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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Victor Hugo, visionnaire : le mythe du progrès dans "Les misérables" Blythe, Deborah Mae


Victor Hugo is well known as a poet, a playwright and a novelist, but until recently he has not been recognized as a philosopher; for many years critics have admired the literary output of the man, but criticized the apparent contradictions and inconsistencies of his thought. Further studies have, however, revealed the true nature of Hugo's philosophy, and shown it to comprise a well thought out and coherent system. One of the most important themes in Hugo's work is that of human progress. In Les Misérables, Hugo's great novelistic masterpiece, he develops this theme and explores various of its aspects, treating at the same time many vital components of his philosophy. In examining the theme of progress in Les Misérables we have therefore sought to explore Hugo's ideology, as expressed in the novel, and to relate it to general nineteenth century currents of thought. This first necessitated a study of Hugo's religious beliefs, including his experiments with spiritualism and his belief in reincarnation and the hierarchy of beings. We then established the close relationship which exists between the poet's religious beliefs and his faith in the doctrine of progress Armed with an understanding of these basic principles, we then undertook a close textual analysis of the novel, examining Hugo's belief in the perfectibility of man and the perfectibility of society. Having laid the groundwork in Chapter I, we were therefore ready, in Chapter II, to study Hugo's belief in the progress of the individual : after looking at his portrayal of each level of the hierarchy of beings, we then looked at the various elements involved in the "progress" of the human soul, as illustrated by the characters in the novel. Then, in the third chapter, we approached the broader question of the progress of society and of Hugo's view of historical, political, social, economic and scientific progress. This in-depth study of one aspect of Victor Hugo's great novel thus led us to an understanding of the author's world-view, and of his conception of the relationship between man, God and the universe. It is a deeply religious, unique, and fundamentally optimistic philosophy, presented in a highly poetic manner. Although we may not accept all of Hugo's arguments, it is hard not to be stirred nonetheless by this thought-provoking work.

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