Study Guide

Les Misérables Youth

By Victor Hugo

Youth

At certain times youth sparkled amid the cloisters. The recreation bell sounded, a door creaked on its hinges and the birds said, 'Here come the children!' (2.1.4.2)

Despite depicting the world as basically a grim reality of suffering and despair, Victor Hugo can have a fairly idealistic view of children. This scene is straight out of a Disney cartoon, complete with birds speaking English (or French) and little children spilling into a garden to frolic their innocent little heads off.

Youth, if we may be allowed the phrase, was on the move. Attitudes were changing, almost unconsciously, in accordance with the changing times. (3.4.1.1)

You what's really scary? Kids. No, really: wait until you get to be, say, thirty, and see if you don't start looking around anxiously when you approach a group of teenagers on the sidewalk. That's because youth is powerful—especially when it starts thinking about politics and revolution with no thought for personal consequences. There's a reason that your frontal lobe isn't fully developed until your mid-twenties.

"A bunch of young scallywags, God save us, only just out of the nursery! If you gave their noses a tweak milk would come out. And they're to debate in public!" (3.5.6.15)

From the ripe old age of 91, Monsieur Gillenormand is not impressed all these young people taking back the streets and becoming involved in politics. He thinks that these young hooligans are way too ignorant to talk about "grownup" issues. He's right in the short run—but in the long run, he and his kind had better watch out.

Jean Valjean was the more unhappy of the two. Youth, whatever its griefs, still has its consolations. (4.3.8.1)

When Jean Valjean and Cosette have to go through difficult times—like leaving yet another snug little nest because Javert keeps popping up—Jean Valjean is the one who really gets bummed. It's hard to be depressed for too long when you're young and beautiful, know what we mean?

Youth and springtime, her love for her father, the brightness of birds and flowers, were by gradual degrees fostering in that young and virginal spirit something akin to forgetfulness." (4.5.1.1)

Sure, Cosette misses Marius, but she can be easily distracted by other things, like birds and flowers. If only it were this easy for the rest of us to forget the …. Oh wait, was that a squirrel that just ran by?

"Pity indeed! A youth your age asking pity of a man aged ninety-one! You're beginning life and I'm leaving it. (4.8.7.45)

When Marius asks his grandfather for mercy, the man rolls his eyes at the fact that he has so much power over a young man in the prime of his life. Gillenormand is getting close to a hundred and Marius is barely past twenty—Marius should be the one pitying Gillenormand, and not the other way around. Well, that's easy to say when you're the one controlling the family fortune.

"Youth profits and age provides. I've been young, and one day you'll be old." (4.8.7.95)

When Monsieur Gillenormand sweetens up, he figures that the cycle of life and death is as natural as the rising and setting of the sun. And he's glad that in his old age, he has the money necessary to make sure that Marius has a fulfilling life while he's still young. Aw. He's just a big softy after all.

"A young fool who went and fought instead of enjoying life. And for what? For a republic, instead of dancing, as a young man should do. What use is it to be twenty years old?" (5.3.12.20)

Monsieur Gillenormand is offended that any young man would give his life for a political cause. In his mind, young men should spend their time dancing and flirting with women, not getting caught up in dirty politics. There's plenty of time for machination once pretty girls don't want to flirt with you anymore. (Wait, does that time ever come for powerful men?)

Both were radiant in that supreme and unrepeatable moment, the union of youth and happiness. (5.6.2.6)

The guests at Marius and Cosette's wedding can't help but feel inspired by how young, beautiful, and happy the pair is. You can bet that they're all frantically instagramming pictures of the mason jar table settings #mariusandcosette.

You must live boldly each for the other, cling and caress, frantic only because you cannot do more. (5.6.2.22)

Gillenormand wants Marius and Cosette to appreciate their young love, because it's not going to last. Thanks, party pooper. In his mind, love—like everything else—fades as you get older. But who's to say it doesn't get replaced with something even better?