Study Guide

Les Misérables

Les Misérables Summary

The books opens by describing the life of a really upstanding dude named Bishop Myriel. (Well, his name is Myriel; his title is Bishop.) One day, an ex convict wanders into the bishop's village and can't find any food or lodging because everyone turns him away. The bishop gives him a place to stay and even forgives him when he (the convict) robs the bishop of his nicest cutlery. If that weren't enough, the bishop lets the convict a.k.a. Jean Valjean keep the silver if he promises to live a morally good life from now on.

Cue life-altering transformation. Jean Valjean becomes a rich factory owner and town leader, but he doesn't forget where he came from. He uses more than half his money to help the poor and can't stop doing good deeds, like promising a downtrodden prostitute named Fantine that he'll take care of her daughter after she dies.

There's a problem, though: he's technically in breach of his parole because he's changed his name and taken on a new identity. After a really committed policeman named Inspector Javert tracks him down, Valjean ends up in prison again until he escapes from prison by faking his death.

Once out, he tracks down and adopts Fantine's daughter Cosette, who's been living with some really nasty folks named Thénardier. Valjean moves with her to Paris and raises her in a convent to avoid Inspector Javert (who knows he is still alive). Years go by, and Jean and Cosette move out of the convent. But things get complicated when Cosette falls in love with a young man named Marius. Scared of bringing attention to himself, Valjean decides to take Cosette and move to England, where they'll be safe from the French authorities… and Cosette's new admirer.

When Marius finds out Cosette is leaving, he decides he has nothing to live for and joins a revolt that's taking place in Paris. Valjean's conscience twinges, and he goes to save him from the spectacularly doomed revolt. He also manages to save Inspector Javert from being killed by rebels, because he's just that kind of guy. Javert is so confused by this act of kindness that he jumps off a bridge and kills himself. (Ex-convicts can never have hearts of gold in Javert's universe.)

Marius and Cosette eventually get married, and Valjean decides that this is the time to reveal his criminal past to Marius, who then decides that he wants Valjean to keep away from Cosette in the future. Gee, thanks. Once Marius finds out that Valjean saved his life, though, he wants the man back in Cosette's life. Gee, thanks again. But it's too late. Valjean has already wasted away from his hurt feels. He dies with Cosette and Marius standing over his bed and telling him they love him. It's all pretty bittersweet, especially when it's set to music.

P.S. In case you didn't already know, this book is about a zillion pages long. Many translations are actually an abridged version of the full text, and we decided to follow suit. So if you see a few chapters missing or combined here and there, that's why. We've covered all the chapters you'll ever really need to read. (Sorry, Hugo.)

  • Part 1, Book 1

    In case you didn't already know, this book is about a zillion pages long. Many translations are actually an abridged version of the full text, and we decided to follow suit. So if you see a few chapters missing or combined here and there, that's why. We've covered all the chapters you'll ever really need to read. (Sorry, Hugo.)

    Part 1, Fantine

    An Upright Man

    • So once upon a time there was this local Monseigneur (which is kind of like a high-ranking priest) who lived in a place called Digne. This guy was a partier and womanizer in his early years, but he eventually found God and became a really humble and virtuous guy. It's clear that the author likes him and wants us to like him, too.
    • The dude now lives in Digne with his sister Mademoiselle Baptistine, who's basically his right-hand woman.
    • Over time, the Monseigneur (named Myriel) develops such a welcoming and generous reputation that he gets nicknamed "Monseigneur Bienvenu." Bienvenu means "Welcome" in French, so you can probably guess that people aren't afraid to knock on this dude's door and ask for help.
    • The Monseigneur is so generous that he decides to use a rundown village hospital as his house and arranges for his fancy palace to become the new hospital. He figures that the patients could use the extra room more than he can. He also lives on a strict budget and gives all of his extra money to the poor and needy.
    • Monseigneur Bienvenu eventually becomes the Bishop of Digne and he uses every chance he can to preach to his churchgoers about the importance of giving to the poor and not being too greedy. It's easy for him to do this because he talks the talk and walks the walk. But he also causes a lot of his rich parishioners to grumble about him behind his back for making them all look like the cheap and greedy good-for-nothings that they are.
    • One day, the bishop visits a guy who's been convicted of counterfeiting money and sentenced to death. Everyone treats the guy like garbage in his final moments, except for guess who? The bishop, who shows sympathy and comforts the man. He even walks beside the man on the street when he's taken to be executed.
    • Despite his deep faith, the bishop is deeply shaken by seeing the man killed with a guillotine. For weeks afterward, he walks around feeling gloomy, wondering where all the kindness and compassion in the world has gone.
    • The narrator gives a really long and detailed description of the bishop's house and bedroom. After all, folks didn't have TV back then, so the author had to be very specific if she/he wanted the readers to picture something in a certain way.
    • Also, it gives the narrator a chance to emphasize that the bishop doesn't allow any door in his house to be locked, not even the front door.
    • One year, a fearsome band of thieves takes over the woods separating the bishop's town from one of his other parishes. The bishop decides to visit this other town with nobody but a young boy to accompany him. People say he's ca-razy for riding without an escort, but he's like shrug. If people want to rob him, be his guest.
    • Instead of robbing the bishop, the thieves actually send him a gift. It's a truck filled with all kinds of religious artifacts and jewels they've stolen over the years. See what you get when you trust people?
    • When having dinner with a senator one night, Bishop Myriel listens to the senator's arguments about how God is a superstition for poor people who have nothing in their lives and need a little hope. The man believes that wealthy, educated people are too smart (and comfortable) to believe in God. The bishop is totally unfazed by this kind of talk.
    • Living outside the bishop's village is a man who the villagers think of as some kind of monster. This dude was apparently a member of the "Revolutionary Convention," a group that executed all kinds of French people on made-up charges back in the 1793 Reign of Terror. Word eventually reaches the village that this guy is on his deathbed, and everyone is mostly relieved. The bishop, though, decides to visit this guy and comfort him in his final moments.
    • As the man dies, he and the bishop get philosophical about whether compassion alone can move the world forward, or whether extreme violence is sometimes necessary. You can probably guess who believes what.
    • The dying man agrees that the French Revolution killed innocent people, but he also thinks that thousands, even millions of innocent people have escaped death because of it.
    • By the end of the conversation, the dying man admits that he believes in some form of God. The bishop gets on his knees and, as a show of humility, asks for the man's blessing. But when the bishop looks up, he sees that the man has died.
    • From that point on, the bishop is twice as generous and sympathetic as he was before, so basically he's a walking puddle.
    • Predictably, no young priestlings want to work with him. They want to live lavish lifestyles and know they'll never do it with Bishop Myriel.
    • So the bishop goes about his lonely life, being kind to people and quietly thinking about the power of God and the afterlife, which are things so big he knows he'll never understand them.
  • Part 1, Book 2

