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The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831)

These Greek capitals, black with age, and quite deeply graven in the stone, with I know not what signs peculiar to Gothic caligraphy imprinted upon their forms and upon their attitudes, as though with the purpose of revealing that it had been a hand of the Middle Ages which had inscribed them there, and especially the fatal and melancholy meaning contained in them, struck the author deeply.


The word Gothic, in the sense in which it is generally employed, is wholly unsuitable, but wholly consecrated. Hence we accept it and we adopt it, like all the rest of the world, to characterize the architecture of the second half of the Middle Ages, where the ogive is the principle which succeeds the architecture of the first period, of which the semi-circle is the father.

--Volume I, Book I, Chapter I

We shall not attempt to give the reader an idea of that tetrahedron nose-that horse-shoe mouth-that small left eye over-shadowed by a red bushy brow, while the right eye disappeared entirely under an enormous wart-of those straggling teeth with breaches here and there like the battlements of a fortress-of that horny lip, over which one of those teeth projected like the tusk of an elephant-of that forked chin-and, above all, of the expression diffused over the whole-that mixture of malice, astonishment, and melancholy. Let the reader, if he can, figure to himself this combination.

--Volume I, Book I, Chapter V

Philosophy, moreover, was his sole refuge, for he did not know where he was to lodge for the night.

--Volume I, Book II, Chapter I

There remains to-day but a very imperceptible vestige of the Place de Grève, such as it existed then; it consists in the charming little turret, which occupies the angle north of the Place, and which, already enshrouded in the ignoble plaster which fills with paste the delicate lines of its sculpture, would soon have disappeared, perhaps submerged by that flood of new houses which so rapidly devours all the ancient façades of Paris.

--Volume I, Book II, Chapter II

It is a consoling idea ... to think that the death penalty, which three hundred years ago still encumbered with its iron wheels, its stone gibbets, and all its paraphernalia of torture, permanent and riveted to the pavement, the Grève, the Halles, the Place Dauphine, the Cross du Trahoir, the Marché aux Pourceaux, that hideous Montfauçon, the barrier des Sergents, the Place aux Chats, the Porte Saint-Denis, Champeaux, the Porte Baudets, the Porte Saint Jacques, without reckoning the innumerable ladders of the provosts, the bishop of the chapters, of the abbots, of the priors, who had the decree of life and death--without reckoning the judicial drownings in the river Seine; it is consoling to-day, after having lost successively all the pieces of its armor, its luxury of torment, its penalty of imagination and fancy, its torture for which it reconstructed every five years a leather bed at the Grand Châtelet, that ancient suzerain of feudal society almost expunged from our laws and our cities, hunted from code to code, chased from place to place, has no longer, in our immense Paris, any more than a dishonored corner of the Grève--than a miserable guillotine, furtive, uneasy, shameful, which seems always afraid of being caught in the act, so quickly does it disappear after having dealt its blow.

--Volume I, Book II, Chapter II

Whether this young girl was a human being, a fairy, or an angel, is what Gringoire, sceptical philosopher and ironical poet that he was, could not decide at the first moment, so fascinated was he by this dazzling vision. She was not tall, though she seemed so, so boldly did her slender form dart about. She was swarthy of complexion, but one divined that, by day, her skin must possess that beautiful golden tone of the Andalusians and the Roman women. Her little foot, too, was Andalusian, for it was both pinched and at ease in its graceful shoe. She danced, she turned, she whirled rapidly about on an old Persian rug, spread negligently under her feet; and each time that her radiant face passed before you, as she whirled, her great black eyes darted a flash of lightning at you.

--Volume I, Book II, Chapter III

It is an unpleasant thing to go to bed without supper, it is a still less pleasant thing not to sup and not to know where one is to sleep.

--Volume I, Book II, Chapter III

During a wise man's whole life, his destiny holds his philosophy in a state of siege.

--Volume I, Book II, Chapter III

The poor poet cast his eyes about him. It was, in truth, that redoubtable Cour des Miracles, whither an honest man had never penetrated at such an hour; the magic circle where the officers of the Châtelet and the sergeants of the provostship, who ventured thither, disappeared in morsels; a city of thieves, a hideous wart on the face of Paris; a sewer, from which escaped every morning, and whither returned every night to crouch, that stream of vices, of mendicancy and vagabondage which always overflows in the streets of capitals; a monstrous hive, to which returned at nightfall, with their booty, all the drones of the social order; a lying hospital where the bohemian, the disfrocked monk, the ruined scholar, the ne'er-do-wells of all nations, Spaniards, Italians, Germans,--of all religions, Jews, Christians, Mahometans, idolaters, covered with painted sores, beggars by day, were transformed by night into brigands; an immense dressing-room, in a word, where, at that epoch, the actors of that eternal comedy, which theft, prostitution, and murder play upon the pavements of Paris, dressed and undressed.

