IBDP Sample IA: How accurately does Les Misérables portray the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris?

Les Misérables and the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris

 How accurately does Les Misérables portray the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris?

 Section A – Plan of the Investigation 

The aim of this investigation is to answer the question: How accurately does Les Misérables portray the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris? Although this question stemmed from my admiration for the musical, I felt confirmed to do it after discussing the question with Dr. Robert Tombs of the University of Cambridge. To answer the question, I will focus primarily on the latter part of the play where the rebellions are portrayed . Although it will not be the focus of this investigation, characters and music lyrics will be considered. Since Les Misérables is not playing where I live , I will have to use the 2012 Tom Hooper movie as my primary source for the musical. For the other side of this investigation, I will implement a number of books, documentaries, and other sources to build up my argument. Among these sources will be Republicanism in Nineteenth-Century France, 1814-1871 by Pamela M. Pilbeam (recommended to me by Professor R. Tombs) and The Age of Revolution by Eric Hobsbawm. Both historians are well versed in this topic and hopefully will provide the evidence I need to answer this question. The evaluation of these sources will be presented in Section C. 

Word Count: 199


 Section B – Summary of Evidence 

In response to the proclamation of the four ordinances, the people of France rose up in revolution against King Charles X (July 1830). These revolutions stemmed from Charles X dissolving the Chamber of Deputies, limiting franchise to the wealthy members of the population, and restraining the freedom of press.  As a result of the ‘Three Glorious Days’ , the people of Paris gained hold of the capitol city and Charles X abdicated. With support from France’s upper bourgeoisie, Charles’s cousin Louis-Phillipe became the new King of France. In comparison to France’s past monarchs, Louis-Phillipe was a good king- he recognized that his people wanted liberty, the Chamber of Deputies was reinstated (and used), the government became anti-clerical and censorship was discontinued. Nonetheless, not having been elected into power gave him a bad reputation among the people who still wanted a real republic.  This became the context for the June Rebellion of 1832.

The June Rebellion was an unsuccessful insurrection that lasted for two days (June 5th 1832-June 6th 1832). Along with the context given in the first paragraph, this rebellion sprang from years of having a bad economy (“harvest failures, food shortages, and increases in the cost of living” ), a cholera outbreak in the spring of 1832 and the death of General Jean Lamarque in June. General Jean Lamarque was a favorite since he showed sympathy towards the lower class and appreciated their desires. After his death on June 1st 1832 , Lamarque became the catalyst the rebels needed to start the uprising.

On the morning of Lamarque’s funeral (June 5th, 1832), students, workers, and refugees gathered in the streets. During the procession, “a member of the crowd waved a red flag bearing the words "Liberty or Death", the crowd broke into disorder and shots were exchanged with government troops.”  After this, the insurgents moved quickly and began setting up barricades in the streets of Paris. Unfortunately for the rebels, the uprising did not spread. With no popular support and a huge army against them, the odds for the revolutionaries were not great. By the next day, the National Guard had deployed cannons on the barricades and those few who remained were surrounded. The rebellion was a fast failure.

Despite the fact that the rebellion accomplished nothing, it has become subject to romanticism in Victor Hugo’s book Les Misérables. This book was transferred to film in 1906 and in 1980, the Boubil-Schönberg musical was presented in Paris. Word Count: 

581 words

Section C – Evaluation of Sources 

Source A- ‘Les Misérables’ (film), by Universal Pictures, 2012 

I am going to analyze how accurate the musical Les Misérables is in portraying the June Rebellion of 1832. Since the musical is not playing where I live, I am using the most recent film version.  In terms of origin, this movie was made in 2013 and was filmed in several locations across England. The movie and musical is inspired by Victor Hugo’s book “Les Miserables”.  Hugo, who witnessed the June Rebellion first hand , created all the characters and events featured in the play. Just like the musical, this film was created purely for entertainment purposes. One aspect of this movie that makes it valuable for the historian is that you don’t have to go see it in a theater and you can fast forward to different parts . Another thing that makes the movie valuable over the play is that you get to see action that is a little more realistic.  The main limitation to this piece is the rebellion is greatly romanticized by the love story and the music. The focus is less on the rebellion and more on the characters.