    The Outcast

    • On a cold October evening, a stranger enters the town of Digne and stops by the Town Hall. A local police officer eyes him suspiciously and then goes into the Town Hall to find out what the man wanted.
    • A little later, the traveller stops at an inn and asks for a room and some food for the night. The innkeeper says it's all good as long as the dude can pay. So the traveller sits by the stove to warm up and waits for dinner.
    • While he's waiting, the innkeeper sends a note to the Town Hall and soon gets a response. When he reads the note, the innkeeper changes his mind about the traveller and tells him to leave the inn immediately. No room at the inn for him tonight.
    • The traveler heads down the road and tries another inn, this one cheaper than the first. This innkeeper offers him supper and a bed for a fair price. But as luck would have it, some dude is staying in the inn who remembers seeing the traveller earlier that day. He calls the innkeeper over and whispers something to him. Seconds later, the innkeeper tells the traveller to get out of his inn immediately. No supper and no bed for you, Mr. Traveller.
    • Next, the traveler tries a person's house. But the man who answers the door grabs his gun and tells the traveller to go away.
    • Now it's time to get a little more desperate. The traveller tries to sleep in a doghouse, but the dog inside it doesn't like to share
    • Finally, the traveler lies down on the steps of the town cathedral, shivering. A woman passes him and tells him to try knocking on the door of Bishop Myriel's house.
    • Okay, Hugo. We'll bite. Why are people throwing this guy out of their inns?
    • When the traveller knocks on Bishop Myriel's door, he expects to be chased away. But instead, the Bishop welcomes him inside, offers him a clean bed, and sits him down as a guest of honor for dinner. How's that for compassion?
    • The traveller introduces himself as Jean Valjean. Since the Bishop is being so nice, Valjean decides to come clean. He tells the Bishop that he is an ex-convict just released from a 19-year prison sentence. That's why everyone in town has been turning him out into the street—but Bishop Myriel thinks it's nbd.
    • Over dinner, Jean Valjean tells Bishop Myriel how he (Valjean) once worked as a tree pruner and got arrested for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. He would have only gone to prison for a few years, but he kept getting more time added to his sentence because he tried to escape three times
    • Also, Valjean can't help but notice how beautiful and expensive the Bishop's silverware is. Dun dun dun …
    • After supper, everyone heads off to sleep. But Jean Valjean isn't used to sleeping on such a nice bed, and he wakes up in the middle of the night.
    • As he lies awake and stares at his bedroom ceiling, visions of the Bishop's beautiful silverware dance in his head. He gets out of bed and sneaks into the Bishop's bedroom, grabbing one of the silver candlesticks. It really looks like he's going to bash the guy's head in. He decides not to at the last second, but he does take off with the dude's silverware in a sack.
    • While this nail-biting sequence is happening, the author gives us a long account of how Jean Valjean's misfortunes in life eventually turned him from a good guy into a desperate, beastly man who thinks more about his next meal than any kind of morality.
    • The next morning, Bishop Myriel goes to sit in his garden. Moments later, his housekeeper runs out and shouts that all the silverware is missing, along with the convict from the night before.
    • Without any further fuss, the Bishop goes inside and sits down to breakfast. Then, there's a knock at his door. It's three police officers holding Valjean. They caught him leaving town with all the silverware—very suspicious.
    • Does the Bishop rant and rail about Valjean's ungratefulness and betrayal? No, he does not. He totally goes along with Valjean's story and pretends that the cutlery was a gift. In fact, he picks up two silver candlesticks that Valjean apparently "forgot" to take with him. Valjean and the officers are all stunned. But the officers eventually have no choice but to let him go.
    • Before letting Valjean leaves, the Bishop makes him promise to use the money from the silverware to become an honest, moral man.
    • Jean Valjean hits the road out of town, totally dazed. He sits down along the road to think, and doesn't even notice when a boy passing by drops a coin and watches it roll under Valjean's foot. The boy asks for his coin back, but Valjean is so distracted that he just tells the boy to go away. The boy figures that Valjean is robbing him, so he runs away crying foul.
    • Later, Valjean realizes what has happened. But it's too late. The boy is gone.
  • Part 1, Book 3

