First Reading Projects of 2020

I am anxiously awaiting for January 1st to arrive. Why? Because I have some really fun reading projects I can’t wait to start.

Japanese Literature Challenge

First up is a different type of challenge. One where you don’t have a certain number of books or certain titles you have to read. It’s the Japanese Literature Challenge hosted by Bellezza. I first came across this challenge at my friend Silvia’s blog and thought this would be a reading project I would like to join. You can read more about this challenge HERE.


Right now, I have several titles in mind for this:

  • The Makioka Sisters by Jun’Ichirō Tanizaki
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (a re-read)
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

My plan is to focus on just one title first. If I get around to the others then great! I decided on The Makioka Sisters as my first read. I have bought the book and it is waiting on the shelf for me. 🙂 However, it looks like there might be the possibility of a read-along for this in March. So, if that’s the case, I will start with a re-reading of The Remains of the Day by Ishiguro. I’ve been wanting to re-read this book so this is the perfect time to do that!

The Iliad Read-Along

Starting January 1st, Cleo at Classical Carousel is hosting a read-along for The Iliad by Homer. I have already read The Iliad and didn’t really care for it. Epic poetry is not a favorite genre of mine…..However, I am going to try to read it again with Cleo’s read-along but I’ll be reading a different translation this time. I hope that with a different translation and Cleo’s read-along that I will be able to get more out of The Iliad this time around. 🙂 You can check out the Introductory post HERE and the schedule for the read-along HERE.

And that’s the reading projects I’ll be starting off my 2020 reading year with. I am participating in another read-along in March hosted by my friend Silvia. But I’ll talk about that when we get closer to March. 🙂

Do you have any reading project plans for the first part of 2020?

Les Misérables #14 – Jean Valjean Books 4-9


Les Miserables Fahnestock and McAfee

Fahnestock and McAfee Translation

**Again, just a reminder that I am reading the Fahnestock and McAfee translation. So all quotes and page numbers are from this particular translation.**


Can you believe we just finished the final chapters of the book? It’s hard to believe I’ve finished reading it! This is the final post in the series. I’ve sat with this book now for weeks but it’s impact will last much, much longer. It is easily one of the best new books I’ve read this year! (New as in I’ve never read it before)

I am giving summaries and thoughts for the last section of the book as usual. In the comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts not only on this last section, but also on the book as a whole. I will posting another post soon where I plan to share some about the impact Les Misérables had on me as I read it.


Book 4

In my last post, I talked about how I thought Javert was already in inner turmoil because of Valjean’s actions. Book 4 confirms that and shows Javert’s thoughts as he struggles with his beliefs being confronted by Valjean.

Jean Valjean confused him. All the axioms that had served as the supports of his life crumbled away before this man. Jean Valjean’s generosity toward him, Javert, overwhelmed him…Javert felt that something horrible was penetrating his soul, admiration for a convict. Respect for a man on the work gang, could that be possible? He shuddered at the thought yet could not shake it off. It was useless to struggle, he was reduced to confessing before his own inner tribunal the sublimity of the wretch. That was odious.” (p. 1318)

Javert’s ideal was not to be humane, not to be great, not to be sublime; it was to be irreproachable. Now he had just failed….All sorts of questions flashed before his eyes. He asked himself questions and gave answers, and his answers frightened him.” (p. 1320)

All the he had believed in was dissipating. Truths he had no wish for besieged him inexorably. He must henceforth be another man. He suffered the strange pangs of a conscience suddenly operated on for a cataract. He could see what it revolted him to see. He felt that he was emptied, useless, broken off from his past life, destitute, dissolved. Authority was dead in him. He had no further reason for being.” (p. 1321)

In the end, Javert could not reconcile himself to these conflicting thoughts that confronted all he had believed and the principles he had based his life and work on. He could not bring himself to entertain the thought that he could change how he saw things or that he could continue to be a man of the law but also a man with a heart. Maybe things would have been different for Javert had he had a Bishop Myriel to steer his soul in a better direction. So all he felt was left for him was to cease to exist. He felt he “had no further reason for being.” (p. 1321) And because of thinking that, he makes the choice to physically cease to exist by jumping off the parapet into the tumultuous section of the Seine that was a “formidable whirlpool that knots and unknots itself like an endless screw.” (p, 1326)


Les Miserables M. Gillenormand Dances a Gavotte

Books 5 and 6

It took a good while for Marius to recover from his wounds. His grandfather was at his side and very attentive. As far as Marius’ involvement in the insurrection, he was let go and did not suffer any consequences for his involvement.

Finally, he recovered and thought he would have to go to great lengths to get his grandfather’s blessing to marry Cosette. He was much surprised to find that his grandfather was happy to consent. His grandfather sent for Cosette and she and Valjean came. They are warmly received and much attention is given to Cosette from the grandfather. Valjean also lets them know that she has a good deal of money which shocks them. The wedding is set for February.

In the meantime, Marius stills feels a responsibility towards Thénardier because of his father; but Thénardier seems to have completely disappeared. However, as the reader, we see him pop up on the wedding day. As they are making their way to the wedding, there’s a man and girl in the crowd that had gathered for Mardi Gras. The man says a face in the carriage seems familiar and sends his daughter off to find out what wedding party the man belongs to and where they live. We discover that this man and daughter are none other than Thénardier and his daughter Azelma. (We learn that the Thénardiess died.)

After the wedding, there’s a small gathering at M. Gillenormand’s house. Valjean manages to excuse himself early on and goes back home. When he gets home, he pulls out the box that he has carried with him wherever they have gone. He opens it up and puts the contents of it on the bed. It is the clothes  and shoes that Cosette had worn ten years ago when they left Montfermeil; the mourning clothes that he had bought for her. He arranged all the things on the bed and thought about all those years ago and how she had no one else in the world but him. Then he laid his head on the bed and cried.

Valjean finds himself still with inner turmoil. But despite his feelings, despite the selfishness and how he felt about Marius, he did not give in to those feelings. He still saved Marius and he let Cosette marry Marius.


Books 7 and 8

The next morning, Valjean goes back to M. Gillenormand’s house and asks for Marius. He talks with Marius and reveals who he really is – an ex-convict, Jean Valjean, wanted at large again. Marius doesn’t really know what to think. But in the end, he agrees to not tell Cosette and that Valjean would come every evening to see her. And it does seem like he wants to help Valjean. He said he had a friend who could get him pardoned. Valjean wouldn’t accept.

Next we are given Marius’ inner dialogue on this new information regarding Valjean. I will admit, I got irritated with Marius here. And as I continued reading in to Book 8, I did not like Marius one bit because of his treatment of Valjean. Of course, we have traveled this entire novel with Jean Valjean. We have gotten to take a peek into his inner struggles. We have seen him be kind, generous, gentlemanly; a man who took in Fantine and helped her and was a loving father to Cosette. But what frustrates me so much, is that Marius himself was pardoned from his involvement in the insurrection….he could have had dire consequences for that. Yet, he can’t now see past Valjean’s admission of his past. He wanted to ask him several questions; but not one of those questions was to ask Valjean why he was put in prison to begin with. Valjean eluded to it by saying that he once stole bread to live. But I don’t know that Marius picked up on that as being the reason Valjean was sent to prison.

Day after day, Valjean continued to come in the evenings to visit Cosette. His visits began to be longer as time passed. But then, he began to notice that a message clearly seemed to be sent to him. First, the fire was not lit in the fireplace. Then the armchairs were on the other side of the room. Then the armchairs were gone altogether. He felt he was clearly being told to quit coming to visit. This broke my heart.

Valjean did not even have to reveal to Marius his real name and what his past consisted of. He could have kept on, moved in with them, and continued being M. Fauchelevent. But his conscious wouldn’t let him.

He drew a breath with difficulty, and forced out these final words:  ‘To live, I once stole a loaf of bread; today, to live, I will not steal a name.’” (p. 1396)

He felt he had to be open and up front with Marius. And now, it would seem that Marius is trying to subtly tell Valjean to quit coming around. I am quite aggravated with Marius…….

St. Denis by Edouard Cortes 1905

“St. Denis” by Edouard Cortes 1905

Valjean does stop visiting and the end of Book 8 finds Valjean walking to M. Gillenormand’s house regularly but turning around and going back; then he slowly stops going as far as Gillenormand’s house. He is old. Reading this part really broke my heart.

To read all of this turn of events for Valjean in feeling like he was no longer being welcomed to visit Cosette, his only family in the entire world, it broke my heart and brought tears to my eyes. His health was declining, and all he wanted was to be near Cosette.


Book 9

Hugo must have known how his readers would react to Marius’ actions in Book 8 because he starts off Book 9 by saying:

It is a terrible thing to be happy! How pleased we are with it! How all-sufficient we think it! Being in possession of the false aim of life, happiness, how we forget the true aim, duty! We must say, however, that it would be unjust to blame Marius.” (p. 1426)

What we, as the reader, have to remember is that we know much more about Valjean than Marius did. In Marius’ eyes, the case did not look well for Valjean. He questioned where all the money had come from. As we read on, we find out that he thought Valjean had stolen all that money from a M. Madeliene. He also thinks Valjean killed Javert, a police officer. So the steps he took to separate Valjean from Cosette was done out of what he felt was his duty as a husband. In his mind, he could not even begin to comprehend how such a pure angel like Cosette could have been raised by such a hideous man as Valjean. These thoughts were part of his inner struggle.

One day, though, a man writes Marius a letter and asks it to be delivered to him while he waits in another room. Marius gets the letter and sees the man. The man ends up being Thénardier. In the course of this visit, Marius finds out the real truth about the money and what happened with Javert.  Marius response?

‘Well, then, this unhappy person is a wonderful man! That whole fortune was really his own! He is Madeleine, the providence of a whole region! He is Jean Valjean, the savior of Javert! He is a hero! He is a saint!’” (p. 1445)

Thénardier tries to recover and says the crimes he accuses Valjean of are from when he came upon him in the sewer. He said that Valjean had robbed and killed a man and had been carrying the corpse on his back. He showed Marius the piece of torn fabric he kept from the “corpse”. Marius realized that it was the torn piece from his own jacket and knew right then and there that Valjean was the man that saved him. He told Thénardier that the “corpse” was him and the torn fabric was from his own jacket. At that point, Thénardier knew it was over for him. Marius tells him:

‘You are a wretch! You are a liar, a slanderer, a crook. You came to accuse this man, you have justified him; you wanted to destroy him, you have succeeded only in glorifying him…’” (p. 1448)

And Marius then exposes Thénardier and tells him he knows enough about him to put him in prison. He gives him some money, sees that Thénardier (under a false name) and his daughter go to America, and makes it clear they are not to return.

As soon as Thénardier was gone, Marius runs to get Cosette, tells her they have to hurry and they go to Valjean’s home. When they get there, they find Valjean not doing well. For he had taken to barely getting out of bed now.

