hugo began writing Les Mis 20 years before its publication
  • Hugo hoped Les Mis would encourage a more progressive and democratic future for France; the book encourages compassion and hope as a response to injustice
  • Written in the style of imaginative realism
  • The book was banned by the Vatican for being socialist and burned in Spain, but was hugely popular among the working class of France

Timeline of French History 1789-1885

Timeline of French History

The French Revolution – 1789-1799


  • Conflict between monarchy and nobility over tax reforms
  • The Enlightenment- new ideas spark want for social reforms
  • Agrarian conflict of 1788-9

Stages of the Revolution

  • Constitutional phase- 1789-1792- French Republic declared
  • Radical, Republican phase- 1792-1794- Robespierre’s Terror
  • Napoleonic coup d’état-1799- ended revolution with authoritarian regime


  • Stronger, further centralized state with a larger, more effective and more intrusive administration.
  • Abolition of special fiscal privileges
  • Creation and extension of new civil rights
  • Changes in ideas and political culture

Napoleon Bonaparte – 1769-1821

  • Rose through the ranks of French Revolution (1789-1799)
  • Gained political power in a coup d’état in 1799; afterwards in 1804, he declared himself emperor of France
  • Reestablished French aristocracy
  • 1803-1815- Napoleonic Wars- conflicts with various Europeans nations
  • Failed campaign in Russia and loss at Battle of Leipzig leads to Napoleon abdicating the throne
  • Returns to France a year later- Hundred Days Campaign
  • Invades Belgium where Belgian and Prussian forces were stationed
  • British and Prussians crush the French at Battle of Waterloo
  • Napoleon abdicates the throne; end of French Empire

Louis XVIII, Charles X, and the Bourbon Restoration

  • Louis XVIII takes power after fall of Napoléon
  • Ruled with constitutional monarchy (1816-1820)
  • Charter of 1814- protected liberties won by French Revolution- monarchy with a bicameral parliament, guaranteed civil liberties, proclaimed religious toleration, and acknowledged Catholicism as the state religion.
  • Charles X saw the return of the ultroyalistes
  • Ultroyalistes – represented aristocracy, opposed to egalitarian beliefs of the Revolution, yet did not want the ancien regime to be restored. Instead they wanted to be protected with the constitutional monarchy.
  • Policies in favor of the ultras revived opposing liberals and moderates, and led to the July Revolution of 1830 and fall of the Bourbon Restoration

July Rebellion of 1830

  • Sparked by Charles X publishing ordinances in conflict with Charter of 1814.
  • Insurrection led to abdication of Charles X and brought Louis-Philippe to power
  • Also secured protections for upper middle class
  • July Monarchy- government protected only the upper class

Funeral of General LaMarque – 1832

  • Military hero under Napoleon
  • Opposed Bourbon Restoration
  • Public feared that their economic well-being was endangered by his death
  • Led to June Rebellion

June Rebellion – 1832

  • Sparked by the death of General Lamarque
  • Attempt to reverse Louis-Philippe’s rise to power
  • Many republicans felt cheated after the July Rebellion since they had fought and had been rewarded with the establishment
  • Lead by the Society of the Rights of Man
  • Was shut down by French National Guard

Life in 19th Century France

Peasant Families after French Revolution

  • Most peasant families depended on cultivating small plots of land or doing physical labor for low wages
  • Many migrated to Paris in the midst of the Industrial Revolution for work
  • Women worked as seamstresses, domestic servants, and factory workers
  • Fantine
  • Men worked in factories or as artisans
  • The family unit mainly served as a unit of economic production
  • In most families, the husband was the breadwinner, the wife raised the children, or helped on the farm, and the children that survived infancy would be expected to help support the family as early as age 10


  • Cafes were frequented by lower class men
  • Generally only attended by men and were considered to be shady because alcohol was served and gambling was common
  • Served as assembly spaces for workers
  • Could plan protests and uprising
  • Word was spread through cafes
  • ABC café and Enjolras
  • Lower class families could also sometimes afford to go to the theater or opera
  • Singing and games of boules (lawn bowling similar to bocce) were also popular