    In the Year 1817

    • Now we jump to Paris to look in on four young men who are about to play a "merry prank." Their names are Tholomyès, Listolier, Fameuil, and Blachevelle. And each of these men has a mistress. The mistress' names are Dahlia, Zéphine, Favourite, and Fantine.
    • Fantine is still a teenager and the most naïve of the group, but her bae Tholomyès is almost thirty. This is going to end well.
    • For the past few weeks, the women have been asking the men to plan a surprise for them, and Tholomyès, always the prankster, decides that this is a good time to drop the surprise on them. He and his three buddies leave the restaurant where they're all having dinner, telling the women they'll be back with the surprise soon.
    • Eventually, someone comes to deliver a letter. It's from Tholomyès. The letter essentially says, "Surprise! We're bored with you ladies, and you're all dumped."
    • The girls laugh with one another and agree that this is a funny prank. Lol!1!!
    • Oops. But Fantine was truly in love with Tholomyès. And she's pregnant with his child.
  • Part 1, Book 4

    To Trust is Sometimes to Surrender

    • We look in on a town outside of Paris called Montfermeuil, which is totally real and still exists today. Now we find Fantine, who has given birth to a baby daughter and is living an incredibly harsh life.
    • No one will give her work if they know she's an unmarried mother, so she stops while passing through Montfermeuil and asks a random mother whether she would consider taking care of her (Fantine's) daughter. After some financial haggling, they come to an agreement.
    • Just like that, Fantine leaves her daughter with the Thénardiers. But don't expect a happy ending. They're are a pair of inn-keeping scoundrels who only look out for themselves and only agree to take Fantine's daughter because of the money.
    • Two years go by, and, as you might expect the Thénardiers mistreat Fantine's daughter, whose real name is Euphrasie but whose her mother calls Cosette.
    • Eventually, Fantine has trouble coming up with the money, so the Thénardiers put Cosette to work with totally age appropriate tasks like scrubbing the tavern floors at the age of five.
    • Cosette becomes known locally as "the Lark," because she is small and birdlike (probably from malnutrition) and always up in the morning before anyone else.
  • Part 1, Book 5


