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Posted by digdigil on 2006.11.30 at 12:29
LES MISÉRABLES – Part Four, Books XIII, XIV and XV

Marius, despairing and wishing to die, goes to join the barricade. He is carrying Javert’s pistols. Hugo describes the route Marius takes, mentioning each street into which Marius turns and the various things that people are doing in them. As a reader, does Hugo’s use of such intricate detail work for you? Or do you find yourself wishing he’d just get on with the story? (For those of us who don’t know Paris, whether or not you pass the Place de la Concorde twice on the way from the Rue Plumet to the Rue de Rivoli is irrelevant, and may only serve as an irritation, IMO.)

To continue, Marius notices that the streets are getting darker as he follows the Rue Saint-Honoré, and the crowds of people are becoming denser. Marius goes on regardless, not daunted by any impediments in his way, nor by the darkness he sees.

In the section entitled “Paris—a bird’s-eye view”, Hugo describes in detail again the “besieged quarter” as being nothing but a “monstrous cavern”, and all roads to it “plunged into a menacing, sinister darkness”. Is this description effective in creating both a mood and a sense of omen?

Marius reaches the Mondétour alley-way where he thinks about his father, Colonel Pontmercy. He feels it is now his turn to be brave and resolute. He thinks that it is impossible to live without Cosette, and that she doesn’t care anyway, because she left without contacting him, even though he had given her his address.

Marius begins to think that his cause is just as noble as his father’s—that the cause of liberty is a duty to the people of France and that this civil war is just.


Nothing has happened yet, and the rebels wait. A singing voice is heard approaching. To the delight of Enjolras and Combeferre, it is Gavroche. The first thing he demands from them is Javert’s musket.

Soldiers approach a short time later and shots are fired. The rebels’ red flag is knocked off of the barricade. Enjolras cries out for someone to pick up the flag and replace it. Pere Mabeuf rises and comes forward to pick up the fallen flag. He climbs to the top of the barricade, flourishes the flag and cries out:

“Long live the Revolution! Long live the Republic! Fraternity, Equality—and Death!”

His action causes the soldiers to fire again and thus Pere Mabeuf is killed. Enjolras removes the old man’s bloodstained coat. It is full of holes, and he holds it up to be used as their new flag. Pere Mabeuf’s body is taken into the tavern and laid out on a table in the room where Javert is tied to a pillar.

The barricade is attacked and Bahorel is killed. Courfeyrac is injured and Gavroche attempts to shoot a man who bears down on him with a bayonet, but Javert’s musket does not fire. At this moment Marius enters the stronghold and shoots the men attacking both Gavroche and Courfeyrac.

After killing the two men, Marius throws away the empty pistols. While he is looking around, he is targeted by a soldier, but just as this man is attempting to fire, a young workman in corduroy trousers thrusts his hand over the muzzle and the ball shatters his hand. Marius is unaware that this person has saved his life and has been shot in the process.

Enjolras and the others take up their positions again and both rebels and soldiers shoot at each other. Just then someone cries out, “Clear out or I’ll blow up the barricade!”

It is Marius, who has located a powder-keg in the tavern and has brought it to the barricade where he stands with a torch held over it. The soldiers flee, and Enjolras and his rebels rejoice in the fact that they have won the skirmish.

Marius’ friends surround him, congratulate him and make him their new leader. However, Marius is confused and bewildered, not even recognizing Javert in the tavern, still lashed to his pillar.

Meanwhile, Marius remembers the smaller barricade at the other end of the alleyway and goes to inspect it. On the way, someone calls out to him. It is the person in the corduroy trousers who saved his life.

“Don’t you recognize me?” this person asks him.

It is Éponine. She is horribly injured and says she is close to death. But she is able to have a last conversation with Marius. She tells him it was she who put her hand in front of the musket to stop the soldier from shooting Marius. He replies, “one doesn’t die of a wounded hand”, which sounds harsh, but he doesn’t know the worst. She tells him that the bullet has also passed through her body.

Éponine asks Marius to sit close to her and when he does, she rests her head on his knee. She talks to him honestly and this causes him to feel compassion for her. They can hear Gavroche singing in the background and Éponine tells Marius that he is her brother. She gives him the letter from Cosette. She asks Marius to kiss her on the forehead after she is dead, saying that she’ll know if he does.

After this she dies, but before she succumbs, she tells Marius that she was a little bit in love with him.

Let me stop here and comment that this scene was one of the most touching I’ve ever read. There is so much about it that is heart-wrenching: the thought of Éponine’s hard life, her self-sacrifice, the splitting-up of her family, the tragedy of her unrequited love for Marius, the abomination of severe poverty. All this is tied in with the desperation felt by the French people at the time of the Revolution. There is so much that I could go on and on about. But I’ll keep my comments brief. Another thing that struck me was the difference between Éponine and Gavroche—one situation is so negative and the other so positive—even though they are from the same family and their circumstances are identical. However, Éponine was such a tragic character, and one senses that Gavroche will come through all right in the end. One hopes that he will, anyway.

Marius does kiss Éponine on the forehead as she had asked him. In the end he felt compassion for her without being unfaithful to Cosette. He reads Cosette’s letter. It is dated the 4th of June, and in it she tells him that she and her father have gone to No. 7, Rue de l’Homme-Armé, and from there will go to England.