Special Occasions

  • Marriages were considered special occasions
  • By the 19th ceremony, marriage was becoming less influenced by economic gain but more by romantic love; however, one’s family still greatly influenced the decision
  • Ceremonies were simpler as tradition changed with the times
  • Catholicism had a large impact on holidays
  • Trade festivals usually took place on a saint’s feast day and included feasting and dancing, and sometimes parades
  • First Communion also was a big event for peasant families
  • Families would sacrifice for fine clothes and religious education for the event


  • During the French Revolution, the Catholic Church lost most of its power and influence, but peasant lives still revolved around the traditions of Catholicism
  • Parents ensured that their children had religious education
  • Village schools were taught by priests and nuns
  • Church ran hospitals and provided charity to the poor
  • Marriages were in the Catholic Church
  • During the Bourbon Restoration, Roman Catholicism became the state religion of France again because of the influence of Ultraroyalistes
  • Many right wing politicians wanted the church to be at the center of the government


  • Napoléon brought major reforms to schools in France; improved curriculum in state schools in an attempt to educate majority of French population to create future leaders
  • Boys learned language, rhetoric, math, physics, and chemistry
  • Girls learned language, geography, history, math, religion, and domestic skills
  • Often were sent to convents

Economy and Industry

  • Industrial growth in France was gradual compared to other European countries, like Britain or Germany
  • Causes:
  • Slow dismantling of feudal system- France maintained a large population of peasants
  • Most peasants cultivated small plots of land and worked at low-paying jobs
  • Because of this, most villages were extremely impoverished
  • Most of the population did not live in cities
  • Low domestic demands for industrial goods
  • France only exported 8% of manufactured goods
  • Industrialization began with textiles and then spread to iron
  • 1840s- Railroads began to be constructed; led to economic boom that lasted until 1860s
  • In mid-19th century Paris emerged as an international center of finance, second to London

Notable Productions

  • Les Miserables opened in London at the Barbican Theater in 1985
  • Critics were initially dismissive of the show, but it was wildly popular with the public.
  • The reception of the musical was very similar to the book because it was unpopular with critics, but massively successful with the public.
  • Premiered on Broadway in 1987
  • The show is currently running on Broadway, London, Manila, Japan, Korea, Spain, Singapore, and Dubai
  • In 2012, a film adaptation was produced. It was directed by Tom Hooper, and starred Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Samantha Barks.


The Redeeming Power of Love

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

In Les Mis, Victor Hugo argues that love and compassion are the most important gifts that humans can give to one another and that our lives are not fully complete until we fulfill this goal. This is evident through the Bishop, who shows Valjean the love that transforms him from a thief into a good man. The love he has for Cosette also helps him through his transformation into a compassionate father figure. It is also out of love for Cosette that Valjean rescues Marius. By learning to love others, Valjean is able to transform and improve himself. We also see this theme present in Fantine. She sacrifices everything out of love for Cosette and dies before she can see Cosette have a better life. This theme was very common throughout Romanticism, and both Valjean and Fantine are examples of Romantic values, such as piety, sacrifice, and love.

Social Injustice and Revolution

“Red, the blood of angry men! Black, the dark of ages past! Red, a world about to dawn! Black, the night that ends at last!”

In both the musical and the book, Hugo criticizes the rigid class structure of post-Revolution France. Through the character of Valjean and Fantine, Hugo argues that the unfair society in 19th century France caused innocent and good people to turn to crime so that they could survive. Valjean steals a loaf of bread to feed his niece, and is then turned into a hardened prisoner after almost twenty years in jail. Fantine turns to prostitution to provide for Cosette. Throughout the show, Hugo is also denouncing the law enforcement. In Les Mis, Valjean is arrested for stealing only a loaf of bread, but he is still put in prison for twenty years and then chased by Javert for almost the rest of his life. Because Valjean truly is a good man, Javert, while not the villian of the story, is viewed unsympathetically for his chase of Valjean. Besides repudiating the social injustices caused by the class system of France, Hugo praises the Republican effort that is seen through Enjolras and the rest of the revolutionaries. Through the character Enjolras, Hugo is denouncing the regimes that followed the French Revolution because they did not work in the favor of the working class, but instead restored the aristocracy and protected the wealthy. Also, through the death of most of the revolutionaries, Hugo creates martyrs for the cause, once again portraying the revolution in a sympathetic light.


Works Cited






http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/europe/fr-july monarchy.htm
















Let me know if you want a PDF version of the packet or the timeline! Here’s the presentation version: https://hawkendramaturgy.exposure.co/les-miserables