    • So what happened to Fantine after she dropped Cosette with the Thénardiers? Nothing good. She goes to a town called Montreuil-sur-mer, her former home. Luckily for her, the town is booming because some dude named Monsieur Madeleine has invented a cheap way of making popular jewels and bracelets, turning his factory into an economic engine for the whole town.
    • No one in the town knows where Père Madeleine comes from. He's about fifty years old, and people can remember how he wore a poor person's clothes when he first entered the town.
    • From what we hear, Père Madeleine sounds a lot like Bishop Myriel. The guy is super rich, but he spends nearly all of his wealth on helping the poor and downtrodden. People in the town talk smack about him and say that he's up to something, but his behavior is always good and moral.
    • There are two clues to Madeleine's true identity: the two silver candlesticks on the mantle in his house and the fact that he goes into deep mourning when he hears about the death of Bishop Myriel.
    • Surprise! Père Madeleine is Jean Valjean. Looks like the guy has done pretty well for himself in the past few years.
    • But not all is well. Whenever Valjean walks through town, a local policeman named Javert gets all frowny and thinks to himself that he has certainly seen "Père Madeleine" somewhere before… somewhere like JAIL. Javert makes a mission of looking into Père Madeleine's past.
    • While walking down the street one day, Père Madeleine comes upon a horrible scene. An old man name Père Fauchelevent has gotten himself trapped under his horse-cart and the thing is sinking into the mud and crushing him. No one has the guts to risk getting under the cart and trying to lift it off the old man.
    • Père Madeleine runs up to Javert (who's on the scene) and asks him to do something. With a knowing glance, Javert says that the only man he's ever known with the right kind of strength was a convict he knew many years ago.
    • Oops. Now Père Madeleine is hesitating, since he knows he'll be outing himself as Jean Valjean if he does it.
    • Turns out that Jean Valjean is wanted for breaking his parole and for stealing money from a young boy (remember that ridiculous non-issue?). If he gets caught, it's back to jail for the rest of his life.
    • In the end, the call of conscience is too strong. He slips under the cart and heaves it off of Fauchelevent.
    • After the incident, Javert's suspicions are way up. In the meantime, Madeleine finds Fauchelevent work as a gardener in Paris.
    • All this happens around the time Fantine arrives in town. Luckily for her, the doors of Madeleine's a.k.a. Jean Valjean's factory are open to new workers, and she makes enough money to support herself and her daughter.
    • But people can't leave well enough alone and eventually get curious about who Fantine is and who she keeps writing letters to. The town gossips find out who's writing Fantine's letters for her (since she's illiterate), get him drunk, and then listen as he blabs that Fantine is an unwed mother.
    • The woman in charge of Fantine's job fires her immediately for being immoral, although Jean Valjean never hears about any of this. Meanwhile, the Thénardiers keep asking for more money for Cosette.
    • Things are not looking good for Fantine.
    • Fantine takes up sewing for money, but the job pays so little that she has to work more than fourteen hours a day to make ends meet. The strain is so hard on her that she eventually develops a cough that won't go away. (And in nineteenth-century novels, a cough that won't go away means only one thing.)
    • Fantine eventually sells her hair for money. Could be worse, right? It'll grow back.
    • Oh, it gets worse. Thénardier sends her a (false) letter saying that Cosette needs expensive medicine, so Fantine sells her front teeth to a barber, who pulls them out. Those won't grow back.
    • Thénardier is remorseless. He keeps writing for more money, threatening to turn Cosette out into the cold if Fantine doesn't pay up. Eventually, there's nothing for Fantine to do but start working as a prostitute.
    • One night, Fantine is walking along the street when a man walks up to her and tries to act all flirty. She has no time for him, so he throws a bunch of snow down the back of her dress as a prank. Fantine attacks him with her nails, like you do, and then all of a sudden Javert is on the scene. Since Fantine is a prostitute and the other dude is a "respectable" citizen, Fantine is the one who gets pulled off to the police station.
    • (Are you outraged yet? You're supposed to be.)
    • At the station, Fantine pleads with Javert, saying that she'll do anything to avoid going to jail. But Javert is having none of it.
    • Luckily, Jean Valjean (aka Père Madeleine) overhears her pleas and walks over to her. She realizes that he's the dude whose factory she got fired from and spits in his face. At this point, Jean Valjean orders Javert to let Fantine go free. As the town's mayor, Jean Valjean has the power to do this.
    • Javert isn't happy about it, but by the end of the whole incident, Fantine is free and Javert has been humiliated. Now he really, really has it in for Père Madeleine (Jean Valjean).
    • Once Fantine is free, Jean Valjean wants to know the whole story. He tells Fantine that she won't have to worry anymore, because he's going to take care of her and her daughter. Fantine is so overcome with joy that she collapses in his arms.
    • Jean Valjean has Fantine taken to the infirmary in his factory, where she rests. That same night, Javert writes a letter to Paris concerning "Père Madeleine."
    • Valjean writes to Thénardier and sends him a bunch of money, telling him to send Cosette as quickly as possible, which honestly does not seem like the best idea. And it's not—Thénardier figures that he can get more out of Madeleine, so he makes up excuses for not sending Cosette.
    • Every day, Fantine asks when she'll be able to see Cosette, but it'd better be soon, because the woman is dying.
    • One day while working in his office, Jean Valjean gets an apologetic visit from Inspector Javert. He confesses that he has suspected "Père Madeleine" of being an ex-convict named Jean Valjean—but he's found out that he's wrong. See, Père Madeleine can't be Jean Valjean because the real Jean Valjean has already been found and is about to go to prison for life.
    • Javert is crushed by his failure as a policeman and asks Valjean to fire him. Valjean won't do it, though, and he's a little too busy having a crisis of conscience to deal with Javert's self-doubt.
    • The question: should Valjean continue living a good life and improving the lives of people around him, or should he do the honest, life-ruining thing by turning himself in? (Might want to grab your highlighters, Shmoop-o-nauts, because this is one of the book's Big Questions.)
    • In the end, Valjean can't bear to let someone else go to jail for him.
    • The trial of the wrongfully accused man is going on in another town, and Jean Valjean hauls butt so he gets there in time to confess in front of the whole courtroom.
    • The courtroom is so stunned that Jean Valjean is able to sashay out and return home while people argue about whether to arrest a guy who's so popular and successful.
    • Back in Montreuil-sur-mer, Jean Valjean goes to visit Fantine. He's convinced her that Cosette is waiting in the next room, when she gets this really horrified look on her face. It's Inspector Javert!
    • Valjean asks Javert for three days' leave to go find Fantine's daughter and bring her to Fantine, at which point Fantine realizes that he was lying about Cosette being nearby and dies, partly from tuberculosis but also partly from heartbreak.
    • Valjean leans over her and whispers something that no one can hear – not even us. Then he turns and surrenders to Javert.
    • Not long after, Valjean shows up at his home. He has broken out of the town jail and is on the run. In the meantime, Fantine gets buried in the town churchyard.
  • Part 2, Book 1

    Part 2, Cosette


    • Flashback time! Hugo starts this part of the novel with a painstakingly detailed account of the Battle of Waterloo, which is basically the battle that ended the military career of Napoleon Bonaparte and his furious conquering of Europe.
    • For much of the battle, it looks as though Napoleon is going to be victorious. But then the Prussians show up and put Napoleon and his men on the run. (Brain snack: Prussia existed back in the 19th century and included most of present-day Germany.)
    • And now we look in on all the dead bodies lying around the battlefield. Among these bodies, there's a night prowler wandering around. As he scurries about, he sees a hand sticking out from a pile of bodies and catches the glimmer of a gold ring on one of the fingers. He snags the ring off the man's finger, but when he turns, he finds that the hand he robbed is now holding on to him. It's alive!!!
    • The prowler turns around and pulls the wounded man's body out of the pile in order to rob him of more stuff, but the wounded man thinks that the prowler is saving his life. He thanks the prowler for his help and asks for his name. The prowler replies that his name is Thénardier. Gasp!
    • The wounded man replies that his name is Pontmercy and that he'll never forget that Thénardier saved his life. Thénardier doesn't bother to correct him on that one.
  • Part 2, Book 2