--Volume I, Book II, Chapter VI

When a man understands the art of seeing, he can trace the spirit of an age and the features of a king even in the knocker on a door.

--Volume I, Book III, Chapter II

He stirred up from the bottom of his heart all his hatred, all his wickedness; and he discovered, with the cool eye of a physician examining a patient, that this hatred, this wickedness, were but vitiated love-that love, the source of every virtue in man, turned to things horrible in the heart of a priest-and that a man constituted as he was, by making himself a priest made himself a demon.

--Volume I, Book IX, Chapter I

The owl goes not into the nest of the lark.

--Volume I, Book IX, Chapter III

For dogs we kings should have lions, and for cats, tigers. The great benefits a crown.

--Volume I, Book X, Chapter V

Quasimodo then lifted his eye to look upon the gypsy girl, whose body, suspended from the gibbet, he beheld quivering afar, under its white robes, in the last struggles of death; then again he dropped it upon the archdeacon, stretched a shapeless mass at the foot of the tower, and he said with a sob that heaved his deep breast to the bottom, 'Oh-all that I've ever loved!'

--Volume I, Book XI, Chapter II

Les Misérables (1862)

So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilisation, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age — the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of woman by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night — are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.


Be it true or false, what is said about men often has as much influence upon their lives, and especially upon their destinies, as what they do.

--Volume I, Book I, Chapter I

There are many tongues to talk, and but few heads to think.

--Volume I, Book I, Chapter I

Table talk and lovers' talk equally elude the grasp; lovers' talk is clouds, table talk is smoke.

--Volume I, Book III, Chapter VI

A discussion is good ... a quarrel is better.

--Volume I, Book III, Chapter VII

To be wicked does not insure prosperity.

--Volume I, Book IV, Chapter III

The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved.

--Volume I, Book V, Chapter IV

For prying into any human affairs, none are equal to those whom it does not concern.

--Volume I, Book V, Chapter VII

It is a mistake to imagine that man can exhaust his destiny, or can reach the bottom of anything whatever. Alas! what are all these destinies thus driven pell-mell? whither go they? why are they so? He who knows that, sees all the shadow. He is alone. His name is God.

--Volume I, Book V, Chapter XI

Great grief is a divine and terrible radiance which transfigures the wretched.

--Volume I, Book V, Chapter XIII

To write the poem of the human conscience, were it only of a single man, were it only of the most infamous of men, would be to swallow up all epics in a superior and final epic.

--Volume I, Book VII, Chapter XIII

One can no more prevent the mind from returning to an idea than the sea from returning to a shore. In the case of the sailor, this is called a tide; in the case of the guilty, it is called remorse.

--Volume I, Book VII, Chapter XIII

Would you realize what Revolution is, call it Progress; and would you realize what Progress is, call it Tomorrow.

--Volume II, Book I, Chapter XVII

Jean Valjean had this peculiarity, that he might be said to carry two knapsacks; in one he had the thoughts of a saint, in the other the formidable talents of a convict. He helped himself from one or the other as occasion required.

--Volume II, Book V, Chapter V

Great blunders are often made, like large ropes, of a multitude of fibers.

--Volume II, Book V, Chapter X

We blame the Church when it is saturated with intrigues; we despise the spiritual when it is harshly austere to the temporal; but we honour everywhere, the thoughtful man.

--Volume II, Book VII, Chapter VIII

We bow to the man who kneels.

--Volume II, Book VII, Chapter VIII

A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is a visible labour and there is an invisible labour.

--Volume II, Book VII, Chapter VIII

Thales remained motionless for four years. He founded philosophy.

--Volume II, Book VII, Chapter VIII

Not being heard is no reason for silence.

--Volume II, Book VIII, Chapter I

Laughter is sunshine; it chases winter from the human face.

--Volume II, Book VIII, Chapter IX

Years place at last a venerable crown upon a head.

--Volume III, Book III, Chapter I

There is a way of meeting error while on the road of truth.

--Volume III, Book III, Chapter VI

Not seeing people permits us to imagine in them every perfection.

--Volume III, Book III, Chapter VII

His specialty was to succeed in nothing.... He was poor, but his fund of good humor was inexhaustible. He soon reached the last sou but never the last burst of laughter. When met by adversity, he saluted that acquaintance cordially, he patted catastrophes on the back; he was so familiar with fatality as to call it by its nick-name.

--Volume III, Book IV, Chapter I

Desiring always to be in mourning, he clothed himself with night.

--Volume III, Book V, Chapter I

We should judge a man much more surely from what he dreams than from what he thinks.

--Volume III, Book V, Chapter V

Babet was thin and shrewd. He was transparent, but impenetrable. You could see the light through his bones, but nothing through his eye.

--Volume III, Book VII, Chapter III

Poor mothers. There is one thing sadder than to see their children die — to see them lead evil lives.

