THE REVOLUTION OF 1832
Photo Credit: The Company of the New 25th Anniversary of Les Misérables;
Photo by Deen van Meer
During the French Revolution a document was written called "The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1793.” This declaration stated, "equality is the first natural right of man…liberty must be protected…and if the government violates the rights of the people, insurrection is for the people…the most indispensable of duties." This document set the tone for what the French people wanted from their government.
The French Revolution, 1789-1799, was not the only revolt in France. Sixteen years later, in 1832, France was ripe for another.
What Led the “Miserable Ones” to Revolution
There was an unsuccessful harvest, followed by shortages of food. Then, a cholera epidemic left more than 18,000 people dead in the city of Paris alone. These catastrophes, combined with an increase in the cost of living, devastated the poor. Where was the government to help LES MISÉRABLES (the miserable ones)?
"Where the leaders of the land?
Where are the swells who run this show?
Only one man - and that's Lamarque
Speaks for these people here below.
See our children fed
Help us in our shame."
General Lamarque: The People’s Man
Then, the beloved General Lamarque, the only man in the government believed to be sympathetic to the wants and needs of the lower classes, died on June 2.
"Lamarque is dead.
Lamarque! His death is the hour of fate.
The people's man.
His death is the sign we await!"
Lamarque's death was a good excuse for an insurrection against a government who did not help the people.
Insurrection in Place
Prior to Lamarque's death, the uprising was already being organized by several groups. These groups were against the monarchy that owed their power to the wealthy middle class. One group failed in an attempt to abduct the Royal Family. Another group called "The Rights of Man Society" announced their determination, at the funeral of General Lamarque, to start a new republic.
"On his funeral day they will honor his name.
It's a rallying cry that will reach every ear!
In the death of Lamarque we will kindle the flame.
They will see that the day of salvation is near!
The time is near!
Let us welcome it gladly with courage and cheer
Let us take to the streets with no doubt in our hearts
But a jubilant shout
They will come one and all
They will come when we call!"
The End of the Revolt
Barricades were built in the streets of Paris and the people resolved to fight for equality. Their society was made up of workingmen, boys, refugees who were living in Paris, students and other people of the lower classes. 25,000 soldiers attacked, leaving 800 of the revolutionaries dead or wounded, crushed the uprising.
According to the LES MISÉRABLES Study Guide, Victor Hugo, the author of the original novel, "began to think about LES MISÉRABLES as early as 1829. He observed the specific incident that triggers the novel’s action on the streets of Paris in 1845. On a sunny but cold day, he saw an impoverished man being arrested for stealing a loaf of bread. As the man stood on the street, an ornate carriage pulled up beside him. Inside there was a dazzlingly beautiful woman dressed in velvet, playing with a child hidden under ribbons, embroidery and furs. The impoverished man stared at the woman in the carriage, but she was totally unaware of him." Hugo wrote that he saw this man as, “the spectre of misery, the ghostly forewarning in full light of day, in the sunshine, of the revolution still plunged in the shadows of darkness, but emerging from them. The moment he become aware of her existence, while she remained unaware of his, a catastrophe was inevitable.”
Quotes are from the lyrics of LES MISÉRABLES.
This inequality between the rich and the poor is often a cause for revolution. Paris in 1832 was no different. Victor Hugo saw the universality of this, saying about his book, “I don’t know if it will be read by everyone, but it is meant for everyone. It addresses England as well as Spain, Italy as well as France, Germany as well as Ireland, the republics that harbour slaves as well as empires that have serfs. Social problems go beyond frontiers...”