    The Ship Orion

    • Jean Valjean has been recaptured by the police. Great, looks like we're going to spend the next 900 pages reading about Valjean living out the rest of his life in prison.
    • Unfortunately, the end of Jean Valjean's time as Père Madeleine plunges the town of Montreuil-sur-mer back into depression. The factory shuts down and everyone is out of work.
    • One thing, though: during his escape, Jean Valjean managed to visit a certain stretch of road. And since that time, people from a nearby village have noticed one of the local men travelling that same stretch of road and digging holes. Rumor has it that there's some kind of treasure buried along that road.
    • Next, we look in on a ship called The Orion, which has been brought into a French port for repairs. One day, there's an accident and one of the crewmembers is left hanging by a rope from a great height. The only person who volunteers to climb up and save him is Jean Valjean, who is doing forced labour in the boatyard.
    • So the authorities undo his chains and he climbs up to save the guy, which he does. But in the process, he (Valjean) falls into the sea and his body is never recovered. The police assume that he died in the dangerous waters.
    • Let's see. Nine hundred pages left in the book … what do you think?
    • Now it's Christmas Eve with the Thénardiers, and Cosette is hard at work. It's a pitch-black night, and she's hoping they won't send her out to get water from a nearby spring. She's afraid to walk alone, and plus that bucket is heavy.
    • Tough luck. It turns out that Mme. Thénardier does want some water and some bread to go with it. She sends Cosette half-naked into the cold. The one good thing is that Cosette gets to spend some time looking at a beautiful (and very expensive) doll in a shop window.
    • When she reaches the spring, she fills her bucket and starts for home. But the bucket is too heavy for her to carry more than ten feet at a time, and she struggles to bring it along. Then out of nowhere, this dude in a yellow coat shows up and picks up the bucket for her. Yes, he's a stranger in the middle of some dark woods, but she's not afraid.
    • Now it's flashback time. It turns out that this dude in the yellow coat was in Paris just a short time ago, looking to rent an apartment in a secluded part of the city. It's clear from his behavior that he doesn't know the area, and even though he dresses in shabby clothes, he seems to carry a lot of money on him.
    • Oh for Pete's sake, Hugo. We know already that this is Jean Valjean in yet another disguise. After finding himself a place to stay, he grabs a carriage to Montfermeuil and searches for Cosette.
    • Now we return to Valjean and Cosette in the middle of the woods. Valjean doesn't know right away that she is Cosette. He's simply helping out a downtrodden girl, because he's just that kind of guy. But after a little chitchat, he learns (1) that Cosette is staying with the Thénardiers, (2) that she must be Fantine's daughter, and (3) she's been living a terrible life
    • Valjean asks to stay at the Thénardiers' inn, and Thénardier charges him extra because he looks shabby (because that makes sense)—until he realizes how quickly Valjean can produce money
    • Meanwhile, Mme. Thénardier asks Cosette where the bread is. Cosette lies and says the bakery was closed, but when Mme. asks for the bread money back, Cosette realizes she has lost it. Valjean is quick to come to her defense, though. He plants some money on the ground and says Cosette must have dropped it.
    • Later on, Mme. Thénardier catches Cosette playing with one of her daughters' dolls. She takes out a strap and prepares to hit Cosette, but Valjean intervenes. Now Madame is getting mad, but she can't do anything as long as Valjean keeps shelling out the money.
    • Shortly after this, Valjean disappears outside and returns with a present for Cosette: the super expensive doll she was coveting. Whoa! Just how much money does this guy have?
    • After Jean Valjean goes to bed, Thénardier stays up late into the night working on an artistic masterpiece: his bill for Jean Valjean. He spends a ton of time thinking about how far he can push Valjean on his fees before Valjean puts up a fight. While he's doing this, Mme. Thénardier tells him she plans on kicking Cosette into the street the next day.
    • The next morning, Valjean asks for Cosette, and Mme. is so stunned and so ready to be rid of Cosette that she agrees immediately.
    • But then Monsieur Thénardier barges in and says he'll have to discuss Cosette's departure a little more. As you can guess, the guy still wants to get more money out of Valjean.
    • By the time all is said and done, Thénardier has gotten Valjean to pay him fifteen hundred francs, which is exactly the amount of money Thénardier needs to get out of debt. Score!
    • Mme Thénardier thinks it's not enough, though, so the mister runs after Valjean and the girl—with no success. In the end, Thénardier has no choice but to let Valjean and Cosette go.
    • When all this is done, Hugo tells us the story of how Jean Valjean fell into the ocean and convinced his prison guards that he had died.
    • With all that settled, Valjean takes Cosette back to Paris.
  • Part 2, Book 4

