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Free Study Guide for Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: "Les Mis"

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LES MISERABLES: FREE ONLINE STUDY GUIDE / LITERARY CRITICISM

SAINT DENIS

Book First: A Few Pages of History

Summary

We are given an account of the mistakes of the House of Bourbon, which led to the collapse of the French restoration. The Restoration failed because it failed to recognize conquests and rights of the people, instead interpreting such as concessions” which the House of Bourbon could take away at will. The Restoration “denied sovereignty to the nation and liberty to the citizen.” In other words, it denied to the nation what made it a nation and to the citizen what made him a citizen.

The Bourbons did allow for some freedoms, especially in the areas of thought and free speech. It was an age-until 1830- when people could exercise their intelligence. For 15 years, France enjoyed a form of equality-freedom of conscience, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The Revolution of July of 1830 brought about the fall of the Bourbons, a sequence that lacked the violence of the earlier revolution led by Robespiere. The Bourbons simply removed the crown and disappeared into exile. Following the revolution of 1830, Louis Philippe D’Orleans was placed on a sort of “demi-throne.”

Louis Philippe knew how to please all. He spoke the languages of Europe and wore no crown. He wore the dress of the National Guard and the cordon of the Legion of Honor-a combination pulling the customs of both Charles X and Napoleon into one. His greatest fault was that he was “modest in the name of France.” He was too fatherly, too timid and too domestic to last. Known as “Prince Equality,” he bore in himself the contradictions of Restoration and Revolution. He was a good man who spent his own time reviewing criminal cases in the attempt to save as many as possible from execution.

Louis Philippe accepted the throne under the belief that he had been elected to it and that it was right, and hence a duty. His weakness was an inability to manage wealth and the distribution of it. Poverty, human rights, money, rights of capital, and rights of labor were the subject of stirrings among the people, which created confusion and tension. Frequent riots occurred and were quickly suppressed.

By April of 1832, revolutionary groups throughout Paris spring up. They hold meetings in the back rooms of wine shops and pass secret messages about the accumulation of weapons and ammunition. Enjolras and the other friends of the ABC go into various parts of Paris to take stock of the numbers who can be counted on to join them in an uprising.

Notes


The new kings fail to realize that the people are looking to the Revolution of 1798 as an event that was not quite completed. Even across the channel, the English poets of the day had believed that the French Revolution would end tyranny everywhere. It did not do that, but it planted the seeds of freedom and gave people a taste of equality. The new monarchy failed because the Bourbon kings thought they could give and take rights in an arbitrary fashion.


Book Second: Eponine

Summary

Marius moves out of the Gorbeau House and back into Courfeyrac’s room. He discovers that Thenardier has been arrested with the other robbers and is in solitary confinement. Marius begins sending him 5 francs per week. Meanwhile, he roams the streets, unable to think of anything but the girl he loves. He doesn’t know her real name but had heard Thenardier call her “the Lark.” One day his wandering leads him across a field with one pond and a wooded area at one end, rather like a park. Marius overhears another wanderer call it the “field of the lark” and resolves to return to it every day.

Javert is frustrated because he failed to catch both the victim of the Gorbeau affair and Montparnasse. On the way to prison, Claquesous also escapes. Brujon is let out of solitary in hopes that he will talk, but he doesn’t. Instead he manages to get notes to Eponine who waits for her father outside the prison.

Eponine is as street wise as her brother and is capable of watching without being watched herself. She hunts up Marius to tell him that she knows the address of “the girl.” Eponine leads him to the street where Cosette and Valjean are living.

Notes

Marius’ obsession with Cosette is parallel to Valjean’s except that Valjean, who actually knows the girl, has more reason. Still Valjean has a haunting sense that Marius is still in the picture somewhere. His relationship with Cosette has become a little stifling; when he sees a chain gang passing by their house one day, it is as if his past is catching up to him and will ultimately separate him from Cosette no matter what he does. He seems to feel like he owns her, an idea that has resulted partially from having saved her from the Thenardier’s and also from his own changed life which is an extension of her influence.

Poor Eponine, meanwhile, is in love with Marius herself and does everything she can to please him even to finding the new location of Cosette. Marius is so mentally and emotionally wrapped up in his ideas of love for Cosette that he doesn’t even notice Eponine’s pitiful attempts to get his attention.


Book Third: The House in the Rue Plummet

Summary

(This chapter is a flashback to details from Cosette’s perspective prior to the Gorbeau affair)

Cosette and Valjean live in a small house in the Rue Plummet. They have no neighbors, but the house has a garden in the back and another smaller, workman’s cottage, which adjoins a hidden winding path that meets another street nearly 1/3 mile away. Cosette has matured enough to realize that she is actually beautiful. She begins to ask for clothes and other feminine articles.

This is also the time when Marius sees Cosette at Luxembourg. With nothing more than an exchange of glances, the two are deeply in love. Cosette begins to look for him on her frequent walks with her father although she says nothing to Valjean. After Valjean successfully traps Marius into revealing the object of his attentive glances, Valjean and Cosette no longer walk in the Luxembourg. Valjean continues the morning walks, but always in secluded and little known places.

Notes

While they are living in this house, Valjean has his confrontation with the Thenardiers. Cosette has no comprehension of the meaning of his injury or of what has transpired with the people they had initially set out to help. Her relationship with Valjean has deteriorated a bit as she is not happy but does not feel free to tell him why. In fact, she hardly knows why herself.


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