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Unit information: Les Miserables: Readings and Receptions in 2020/21

Unit name Les Miserables: Readings and Receptions
Unit code FREN30030
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Stephens
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of French
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit explores the relationship between Victor Hugo’s epic novel Les Misérables (1862) and its numerous adaptations, including film, animation, literature, and the celebrated stage musical. By looking first at the novel itself and then at a range of adaptations, this unit engages both with the creativity of French Romantic aesthetics and with the processes of adaptation. Hugo’s novel gives his reader a sense of their own freedom towards the moral questions which the text poses about social justice. Hugo’s readers are prompted to become active designers of meaning, helping Les Misérables to be re-imagined over successive generations and to enter into an international popular consciousness. This unit in turn examines how adaptations of the novel may be seen as creative works rather than derivative copies. They reshape Les Misérables according to their own artistic and cultural needs, offering new ways of thinking about concepts of originality and intertextuality.

The unit will be taught through a combination of tutor- and student-led seminars, Les Misérables will be studied alongside a minimum of four adaptations in any one academic session, taken from a broad range of works in different media, for example: film (1995, dir. Claude Lelouch); television( 1972, dir. Marcel Bluwal); radio (1937, dir. Orson Welles); print (2009, Soleil Manga); stage (Boublil and Schönberg’s famous 1985 musical); and user-generated digital content (Takase’s 1998 video game). Key seminar reading material, including URL links to reading and viewing where possible, will be made available via Blackboard; some A/V material will be uploaded directly for students to consult, both for the primary and broader reading lists.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit, students will be able to demonstrate that they have:

  1. Developed a sound knowledge of a canonical French novel and its place within French cultural history, including its socio-historical relevance
  2. Understood cultural and creative developments that is initiated when literature is adapted into a different medium or appropriated for new writing.
  3. Demonstrated how to analyse the language and form of both the French novel and a selection of its various adaptations (e.g. film).
  4. Examined the unit’s primary reading and viewing through the appropriate critical frameworks of intertextuality and transmediality.
  5. Carried out independent research inquiry appropriate to level H with a sense of the consolidation of skills between levels of study in the building of the degree programme;
  6. Demonstrated their ability to articulate a critical position in both oral and written form as appropriate to level H.

Teaching details

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous sessions and asynchronous activities, including seminars, lectures, and collaborative as well as self-directed learning opportunities supported by tutor consultation.

Assessment Details

1 x group presentation (25%) testing ILOs 1-6

1 x 4000 word essay (75%) testing ILOs 1-5

Reading and References

[The set adaptations may vary from year to year.]

Grossman, Kathryn, Figuring Transcendence in ‘Les Misérables’: Hugo’s Romantic Sublime. (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1994)

Hugo, Victor, Les Misérables (either the 1998 Livre de Poche or 1999 Gallimard Folio editions; 3 vols, each)

Hutcheon, Linda, A Theory of Adaptation, 2nd edition (New York; London: Routledge, 2012)

Jenkins, Henry, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green, ‘Why Media Spreads’ in Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture (New York and London: New York University Press, 2013), pp. 1-46.

Leitch, Thomas. ‘Adaptation Studies at a Crossroads’, Adaptation 1: 1 (2008), 63-77. Sanders, Julie, Adaptation and Appropriation (New York; London: Routledge, 2006)