    The Gorbeau Tenement

    • Hugo spends an entire chapter describing how dismal and dark Valjean's new apartment is, but that's the point. Valjean wants to stay out of the public eye.
    • Valjean takes Cosette into the apartment and gets her settled in. But Cosette can't forget her harsh life at the Thénardiers', and keeps waking up in the middle of the night ready to sweep the floor.
    • Only one other apartment in Valjean's building occupied, and of course the person living in this apartment is a very nosy old woman.
    • For the next while, Valjean and Cosette live in total happiness. Valjean teaches her to read and buys her nice clothes, while Cosette revels in her new life.
    • The nosy old woman decides to spy on Valjean to find out more about him. (Notice how a lot of the trouble in this book comes from nosy people?)
    • One day, she looks through his keyhole and sees him pull a ton of money out of the lining of his yellow jacket.
    • The next time she's tidying his apartment, which she's apparently supposed to do, the woman inspects his coat and feels a bunch of other money inside it. She also searches around and finds a bunch of different wigs. Okay, fair enough, we'd be suspicious if we found those things in our neighbor's coat, too.
    • Valjean makes a point of always giving money to a beggar who hangs out near his building. One evening, the beggar looks up at him and gives Valjean a huge shock. Valjean is certain that the man is Inspector Javert.
    • He checks again the next evening, but sees that he was wrong. It's just some random guy.
    • A few nights later, Valjean hears someone walking around in his building. It's not the old lady, meaning that it's a stranger. Valjean is on edge about the whole thing. He looks out the keyhole and swears that the man has the same figure as Javert. Time to jet.
    • The next evening, Valjean takes Cosette and leaves the apartment. They walk deep into Paris. It's not long before Valjean looks over his shoulder and sees three men who seem to be following him. He tries to hurry, but the men following him simply speed up their pace.
    • Eventually, Valjean finds himself trapped with Cosette in an alley with nowhere to go. His only hope is to climb a brick wall and use a rope to pull Cosette up after him. Once he's done this, the two of them lie silently on top of that wall. Valjean can hear the men on the street looking for him, and he confirms that their leader is none other than Inspector Javert.
    • When the men are gone, Valjean lowers himself and Cosette on the other side of the wall, and he finds himself inside an enclosed garden with an old shed. They spend the night in the shed listening to women's voices singing hymns from a nearby building.
    • The next morning, Valjean notices someone moving through the garden outside his shed. It's a man who's wearing a bell that tinkles every time he moves. Valjean feels that Cosette's hand is icy cold and that she's unconscious from hypothermia. Desperate, he approaches the old man in the garden and offers him a hundred francs for his help.
    • The old man instantly recognizes Jean Valjean as Père Madeleine from his days back in Montreuil-sur-mer. The old man is none other than Fauchelevent, who Valjean saved from being crushed to death beneath a cart. Fauchelevent is wearing a bell on his knee because he works inside a convent (which is where they are now) and the bell warns the nuns that a man is coming.
    • Valjean begs Fauchelevent to give him a place to live on the sly. Turns out that the old man has a cottage that none of the nuns ever comes near. Soon enough, Valjean has put Cosette in a cozy bed and her health has come back.
    • Once Valjean is settled, we how Inspector Javert tracked him down. He was aware that Valjean was said to be dead, but then he heard how a man in a yellow coat had "stolen" a girl named Cosette from the Thénardiers. Ding ding ding! Javert remembered Valjean asking for an extra three days to save Fantine's child when he was about to be arrested back in Montreuil-sur-mer.
    • Javert hits a dead end in his investigation until a few years later, when he hears the story of a man in Paris who lives like a poor person but clearly has a lot of money to dish out to beggars. Javert also learns that this man has a small girl living with him. The associations come together and Javert decides to check it out by dressing up as a beggar. Ah-ha! So Valjean did see Javert in the street that one night.
    • In any case, Javert tries to close in on Valjean, but as we know already, Valjean eludes him by climbing a wall and hiding inside a convent.
    • The truth is that Javert could have moved on Valjean sooner. But he savored his victory a little too much and let Valjean get away in the process. And this is something Javert's going to have a tough time forgiving himself for, since he is usually by-the-book in everything he does.
    • Hugo spends the next chunk of the book describing the convent that Jean Valjean is hiding in. These nuns live an super strict life and are barely allowed to speak to relatives, let alone strange men. His general point about the convent is that all things, even religion, have to give way to social progress in the long run.
  • Part 2, Book 8

    Cemeteries Take What They Are Given

    • Okay, back to Jean Valjean and Cosette. They're where we left them, inside a convent where Valjean wants to stay forever to be safe. But how to find a way of staying in the convent permanently?
    • Since Valjean and Cosette aren't supposed to be there in the first place, they're going to have to figure out a way to come in from the outside before begging for a job.
    • While Valjean tries to think of an escape plan, one of the elderly nuns in the convent dies.
    • Shortly after the bell goes off, Fauchelevent is summoned to the office of one of the head nuns. She tells him she has a special request, so he takes the time to make a request of his own. He tells the nun that his age is catching up with him and he needs assistance in his job. He asks whether his brother can come help him and live with him. Oh yeah, and his "brother" also has a young granddaughter whom he'd like to be educated in the convent.
    • The head nun acts as though she hasn't even heard the request, and instead gets into her own business.
    • Here's the deal: the head nun wants Fauchelevent to help her make sure that the dead nun is buried inside the convent – underneath the chapel floor, in fact. This is totally illegal, but the nuns don't care. It was their friend's dying wish and they think it'll bring a special blessing to their convent.
    • Fauchelevent hesitates, since he doesn't want to break the law. But he senses that there might be an opportunity in this whole scheme. After all, if he buries the dead nun inside the convent, the Paris authorities will still expect him to bury a casket in the town cemetery, since the city officials have already learned of the nun's death. That means that Fauchelevent will have to take an empty casket out of the convent and bury it in the city cemetery.
    • And guess what Fauchelevent plans on putting inside this empty casket? Yup, Jean Valjean. The plan seems bulletproof … except for the part where Fauchelevent doesn't know exactly what he'll do once he's buried Valjean alive.
    • The head nun is so pleased with Fauchelevent's loyalty that she invites him to bring his brother and his brother's granddaughter (Valjean and Cosette) to see her after the dead nun's burial.
    • Fauchelevent lays out the plan to Jean Valjean. Sounds good! Valjean hops into a coffin and Fauchelevent nails it shut. Next thing you know, Jean Valjean has been taken out of the convent and into a Paris cemetery.
    • Fauchelevent gets ready to dig the grave, but he's unpleasantly surprised to meet a municipal gravedigger who's very eager to do his job. Fauchelevent was hoping that the city gravedigger would be his old drinking buddy, Mestienne. But it turns out that Mestienne has died.
    • Fauchelevent tries to pry the new gravedigger away from the burial site with offers of booze, but nothing doing. The guy is really dedicated to his job and not a drinker. More and more dirt falls on top of the coffin until Jean Valjean is buried alive.
    • Fauchelevent eventually has no choice but to pickpocket the new gravedigger and steal his gravedigger's license. Apparently that's a thing.
    • When Fauchelevent asks to see the license, the new gravedigger is shocked to find that he doesn't have it on him. He runs home to go get it, which gives Fauchelevent enough time to dig up Jean Valjean and set him free.
    • With all that done, Fauchelevent goes to the gravedigger's house and brings him back his license, saying that he found it on the ground in the cemetery. The gravedigger is grateful and promises to buy Fauchelevent a drink or two for his trouble.
    • Whew! Glad that worked out.
    • Later that same day, Fauchelevent, Valjean, and Cosette show up at the convent. Fauchelevent introduces Valjean as his brother and Cosette as Valjean's granddaughter. Oh yeah, Fauchelevent managed to sneak Cosette out of the convent by hiding her in a fruit sack. Turns out it's way easier to smuggle a little girl out of a convent than a grown man.
    • Next thing you know, Valjean is employed as assistant gardener in the convent and Cosette is enrolled as a student.
    • Over time, Cosette's personality and appearance completely change for the better. Even the strict life of the convent is nothing compared to what she endured under the Thénardiers.
    • So the years go by and Cosette grows up from a little girl to a young woman.