He quickly writes a response to her and enlists Gavroche to deliver it to No. 7, Rue de l’Homme-Armé.

Gavroche doesn’t want to go and leave the fighting, but he agrees to deliver the letter because he reasons that he has time to do so and still arrive back in plenty of time before morning comes and the battle resumes, so he won’t miss anything.


Jean Valjean and Cosette are ensconced in the house at No. 7 where Jean Valjean discovers the letter that Cosette wrote to Marius, preserved on Cosette’s blotter. He is aghast when he reads it. Of all the torments he has suffered in his life, this is the worst. His love for Cosette is such that he cannot bear the thought of being parted from her. He asks Toussaint where the fighting is.

The last section, entitled, “A boy at war with street-lamps”, is delightful. The exchanges between Jean Valjean and Gavroche are priceless. Jean Valjean has gone outside to sit on the curb in the darkness. He hears footsteps. It is Gavroche approaching. Gavroche cannot see the numbers on the houses, so he walks up to each one and raps on the doors and windows.

Jean Valjean asks him what he’s up to. Gavroche replies with his typical insolent attitude. He picks up a stone and throws it at a lighted street-lamp, knocking it out. Jean Valjean presses a five-franc coin into Gavroche’s hand, thinking him half-starved. Gavroche, startled, thinks it’s a bribe to stop breaking street-lamps, and he tells Valjean to take the coin back. Valjean asks if he has a mother, and tells Gavroche to give the coin to her. He also tells him to break all the street-lamps he wants. Thus he wins Gavroche over.

Gavroche asks Valjean if he lives in the street and knows which house is No. 7. He gives Marius’ letter to Valjean after a bit of banter in which he teases Valjean into believing he may not turn the letter over to him since it’s addressed to a woman, which Valjean is not. Oh my, I found this priceless. That Gavroche can stand up to Valjean and almost get the better of him is just too much.

Before he leaves, Gavroche tells Valjean that he comes from the barricade in the Rue de le Chanvrerie. Jean Valjean goes back into his house to read the letter. After he does, his emotions are in turmoil. He goes to put on his National Guard uniform, loads his musket, takes with him a pouch of ammunition and heads for Les Halles.

On his way back to the barricade, Gavroche continues shattering street-lamps and sings a song as he goes along. He sees an indigent man sleeping in a cart, and takes the cart, rolling the sleeping man onto the ground. He leaves a receipt for the cart and goes on his way. Unfortunately, the noise of the cart on the cobblestones draws the attention of a soldier, a sergeant, who stops Gavroche from proceeding further.

Gavroche believes this man has insulted him by calling him first, a rascal, and then a clown, and so he insults the sergeant hilariously. He says:

“You know, you don’t look your age. You should sell your hair at a hundred francs apiece. That would net you five hundred francs.” Oh, Gavroche, you are too much!

The soldier calls Gavroche a scoundrel. Gavroche tells him to wash his mouth out. At this, the sergeant demands again that Gavroche tells him where he’s going and Gavroche says it’s to fetch the doctor for his wife, who’s in labour.

As the sergeant makes a grab for him, Gavroche pushes the cart into the man’s stomach like a battering ram and the soldier falls into the gutter, discharging his musket. Other soldiers, hearing this, come running and shots are fired, breaking only windows.

Gavroche escapes and heads back to the barricade.

Well, what do you think? Isn’t the action heating up nicely? For me, also, the characters of Éponine and her brother Gavroche are nicely drawn in this section. The contrasts between them are quite poignant, I think. Are they realistic? They certainly work for me.


duva at 2006-12-08 10:27 (UTC) (Link)
The part from this section that ALWAYS makes me blub like a baby is "The End of Jean Prouvaire's Verses".

They called the roll. One of the insurgents was missing. And who? One of the dearest. One of the most valiant, Jean Prouvaire. They looked for him among the wounded, he was not there. They looked for him among the dead, he was not there. He was evidently a prisoner.

Combeferre said to Enjolras, "They have our friend; we have their officer. Have you set your heart on the death of this spy?"

"Yes," said Enjolras, "but less than on the life of Jean Prouvaire."

This took place in the basement near Javert's post.

"Well," replied Combeferre, "I'm going to tie my handkerchief to my cane, and go with a flag of trice to offer to give them their man for ours."

"Listen," said Enjolras, laying his hand on Combeferre's arm.

There was a significant clicking of weapons at the end of the street.

They heard a manly voice cry out, "Vive la France! Long live the future!"

They recognized Prouvaire's voice.

There was a flash and an explosion.

Silence reigned again.

"They've killed him," exclaimed Combeferre.

Enjolras looked at Javert and said to him, "Your friends have just shot you."

Actually, I'm torn between weeping my eyes out and fangirling Enjolras excessively. Ahem.
digdigil at 2006-12-13 02:49 (UTC) (Link)
*sigh* You have quoted quite an incredible section. The whole atmosphere of the tavern and the barricade just seems to drip with pathos. Those poor beautiful boys.

And Enjolras...I am with you in fangirling Enjolras and I didn't think it could happen to me again!
duva at 2006-12-13 09:16 (UTC) (Link)
Oh, when it comes to him, no one is safe. ;-)
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