Les Misérables book

A Folio Society limited edition

Les Misérables

Victor Hugo

Illustrated by Émile Bayard

For compelling narrative of love, hate, revenge and redemption, few books in history can match Les Misérables. The last remaining copies of the Folio limited edition of one of history’s greatest works of fiction.

Limited to 1,750 copies.

Published price: US$ 325.00


Les Misérables

Moving, passionate and vast in scale, this powerful story of love and redemption is as popular today as it was when first published in April 1862.

Taking over 20 years to write, the story brings to light the injustices within French society. A host of characters tell the stories of the poor, the wretched and the outcast, however this epic tale's central message remains one of enduring hope. With an introductory essay by novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and including some of the original illustrations by Émile Bayard, this Folio limited edition is a unique tribute to one of history's greatest works of fiction.

Production Details

Les Misérables book
  • Translation by Norman Denny originally commissioned by The Folio Society in 1976 and now the accepted English text
  • Bound in full goatskin, presented in a buckram-bound solander box
  • Set in Garamond
  • Features a selection of illustrations from the original 1862 edition by eminent French artists, including Émile Bayard
  • Each copy numbered by hand on a special limitation page
  • Book size: 1,184 pages
  • 10" x 6"

A novel with overwhelming emotional impact and a passionate outcry against social injustice


For its compelling narrative of love, hate, revenge and redemption, few books in history can match Les Misérables. It was a huge success when first published on 3 April 1862, thanks to its gripping story, epic sweep and outspoken political message. Written over a period of nearly twenty years, and completed while Hugo was in exile on Guernsey, this historical novel included a devastating critique of the ills of contemporary France.

Les Misérables centres on Jean Valjean, imprisoned for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread. Eventually released in 1815, just after Napoleon’s final defeat, Valjean betrays the kindly Bishop Myriel, but through the latter’s forgiveness he repents and goes on to adopt Cosette, the orphaned daughter of a prostitute. Over the years he rises to eminence as mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer, but his struggle to achieve respectability is constantly thwarted by an unforgiving society and in particular by his implacable enemy, the police officer Javert. In the end, despite their personal battles, none of the protagonists can avoid the groundswell of revolution that is brewing in the slums of Paris.

The book teems with unforgettable characters, from the prostitute Fantine, forced to sell her hair and teeth, to the lovable street urchin Gavroche, who becomes a symbol of the uprising. Hugo has a masterly understanding of the power of intimate, everyday details and situations placed within the grand setting of the novel. The cumulative emotional effect of the book is overwhelming, proving Hugo's stature as a peerless storyteller.

Les Misérables was written to highlight the plight of those who, often without justice, find themselves at the very bottom of the social order. As Norman Denny, translator of this edition, puts it, ‘Hugo’s misérables are not merely the poor and wretched, they are the outcasts, the underdogs, the rejected of society and the rebels against society.’

The political message of Les Misérables was unwelcome in some quarters. Narcisco Gay, a contemporary critic of the Royal Academy of Barcelona, called it ‘a tremendous, defamatory libel against society’. But its rapturous public reception told another story. The critic Sainte-Beuve wrote that Hugo had ‘snatched the greatest popularity of our time under the nose of the very government that exiled him. His books go everywhere: the women, the common people, all read him. Editions go out of print between eight in the morning and noon.’

'One of the most memorable stories that literature has ever produced ... the last great classical novel'

Creating a magnificent edition limited to 1,750 copies

Norman Denny was commissioned to translate Les Misérables for The Folio Society in 1976. His wonderfully lively and expressive text is now the accepted English–language version of the novel. This limited edition is illustrated with engravings from original 19th-century editions. These include drawings by de Neuville, Morin, Volnay and the great Émile Bayard, whose famous representation of Cosette and her broom has become the iconic image of the novel in the popular imagination.

‘The Divine Stenographer’, a fascinating essay on Les Misérables by the great Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, is included as a companion essay to this edition. Vargas Llosa highlights the ingenious nature of Hugo’s narrative voice, and how, in his words, ‘We dance to his tune, becoming, by turns, sad or happy, depressed or excited, plotters or rebels.’ As an outspoken critic of political corruption and authoritarian regimes in Latin America, Vargas Llosa’s political convictions and his literary gifts offer a fascinating personal insight into Hugo’s masterpiece.

Jeff Clements has designed the bindings for a number of previous Folio limited editions, including Boccaccio’s Decameron and Tolstoy’s War and Peace. For Les Misérables, ‘The design grew out of the novel, its grimness and in particular the people as a massed group’. The red, white and blue of the French tricolore flag is used as the basis for the colour scheme. The central design with its crossed golden bars reflects Valjean's business and political success as mayor, and most poignantly, his prison cell and the lines of the barricade.

Victor Hugo (1802 - 1885)

Victor Hugo

The son of an officer in Napoleon’s army, Hugo spent his childhood attached to various garrisons, in Italy, Spain and France. He became well known for his verse and plays, and his first novel, Notre-Dame de Paris, was published in 1831. Having rejected the Bonapartist loyalties of his family, Hugo began to espouse liberal ideals, and he supported the founding of the Second Republic in 1848. Following the establishment of the Second Empire in 1851, he openly criticised Napoleon III and was forced to leave France.

He lived in exile on Guernsey for fourteen years, and it was there that he completed Les Misérables. In 1870, following France’s capitulation in the Franco-Prussian War, Hugo returned to France to a hero’s welcome, showing how much the famed writer and his greatest novel had touched the hearts of his compatriots. He died aged 83 and is buried in the Panthéon in Paris, the final resting place of France’s greatest artists and thinkers.

'I condemn slavery, I banish poverty, I teach ignorance, I treat disease, I lighten the night, and I hate hatred. That is what I am, and that is why I have written Les Misérables'


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Review by rbalkris on 14th Jul 2015

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"Just acquired this when Folio discovered they had some extra copies left of this sold out treasure. This will require me some time to fully read but it is a gorgeous and inexpensive limited edition ..." [read more]

Review by AliceF10 on 9th Jun 2013

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"One of my favourite books and, given the recent stage production of the musical version, a must have, especially at such a bargain price. The fact that this edition has sold out so quickly is an indic..." [read more]

Review by Raikoh_911 on 21st Jun 2012

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"This was the first limited edition folio society book I have bought so I wasn't sure how much better this book would be than any of the standard edition books on the site. First impressions were good..." [read more]

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