  • Part 3, Book 1

    Part 3, Marius

    Paris in Microcosm

    • Hugo opens Book Three of Les Misérables by discussing the street children of Paris and going through all of the different "types" of urchins as though they were sub-species of humanity. When he's done with that, he gives a long discussion of Paris as though the city were a sort of person with a specific personality.
    • The book turns its attention to a Paris urchin named Gavroche. According to the book, Gavroche always has a smile on his lips, but his heart is dark and empty.
    • Gavroche goes to visit his family sometimes, and his family lives in the same apartment building that Jean Valjean used to live in. Unfortunately, Gavroche's family dislikes him and does nothing for him, even though he's just a little boy.
    • Down the hall from Gavroche's family lives a penniless young man named Marius, who is the book's main man. Don't worry, though. You'll find out soon enough why the book has given you a description of Gavroche and his family.
  • Part 3, Book 2

    A Grand Bourgeois

    • We look in on a very old man named Gillenormand, who despite his age (which is over ninety) is full of energy. The one thing he seems most opinionated about is the French Revolution, which he thinks was a terrible thing. He believes in the king and in the social order. He has no time for democracy or revolution. Oh yeah, and he was also a bit of a player in his younger years.
    • Over the years, Monsieur Gillenormand had two daughters with two different wives. The older daughter still lives with him, but the younger one died at thirty. This other daughter had married a soldier who fought under Napoleon.
    • Monsieur Gillenormand has always despised this son-in-law and considers him a disgrace to the family because he fought for Napoleon. Or in other words, he fought for an army that stood for everything Gillenormand hates – like democracy and revolution.
    • Monsieur Gillenormand lives with his older daughter. The only other person living with them is Monsieur Gillenormand's grandson, a little boy who is the son of Gillenormand's dead daughter, and therefore the son of the military man who Gillenormand considers a disgrace to the family.
  • Part 3, Book 3