 Source B- ‘Republicanism in Nineteenth-Century France, 1814-1871’, Pamela Pilbeam, 1995 

The second source I will asses is ‘Republicanism in Nineteenth-Century France, 1814-1871’ by Professor Pamela Pilbeam. Concerning the origin of this book, the work was originally published in the United States in 1995. Pilbeam is Emeritus Professor of French History at the University of London and has published several other books concerning nineteenth-century Europe .  The purpose of this publication was to answer questions concerning the French Revolution such as why it took “three attempts over nearly half a century before a permanent republican regime could be established.   This source is valuable to the historian studying the June Rebellion since she covers the rebellion and puts it in context to other events happening in France at that time. The limitation to this piece is the fact that she covers the rebellion in about 200 words. Since the rebellion itself was so short, I have had difficulty finding historians who mention it at all. 

Word Count: 358


Section D – Analysis 

Historical Significance The June Rebellion of 1832 is not a hugely significant part of France’s history. The rebellion was primarily Parisian and only lasted two days. In fact, many would agree that without Victor Hugo and Les Misérables the June Rebellion wouldn’t have the same popularity it has now.  “The novel [Les Misérables] is one of few works of literature that discusses the June Rebellion and the events leading up to it.

Leading up to the Rebellion 

Les Misérables is fairly limited when it comes to detailing the reasons for the uprising. For example, they forget to mention the cholera outbreak that swept the country in the spring of 1832.  Something that I discovered while researching for this investigation was that the lyrics are different between the musical and the movie. This proved to be an important find since in different adaptations, more or less information is given about the causes of the rebellion. For example, in the Tom Hooper movie, the second rendition of Look Down includes a part where the character Gavroche sings about the King who’s “no better than the last”.  He sings about France being a “land that fought for liberty” but is now stuck in the hands of a monarch again. This gives us some more details about the rebellion then the musical does. On the other hand, in the musical they add the line “See our children fed/Help us in our shame/Something for a crust of bread” to same song. This points out the starvation among the people and the desperation that spawns from that. 

One aspect that makes Les Misérables more historically accurate (in terms of what caused the rebellion) is their mention of General Lamarque.  His influence over the people and the effect his illness had on the rebellion is portrayed in the second rendition of Look Down  and the song Red and Black. We also see in the musical how Lamarque’s death becomes the catalyst for rebellion (which did occur in 1832).  At the end of Red and Black, Enjolras  comes up with the plan for the June Rebellion (starting with the interruption of Lamarque’s funeral).

Rebellion and Results 

Les Misérables is quite accurate in depicting the actual course of the rebellion. Although they separate Lamarque’s death and the funeral by one day rather then five , the progression of the rebellion is correct. During the song Do You Hear the People Sing, they show the interruption of the Jean Lamarque’s funeral and the shots that are fired shortly afterwards. They then show the erection of the barricades and the fighting and canon fire that occurs between the two parties. The results in the end are also the similar- there are men killed from both sides and the rebellion is a failure. Most importantly in my opinion, they show how the people of Paris did not rise up to the rebellion. This is not only portrayed through the verbal dialogue between the rebels  but in the last fighting scene when the rebels are knocking on the doors of houses surrounding them and the residents are too scared to help.

