"To err is human, to stroll is Parisian."
HUGO, Victor. Les Miserables. I. Fantine; II. Cosette; III. Marius; IV: Saint Denis and The Idyl of the Rue Plumet; V. Jean Valjean. New York: Carleton, 1862.
8vo., 5 volumes in original blind stamped cloth: lettering on spines dulled, 4 volumes with the bookplate of William G Abbot, spines slightly sunned, otherwise a very good set.
First American edition and first edition in English translated from the French by Chas. E Wilbour.
Twenty years in the conception and execution, Les Misérables was first published in France and Belgium in 1862, a year which found Victor Hugo in exile from France. On the morning of its publication, a mob filled the streets around Pagnerre’s book shop, which was at the time almost entirely devoted to copies of Hugo’s most recent novel. Within a few hours, thousands of books had been sold. Although Hugo’s critics were quick to condemn him for making money by dramatizing the misery of the poor, the poor themselves bought, read, and discussed his book in unprecedented numbers.
Victor Hugo's "great novel has been hailed as a masterpiece of popular literature, an epic poem in prose about God [and] humanity...Hugo hoped that Les Miserables would be one of if not the 'principal summits' of his body of works. Despite its length, complexity, and occasionally unbelievable plot and characterization, it remains a masterpiece of popular literature. It anticipates Balzac in its realism, but in its flights of imagination and lyricism, its theme of redemption, and its melding of myth and history, it is uniquely Hugo" (Dolbow, 149, 214)
Charles E. Wilbour was hired by the Carleton Publishing Company to translate Hugo's grand masterpiece, and he did so very quickly, allowing the first American edition to be published within months of its French release. The intense advertising campaign waged by Carleton resulted in massive sales for Les Misérables, solidifying Hugo's epic in second place (behind only Uncle Tom's Cabin) in pre-Civil War American book sales.