“Love has no middle term; either it destroys, or it saves. All human destiny is this dilemma": Rare First French Edition of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables

  • Les Miserables.
  • Les Miserables.
  • Les Miserables.

Les Miserables.


Item Number: 68030

Paris: Pagnerre, 1862.

Parisian first edition of this classic work of literature, published on April 3rd, 1862 (three days after of first printing in Brussels on March 31st of 1862). Large octavos, half crushed red morocco over marbled boards, gilt titles and tooling to the spine, marbled endpapers. False mention of “Septième Edition” on the title pages of volumes I-III, and “Huitième Edition” on the title page of volume IV, which were spurious and meant to help boost sales. In near fine condition. A nice presentation.

Victor Hugo’s “great novel has been hailed as a masterpiece of popular literature, an epic poem in prose about God, humanity, and Hugo… Hugo hoped that Les Misérables would be one of if not the ‘principal summits’ of his body of works. Despite its length, complexity, and occasionally unbelievable plot and characterization, it remains a masterpiece of popular literature. It anticipates Balzac in its realism, but in its flights of imagination and lyricism, its theme of redemption, and its melding of myth and history, it is uniquely Hugo” (Dolbow, 149, 214). Charles E. Wilbour was hired by the Carleton Publishing Company to translate Hugo's grand masterpiece, and he did so very quickly, allowing the first American edition to be published within months of its French release. The intense advertising campaign waged by Carleton resulted in massive sales for Les Misérables, solidifying Hugo's epic in second place (behind only Uncle Tom's Cabin) in pre-Civil War American book sales.

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