Marius was beside himself. He began to see in this Jean Valjean a strangely lofty and saddened form. An unparalleled virtue appeared before him, supreme and mild, humble in its immensity. The convict was transfigured into Christ. Marius was bewildered by this marvel. He did not know exactly what he was seeing, but it was great.” (p. 1449)

Les Miserables Valjean Dies

Cosette embraces Valjean and Marius calls him father. Valjean is overcome with joy. There is so much joy and love and gratitude in the room. Marius declares that they want to take Valjean back to their home to live with them. But Valjean finally tells them that he is dying. They don’t want to accept this. The doctor shows up and confirms to Marius alone that it is too late for Valjean. Valjean murmurs, “‘It is nothing to die; it is horrible not to live.’” (p. 1455) He continued to grow weaker. He had Cosette and Marius come closer to him and spoke to them. Then he took his last breath.

The night was starless and very dark. Without any doubt, in the gloom, some mighty angel was standing, with outstretched wings, waiting for the soul.” (p. 1459)

They buried him according to his wishes, with a stone with no name on it. It says that years later there were pencil marks on the stone that probably got washed away. What had been written in pencil was the following:

He is asleep. Though his mettle was sorely tried,
He lived, and when he lost his angel, died.
It happened calmly, on its own,
The way night comes when day is done.” (p. 1460)



…it is this way, in a succession of recognitions by ourselves about ourselves, the life improves us little by little…” (p. 1404)

At certain critical moments, have we not all, after asking a question, stopped our ears so as not to hear the response? We experience this cowardice particularly when we love.” (p. 1409-1410)

Les Misérables #13 – Jean Valjean Books 1-3

Les Miserables Fahnestock and McAfee

Fahnestock and McAfee Translation

**Again, just a reminder that I am reading the Fahnestock and McAfee translation. So all quotes and page numbers are from this particular translation.**


Book 1

We read about two barricades that have been remembered; but they are yet to come. Hugo tells us the barricade at Rue de la Chanvrerie was just a precursor so to speak to the colossal ones that would be built later on. Still, to the people of that time, the barricade at Rue de la Chanvrerie was intimidating. The insurgents have fortified the barricade now; but their food supply is gone and they are hungry. Still, their conversation is lively and they are still dedicated to their cause. Enjolras brings out four National Guard uniforms and encourages any man with family to take it and leave so as to save themselves. Their situation is looking rather bleak with the news that a large group has formed and will attack them soon. They seem to have no more support from the populace. No one is eager to leave; but soon a handful of men are talked into saving themselves by putting on the uniforms so they can make it out of there in disguise. They have five men willing to go but only four uniforms. Next thing they know, another uniform is tossed down and it is from Jean Valjean. Marius happen to see Jean Valjean but they did not speak.

Enjolras goes to the lower room and asks Javert if he needs anything. He asks for a drink of water which Enjolras gives him. He also asks if he could be made more comfortable by being laid on the table. This they do; but they keep him bound up.

It was basically a waiting game for the insurgents; waiting for the attack. And then they could see the light of the match of the gunman that was close up at the barricade. So Enjolras ordered them to fire. A little bit later, Gavroche arrives. Marius was shocked and asked if he delivered his letter to Cosette. Gavroche lied and said he had taken it the doorkeeper and that Cosette was asleep. She would get the letter in the morning. Then Gavroche told the group that the barricade was surrounded. More firing of guns took place. Enjolras determined that they needed another mattress to protect them from the gunfire. There was only one that seemed impossible to attain. Valjean takes a gun and shoots at the cords binding it to the window it was in and it falls to the ground. However, where it fell was outside of the barricade and very risky for anyone who would try to get it. Valjean goes after it, picks it up, and carries it back to the barricade. He shoves the mattress in the opening in the barricade himself.

Les Miserables Cosette and the Nest

The story then switches to Cosette and the reader gets a little break from all the intensity of the revolution and the barricade. Cosette has woken from a dream, a dream of Marius. She is convinced that he will still come to her. She gets herself ready just in case it happens to be that day. She opens her window hoping to have a view of the street in order to watch for Marius; but the back yard was surrounded by high walls. She could only see a few of the gardens. She starts crying. Then she happens to notice a nest of martins below her window and that diverts her attention for the time being.

Meanwhile, back at the barricade…..

The attack on the barricade continued. They notice there’s an observer on the roof. Jean Valjean shoots at the helmet and the observer flees. Another takes his place. Valjean shoots at his helmet and he flees. Bossuet asks Valjean why he didn’t kill them and Valjean doesn’t answer.

More fighting continues and Enjolras comments that they are using up too much of their ammunition. Gavroche takes the matter into his own hands by grabbing up a basket, going outside the barricade, and beginning to collect cartridges from the dead soldiers. Initially there’s a heavy smoke that helps keep him hidden. He gets bold and flirts with even more danger by getting too close to the enemy. He ends up being shot and dies.

After such a heavy emotional situation, the reader gets a reprieve by the scene switching to Luxembourg. There, the two boys Gavroche took under his wing (his two brothers, the Thénardier boys) have managed to be in the garden after it has been locked. A father and son are seen walking. The boy has some brioche bread that he doesn’t want to finish eating. The father says he should  not waste it and give it to the swans. The bread does get left for the swans. After the father and son walk off, the two boys get the bread and share it even though it is all soggy from being in the water where the swans are.

Les Miserables The Storming of the Barricade

Back at the barricade, Marius brings back the body of Gavroche. They lay him on the table next to the body of M. Mabeauf. Combeferre comments to Enjolras how Valjean finds a way not to fight in this battle. To which Enjolras replies that it has not kept Valjean from defending it none-the-less. And they notice how Valjean is quite different from Mabeauf. What followed was a description of what it was like in the barricade at this time. I felt Hugo did a masterful job of describing the atmosphere to where you, as the reader, could really get a feel for what it was like.

Those who have never undergone the whirlwind of this kind of war can have no idea of the strange moments of tranquility mingled with the convulsions. Men come and go, they chat, they joke, they lounge…Every turn and phase of fortune had been or would soon be exhausted. From critical the position had become threatening, and from threatening it was probably becoming desperate. As the condition of affairs grew gloomy, the heroic glow colored the barricade more and more.” (p. 1223)

The barricade was stormed by the assailants.

At one point, Enjolras orders Javert to be taken out and executed. Valjean asks if he can do it and Enjolras agrees. Valjean takes Javert out, cuts the cords that bound him and told him he was free. He let him go. Javert was stunned. Valjean went even further than that; he also told Javert where he was living at that time. As Javert was leaving, he repeated Valjean’s address. He was obviously also beginning to be at war within himself because of Valjean setting him free instead of killing him. He tells Valjean, “‘You irritate me. Kill me instead.’” (p. 1229) And in saying this, Javert noticed that he had a more respectful tone in his voice. He leaves. After he’s gone, Valjean fires his gun in the air, re-enters the barricade, and tells them it is done.

Eventually, the insurgents were pushed back and had to take refuge in the boarded up three-story house. They held their own for a bit but eventually the assailants got in. The insurgents put up a fight to the end and eventually, Enjolras was all that was left. He boldly stood up, crossed his arms on his chest, and told them to kill him. The assailants were surprised by Enjolras’ response and even had respect for this bold action on his part. Next thing they know, Grantaire (who had been drunk and was asleep this whole time) stood up and took his place next to Enjolras. And they were both shot dead.

While all this was going on, Valjean was saving Marius. Marius had been wounded and did not make it into the house with the other insurgents. Valjean rescues him and makes it to the other side of the house. The assailants were preoccupied with the assault on the front side of the house and so they didn’t see Valjean make his escape with Marius. Valjean found himself in a similar position as he was in years ago when escaping with Cosette and they were cornered at the wall of the convent. Valjean finally notices a grating and gets a plan set in his mind of what to do. He opens the grating, makes it down underground with Marius, and closes the grating again. He found that they were in a long underground passage.

There, deep peace, absolute silence, night. The impression he had formerly felt in falling from the street into the convent came back to him. Only what he was now carrying away was not Cosette; it was Marius.” (p. 1251)


Les Miserables Bruneseau Exploring the Sewers

Book 2

We now come to the section that discusses the sewers of Paris. There could be a number of reasons Hugo felt it necessary to include this section. But the main takeaway I have from it is that it really gives you a sense not only of what it was like down there sanitation wise, but also to give the reader a sense of just how massive the sewer system was. Can you imagine what it must have been like for Valjean to try to navigate this underground system of tunnels? It is amazing he could find a way out! Let alone, navigating it with trying to carry Marius!


Les Miserables The Descent into the Sewer

Book 3

It was in the sewer of Paris that Jean Valjean found himself. Further resemblance between Paris and the sea:  As in the ocean, the diver can disappear.” (p. 1272)

Valjean had descended into the sewer. Hugo just spent page upon page describing the sewer systems of Paris. As a result, the reader has a better understanding of what this sewer was like that Valjean had just descended into with the wounded Marius. Sure, we know underground sewer systems would be very undesirable places to be to say the least. But what Hugo’s discussion of the sewer systems of Paris can also help us see, beyond the muck and mire that it contained, is just how massive it was. As I already mentioned, can you imagine Valjean having to try and navigate his way through it trying to find a way out? And carrying an injured person as well?

Initially, Valjean felt a sense of peace when he descended into the sewer. But this was not going to last.

The truth is that they were not so safe as Jean Valjean supposed. Perils of another kind, and no less great, were perhaps ahead of them…Jean Valjean had fallen from one circle of Hell to another.” (p. 1273)

It was a harrowing experience as Valjean tries to make his way through this labyrinth of tunnels, dodging a police search party and almost sinking completely in a mire of water and mud. He finally makes it to an exit only to find the grating closed and locked. He is confronted with a man who claims to have a key to the gate. This man assumes Valjean is a murderer and he tells Valjean he will let him out of the gate if Valjean would give him a share of the money he robbed from that man. Valjean recognizes who this man is:  Thénardier. Fortunately,  it appears that Thénardier does not recognize Valjean. All Valjean has on him is a little bit of money. Thénardier searches Marius (whom Thénardier thinks is dead), tears a piece of fabric off Marius’ jacket, and then completely forgets the deal he made and takes all the money Valjean had. He then lets Valjean out of the gate.

It’s interesting that Valjean has begun sliding into selfishness and even a hatred of Marius as he descends into the sewers – a place of sheer darkness. It’s almost as if his time in navigating the sewers, carrying the person he loathes on his back to try to save him, is like his struggle to overcome this darker side that’s rearing its head in him. He has to battle his own self to overcome these feelings of loathing and even hatred of Marius.

Les Miserables Javert Recognizes Jean Valjean.jpg

As Valjean exits the sewers, he finds himself face to face with Javert once again. He asks Javert if he could help him carry Marius home. Javert does agree to this. So they ride in the fiacre to Marius’ grandfather’s place. Once Marius is dropped off there, Valjean asks one more request of Javert:  that he could go back home once more. Javert consents to this. When they reach Valjean’s home, Valjean found it odd that Javert waited outside instead of accompanying him inside. He went on inside the house, reached the second floor, and decided to stick his head out of the window for a minute. When he did he was shocked to see that the street was empty; Javert was gone.