--Volume III, Book VIII, Chapter II

Those are rare who fall without becoming degraded; there is a point, moreover, at which the unfortunate and the infamous are associated and confounded in a single word, a fatal word, Les Misérables.

--Volume III, Book VIII, Chapter V

Honesty does not fear authority.

--Volume III, Book VIII, Chapter XIV

The father of a woman that we love is never a stranger to us.

--Volume III, Book VIII, Chapter XX

Logic ignores the Almost, just as the sun ignores the candle.

--Volume IV, Book I, Chapter II

Social prosperity means man happy, the citizen free, the nation great.

--Volume IV, Book I, Chapter IV

Happy, even in anguish, is he to whom God has given a soul worthy of love and of grief! He who has not seen the things of this world, and the hearts of men by this double light, has seen nothing, and knows nothing of the truth.

--Volume IV, Book II, Chapter I

Nothing is more dangerous than discontinued labor; it is habit lost. A habit easy to abandon, difficult to resume.

--Volume IV, Book II, Chapter I

Thought is the labor of the intellect, reverie is its pleasure.

--Volume IV, Book II, Chapter I

Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two has the grander view?

--Volume IV, Book III, Chapter III

Women play with their beauty as children do with their knives. They wound themselves with it.

--Volume IV, Book III, Chapter VI

One evening little Gavroche had had no dinner; he remembered that he had had no dinner also the day before; this was becoming tiresome. He resolved that he would try for some supper.

--Volume IV, Book IV, Chapter II

The most terrible of motives and the most unanswerable of responses: Because.

--Volume IV, Book VI, Chapter I

At a certain depth of distress, the poor, in their stupor, groan no longer over evil, and are no longer thankful for good.

--Volume IV, Book VI, Chapter I

The endeavor is vain, you cannot annihilate that eternal relic of the human heart, love.

--Volume IV, Book VII, Chapter II

If there is anything more poignant than a body agonising for want of bread, it is a soul which is dying of hunger for light.

--Volume IV, Book VII, Chapter IV

There is but one way of refusing To-morrow, that is to die.

--Volume IV, Book VII, Chapter IV

A compliment is something like a kiss through a veil.

--Volume IV, Book VIII, Chapter I

When we are at the end of life, to die means to go away; when we are at the beginning, to go away means to die.

--Volume IV, Book VIII, Chapter VI

The wind of revolutions is not tractable.

--Volume IV, Book X, Chapter IV

The road is free; the streets belong to everybody.

--Volume IV, Book XI, Chapter VI

What you fellows call progress moves by two springs, men and events. But sad to say, from time to time the exceptional is necessary. For events as well as for men, the stock company is not enough; geniuses are needed among men, and revolutions among events. Great accidents are the law; the order of things cannot get along without them; and, to see the apparitions of comets, one would be tempted to believe that Heaven itself is in need of star actors. At the moment you least expect it, God placards a meteor on the wall of the firmament. Some strange star comes along, underlined by an enormous tail. And that makes Caesar die. Brutus strikes him with a knife, and God with a comet.

--Volume IV, Book XII, Chapter II

Great perils have this beauty, that they bring to light the fraternity of strangers.

--Volume IV, Book XII, Chapter IV

The soul does not give itself up to despair until it has exhaused all illusions.

--Volume IV, Book XV, Chapter I

To save yourself by means of that which has ruined you is the masterpiece of great men.

--Volume IV, Book XV, Chapter IV

Nations, like stars, are entitled to eclipse. All is well, provided the light returns and the eclipse does not become endless night. Dawn and resurrection are synonymous. The reappearance of the light is the same as the survival of the soul.

--Volume V, Book I, Chapter XX

Alas! to have risen does not prevent falling.

--Volume V, Book I, Chapter XX

There are people who observe the rules of honour as we observe the stars, from afar off.

--Volume V, Book I, Chapter XXI

To form an idea of this struggle, imagine fire applied to a mass of terrible valour, and that you are witnessing the conflagration. It was not a combat, it was the interior of a furnace; there mouths breathed flame; there faces were wonderful. There the human form seemed impossible, the combatants flashed flames, and it was terrible to see going and coming in that lurid smoke these salamanders of the fray. The successive and simultaneous scenes of this grand slaughter, we decline to paint.

--Volume V, Book I, Chapter XXI

Philosophy is the microscope of thought.

--Volume V, Book II, Chapter II

The pupil dilates in the night, and at last finds day in it, even as the soul dilates in misfortune, and at last finds God in it.

--Volume V, Book III, Chapter I

It is nothing to die; it is horrible not to live.

--Volume V, Book IX, Chapter V

Love each other dearly always. There is scarcely anything else in the world but that: to love one another.

--Volume V, Book IX, Chapter V

He sleeps. Although his fate was very strange,
he lived. He died when he had no longer his angel.
The thing came to pass simply,
of itself, as the night comes when day is gone.

--Volume V, Book IX, Chapter VI

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