Nevertheless, there are still loads of inaccuracies. Since the book only focuses on one group of students- the friends of the ABC, this was translated into the musical. Although this was done to make the performance more entertaining, this completely distorts the rebellion for the historian. Since there is this focus on one group, we don’t realize how big the rebellion was. In the June Rebellion, a total of 800 people were killed or injured.  In the musical we get the impression that maybe 40 died. Also, to make the story more heart wrenching, all the rebels die the throughout the musical (minus Marius) . This was not the case in the June Rebellion since the remaining alive rebels were arrested and charged. Another mistake that came from focusing on the Friends of the ABC was not talking about the other barricades around the city. We do hear Enjolras  mention that the other barricades have fallen down and that theirs was the “only barricade left”  but the only other time we hear of the other barricade is the glimpse of another barricade at 98:27. To sum it up, “the musical’s writers chose to concentrate on Hugo’s more romantic themes of individual redemption and simplified ideas of social justice”.   They wanted to make a emotional piece, not a documentary. 

Word Count: 686 words

Section E - Conclusion 

In conclusion, I would argue that the musical Les Miserables is only partially accurate in portraying the June Rebellion in Paris, 1832. Since the focus is less on the rebellion and more on the characters involved in it, we lose details that weren’t essential to the Les Misérables playwrights. With that said, Les Misérables as a June Rebellion source is very useful since there are very few sources that detail the short rebellion. It’s really the only piece that focuses on the rebellion and without it, the June Rebellion may have become another event that’s lost in history.

Section F - Bibliography



Pilbeam, Pamela M. Republicanism in Nineteenth-century France: 1814-1871. New York: St. Martin's, 1995. Print.

Hobsbawm, E. J. The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848. Cleveland: World Pub., 1962. Print.

Harsin, Jill. The War of the Streets in Revolutionary Paris, 1830–1848. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Jean Maximilien Lamarque» in Charles Mullié, Biographie des célébrités militaires des armées de terre et de mer de 1789 à 1850, 1852

Mark Traugott, The Insurgent Barricade, University of California Press, 2010

Graham, Robb (1998). Victor Hugo: A Biography. W.W. Norton and Company.

Godfrey, Elton. The Revolutionary Idea in France. Second Edition. London: Edward Arnold & Co., 1923.


The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Louis-Philippe (king of France)." Encyclopedia Britannica Online- Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2014. - http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/349203/Louis-Philippe

"Les Misérables: Creation of the Musical - Walnut Street Theatre." Les Misérables: Creation of the Musical - Walnut Street Theatre. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Oct. 2014. - http://www.walnutstreettheatre.org/season/lesmis-creation.php

"Les Miserables Soundtrack Lyrics | Musical." Les Miserables Soundtrack Lyrics | Musical. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2014. - http://www.stlyrics.com/l/lesmiserables.htm

"Pamela Pilbeam." Professor — Department of History, Classics and Archaeology, Birkbeck, University of London. N.p., 19 Aug. 2014. Web. 01 Oct. 2014 - http://www.bbk.ac.uk/history/our-staff/teaching-and-scholarship/pilbeam

Gossard, Julia. "Les Misérables: A Historian’s Review." The Alcalde RSS. N.p., 16 Jan. 2013. Web. 02 Oct. 2014. - http://alcalde.texasexes.org/2013/01/les-miserables-a-historians-review/

Bradford, Wade. "The Historical Background of Les Miserables." About. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Oct. 2014. - http://plays.about.com/od/musicals/a/Les-Miserables-Historical-Background.htm


Spirit., and Backg. "Les Mis Study Guide 1." Les Miserable Study Guide 1 (n.d.): n. pag. Official Website for Les Miserables- London. Web. 30 Sept. 2014. This PDF is supplied for education purposes by Les Miserables Educational Team


Les Miserables 2012. Dir. Tom Hooper. Universal, 2012. DVD.

"June Rebellion of 1832 Mp4 HD." YouTube. YouTube, 4 June 2014. Web. 29 Sept. 2014.


Foster, Meredith. "Ten-Minute History: The June Rebellion of 1832." Prezi.com. N.p., 18 Jan. 2013. Web. 29 Sept. 2014


Digital image. Here Is the City. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2014. <http://hereisthecity.com/en-gb/2012/10/03/les-misrables-review/>.