Back at M. Gillenormand’s house, Marius is examined by a doctor. The doctor determined that he didn’t have any internal injuries; but he had lost a lot of blood from his wounds and was exhausted. They try to stop the bleeding from the wounds but fear Marius is still not quite out of danger yet. M. Gillenormand comes in, thinks Marius is dead, and is overcome with grief. He basically becomes hysterical and begins babbling on and on. While he is babbling on, Marius opens his eyes and then M. Gillenormand faints.


My Additional Thoughts

We see Javert acting very uncharacteristically in the encounter he has with Valjean at the gate of the sewer. Javert has always followed the law to the letter; to the point that he is almost robotic. At the barricades, he is faced with a kindness and mercy that shocks him:  Valjean letting him go. And now, when Javert is face to face with Valjean again, I think Javert is still wrestling with himself in regards to how to handle Valjean. It’s likely that we, as readers, are surprised to see Javert simply leave Valjean’s home instead of arresting him. I think Valjean’s action of allowing Javert to go free at the barricades sets off an huge internal struggle in Javert.


I want to leave you with this video which is an instrumental version of the song “Bring Him Home” that is in several productions of Les Misérables including the broadway production and the 2012 movie production. Enjoy!

Les Misérables #12 – Saint-Denis and Idyll of the Rue Plumet Books 9-15

Les Miserables Fahnestock and McAfee

Fahnestock and McAfee Translation

**Again, just a reminder that I am reading the Fahnestock and McAfee translation. So all quotes and page numbers are from this particular translation.**


Book 9

Hugo backtracks and shows us why Valjean and Cosette were going to leave. He had noticed Thénardier prowling his neighborhood. So he had decided to leave France and go to England. This is when he told Cosette he needed to take a trip. He then happen to notice an address freshly carved into the stone wall of the garden. This was unsettling for him. As he was pondering the scenario, he noticed someone behind him. As he was about to turn around, a piece of paper floated down to him. The paper said “MOVE OUT.” He decides to not waist any more time in leaving.

In the meantime, Marius is devastated at his visit with his grandfather. He roams the streets. For some reason, he decided to grab the pistols that Javert had entrusted to him awhile back. Then he continued to roam the streets and waited until the time that night that he would get to see Cosette. While he was in the midst of his desolate state, he heard odd sounds around him. He woke up out of his reverie and wondered if it was fighting. But then he headed to the garden of Rue Plumet. Cosette wasn’t there. Next thing he knows, he hears a voice calling his name. The person told him his friends were waiting for him at a barricade.

The scene switches to M. Mabeauf who is in despair. He has continued to sink further and further into poverty. He did not accept the purse Gavroche had secretly tossed into his garden. Instead, he turned it in. One by one, he ended up selling all his books to have money for their needs. Then Mother Plutarch got sick. He had only one book left; a book that was a prize possession of his. He sold it. The next day he also noticed loud noises in Paris. The gardener told him it was a riot. M. Mabeauf got his hat, went to put a book under his arm but realized there were no more books left, then left.

We can see how little by little, Hugo is beginning to bring awareness to the characters of this story of the insurrection that’s beginning.


Les Miserables Barricade of the Faubourg Du Temple

Book 10

We now find a discussion of the difference between an uprising and an insurrection. It is explained how this relates to the events beginning to take place:  what is happening in Paris in June 1832 is an insurrection. Then we are told that what is about to be related is part of this time; little scenarios that have been lost to history. Then it says:

From the nature of the book we are writing, we only show one side and one episode, and that certainly the least known, of the days of the 5th and 6th of June, 1832; but we shall do it in such a way that the reader may glimpse, under the gloomy veil we are about to lift, the real countenance of that fearful public tragedy.
(p. 1049)

And the pages turn to the insurrection. The start of the insurrection was the death of General Lamarque. During the funeral procession for Lamarque, the riots break out. Hugo does a marvelous job of painting the tension in the crowd as the funeral procession proceeds.

On the cross alleys of the boulevards, in the branches of the trees, on the balconies, at the windows, on the roofs, were swarms of heads, men, women, children; their eyes were full of anxiety. An armed multitude was passing by, a terrified multitude was looking on.” (p. 1051)

The dragoons were advancing at a walk, in silence, their pistols in their holsters, their sabers in their sheaths, their muskets at rest, with an air of gloomy expectation.” (p. 1053)

And in a short amount of time, barricades go up and Paris becomes the center of the insurrection. The military forces hesitate to act. Suspense looms over the city as people wait.

…the great city felt something that was, perhaps, stronger than herself. She was afraid…Progressively, night fell, Paris seemed more and more ominously lit by the stupendous flame of the uprising.” (p. 1060, 1062)


Book 11

Gavroche has decided to go to war with the masses. He steals a pistol which turns out doesn’t have a hammer and marches onward singing. He hasn’t seen the two children he helped the night before since breakfast that morning. He tears down posters, insults a bourgeois, helped a National Guard man and his horse get on their feet, responds to three old ladies, and smashes a barber’s window (the barber was the one who turned out the two children Gavroche ended up helping). He decides to join up with Enjolras group.

Enjolras and his group, as well as others, are rallying. They are getting ready for the face-off in this insurrection. As Enjolras and the others are making their way to the barricade, they see an old man seemingly wandering aimlessly. Courfeyrac recognizes it to be M. Mabeauf. M. Mabeauf ends up joining them. They headed toward Saint-Merry. The band of people continually grew. They ended up going past Saint-Merry and ended up in Rue Saint-Denis.


Les Miserables The Wine-Shop of Corinthe

Book 12

A barricade had been erected at the Rue de la Chanvrerie and this book starts out telling us about this place along with the bistro called Corinth. This bistro Corinth was a meeting place for Courfeyrac and his friends. One morning, Laigle and Joly went to have breakfast at Corinth. Grantaire joins them and gets drunk. He goes on and on about God and man and then has a coughing fit. A street orphan brings a message that says “A.B.C.” which is the rallying message for them. But they decide they’d rather stay and drink than engage in the cause. Later, they hear commotion outside and Enjolras is looking for a place to build a barricade. Others are with him, including Courfeyac and Gavroche. Bossuet (who is also part of the drinking group there) calls out to them and suggests where they are is a good enough place. Courfeyrac agrees and the band of men rush into Rue de la Chanvrerie.

Two barricades were being built in this area. People manned the barricade area. Gavroche flitted about back and forth getting things done. He stirred up the team; he couldn’t be stopped. “Perpetual motion was in his little arms, and perpetual clamor in his little lungs.” (p. 1096)

The main barricade of Rue de la Chanvrerie was about six or seven feet high. It was tall enough to disappear behind it but still be able to look over it. Once both barricades were finished and the flags put in place, Courfeyrac distributed ammunition. Then it was time to wait.

There is a strange man who had a seeming familiarity. Gavroche tells them the man is a spy. We find out the man is Javert. They tie Javert to a post in the middle of the lower room. “Backed up against the post, and tied with ropes so he could make no movement, Javert held up his head with the intrepid serenity of the man who has never lied.” (p. 1107) Enjolras tells Javert that ten minutes before the barricade is taken, Javert will be shot. Gavroche claims Javert’s gun for himself.

Another situation takes place when a man name Le Cabuc wants to enter a tall building. The people inside have locked the doors and won’t open them. The doorkeeper pops his head out the window, Le Cabuc tells him to open the door, and the doorkeeper says he can’t. Le Cabuc shoots him dead. Enjolras does not tolerate this because he said that assassination is a greater crime. He says, “I therefore judged and condemned that man to death. As for myself, compelled to do what I have done, but abhorring it, I have judged myself also, and you shall soon see to what I have sentenced myself.” (p. 1111)


Les Miserables Marius Enters Into the Shadow

Book 13

With Cosette gone, Marius wants to die. Armed with the pistols Javert had given him, he makes his way to Rue de la Chanvrerie. When he reaches there, before entering, he begins analyzing all the conflicting emotions that he’s feeling. As he looks around to what’s going on, he continues to think about the situation.

Even while thinking, overwhelmed but resolute, hesitating, however, and indeed shuddering in view of what he was about to do, his gaze wandered around the interior of the barricade.” (p. 1123)



Book 14

The wait ends. Gavroche hurtles over the barricade and announces that they are there. Footsteps are heard. After a few moments, an explosion burst over the barricade and their flag fell. M. Mabeauf climbs to the top of the barricade to put the flag back up. Everyone is surprised and has a deep sense of respect and reverence for this elderly man who voluntarily climbs to his death. As Mabeauf puts the flag back up, he is shot and killed. Enjolras says:

‘Citizens! This is the example the old give the young. We hesitated, he came! We fell back, he advanced! This is what those who tremble with old age teach those who tremble with fear! This patriarch is noble in the sight of the country. He has had a long life and a magnificent death! Now let us protect his corpse, let everyone defend this old man dead as he would defend his father living, and let his presence among us make the barricade impregnable!’” (p. 1130)

Enjolras pulls back M. Mabeauf’s coat showing the gunshot wounds and proclaims to the people: “‘There is our flag now.’” (p. 1130) They take M. Mabeauf’s body to the lower room. Before they knew it, the municipal guards were overrunning the barricade. Something had to be done. Marius entered the area just in time to save Gavroche and Courfeyrac from being killed. As he was turning around, a gun was aimed at him and a shot rang out but was intercepted by someone. They saved Marius. Gun fire continued and there was smoke everywhere. When the smoke cleared, someone yelled out for the guards and their group to surrender or they would blow up the barricade. It was Marius. He was ready to give up his life to get the barricade clear and help the cause. Fortunately, the assailants fled and the barricade was cleared.

Everyone flocked around Marius. His mind was spinning. In fact, he was struggling in his mind so much that he didn’t even notice Javert tied to the post. The group set about doing things that were necessary. Medical students helped the wounded. They had a roll call. When they took roll call, someone was missing. It was Jean Prouvaire. It became clear to them that he had probably been taken as prisoner. Next thing they know, they hear Prouvaire’s voice then a flash and then an explosion. Then there was silence. They concluded that Prouvaire was now dead.

Les Miserables Marius with the Dying Eponine

After a bit, Marius heard someone calling his name. He found the man with the trousers that saved his life over in a corner. The person, in fact, was not a man at all, but was Eponine. Eponine and Marius talk. Marius wants to get Eponine to help but she knows she’s dying. She sees Gavroche across the way and says it is her brother; Marius did not know this. She reveals that she has a letter for Marius. Eponine asks Marius to promise to kiss her on the forehead when she dies. He promises. She reveals that she believes she was in love with him. Then she dies.

Marius reads the letter and it’s from Cosette. She tells Marius what was happening and gives an address. We discover that it was Eponine who told Valjean to MOVE OUT. It was Eponine, dressed in men’s clothes, that Cosette gave the letter to and asked for it to be delivered to a specific address. It was Eponine who sent the appeal to Marius supposedly from his friends which led him to the barricade. She was jealous and didn’t want anyone else to have him.

