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The narrator explains the causes and consequences of the 1830 July Revolution
in France. After Napoléon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, the
monarchy tries to reassert the rights that it enjoyed before the French
Revolution of 1789. Since the post-1815 government
has been hampered by unsuccessful military campaigns and social
injustice, the monarchy mistakenly believes that it can slowly rescind
the rights it granted in 1815. When it attempts
to do so, the government collapses, resulting in the July Revolution
The new government, however, faces as many problems as
the old one. The new king, Louis-Philippe, tries to find a middle
ground among the different political factions but succeeds only
in alienating all sides. His miscalculations lead to another revolution
in 1832. Led by Enjolras, student revolutionaries
begin to organize a massive political insurrection in the Faubourg
Saint-Antoine, a district of Paris.
Marius continues to obsess over Cosette. He still does
not know her real name and refers to her as “the lark.” He finds
a park called the Field of the Lark and goes there every day to
soothe the pain of his loss. Little does he know that Eponine, out
of her love for Marius, has tracked down Cosette. Eponine tells
Marius that Cosette and Valjean are living in Saint-Germain, a Paris
suburb. Eponine does not tell Marius that she saw Cosette in the
garden of the house while observing the house on behalf of an imprisoned
robber. Eponine tells Marius to follow her to the house. He fails
to realize that Eponine is in love with him and tries to hand her
a five-franc coin. She sadly lets the coin fall to the ground and
tells Marius that she does not want his money.
Tucked away in their house on Rue Plumet in Saint-Germain, Cosette
and Valjean once again live a happy life free of fear. Nevertheless,
problems begin to develop—not from outside this time, but from within.
Cosette, who has lived with Valjean since she was eight years old,
is blossoming into a young woman. She begins to sense that Valjean
has chosen the seclusion of Saint-Germain for reasons other than
merely hiding from Javert. Ever since Valjean ended their regular
visits to the Luxembourg Gardens, it has become clear that he wants
to hide Cosette from other men. Cosette thinks wistfully of the
young man in the gardens. Having never had romance in his life, Valjean
has no personal experience with love to help him relate to Cosette’s
yearnings for a man she has never met. At the same time, Valjean
is painfully aware that Cosette is all that he has in life. Losing
Cosette would mean losing everything.
The street urchin Gavroche overhears Father Mabeuf worrying about
his finances. Gavroche slips away and sees the murderous Montparnasse
pounce on an old man. With great agility and strength, the old man,
whom we recognize as Valjean, defends himself. He pins Montparnasse
to the ground and lectures him about his life of crime. He then
gives Montparnasse his wallet and lets Montparnasse go. Gavroche
deftly picks Montparnasse’s pocket and throws the wallet full of
money over Mabeuf’s wall. Mabeuf is ecstatic to find a wallet next
to him, and his housekeeper declares that the money must have come
After a few months of discord, Cosette and Valjean begin
to live in harmony again. Their relationship reverts to the bliss
they enjoyed during Cosette’s childhood. Marius, however, interrupts
this harmony. He has been spying on Cosette ever since Eponine gave
him the address of the house in Saint-Germain. One night, he leaves
a declaration of his love for Cosette. The next evening, after Valjean has
left for his nightly walk around town, Marius enters the garden and
professes his love for Cosette. She reciprocates Marius’s feelings.
Back on the streets of Paris, Gavroche continues to practice
his unique brand of street-smart philanthropy. He discovers two
hungry, abandoned children and uses the little money he has to buy
food for them, not realizing that they are his own younger brothers. Gavroche
then runs into a woman who is freezing in the bitter cold and gives
her enough of his own clothing to survive the night. Gavroche brings
the two young boys to his makeshift home inside a giant statue of
an elephant near the Bastille prison. Later that night, a number
of criminals escape from prison, including his father, Thénardier.
Gavroche rescues Thénardier from a rooftop, but his greedy father
does not realize that his own son is the one helping him to escape.
The narrator devotes several pages to an exploration of
the rich vocabulary and origins of Parisian street slang.
Like the convent before it, Valjean and Cosette’s house
in Saint-Germain is a sort of idyllic prison, a tranquil setting
that creates tension between Cosette and Valjean. While Cosette
no longer has to endure the severe discipline of the nuns, she no
longer has any classmates to talk to and has only Valjean and the
maid to keep her company. Valjean, on the other hand, appears to
think all is well. Delighted to have Cosette all to himself and
rid of the threat posed by Marius, he does not realize that his
efforts to hold on to Cosette only make her more reluctant to stay
with him. If anything, the isolated location of Saint-Germain leaves
Cosette with more time to pine over Marius and realize her loneliness.
While Marius’s naïveté is sometimes charming, it also
blinds him to Eponine’s feelings and makes him unwittingly insensitive
and selfish. At times, his preoccupation with Cosette borders on
addiction, resembling Javert’s obsessive pursuit of Valjean more
than courtship. Marius is so focused on his love for Cosette that
he ignores Eponine, and he goes so far as to recruit her as a kind
of carrier pigeon between him and his true love. Without knowing
it, Marius insults Eponine by trying to pay her for her services.
Eponine’s response to this abuse is tragic, but we do feel some
sense of encouragement in seeing a Thénardier act with such selflessness. Eponine’s
attempts to ensure Marius’s happiness are both sad and noble, and
they are clearly preferable to the cruel cynicism her family has
Hugo again critiques the French justice system by demonstrating the
corruption of the Parisian prisons. He suggests that dangerous criminals
such as the leaders of Patron-Minette can effectively move in and
out of prison as they see fit, provided they have the right connections
and enough money to bribe the prison guards. The ease with which
the Parisian crime ring circumvents the justice system contrasts
with the tragic circumstances of Valjean, whose petty theft brought
him a life of hardship and fear. Harsh prison sentences such as
Valjean’s can be justified only if the law comes down even more harshly
on murderers. Hugo shows us that such is not the case, however.
He implies that in French society justice is a resource like any other
and that anyone who is well connected can exploit it at the expense
of the unfortunate.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Les Misérables!