Battle of the Tomes: Les Miserables v. War and Peace

Battle of the Tomes: Which is better, Les Miserable or War and Peace?

  • Les Miserables

    Votes: 2 22.2%
  • War and Peace

    Votes: 7 77.8%

  • Total voters
Mar 2010
Simple enough. Which of these bad boy behemoths do you think is the better novel; the more profound of the two. But here's the bigger question: why, in your illustrious, scholarly opinion, is that so? Hmm? Why?
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David Vagamundo

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
Atlanta, Georgia USA
Even though I voted for Tolstoy, hope that as this poll progresses we'll have more weigh in on Les Miserables. For me it is a very close choice.

In my opinion, Tolstoy has a better grasp of interpersonal relations. Too many of Hugo's characters and their relationships don't ring true to me. Caveat--it's been years since I read War and Peace, and I just finished Les Miserables late last year. I'm planning on rereading War and Peace soon and so may revise my opinion. Just read Balzac's short story "Adieu" which made me want to reread Tolstoy.

deaf tuner

Ad Honoris
Oct 2013
I never thought to compare those two, tho. In my opinion they're too different.

Hugo is an engaged writer, with strong opinions, and Les Miserables is not only a magnificent novel, but a manifesto too. It's on a new world trying to come to life. A better one, with better persons, a more opened one, in Hugo's conviction. He's an engaged writer. He's interested by the place of his personages in the larger scheme of the society's becaming.

A passionate writer analysing the movement, the "will be".

Tolstoy is more an observant, an analyst. He's somehow detached, less evidently letting his personal conviction transperce. He likes more to see what's inside his personages, more why they did than how they will do. An analyst searching objective causes. Maybe because he's describing a society stuck, refusing, or not knowing how to evolve?

A rational writer, analysing the present, "the it is"

Well, my two pennies on two far back in time reads.

ps: I really couldn't vote: can't decide ! (on this indecision, one could say: "that's more Tolstoy than Hugo,deaf! ;) )
Apr 2019
Tolstoy writes from the head, and Hugo from the heart. Of the very long novels that I've read, Les Miserables is my favourite: it has a huge heart. I've read them both twice+, but I am less moved by the trials of the extremely privileged characters in War and Peace, and experience more frequent urges to skip and skim. I find the 'analysis' at the end of War and Peace almost unreadable. As to which is 'better', it probably depends on your character and even your mood. I believe literary pundits generally give the nod to Tolstoy, but Les Miserables gets my vote for sure.
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Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
Welsh Marches
Chalk and cheese, Tolstoy is a realist and Hugo a sort of epic fantasist whose characters are not really very credible (that is not intended as critically as it may sound). In my view Tolstoy was the greatest of all novelists, just as Shakespeare was the greatest dramatist, and there is little point in trying to rank him against anyone else, let alone anyone as different as Hugo.
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Jan 2017
Easy choice for me since I quite like War & Peace (though I prefer Anna Karenina), whereas I found Les Miserables too melodramatic with far too many narrative diversions to enjoy.

Valjean is only an enigma to people who paint others in broad strokes; a "criminal" for stealing 1 paltry loaf of bread or a "saint" for all his good deeds.
I can't believe an Inspector with as much experience as Javert to have almost never come across a morally ambiguous suspect, also all this drama and hassle over 1 loaf of bread stolen years ago? I know he's supremely devoted to the law, but surely there are more pressing crimes out there for him to focus on?
There's also the 40-page diversion on the Battle of Waterloo, mainly to introduce a tertiary character barely related to the plot. At other times Hugo takes great pains discussing the history of buildings unrelated to the overall story. I know he's trying to imbue the setting with a lengthy history, he just goes into so much detail it hurts the pacing of the story imo.

I have more complaints like Valjean managing to turn up at the trial with the most perfect timing for maximum dramatic effect, Fantine's relentless bad luck, the overly-benevolent bishop at the start e.t.c. I wouldn't call Victor Hugo a terrible writer, just not for me.


Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
Welsh Marches
Dickens too is often like that of course, with implausible plots and characters who would never be enountered in real; but fiction of that kind can work in its own way, and even reveal much about human nature and social and moral issues.
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