The letter encouraged Marius and he immediately wrote a letter to be sent to the address Cosette had given explaining about his grandfather’s refusal for the blessing to marry, how he had gone to the garden and she wasn’t there, and eluded that by the time she received the letter he would be dead. He asks Gavroche to deliver the letter for him. Gavroche agrees but decides to do so immediately so he can get back in time before the barricade is attacked again.


Book 15

We are now takien back to when Jean Valjean decides to leave the Rue Plumet with Cosette. Toussaint also goes with them. Cosette objected and didn’t want to go but it was to no avail.

They both arrived in the Rue de l’Homme-Armé without opening their mouths or saying a word, absorbed in their personal preoccupations; Jean Valjean so anxious that he did not notice Cosette’s sadness, Cosette so sad that she did not notice Jean Valjean’s anxiety.” (p. 1146)

After arriving there, Jean Valjean’s mind was almost immediately put at ease. His anxiety decreased. Valjean decided that they would, at some point, leave the country and go to England. While he was thinking about these things and pacing back and forth, he noticed a message in the mirror. It was the message Cosette had written to Marius telling him where they would be. It was on the ink blotter and was being reflected in the mirror. (At this point, Marius had not yet received the letter from Eponine at the barricades.)

Valjean is stunned. I think he doesn’t know what to make of it at first. He realizes that this Marius is the same boy that walked in the Luxembourg. Earlier, Toussaint had told Valjean there was fighting in the city. He now asks Toussaint where she said the fighting was and she tells him it’s over by Saint-Merry. He then heads to the street.

He hears footsteps on the street of someone approaching. It is Gavroche. Gavroche breaks the street lamp. Valjean offers him money and finally he takes it as long as he can still break street lamps. Then Gavroche asks if Valjean knows the street and if he could show him No. 7. He asks Gavroche why and Gavroche explains he has a letter to deliver to a woman. Valjean pretends that he is the one who is to actually deliver the letter to the woman. Gavroche gives him the letter and when Valjean asks where a reply is to be sent, he tells him it is from the barricade at the Rue de la Chanvrerie. Then Gavroche left.

It’s at this point, that selfishness really takes hold of Valjean. He goes back in the house and looks at the letter. He sees the words “I will die…When you read this, my soul will be near you.” (p. 1157) This caused turmoil within Valjean and then he found himself with joy that in his mind, this whole thing with Cosette and Marius was over. He thought that if Marius wasn’t dead yet, he soon would be and it would all be over. He was so wrapped up in the fear that Cosette would leave him and he would lose her love, that selfishness had begun to take over. But the feeling of joy he sensed within himself that the love affair between Cosette and Marius was probably over didn’t last.

When all this was said within him, he became gloomy.” (p. 1158)

Valjean got dressed in his National Guard uniform, armed himself, and headed towards Les Halles.

Les Miserables Gavroche and the Truck

We are then told about an adventure Gavroche has with a cart and a sergeant in uniform. Gavroche rammed the cart into the sergeant and the sergeant’s gun went off as he fell back.

At the sergeant’s cry, the men of the post had rushed out pell-mell; the musket shot produced a general barrage at random, after which they reloaded and began again. This musketry at blindman’s buff lasted a full quarter of an hour and killed several panes of glass.” (p. 1162)

Meanwhile, Gavroche managed to escape. He darted through the streets, singing as he went. We are told that this adventure of Gavroche’s went down in the history:

Gavroche’s adventure, preserved among the traditions of the quarter of the Temple, is one of the most terrible recollections of the old bourgeois of the Marais, and is entitled in their memory:  ‘Nocturnal Attack on the Post of the Imprimerie Royale.’” (p. 1164)


My Additional Thoughts

In this section, we see Hugo drawing various characters towards the barricades and how they become involved in various ways in the insurrection. We knew that Enjolras and his group were involved. But then we see M. Mabeauf, Marius, Eponine, Javert, and Gavroche all, one by one, descend upon the insurrection scene at the barricades. And we also see Valjean heading to the streets which leads us to think he is heading towards the barricades as well.

I continue to be impressed with Hugo’s storytelling and writing style; especially in this section where he takes these various characters and brings them all to the center of the action at the barricades. It reminds me a bit of Charles Dickens’ writing. One of the things that I feel Dickens did well in the handful of novels I’ve read by him, is how he would introduce various different characters and storylines and little by little through the course of the novel, he would intersect those various storylines and connect them and the different characters. Hugo has done this very same thing in a very effective way but without all the wordiness that Dickens tends to have in most of the novels I’ve read by him. 🙂 Hugo continues to impress me with his writing in this novel.

Les Misérables #11 – Saint-Denis and Idyll of the Rue Plumet Books 3-8

Les Miserables Fahnestock and McAfee

Fahnestock and McAfee Translation

**Again, just a reminder that I am reading the Fahnestock and McAfee translation. So all quotes and page numbers are from this particular translation.**


Book 3

As Book 3 opens, Hugo backtracks to around the time when Marius was just beginning to start walking at Luxembourg Gardens. We read about a judge and his indiscretions and the house that he had. We might find ourselves wondering once again, how is this going to play into our story? Well, we find out that after time passes, this very place ends up being empty and has fallen into disrepair. Jean Valjean and Cosette end up moving into this place. It was called Rue Plumet. I tell you, Hugo’s writing amazes me. I love how he described this place and how it hid secrets when the judge owned it. But then when Valjean and Cosette moved in, it became redeemed. He paints a picture of a complete reversal of the actual physical surroundings of the home. Listen to this part about the garden:

It seemed as though this garden, first made to conceal licentious mysteries, had been transformed and rendered fit for the shelter of chaste mysteries. It no longer had either bowers, lawns, arbors, or grottoes; a magnificent disheveled obscurity fell like a veil on all sides; Paphos had become Eden again. Some secret repentance had purified this retreat. This flowergirl now offered her flowers to the soul. This coquettish garden, once so compromised, had returned to virginity and modesty.” (p. 880)

Isn’t that beautiful? The redemption. The impact of goodness and love.

We soon see that Cosette is growing up; and thus, being more in need of the influence of a woman to help in various matters. Still, she adores Valjean. She is content to be there in that place, spending time with him, spending time in the garden, taking walks with Valjean. That is soon to change though.

Les Miserables Cosette in the Garden

Cosette begins to notice that she might just be pretty. She had always been told (not by Valjean) that she was homely. But as she looked in the mirror, she began to realize that she was in fact pretty. And this realization, along with the growing up that occurs at her age, began to affect her and she was starting to feel discontent with the little world she and Valjean had created. She wanted to venture out more. All of these normal, natural changes in Cosette scared Valjean. He didn’t want to lose Cosette’s love.

…this man accepted all, excused all, pardoned all, blessed all, wished well to all, and only asked of Providence, of men, of the laws, of society, of nature, of the world, this one thing, that Cosette love him! That Cosette continue to love him! That God would not prevent the heart of his child from turning to him, and remaining his! Loved by Cosette, he felt healed, refreshed, soothed, satisfied, rewarded, crowned. Loved by Cosette, he was content! He asked nothing more.” (p. 886-887)

He was afraid of what he would become; of what would happen to him. And it was at this time that Marius started walking in Luxembourg.

We have already been through this account of the walks in Luxembourg; but it was from the view of Marius. We now get the picture of this time from Valjean’s and Cosette’s views. Cosette also fell in love with Marius.

Loving in ignorance, she loved with all the more passion…She began to adore Marius as something charming, luminous, and impossible.” (p. 891)

Valjean, on the other hand, was unsettled by Marius. No matter what obstacles Valjean put in the way, Marius persisted. He then concluded that Marius must really be in love with Cosette; but Valjean thought Cosette had not even noticed. Valjean was still uneasy. Finally, as we already know, Valjean and Cosette left and Valjean was determined not to ever go back to Luxembourg. So they went back to Rue Plumet.

Cosette didn’t complain about it. She did, however, begin to become sad and gloomy. But Cosette didn’t let Valjean know how she was feeling. He could only observe the outer expression of the inward feelings, what managed to escape; because Cosette tried to keep a sweet face for him.

These two beings, who had loved each other so exclusively, and with so touching a love, and who had lived so long for each other, were now suffering beside one another and through one another; without speaking of it, without harsh feeling, and smiling all the while.” (p. 896)

Despite this underlying sadness in them both, they continue their morning walks. On one of these walks, Cosette thought there might be someone close by. She was correct. It ended up being these wagons loaded with criminals. This frightened Valjean.

He endeavored to get up, to flee, to escape; he could not move a limb.  Sometimes things that you see grab and hold you. He was spellbound, dazed, petrified, asking himself, through a vague unutterable anguish, the meaning of this sepulchral persecution, and the source of this pandemonium pursuing him.” (p. 903)

The site of this also greatly frightened Cosette. She asked questions about it, wondering what it was they’d just seen. He tried to get her mind off what they had seen. They went to festivities in Paris and Valjean thought that maybe he had succeeded in diverting her attention to get rid of the memory of the day before. But out of the blue one day Cosette asks him:  “‘Father, what are they then, the convicts?’” (p. 905)


Books 4-5

Valjean and Cosette’s life slowly got darker. And we are now at the place where the gentleman/Valjean tried to help the Thénardiers and they captured him and so forth. If you remember in that section that we already read, in the midst of this take-over from Thénardier, Valjean took a red hot poker and pressed it into his arm. This is where we are at now. Valjean comes home with this wound on his arm. Cosette diligently tends to his wound and helps him. It’s through the course of this time that Cosette begins to not be so sad anymore. In fact, she was becoming more like her cheerful, happy self again. Because of this, Valjean found himself not only grateful for the wound but also silently thankful for the Thénardiers.

The scene then switches to little Gavroche who is hungry. He happens upon a garden where there is an older man (M. Mabeauf) and older woman (Mother Plutarch). He overhears their conversation and sees that they have no money to pay their debts. Next thing he knows, he notices two men approaching. He recognized one as Montparnasse. This Montparnesse sprung on the other older man but then the other man ended up pinning Montparnesse down. This man then goes into a long discourse on the evils of the other man’s desire to be idle and not work. He finishes this speech and ends up giving the man his purse. The man took it and started leaving. As he was leaving, Gavroche slipped up to him unnoticed and slid the purse out and took it without the man knowing. Then Gavroche tossed the purse over the hedge into the garden where M. Mabeauf is still sitting and then takes off. M. Mabeauf sees it and takes it to Mother Plutarch who thinks it has fallen from Heaven.

We now are back to Cosette , who is beginning to realize that she doesn’t really think of Marius anymore. One day when she’s in her garden she notices an officer who passes by the gate. She considers him to be the complete opposite of Marius; and she notices he continues to pass by the gate day after day. This unsettles her a bit.

Jean Valjean goes away for three days. While he’s away, a couple of times Cosette thinks she hears someone in the garden. When Valjean gets back she tells him and it makes him anxious. He keeps a watch to see if he notices anything. One day he tells her he’s found her shadow; it was the moon casting a shadow off a stovepipe from the roof of a neighboring house. This puts Cosette’s mind at ease.

