19th Century Nitty-Gritty: All this for a loaf of bread?

By Melissa Rayner

Victor Hugo’s famed novel–and the play that sprung forth from that novel–has been in the media quite a bit lately. Who that hears the story doesn’t fall in love with the noble criminal, Jean Valjean? Sure, he stole, but it was only a loaf of bread, and he was only trying to feed his impoverished nieces and nephews. Did he really need to be imprisoned for the better part of his adult life?

Book reviewers–both contemporary to our times and contemporary to Hugo’s–agree that Jean Valjean is a tragic figure, a noble one. Just check out this concluding snippetĀ from an 1862 review of the novel in the Birmingham Daily Post (courtesy of 19th Century British Newspapers). Despite the obvious ethnocentric natureĀ of his stance, it’s clear the reviewer was a fan–and that he understood its message:

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