Summary: Book Eight: Enchantments and Desolations

As spring blossoms, so does the love between Marius and Cosette. Their bliss is almost dreamlike, but Valjean shatters their happiness when he announces that he plans to take Cosette to England in a week’s time. Valjean is quite sure that their house is being watched and has seen Thénardier loitering around the neighborhood. Just as Valjean suspects, Thénardier is indeed plotting revenge and robbery, but Eponine manages to delay her father’s plans. Valjean’s desire to leave Paris is clearly motivated by a fear of losing Cosette, but it also stems from his unease about the deteriorating political stability in France.

When Cosette tells Marius about Valjean’s plan, he is heartbroken. He goes to see Gillenormand, and although they have not yet reconciled, Marius begs his grandfather to grant him permission to marry Cosette. As they talk, Marius and Gillenormand begin to repair their relationship, but Gillenormand then makes the unfortunate suggestion that Marius make Cosette his mistress rather than marry her. Marius explodes, screaming that his grandfather has insulted his future wife and storms out of the house.

Summary: Book Nine: Where Are They Going?

Marius returns to the house in Saint-Germain to see Cosette. When she fails to appear at the appointed time, Marius realizes that Cosette and Valjean have moved. Heartbroken, he has no time to grieve, since a mysterious voice advises him to join his friends on the barricades.

Summary: Book Ten: June 5, 1832

Paris is in the throes of a cholera epidemic, and the climate is so unstable that the slightest spark threatens to set off an insurrection. The spark finally comes on June 5, 1832, during the funeral procession of General Lamarque, a popular defender of liberty and the people. Fearing that the public mourning might lead to violence, the monarchy dispatches troops throughout Paris to maintain control. When shots are fired on the Austerlitz Bridge, the city explodes and barricades begin to spring up.

Summary: Book Eleven: The Atom Fraternizes with the Hurricane

Marius’s former law-school companions, the Friends of the ABC, are among the first to answer the cries of revolution. The group begins to arm and prepare for the imminent confrontation with the army. Gavroche joins their ranks. As the mob marches through the streets, the old churchwarden Mabeuf joins them, following them doggedly even after they tell him to go home.

Summary: Book Twelve: Corinth

The students decide to build a barricade around one of their favorite meeting spots, the Corinth wine-shop. Gavroche is instrumental in building the barricade and organizing its defense. The revolutionaries build barricades from everyday items, and they are in high spirits as night falls. Gavroche tries in vain to persuade the men to give him a gun. When the construction of the barricades is done, the men sit and wait. Gavroche suddenly realizes that an unnamed man who has joined the group is actually Javert, who is spying on them for the army. The men take Javert prisoner. One drunken revolutionary shoots a local homeowner, and Enjolras executes the man on the spot. Enjolras delivers a rousing speech. Marius’s roommate, Courfeyrac, notices that a slim, young laborer who came looking for Marius earlier in the day has joined the group at the barricades.

Summary: Book Thirteen: Marius Enters the Shadow

Mad with grief and eager to die, Marius takes the two pistols that Javert gives him earlier and heads toward the center of Paris. He walks toward the barricades like a man already dead.

Summary: Book Fourteen: The Grandeur of Despair

The government troops arrive and shoot down the revolutionary flag. Mabeuf climbs over the barricade to raise the flag once again, but the army shoots him dead. The students condemn Javert to death, but they keep him alive in the hopes of exchanging him for a revolutionary that the army is holding hostage. When they hear this revolutionary being executed, Enjolras decides that they will execute Javert ten minutes before the barricade falls. The soldiers attack the barricade and Marius shows up just in time to save Courfeyrac and Gavroche. Marius drives away the troops by threatening to blow up the barricade.

The fighting quickly becomes chaotic and Marius just barely avoids being killed. The mysterious young laborer, who is Eponine in disguise, saves Marius’s life by throwing herself in front of a soldier’s rifle. Eponine crawls toward Marius and confesses her love to him. She hands Marius a letter from Cosette and dies. After kissing Eponine’s lifeless face, Marius reads the letter, in which Cosette reveals her whereabouts. Marius writes Cosette a letter telling her he will die on the barricades and bidding her farewell. Marius sends Gavroche to deliver the news.

Summary: Book Fifteen: The Rue de l’Homme-Armé

Gavroche runs through the streets with Marius’s letter. Valjean intercepts the boy and says that he will deliver the letter to Cosette himself. Gavroche is scornful at first, then feels sympathy for the old man and gives him the letter. Valjean asks Gavroche where the barricade is. The boy answers and runs off into the night. When Valjean reads the letter, he at first rejoices that Marius will soon cease to be a threat to his happiness. Valjean’s decency soon takes over, however, and, dressed as a member of the National Guard, he heads toward the barricade.

Analysis: Books Eight–Fifteen

Though she is a Thénardier and has a criminal record, Eponine emerges in this section as one of the most virtuous figures in the novel. Her love for Marius leads her to serve as a messenger between Marius and her rival, Cosette, and she takes this thankless task further when she helps protect Cosette. Eponine tries to divert Patron-Minette’s attention away from Valjean’s house, putting her own safety at risk when she threatens to wake up the whole neighborhood if Thénardier and his cronies break into the house. Likewise, Eponine urges Valjean to move away when she becomes aware that her father is planning another attack. Ultimately, her love for Marius results in her death when she throws herself in front of a rifle to save him. Eponine, who grows up in the unloving environment of the Thénardier household, is a tragic figure. The fact that the daughter of a couple as despicable as the Thénardiers is capable of such love and selflessness implies that anyone—regardless of his or her upbringing or social status—can rise above terrible circumstances and become virtuous.

Marius’s failed reconciliation with his grandfather highlights the social prejudices that Hugo sought to combat by writing Les Misérables. Upon hearing that Marius wants to marry a girl who possesses neither a dowry nor any apparent income, Gillenormand suggests that an affair might be more appropriate than marriage. In his mind, lower-class women have nothing to offer other than their bodies, and he advises Marius accordingly. Though offensive, Gillenormand’s suggestion might seem harmless if it were not for the fact that it reminds us of Tholomyès’s behavior. Tholomyès, Cosette’s father, is an upper-class student who holds the same cavalier views toward lower-class women as Gillenormand does, and his behavior has disastrous effects for the women with whom he is involved. Tholomyès’s affair with Fantine, for example, starts her on the road to prostitution and incarceration. Marius’s horrified response to his grandfather’s suggestion distinguishes Marius as a man of honor and gives us some faith in the morals of upper-class students. Gillenormand’s proposal reveals the callous attitude of the upper class toward the working poor and shows us that Tholomyès’s behavior would have been applauded and condoned by the other men in his upper-class world.

While Hugo’s sympathies lie with the revolutionaries, he is too disgusted with bloodshed to portray the insurrection as a glorious moment in French history. He shows us small acts of heroism, such as Mabeuf’s attempt to rescue the flag, but he primarily portrays the barricade as a place of unnecessary brutality and pointless violence. Enjolras’s execution of one of his own men for killing a civilian is justifiable, but it makes us wonder whether even the most principled violence might inevitably lead to murder and mayhem of the worst kind. In contrast to the example Enjolras and his men set, Valjean avoids killing anyone, even his most bitter enemy. Hugo suggests that revolution does not have to involve violence and that the only truly revolutionary weapons are forgiveness and kindness.