Les Miserables A Heart Beneath a Stone

In this same month, one night when Valjean had gone out, Cosette notices a stone on the bench in the garden. This frightens her. She goes back and forth, at one point thinking it isn’t really there just like the shadow of the man she thought she saw ended up being the shadow of the stovepipe. But it was there. And she sees there’s an envelope underneath. She reads the papers inside and realizes it’s from Marius. As she was reading it for a third time, the officer (who was Marius’ cousin Lt. Théodule) passed by the gate again. She did not like this man at all. She fled back to the house and went to her room to look at the papers again. She fell back in love again with Marius.

That evening, after Valjean left, she dressed up and went to the garden at dusk. Marius was there. They talk and it turns out the shadow she had seen previously was in fact him. They both profess that they love each other and kiss. Then they talk some more. When they finish talking they finally ask each others names.


Book 6

As Book 6 opens, we learn that the Thénardiers had two more sons. And just like with Gavroche, the Thénardiess cares nothing about the two boys and they manage to find a way to get rid of them and even make money in the process. Earlier in the book, we read about a lady named Magnon, who took her two boys to M. Gillenormand and managed to persuade him to support them. This Magnon lost her two sons in the croup epidemic. She had been receiving money every month from M. Gilenormand for the two boys. So she had to figure out how to keep that money coming in. The Thénardiers gave her their two boys (who happened to be the same age as Magnon’s boys) and charged her for them.  She had to pay the Thénardiers ten francs a month. But then, after some years had passed, Magnon ended up being arrested at the same time the Thénardiers were and so the boys were left on their own.

Not long after that, Gavroche and these two boys (which are Gavroche’s brothers but he doesn’t know it) cross paths. Gavroche ends up taking them in, feeding them, and letting them stay the night with him in the “Elephant” statue that had been abandoned. The next morning, Montparnasse comes and tells Gavroche he’s needed. Gavroche goes with him.

Les Miserables Escape of Thenardier

An escape is being attempted at the prison and among the criminals trying to escape is Thénardier. Thénardier made it to the roof but then couldn’t go any further. His rope was too short. They needed a child to get a rope up to Thénardier so that’s when Montparnasse went to get Gavroche. And as I already mentioned, Gavroche went with him. They needed him to climb up a flue with a rope. As Gavroche began to climb up, he saw who the man was that needed saving and recognized it was Thénardier, his father. He got the rope to him and Thénardier makes it to the street. Thénardier immediately begins having a discussion. Then one of the men said they thought the boy was Thénardier’s son and Thénardier responded half-heartedly and leaves.


Book 7

This part of the book was the first time I found the reading to be a wee bit tedious. But I think part of the reason was that I was extremely tired when I read this particular section and I kept finding myself dozing off. Ha! Basically, Hugo launches into this big discussion of “argot” otherwise known as slang talk. I know enough of Hugo’s digressions in the book so far to think that he will tie this whole section titled “Argot” in somehow. I don’t see it yet though. If you have read the book already, did you find tie-ins later for this section? Please do share how it ties in. If it will give any spoilers then just type *SPOILER ALERT* at the beginning of your comment so others will know. 😉 But I would like to go ahead and know where and how it connects in the book.


Book 8

We’re back to Marius and Cosette now and their highly emotional courtship; a courtship kept secret from Valjean. Marius would come at night and meet Cosette in the garden. That is the only time they saw each other at this point. They were so wrapped up in themselves that they didn’t even notice the outbreak of cholera that hit the area.

One evening, Marius was going the same way he always had to the garden of Rue Plumet when he noticed Eponine approaching him. He quickly turned and took a different pathway. Eponine followed him all the way to Rue Plumet and realized he was going to the place. She hid by the gate.

While Eponine was hidden, six men approached the gate. It was Thénardier (her father) and his group and they were planning to rob Valjean’s house. Eponine comes out of her hiding place, embraces her father, and starts talking with him. She also greets the rest of Thénardier’s group. I will say that in this part I do see a reference back to the “Argot” section. It says:

It is remarkable that Eponine was not speaking argot. Since she had known Marius, that awful language had become impossible to her.” (p. 1010)

Eponine’s efforts fall flat though. And when they do, she changes her approach. She defiantly stands up to them all. The men started talking amongst themselves about it and then decided to leave. Eponine follows them. Marius was with Cosette that whole time so had no clue what had happened.

While Marius and Cosette were together, she told him that her father and her might be going away. Her father had told her that morning to get things prepared because he had a trip to take. Marius took this hard. But then he gets an idea. He goes to his grandfather to ask his permission for Marius to marry. It did not go well and Marius ends up leaving without his grandfather’s consent. His grandfather regretted it and calls out after Marius to try to get him to come back.


My Additional Thoughts

I don’t know what to think about Marius. Has anyone else felt a bit confused by his character? What are your thoughts?



Intellectual and moral growth is no less indispensable than material amelioration. Knowledge is a viaticum, thought is of primary necessity, not only grain but truth is nourishment. Through fasting from knowledge and wisdom, reason becomes emaciated.” (p. 992)

Les Misérables #10 – Marius Section, Book 8 and Saint-Denis and Idyll of the Rue Plumet Books 1-2

Les Miserables Fahnestock and McAfee

Fahnestock and McAfee Translation

**Again, just a reminder that I am reading the Fahnestock and McAfee translation. So all quotes and page numbers are from this particular translation.**


Marius Book 8

Marius is kicking himself for having followed the gentlemen (he calls him M. LeBlanc) and the young woman home. Now he can’t find them anywhere. One day he is out and about and two girls race by him, bumping into him. They drop a grey sort of envelope. When he’s back to his room, he opens up the envelope hoping to find out who it belongs to so he can return it. He finds a set of letters in it. They each were written by a different person and all were letters written to enlist assistance for their poor family.

Les Miserables Marius Is Visited by Éponine

The next day a young woman knocks on his door and it happens to be one of the girls in the family that lives in the room next to him. She has a letter for him from her father. The letter describes how poverty-stricken their family is and asks for help. They have a discussion and he gives her five francs. After she leaves, Marius gives himself a hard time for not noticing how poor the people next door to him was. He realized that even though he had experienced poverty himself, he felt it was nothing compared to what he saw with this girl and what was written about her family in that letter.

As a little side note of interest, it’s in this part of the book on pg. 739 in this particular translation, that I do believe the actual title of the book is used for the first time, Les Misérables. Unless I missed it earlier in the book. I tend to look for where the actual title of a book might be used in the book itself. I guess I’m a bit nerdy that way. 🙂

Anyway, while Marius is pondering all this, he notices a little whole in the wall that separates his room from his neighbor’s room. He decides to take a look, for the purposes of seeing just how poverty-stricken this family is. What he sees is revolting. And while he is taking a look, he witnesses a whole conversation that shows him just what kind of family this is. The daughter comes back and says that the gentleman is coming; Obviously a gentleman they sought out with one of their “letters” eliciting help. The father goes about making the room worse than it already is…kicking a hole in his chair, making his daughter break a window in which she actually gets injured in the process and the father is happy about that because it makes them look even more abject. This man is conniving, manipulative, horrible.

The gentleman indeed shows up along with his daughter. When Marius sees them through the hole in the wall, he recognizes them as the gentleman M. Leblanc and his daughter whom Marius is in love with. They talk for a few minutes and the gentleman sees the conditions the family is in. Then the gentleman gives the man five francs, leaves his coat for them, and says he will come back by 6pm that evening with the rest of the money the family needs for paying their rent. After that they leave.

Marius tries to follow M. Leblanc and his daughter to find out where they live; but to no avail. He ends up asking the oldest daughter of Jondrette to find out for him. She asked what he would give her if she did and he told her whatever she wants. In the meantime, Jondrette had come back up to the room and asked his wife if she knew who the gentleman and his daughter was. He knew who they were and Marius was trying to listen in to find out. But Jondrette said it in a low voice and Marius couldn’t hear. Jondrette concocts a plan of some sort and Marius sees that M. Leblanc and possibly his daughter would be in danger. It’s at this point that we read bits and pieces of Jondrette putting his plan together and a name is mentioned in a conversation between two men behind a wall:  Patron-Minette. Here is a connection to Book 7 where it talks about the criminal underworld of Paris. Patron-Minette is the name of that four person band of criminals it talked about.

Marius tries to decide what to do. He finally decides to go to the police to enlist help in order to prevent anything from happening to M. Leblanc and his daughter. The police chief was out but someone was filling in for him. He speaks to this inspector and the inspector comes up with a plan. He gives Marius two loaded pistols and asks him to keep watch over the Jondrette room through the hole in the wall and give one gunshot in the air when he thinks the plan has come to a head or to a point where it needs to be stopped. When Marius gets back to his room, as he quietly tries to get to his room without being seen or heard, he notices four heads in one of the empty rooms. He manages to get to his room without them seeing him.

Six o’clock approaches and the gentleman arrives again. He gives Jondrette money to cover his rent and immediate needs. They talk. One by one, men slip in the room and the gentleman notices. Jondrette plays it off that some live there and some are neighbors….that the gentleman need not pay any attention to them. He tries to talk the gentleman into buying a painting that he says he just hasn’t been able to part with; however, they have needs. The gentleman indicates that it’s nothing but a tavern sign and says it’s only worth about three francs. The gentleman wonders about Jondrette and it is clear that he’s beginning to be distrustful of the situation. All of the sudden, Jondrette turns around and blares at the gentleman:  “But all this is not the point! Do you know me?” (p. 784)

The gentleman says he does not. There is a lot action in this section and so I’m just hitting some highlights obviously. There’s lots of Jondrette talking. But through all of it, the gentleman remains calm and continues to act as though he has no idea what Jondrette is talking about regarding who he and his daughter are. Jondrette and his cohorts end up catching the gentleman and binding him up. Jondrette tells the gentleman that he wants him to write a letter to his daughter telling her to come quickly. He does so. This whole time, Marius has been watching all the goings on through the hole in the wall. After hearing that this neighbor of his was Thénardier, he has been having a huge internal debate. His father wanted him to do any good he could for this Thénardier, but the gentleman was the father of the girl he is in love with. And it’s clear to Marius that this Thénardier is a terrible person.

Javert and Thenardiers

In the end, Thénardier’s plan gets foiled and they are arrested by Javert. The gentleman managed to slip out the window at a moment when Javert was writing down some notes. So Javert never got to see who this gentleman was.

The end of Book 8 finds Gavroche coming to see his family at Gorbeau House and he discovers that they have been taken by the police. This news doesn’t seem to bother Gavroche in the least. He goes about his merry way singing as he goes.


Saint Denis and Idyll of the Rue Plumet Book 1

This first part of this section launches into a discussion of the 1830 Revolution. The Revolution has been brought up already more as background; but here it takes the center stage. Hugo helps us see the spirit of discontent that was present and this is setting the stage for what some of the characters in this novel become involved in.

We begin to see our tie-ins in the last chapter of this book as Hugo brings back Enjolras, who was the leader of the Friends of the ABC group that Marius was a part of for a time but then left. Here, we find Enjolras, along with others, begin to try and make connections with other revolutionary groups as well as get prepared for an upcoming uprising.

