Les Miserables: Top Ten Quotes

“So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation which, in the midst of civilization, artificially creates a hell on earth, and complicates with human fatality a destiny that is divine; so long as the three problems of the century – the degradation of man by the exploitation of his labor, the ruin of women by starvation, and the atrophy of childhood by physical and spiritual night – are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a still broader point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, there should be a need for books such as this.” (Preface)
“The bishop approached him and said, in a low voice, Do not forget, ever, that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man. Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of any such promise, stood dumbfounded. The bishop had stressed these words as he spoke them. He continued solemnly, Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!” (105-6)
“An army is a strange composite masterpiece, which strength results from an enormous sum total of utter weaknesses. Thus only can we explain a war waged by humanity against humanity in spite of humanity.” (368-9)
“Undoubtedly they [The Thenardiers] seemed very depraved, very corrupt, very vile, very hateful even, but people rarely fall without becoming degraded. Besides, there is a point when the unfortunate and the infamous are associated and confused in a word, a mortal word, les miserables; whose fault is it? And then, when the fall is furthest, is that not when charity should be greatest?” (744)
“Yes, the enigma will say its word, the sphinx will speak, the problem will be solved. Yes, the people, rough-hewn by the eighteenth century, shall be completed by the nineteenth. An idiot is any who doubts it! The future birth, the speedy birth of universal well-being, is a divinely inevitable phenomenon.” (1000)
“The mirror reflected the writing, resulting in what geometry calls the symmetric image, by which the writing reversed on the blotter was corrected by the mirror and presented its original form; and Jean Valjean had beneath his eyes the letter Cosette had written Marius the evening before. It was simple and devastating.” (1152)
“Let us acknowledge it without bitterness, the individual has his distinct interest and may without offense announce that interest and defend it: The present has its excusable quantum of selfishness; the life of the moment has its rights and is not bound to sacrifice itself continually to the future. The generation now having its passing turn on earth is not compelled to abridge it for the generations, its equals after all, that will have their turn afterward . . . Hence, at certain periods, a deep chill on the magnanimous vanguard of the human race.” (1237)
“The book the reader has now before his eyes – from one end to the other; in its whole and in its details, whatever the omissions, the exceptions, or the faults – is the march from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from the false to the true, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from rottenness to life, from brutality to duty, from Hell to Heaven, from nothingness to God. Starting point: matter; goal: the soul. Hydra at the beginning, angel at the end.” (1242)
“The history of men is reflected in the history of cloacae.” (1260)
“Cosette and Marius fell on their knees, overwhelmed, choked with tears, each grasping one of Jean Valjeans hands. Those noble hands moved no more. He had fallen back, the light from the candlesticks fell across him; his white face looked up toward heaven, he let Cosette and Marius cover his hands with kisses; he was dead. The night was starless and very dark. Without any doubt, in the gloom, some mighty angel was standing, with outstretched wings, waiting for the soul.” (1462)