Les Miserables in History

For my final project, I desired to create a timeline bringing the fictional novel of “Les Miserables” together with the history of France in the 18th and 19th centuries. As the novel draws so much from the history happening around it in France being able to have both a timeline with both elements present on it would help to contextualize the novel.

Before I began I used the program Voyant Tools to pull out themes from the novel that I should be focusing on. However, very quickly I remembered just how long the novel is, as every time I went to copy the full text into Voyant tools my computer had a meltdown. After a few attempts, I decided I need to find a condensed version of the novel to pull themes from. I combined three different summaries of the novel to give a wider range of takes on the novel. These summaries are located here:

https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/lesmis/summary/ https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/l/les-miserables/book-summary https://www.enotes.com/topics/les-miserables

After putting all three of the summaries through Voyant tools this is the word collage that popped up:

While the most popular words were the names of the main characters, words that were also very popular were words in reference to family. “Daughter” was used 9 times, “grandfather” 6 times, and “family” 6 times. Other words that were very popular were words referencing prison or illegal activity. For example, “arrest” was used 4 times, “police” 6, “convict” 4, “stealing” 5, and “prison” 5. Finally, the theme of morality was very prevalent as “life” was used 15 times and “death” was used 4 times. As well, “dies” is used 4 times, “young” is used 11 times, and “lives” is used 8 times. These themes help me to narrow down what might be most important about the novel to focus on for my timeline. Likewise, it is helpful to know what was the focus during different parts of the novel to try to link it to historical events surrounding it. For example, morality talk and language is used more at the end of the novel, signalling I should be looking for historical events that might have influenced those feelings. The graphs on Voyant tools also help to show the prevalence of different characters throughout the book. Cosette appears several times in the beginning and the end of the novel, however, dips of in the middle. This helps me to know whereabouts certain characters should be showing up on my timeline. Looking at the info I gained, I know the most common events on my timeline should be in relation to the main characters, their families, life and death, as well as criminal activities.

Taking the information I gleaned from Voyant tools I was ready to begin constructing my timeline. I used the novel for refrence, as well as my own personal knoweledge of the book, and finally some other timelines online. Here are the timelines I used for refrence:


https://www.preceden.com/timelines/51786-les-miserables https://www.preceden.com/timelines/48979-les-miserables-timeline http://www.angelfire.com/pq/lesmis/chron.html

Due to the novel being so large I used mainly large plot points and large historical moments in 18th and 19th century France on my timeline. I used Timeline JS to create my timeline. You can scroll through it here:

This timeline is a small projection of my concept for a digital humanities project. With more time and resources I would love to dive much deeper into the plot of Les Miserables. I would love to be able to connect these plot points to moments in history on the timeline, not just provide dates and events happening at the same time. While I adore the story of Les Mis, I am by no means an expert on it or on the history of France in the 18th and 19th centuries. It would be amazing to reach out to experts in these fields and have them contribute their knowledge and research to the project. I would also love to see this project expand from just Les Mis to other books that are tied to real life history in their time period. For example, I would love to see a timeline created of the Anne of Green Gables series along with the historical events of 20th century Canada. Overall, with a longer time frame and more resources, I would love to see this timeline become an expansive resource for literary and historical scholars alike to use for a greater understanding of how historical literature interacts with the real history around it.