The following video clip is the 1832 Paris scene with Gavroche from the 2012 movie production of Les Misérables. Gavroche’s song is all about what was happening at that time.


Saint Denis and Idyll of the Rue Plumet Book 2

The scene switches back to Marius and the time right after the whole situation at Gorbeau house with the Thénardiers. Marius moves out of his room and in with Courfeyrac. Javert figures Marius got scared but still does put in some effort to find him; but to no avail. Javert doesn’t give too much thought to him.

We discover that Marius sends money to Thénardier in the prison on a regular basis. At the same time, he is sinking into gloom and depression and on a slippery slope downhill towards poverty again. He is so focused on the loss of his love that it begins to consume him.

On top of everything, his poverty returned. Close to him, right behind him, he could feel its icy breath. During all these torments, and for a long time now, he had stopped his work, and nothing is more dangerous than discontinued labor; it is habit lost. A habit easy to abandon, difficult to resume.” (p. 854)

The criminal activity of that gang still continues because a couple of the men escaped Javert’s round-up at the Gorbeau house. And we find that some that were imprisoned are still connecting with them. Eponine (one of Thénardier’s daughters, the one Marius asks to find the gentleman and his daughter) ends up delivering a letter for one of them because she is actually released from prison because of her age. And in that process of delivering the letter, she finds out where the gentleman and his daughter live.

Les Miserables An Apparition to Marius

Eponine shows up and waters M. Mabeau’s garden. Whilst doing so, she asks him where Marius lives. He doesn’t know but he recalls that Marius takes walks in the area of The Field of the Lark. Eponine finds Marius there one day and she tells him she has the address. He makes her promise not to tell her father where they live, nor tell anyone else. She promises. As they make their way there, she reminds Marius that he promised to give her whatever she asked for if she could get the address. Marius hands her some money and she drops it on the ground saying that’s not what she wants. And that’s where our reading leaves off for this week. What a way to leave you hanging, right? What is it that Eponine wants from Marius? We are left to wonder for now.

Les Misérables #9 – Marius Section, Books 3-7

Les Miserables Fahnestock and McAfee

Fahnestock and McAfee Translation

**Again, just a reminder that I am reading the Fahnestock and McAfee translation. So all quotes and page numbers are from this particular translation.**


Book 3

All his life growing up in his grandfather’s household, Marius has taken on the beliefs of his grandfather. He also doesn’t love his father because he thought his father abandoned him. Then after Marius turns 18 years old, his grandfather tells him his father is ill and wants to see him. Marius doesn’t make it in time; his father died not long before he got there. A piece of paper was found and given to Marius. It states the following:

On the front:  “For my Son. – The emperor made me a baron on the battlefield of Waterloo. Since the Restoration contests this title I bought with my blood, my son will take it and bear it. I need not say that he will be worthy of it.

On the back:  “At this same battle of Waterloo, a sergeant saved my life. The man’s name is Thénardier. Not long ago, I believe he had a little tavern in a village near Paris, at Chelles or at Montfermeil. If my son should meet him, he will do Thénardier all the service he can.” (p. 622)

Marius stayed for the burial then went back home and gave no more thought to his father. He continued to go to Mass. One time at Mass, he stood behind a pillar and knelt down by a chair. A man came by and said that was his seat. The man spoke to Marius and hoped Marius wouldn’t think he was being impertinent. In their discussion, he told Marius why it was important for him to sit in that particular chair. It was the story of his father who would come to Mass and stand behind that pillar just to get a glimpse of his son. He would weep. The man said that man had sacrificed himself so that his son could be wealthy and happy. In his opinion, it was clear the father worshiped the boy. This Mass was the only time this man got to see his son. His son did not know about it. Marius told him that man was his father.

Les Miserables Marius Sees Cosette

From that point, Marius went on a search to learn more about his father and all of his service. It became a passion of his and he soon began to idolize his father. And he saw his grandfather and aunt less and less. A monumental change began to take place within Marius in his beliefs and ideals. He realized he never knew his father and also never really knew his country. He began to take the same political beliefs as his father and became a fervent follower of Napoléon. As a result, he was told to leave his grandfather’s house. Marius left. M. Gillenormand told his daughter to send Marius sixty pistoles every six months (the equivalent of that at that time would have been probably around $2400) and never speak to him about Marius ever again.


Books 4-5

We find out what Marius does after leaving his grandfather’s home. He ends up taking up with a group of fellow students who believe in change like he does. He gets introduced to a society called “Friends of the ABC” led by a very passionate guy named Enjolras.

Who were the Friends of the ABC? A society seeming to have as its aim the education of children; in reality, the remaking of men.” (p. 642)

Eventually Marius becomes disappointed with this group and leaves it. His friend Courfeyrac asked if he would accept his money and Marius wouldn’t; so Courfeyrac helps him figure out how to get some money by selling some of his stuff. This was the beginning of him truly being on his own. He was a lawyer but didn’t work as a lawyer. Courfeyrac helped him get a job in a bookhouse and he did ok for himself. He lived modestly and managed to take care of all his needs and have a little leftover. Hugo tells us that Marius had two friends, Courfeyrac and M. Mabeauf (the churchwarden).

For Marius to arrive at this flourishing condition had taken years. Hard year, and difficult ones; those to get through, these to climb. Marius had never given up for a single day. He had undergone everything by way of privation; he had done everything except go into debt…He risked nothing, not wishing to take a backward step…In all his trials he felt encouraged and sometimes even upheld by a secret force within. The soul helps the body, and at certain moments raises it.” (p. 676-677)

Also, in this section we find out that Marius tried to track down Thénardier; but he had no success.

We then read how Marius’ aunt decides to try and replace Marius’ place in their household with the grand-nephew Lieutenant Théodule. But it doesn’t seem like her scheme quite worked at this point.


Luxembourg Gardens at Twilight by John Singer Sargent (1879)

Luxembourg Gardens at Twilight by Artist John Singer Sargent (1879)

Book 6

Marius has grown to be a handsome young man and girls notice him when he walks by. However, he thinks that they are looking at him because of his old clothes and are laughing at him. He would walk in Luxembourg Gardens and for some time he has noticed an older man and younger girl sitting on a bench on a regular basis generally at the same time and same place.  His first impression of them was that the girl was rather depressing looking even though the man was favorable in his estimation. He continues to walk the same path himself and at one point he didn’t go to Luxembourg for about 6 months. When he did finally go back after all that time, he noticed how that same girl had changed. He began now to take more of an interest in her and found himself falling in love, even though they had never even spoken. At one point, he passed by the bench and saw that a handkerchief was left. He was ecstatic and was sure that it was her handkerchief. I couldn’t help but chuckle at this part which is right after he finds the handkerchief:

‘I feel her whole soul in it!’ he exclaimed. The handkerchief belonged to the old gentleman, who had simply dropped it from his pocket.” (p. 768)

I hope I’m not the only one who found that a tad bit funny! 🙂

Anyway, Marius sees the initials “U.F.” on the handkerchief and he feels certain the U must stand for Ursula. Of course we know that it stands for Ultimus Fauchelevent which is Valjean’s name now if you remember. Marius gets to the point that these walks in Luxembourg are not enough; he decides to follow them home to see where they live. He follows them again one day and the gentleman has the daughter go into the residence; then he turns and stares at Marius. Marius takes to going to their residence at night and staring up at the windows. Finally, one day he goes there and they are gone. He finds out from the doorkeeper that they have moved.


Book 7

In this book, Hugo takes us to another part of Paris:  the underworld. He introduces us to a group of bandits whom Hugo describes as follows:

These four men were not four men at all, but a sort of mysterious robber with four heads preying on Paris wholesale; they were a monstrous polyp of evil that inhabits the crypt of society.” (p. 719)

This group of bandits is basically the head of the criminal operations that go on in their part of Paris, specializing in what is referred to as “ambushing.” It appears that others would bring criminal plans to them and they would refine those plans and then carry them out. Their underworld society was called Patron-Minette. Hugo leaves us with this final statement in this week’s reading:

What is required to exorcise these goblins? Light. Floods of light. No bat can resist the dawn. Throw light on the society below.” (p. 722)



Les Misérables #8 – Cosette Section, Book 8 and Marius Section, Books 1-2

Les Miserables Fahnestock and McAfee

Fahnestock and McAfee Translation

**Again, just a reminder that I am reading the Fahnestock and McAfee translation. So all quotes and page numbers are from this particular translation.**


As Book 8 begins, we see the precariousness of this situation of Valjean and Cosette being at the convent. This is where I really see the connections to the whole description/discussion of the convent and those that live there. They live a very strict life and no men are allowed there, with the exception of just a very few (Fauchelevent is one of those exceptions). Fauchelevent struggles to know what to do; but he realizes he wants to save Valjean and will. But figuring out how is the problem. Even if Fauchelevent asks the Reverend Mother if Valjean and Cosette can stay, they would have to figure out a way to get both of them out of the convent first since they would have to come in the right way (not over the wall like they did obviously).

Interestingly enough, one of the Sisters dies and there’s a whole process that is followed concerning the prayers for the dead, the notification of the authorities and the doctor, etc. The Reverend Mother sends for Fauchelevent and tells him of the situation. He is to help with the coffin and such. He tells her that it would take another man to help him and that he has a brother that needs a place to be, along with the brother’s granddaughter, and he would be of great help. The Reverend Mother does not consent to this initially. She keeps discussing the current situation and it ends up that this particular Sister that died wanted to be buried underneath the altar in the casket that she slept in for a bed. Being buried in the vault under the altar was not allowed for some reason with the authorities. But the Reverend Mother is determined to honor the Sister’s wishes. So they have to be clever about how they are going to accomplish it. Somehow they have to make the authorities believe the Sister’s body is in the official casket to be buried in the cemetery. Fauchelevent says he can put dirt in it. By the end of the conversation, the Reverend Mother tells Fauchelevent to bring his brother and his granddaughter to her the next day after the burial.

Fauchelevent realizes that the weight of the dirt in the empty casket is not going to probably pass as a dead body. He and Valjean discuss this and it’s decided that Valjean will lie in the official casket that is to be carried off and buried. How will he get out of it once it’s buried? This is Jean Valjean. I think he just might know how. Fauchelevent will carry Cosette out in a basket and she will stay with one of his friends until Valjean comes to get her.Les Miserables Valjean Out of the GraveThe plan goes as planned and then it doesn’t. Jean Valjean nearly gets buried alive. But Fauchelevent thinks quickly on his feet and is able to stop that from happening. They leave the cemetery and  pick up Cosette. Fauchelevent takes them to see Reverend Mother. He answers all her questions for Jean Valjean and Valjean now has the name Ultimus Fauchelevent. So they get to stay there. Valjean stayed with Fauchelevent. Cosette lived in the convent. She got to see Valjean for an hour every day. She worshipped him.


We find out what the convent was like for Valjean:

For Jean Valjean the convent was like an island surrounded by wide waters. Henceforth these four walls were the world to him. Within them he could see enough of the sky to be serene, and enough of Cosette to be happy. A very pleasant life began again for him.” (p. 564)

Here again, we can see some connections with the whole section on the convent. (See Ch. 9 “Cloistered” – particularly p. 566-570.) Let’s look at how these are connected.

Hugo talks about the issue of pride. When Valjean compared himself to the Bishop, he was humbled. But as time passed, he began to compare himself to other men in general and pride was beginning to rear itself inside him. Hugo points out that it’s right at that time when pride was beginning to build in Valjean that he came upon and entered the convent. Now think about all that Hugo told us in the descriptions of the convent as well as the practices and daily life of those who lived there. Very humble and self-sacrificing. In the “Parenthesis” chapter, Hugo says:  “Self-sacrifice, even when misdirected, is still self-sacrifice.” (p. 519) He goes on to say after that, that monasteries – and especially convents – have a “certain majesty.” (p. 519)

And so we see that just as Valjean is beginning to feel prideful, he comes upon this convent where humility can be found and self-sacrifice abounds. “Who knows? He might have finished by going gradually back to hatred. The convent stopped him in this descent.” (p. 566)

Next, Valjean begins thinking about the convent and he begins to compare the prison to the convent. He considered them both to be places of captivity and shows how they are both so but in opposite ways. “On one side, robbery, fraud, violence, lust, homicide, every sort of sacrilege, every variety of offense; on the other, one thing only – innocence. A perfect innocence almost raised aloft in a mysterious Assumption, still clinging to earth through virtue, already touching heaven through holiness.” (p. 567-568) He sees these two different lives of captivity and I think it amazes Valjean that these women at the convent would choose a life of suffering voluntarily; and that they would live this life of suffering and self-sacrifice for the sake of others.

He talked about how both places were about expiation (making amends). Prison was about expiation for the prisoners own wrong-doing. However, the nun’s lives of ascetism in the convent were about expiation for the wrong-doing of others. The prison was a place of punishment; the convent was not. And this expiation of the nuns is described as the most “highest form of generosity.”

Before him, he had the sublime summit of self-denial, the peak of virtue; innocence forgiving men their sins and expiating them in their stead; servitude endured, torture accepted, chastisement and misery sought by souls that had not sinned to save souls that had; the love of humanity losing itself in the love of God, but remaining there, distinct and supplicating; sweet, frail beings bearing the torments of those who are punished and the smile of those who are rewarded.” (p. 568-569)

I don’t think the reader can really feel the full impact of this without having been given all the details in the section on the convent. And I also wonder if Hugo’s point in the “Parenthesis” section of presenting that dim view of monasteries and convents was to provide a contrast to just how much of a positive impact the convent would have on Valjean; an impact so profound that it is considered, along with Cosette, as to confirm and complete the work in Valjean that Bishop Myriel started.

God has his own ways. The convent contributed, like Cosette, to confirm and complete in Jean Valjean the bishop’s work.” (p. 566)

These couple of pages are huge in the story line in my opinion. Not only does it show how the convent contributed to Jean Valjean’s process of transformation, not only does it show the comparisons of captivity from wrong-doing versus captivity by choice in choosing to live a life of self-sacrifice for others, but it also shows how these things affected Valjean.

When he thought of these things, everything in him gave way before this mystery of sublimity. In these meditations, pride vanished. Again and again he reverted to himself; he felt his own pitiful unworthiness, and often wept. Everything that had occurred in his life during the last six months led him back toward the holy injunctions of the bishop – Cosette through love, the convent through humility.” (p. 569)

And then he reflected that two houses of God had received him in succession at the two critical moments of his life, the first when every door was closed and human society rejected him; the second, when human society was once more howling on his track, and prison once more gaped for him; and that, had it not been for the first, he would have fallen back into crime, and had it not been for the second, into punishment. His whole heart melted in gratitude and he loved more and more.” (p. 570)


Les Miserables Gavroche

The Cosette section has come to a close and we now enter the section titled “Marius.” Hugo starts this section with a description of what he calls “gamin” – that is, what they would call at that time a “street urchin.” Here again, the reader may wonder why he goes through this lengthy description of the children of the streets in Paris and what Paris is like at this time. He starts out in general descriptions then zeros in on one particular boy named Gavroche. Gavroche was a child of the streets; yet he had a father and a mother. However, his father never gave any thought to him and his mother didn’t love him; she only loved his two sisters. Does this situation remind you of anything/anybody in the novel? I won’t say anymore. 🙂

Gavroche’s parents live at the Gorbeau building. This is the same building Jean Valjean and Cosette first stayed at before escaping to the convent. We are told that Gavroche’s father told the landlady his name was Jondrette. Gavroche would sometimes go visit his parents; but they gave him no affection whatsoever. Then we are told that in the room next to where Jondrette and his family stayed, lived a poor boy named Marius.


Book 2 introduces us to an elderly man named M. Gillenormand. We learn that he has two daughters, the youngest died and the oldest is unmarried and lives with him. We also discover that his grandson lives with him as well. At this point, I’m just going to give a few quotes that describe this Gillenormand character. We will get to know him more, as well as those connected with him, as we continue to read this section in the upcoming week.

He was a peculiar old man, very truly a man of another age – the genuine bourgeois of the eighteenth century, a very perfect specimen, somewhat haughty, wearing his good old bourgeoisie as marquises wear their marquisates. He had passed his ninetieth year, walked erect, spoke distinctly, saw clearly, drank hard, ate, slept, and snored.” (p. 592)

He was superficial, hasty, easily angered. He flew into a rage on every occasion, most frequently when wrong.” (p. 593)



…it is a mistake to think that talking to oneself is not natural; powerful emotions often speak aloud.” (p. 557)

The delight we inspire in others has this enchanting peculiarity that, far from being diminished like every other reflection, it returns to us more radiant than ever.” (p. 566)

Laughter is sunshine; it chases winter from the human face.” (p. 566)


Les Misérables #7 – Cosette Section, Books 5-7

Les Miserables Fahnestock and McAfee

Fahnestock and McAfee Translation

**Again, just a reminder that I am reading the Fahnestock and McAfee translation. So all quotes and page numbers are from this particular translation.**


This week I am breaking up the reading into two posts. I have six pages of notes which translates into way too much for one post. 🙂 This is the first post and I will post the second one on Friday.


Last week’s reading of Book 4 left us with Valjean discovering Javert was in the lodging house they were staying in. So he and Cosette left. As Valjean flees with Cosette, we find them zigzagging through the streets of Paris, darting in and out, trying to escape Javert and his group. But he just can’t seem to elude them. They end up in an alley with a dead end. Valjean is desperate.

It was a frightening moment. A few minutes separated Jean Valjean from that awful precipice opening before him for the third time. And prison now was no longer simply prison; it was Cosette lost forever – a living death.” (p. 454)

Valjean finally decides to ascend a wall because there doesn’t seem to be any other way to escape where they’ve ended up at. He does so successfully, pulling Cosette up after him. They are over the wall just in time as Javert and his men come down the alley.

They see that they are in a garden. Valjean finds a shed for them to take shelter in and hide. They could hear the patrol on the other side of the wall searching for them. As the noise died down, they noticed a different sound…a celestial sound. It was women singing and it came from the building overlooking the garden. It sounded to them as a heavenly sound like angels singing.

Cosette and Jean Valjean fell to their knees. They did not know what it was; they did not know where they were; but they both felt, the man and the child, the penitent and the innocent, that they ought to be on their knees…While the voices were singing, Jean Valjean was entirely absorbed in them. He no longer saw the night; he saw a blue sky. He seemed to feel the spreading of the wings we all have within us.” (p. 459)

Awhile later, Valjean hears an odd sound. It was as if a bell was tinkling. He saw a man walking in the melon patch. While thinking about this, he notices that Cosette’s hand is icy cold. He tries to awaken her but she won’t wake up. He runs out to get help from this man; and it ends up that this man knows him as M. Madeleine. This shocks Valjean. It turns out it is the man that was trapped under the cart that Valjean saved and then helped him get the job as gardener at a convent. This is the convent. The man takes them both back to his hut and Cosette recovers as she warms up.


Les Miserables Thenardiers

In the meantime, the Thénardiers spread a rumor that Cosette had been kidnapped. This rumor piqued Javert’s interest. He had assumed Valjean was dead. But this new development got his mind to wandering if Valjean may in fact be alive. The Thénardiers try to cover over the rumor they started when they realized it was drawing too much attention to them and their inn. They end up saying it was Cosette’s grandfather that came and got her. This seems to settle Javert until he hears about a beggar who gives out alms. He conceals himself as the beggar and comes face to face with Valjean. After this encounter we find that Javert is at Gorbeau House. He was basically lying in wait for Jean Valjean but doesn’t immediately attempt to arrest him. Instead, he decides to engage in the chase for what he considered the excitement of the hunt.

…he let his man get ahead of him, knowing he had him, but wishing to put off as long as possible the moment of arrest, delighting to feel him caught and see him at liberty, fondly gazing at him with the rapture of the spider that lets the fly buzz, or the cat that lets the mouse run.” (p. 472)

So he actually lets him get away; but he didn’t count on the fact that Valjean would indeed get away from him entirely and escape. Javert returns to the police station ashamed.


Book Six is the section all about the convent. I found this an interesting section actually. And I can see how there could possibly be some tie-ins to our story, if only to help readers understand the atmosphere and structure of the place and what it was like there – both the place itself and the people. The nuns there lived a very strict and severe type of life of ascetism. They also have a school there and the girls in the school bring life to the convent. By 1840, the convent dwindles, there’s no more school for girls and the older nuns are dying off.

Interestingly enough, I read that Petit Picpus was not an actual real place; but that Hugo may have modeled it after a real place.


And that brings us to Book 7. Hugo starts this section with telling the reader that this novel’s main character is the Infinite. If we think about our key characters, we can see how the Infinite is touched on. This novel is not just about the characters’ actual lives (what happens, circumstances, etc.), but also their souls. We can see this clearly when we read about Valjean’s inner struggles, when we see Fantine’s soul being crushed, when we read how Cosette is nicknamed the “lark” but she is a lark that doesn’t sing. We will continue to see even more of the inner transformation of Valjean’s soul as we keep reading. And the convent will be another contributor to this transformation.

Here is what is called “Valjean’s Soliloquy” from the movie production of Les Miserable in 2012, sung by Hugh Jackman who played Jean Valjean in this movie. Pay attention to the words. At one point he sings:

“Yet why did I allow this man to touch my soul and teach me love? He treated me like any other. He gave me his trust. He called me brother. My life he claims for God above. Can such things be? For I had come to hate the world; this world that always hated me”…..“He told me that I had a soul. How does he know?”


Finally, we find that Hugo launches into a discussion of convents and monasteries. He gives both positive and negative aspects to both of these. Notice too that he points out that the convent does have a certain “majesty” to it. It is clear that he can see the benefit of these for his characters in the novel. I think for now, we will leave the rest of this section alone and keep it in our minds as we continue to read. On Friday, we will begin to see some connections that this chapter and the section on the convent have with our story narrative.

Les Misérables #6 – Cosette Section, Books 1-4

Les Miserables Fahnestock and McAfee

Fahnestock and McAfee Translation

**Again, just a reminder that I am reading the Fahnestock and McAfee translation. So all quotes and page numbers are from this particular translation.**


The opening of this section begins with an accounting of the Battle of Waterloo. I’ve read and been told that there are a couple of times in the book where there are sections where Hugo sort of diverges and goes off on a tangent and you just get through it. This is one of those sections that is mentioned. I honestly didn’t feel that way. I can see why Hugo discussed this. True, he could have had less detail whereby shortening that part a great deal. But I truly like his writing style and didn’t feel like this section was a tedious read at all. In fact, as I read, I saw connections that were being made to upcoming events. Since I’ve seen multiple movies of this novel and know the basic story line, it has really enhanced my reading of the book because I can see allusions to things that are coming later in the novel.

Suffice it to say, there are statements made about the effects of Waterloo that give insight into later events. I would bookmark all of Ch. XVII-XVIII (p. 346-350); especially the following passages:

End of the dictatorship. The whole European system fell. The Empire sank into a darkness resembling that of the expiring Roman world. It rose again from the depths, as in the time of the barbarians. Except that the barbarism of 1815, which should be called by its special name, the counterrevolution, was short-winded, soon out of breath, and quickly over.” (p. 347)

This 1815 was a sort of gloomy April. The old unhealthy and poisonous realities took on new shapes. Falsehood espoused 1789, divine right masked itself under a charter, fictions became constitutional; prejudices, superstitions, and mental reservations, with Article 14 at heart, put on the varnish of liberalism. Serpents changing their skins.” (p. 348-349)

The heart of Europe, after Waterloo, was dark. An enormous void remained long after Napoleon’s disappearance. Kings threw themselves into this void…In its presence and confronting this ancient Europe reformed, the outlines of a new France began to appear. The future, ridiculed by the emperor, made its entrance. It had on its brow that star, Liberty. The passionate eyes of rising generations turned toward it. Strange to tell, men were smitten at the same time with this future, Liberty, and this past, Napoleon. Defeat had magnified the vanquished.” (p. 349)

This entire tempest, this vast cloud, this war, then this peace, all of this darkness, do not disturb for one moment the light of that infinite Eye, before which the smallest insect leaping from one blade of grass to another equals the eagle flying from spire to spire among the towers of Notre-Dame.” (p. 349-350)


Hugo goes on to describe how after the Battle of Waterloo, there were people who went and looted the battlefield. They pillaged, taking possessions from the bodies of the dead. Wellington ordered that anyone doing this be put to death. Despite that, there were people who still pillaged. “The marauders were robbing in one corner of the battlefield and being shot in another.” (p. 352) And it’s here that Hugo proceeds to tell of one particular man who was actively engaged in stealing from the dead, slumping in and out amongst the dead, keeping a vigilant eye to see if anyone was watching. He happened upon one who had a silver cross of the Legion of Honor. He ripped off that cross, took a watch, and found a purse which he also took. But he discovered the man wasn’t dead! Long story short, the soldier thought the lowly thief was saving his life. He offered him all his possessions of value he had. The man went along with him, making himself look to be a hero instead of the lowly thief he was. When the soldier asked his name, he said Thénardier. So the lowly thief was the very Thénardier who we were introduced to earlier….the very one who, along with his wife, took in Cosette. And the soldier’s name? Pont-mercy. This scene and the soldier’s name need to be remembered as it will come into play later.


Les Miserables Ship Orion

Book 2 starts out by telling us that Jean Valjean had been retaken. There’s a scene where a man on a ship is in grave trouble and the one in charge of the prisoners lets Valjean go to rescue him. Which he does. As Valjean is heading back to where the prisoners were working, he falls in the water between two ships and can’t be found. He is presumed to be dead. Of course, rumors abound as to what happened. Hugo cites articles that were written about the discovery of M. Madeleine being Jean Valjean. Hugo describes the articles as laconic.

We then read about what happened to Montreuil-ser-mer after M. Madeleine/Valjean was gone. This shows just how much of a positive impact Valjean had on this town. Hugo tells us that once Valjean was gone, the soul of the town was gone.

There was no longer any center; competition and venom on all sides. M. Madeleine had ruled and directed everything. With him fallen, it was every man for himself; the spirit of strife succeeded to the spirit of organization, bitterness to cordiality, hatred of each against each instead of the good will of the founder toward all; the threads woven together by M. Madeleine became entangled and were broken; the workmanship was debased, the products were degraded, confidence was killed; customers diminished, there were fewer orders, wages decreased, the shops became idle, bankruptcy followed. And nothing was left for the poor. Everything disappeared.” (p. 358-359)


Before moving on, I want to mention something I have noticed about Hugo’s writing in Les Misérables. So far, there are times when you feel like he is diverging from the story and wonder why he’s telling you what he’s telling you. But then somewhere along the way there’s some sort of tie-in. As I already explained concerning his divergence with the Battle of Waterloo, while it may seem not necessary (and maybe *all* the details aren’t necessary in that particular section), he brought a point of connection with the story line in more than one place. Of course, if you don’t know what happens later in the story, it is hard to pick up on those points your first time reading through. But that’s why I wanted to highlight several places for you to bookmark so you can refer back to them later on. And of course, the end of that section connecting to the Thénardiers is clearly seen.

That particular scene tells us not just about the character of Thénardier, but also about what the real story was with him and the soldier. If you remember, we saw how Thénardier has that big picture at their inn supposedly depicting Thénardier as a hero saving a soldier. Book 3 tells how Thénardier spoke of the situation:

It will be remembered that he pretended to have been in the service; he would tell with some pomp how at Waterloo, as a sergeant in a Sixth or Ninth Light something, he alone, against a squadron of Hussars of Death, had covered with his body, and saved amid a shower of grapeshot, ‘a dangerously wounded general.’ Hence the flamboyant picture on his sign, and the name of his inn, which was spoken of in the region as the ‘tavern of the sergeant of Waterloo.’” (p. 375)

But we see in what actually happened, that Thénardier is far from a hero. He had the appearance of a hero to the soldier but was nothing but a thief. I think we can see here how Hugo is setting up a contrast. On one hand, we have Mr. Thénardier seemingly look like a hero but is anything but. In fact, Hugo describes him as “…a shopkeeper, in which a monster lay hidden.” (p. 419) On the other hand, we have the ex-convict Valjean who looks like a pauper and people can’t seem to look past him making a mistake; but in fact, he is a hero. His Madeliene identity, which concealed his past, showed his heroism; from rescuing the children from the fire – to helping people when he was able – to helping the town prosper. And even now, in last week’s and this week’s readings, we see his heroism in rescuing Fantine and caring and providing for her; then rescuing her daughter from the Thénardiers, taking her in, caring for her, and becoming a father to her.


We have another seeming disconnected part when Hugo talks about the superstition in the town of Montfermeil of the Devil supposedly burying his treasure in a forest there. Then he recounts how a man named Boulatruelle has been seen digging holes in this forest. The townspeople gossip about it and say he’s out there looking for the Devil’s treasure. Eventually, the gossiping stopped and people moved on with other things. However, some were still very curious about what he was doing, among them being Thénardier. Thénardier and some others get up a “party” with the goal to get Boulatruelle drunk. When Boulatruelle was drunk he recounted what he’d seen; how he thought a man had buried a chest and he was trying to find it. After explaining everything, he summed it up by saying:  “From this he concluded that this person, on entering the wood, had dug a hole with his pick, had buried the chest, and filled up the hole with his spade. Now, as the chest was too small to contain a corpse, it must contain money; hence his continued searches.” (p. 363) However, Boulatruelle’s searches were all in vain. He found nothing. Most people thought no more about it. We start seeing the connection being made in our story line in Book 3. When talking about a man in the woods of Montfermeil it says:

The man did not return to the Montfermeil road; he turned to the right, across the fields, and reached the woods with rapid strides. When he got there, he slackened his pace, and began to look carefully at all the trees, pausing at every step, as if he were seeking and following a mysterious route known only to himself…
(p. 391)

It goes on to describe his particular steps taken in the woods. And then we read that this is the man who helps Cosette in the woods carry the water bucket. We learn that she is not afraid of this man when she encounters him in the woods. But not only was she not afraid of him, something about him sparked hope and joy in Cosette:

The man walked very fast. Cosette followed him without difficulty. She was no longer tired. From time to time, she looked up at this man with a sort of calm and inexpressible confidence. She had never been taught to turn to Providence and pray. However, she felt in her heart something resembling hope and joy, which rose toward heaven.” (p. 393-394)

He carries the bucket for her. He ends up staying at the inn. And it’s in Book 3 here that we discover that this stranger in the woods, the one who appears to have buried something in the woods, the one who helps Cosette carry the water bucket, the one who buys her the beautiful doll, the one who asks to take Cosette and pays way more money than needed to pay for Fantine’s debts to the Thénardiers, we discover that this is none other than Jean Valjean.

So we see how the seemingly disconnected story of the superstition in Montfermeil and of Boulatruelle digging holes in the forest – it wasn’t disconnected at all.


The last chapter of Book 3 tells us Valjean was not dead and recounts his escape. He actually intentionally jumped into the sea. He swam underwater to a boat that was attached to a ship. He hid out in that boat until evening time then swam until he reached shore. He was thought to be dead.

In Paris he happened onto one of the papers that chronicled the event. He felt reassured, and almost as much at peace as if he really had been dead.” (p. 423-424)


Les Miserables Gorbeau House

In Book 4 we are given a description of the place Valjean had secured for lodging and find him arriving there with Cosette. He and Cosette live there in a small apartment and no one else is lodged there at that time except for the landlady. We read how Valjean comes to love Cosette as a daughter and truly becomes a father to her. And Cosette calls him father. Cosette plays a lot and Valjean teaches her how to read.

Hugo shows us how the Bishop and Cosette have both been part of Valjean’s transformation:

This was the second white vision he had met. The bishop had caused the dawn of virtue on his horizon; Cosette invoked the dawn of love.” (p. 433)

And we see how Jean Valjean and Cosette helped each other:

 “He loved, and he grew strong again. Alas, he was as frail as Cosette. He protected her, and she gave him strength. Thanks to him, she could walk upright in life; thanks to her, he could persist in virtue. He was this child’s support, and she was his prop and staff. Oh, divine unfathomable mystery of Destiny’s compensations.” (p. 436)

Unfortunately, the landlady watched him closely. Then suddenly one night, he sees Javert in the hallway outside their apartment. And this week’s reading leaves us with this:

At dusk, he went to the street door and looked carefully up and down the boulevard. There was no one to be seen. The boulevard seemed utterly deserted. It is true that someone could have been hidden behind a tree. He went upstairs again. ‘Come,’ he said to Cosette. He took her by the hand and they both went out.” (p. 442)


This book is so layered. Complex characters. Intricate weaving of stories. This post was rather lengthy. Yet I still didn’t touch on all that could be talked about in this section!