    Grandfather and Grandson

    • We jump to a little French town called Vernon, where we meet a man with a scar down his face. This man is always walking around with a tool looking to do some kind of job. He's clearly poor from his clothing and he lives alone.
    • The man's name is Georges Pontmercy and he is a former officer in Napoleon's army. He is also the father of Monsieur Gillenormand's grandson, Marius.
    • And here's another crazy coincidence. Remember that scene from earlier in the book where the scoundrel Thénardier robs a dying man on the battlefield but unintentionally saves his life? That guy was Georges Pontmercy.
    • We find out that Georges Pontmercy loves his son Marius, but Monsieur Gillenormand has threatened to cut Marius out of the family inheritance unless he (Marius) lives with Gillenormand and never sees his father. Pontmercy has agreed to this because he wants his son to have a good life.
    • Pontmercy writes letters to Marius, but Gillenormand keeps them and never passes them on.
    • Meanwhile, Marius grows up with a good education and all the advantages of upper-class French life, eventually studying law at university.
    • When Marius is seventeen, he comes home one night to have his grandfather tell him that he'll be going to the town of Vernon the next day. It looks like Marius' father is dying.
    • Unfortunately, his father dies before he gets there. Seeing his father's dead body, Marius reads one last letter that his father wrote to him. It claims that his father was made a baron by Napoleon, but that this title hasn't been acknowledged since Napoleon's defeat.
    • It also tells the story of how the man's life was saved by someone named Thénardier at Waterloo. The man's dying wish is for Marius to find Thénardier and repay the favor.
    • Oh, this is going to be good.
    • Once his father is buried, Marius doesn't give him another thought. After all, his father ignored him all his life, right?
    • Then one day at church, he accidentally sits in a pew that is reserved for another parishioner named Monsieur Mabeuf. Mabeuf explains that he has a special fondness for this pew because it is where a man named Pontmercy used to come to get a glimpse of the son he loved so much but wasn't permitted to see. Marius realizes that Mabeuf is talking about his (Marius') father. Guess daddy loved him after all!
    • The next day, Marius lies to his grandfather and says he's going out hunting with some friends for a few days. Monsieur Gillenormand assumes Marius is going to visit some girl, and being the former ladies' man that he is, the old man gives him the old wink-wink nudge-nudge of approval.
    • After three days, Marius returns to Paris and goes directly to the library to look up old copies of a newspaper called the Moniteur. He learns about his father's heroic career and starts to really admire him.
    • He's not seeing much of his aunt and grandfather during these days, but his grandfather just assumes he's macking on a girl.
    • The more he reads about his father, the more Marius comes to identify with the French Revolution's ideals of freedom. His whole life, he's been taught by his grandfather to look down on his father and the Revolution. But that's all changing now.
    • As an act of loyalty, Marius tries to honor his father's dying wish by tracking down Thénardier, but when he gets to Thénardier's old tavern, he finds that the place is closed and the Thénardiers have moved away.
    • It turns out that Monsieur Gillenormand has another young relative, a grand-nephew named Théodule who works in the military. One day, Mademoiselle Gillenormand gets so curious about what Marius is up to that she asks Théodule to spy on him and find out where he's been going. Théodule agrees, since he assumes Marius has a sweetheart and he wants to get a good ogle at the girl.
    • Surprise! Marius isn't visiting a girl at all. He's visiting the grave of his father.
    • Théodule is so shocked that he doesn't write any message to his aunt telling what he saw. And as the book tells us, that incident would have just passed by if it weren't for another coincidence.
    • When Marius gets back home, he accidentally leaves behind a black ribbon that's attached to a locket he wears around his neck. When Gillenormand opens the locket, a folded piece of paper falls out. It's Pontmercy's dying message to Marius.
    • Monsieur Gillenormand is super angry with his son for showing such devotion to his disgrace of a father, but Marius stands up for his beliefs and for his dead father, saying that the French Revolution was the greatest event in human history.
    • Big mistake. Gillenormand kicks Marius out of the house and tells him never to come back. Marius says this won't be a problem, since he's had just about enough of Gillenormand's dumb ideas.
    • Marius leaves the house at the ripe old age of seventeen with nothing but a single travel bag, the clothes on his back, and thirty francs in his pocket. Gillenormand orders his housekeeper to send Marius a little money every month, but Marius never accepts it.
  • Part 3, Book 4

    The ABC Society

    • Victor Hugo interrupts this program for an important message: there is revolutionary enthusiasm in the air in France around 1830. Young people like Marius are starting to identify with the French Revolution and are looking to party like it's 1789.
    • (Brain Snack: 1789 is the year the French Revolution started.)
    • New groups and societies start to form around the idea of revolution. The ABC Society is one of them. On the surface, it simply aims to educate children. But its real mission is to raise a generation of revolutionaries MUHAHAHAHAHA.
    • Hugo gives us a short roster of all the young men who hang out in the ABC Society. Their leader is a guy named Enjolras.
    • One day, a member of the ABC Society named Laigle de Meaux sees Marius (who has just been banished from his grandpa's house) driving around in a carriage and not knowing where to go. Laigle recognizes Marius from law school and tells Marius the story of how he [Laigle] sacrificed himself in role call and posed as Marius in order to keep Marius' name from being registered as absent. Thanks, dude.
    • At this same time, another ABC Society guy named Courfeyrac comes out of a bar and hears Marius say that he has nowhere to go. He offers for Marius to stay with him, since he's a wealthy young man with his own place. They become quick friends over the next few days.
    • One day, Courfeyrac asks Marius point-blank about his political opinions. Marius says he believes in Napoleon and democracy, which is a radical thing to say. But Courfeyrac laughs at him for not being radical enough.
    • Before you know it, Marius is hanging with the ABC crowd and spending all his time talking politics in cafés. But something is still missing.
    • Before long, Marius has blown through his thirty francs. He sells his clothes and his watch, but he knows sooner or later that he'll have to find a job, since he refuses to accept his grandpa's money.
    • Eventually, he manages to earn a modest living and he rents out his own apartment in the same tenement building that—coincidence—Jean Valjean and Cosette lived in when they first came to Paris.
    • Before you know it, Marius is twenty. It's been three years since he left his grandfather, and neither of them is willing to back down and apologize. The sad truth, though, is that Monsieur Gillenormand misses Marius but his pride keeps him from admitting he was wrong.
    • Eventually, Marius is offered a good-paying job. But he refuses it because he's afraid of becoming too dependent on his wages. In other words, he never wants to take a job he can't afford to quit—which, um, okay?
    • Marius also spends a lot of time visiting Monsieur Mabeuf, the man who first told Marius about what a great hero his father was. Bad economic times have plunged Monsieur Mabeuf into poverty. And even when the guy does have a little money, he spends it on rare books.
    • One day, Marius learns that his neighbors in the next apartment, the Jondrette family, are about to be turned out for not paying their rent. He doesn't have much money, but he has enough to pay their rent and buy them some food. He asks the landlady not to tell them where the money came from, though.
  • Part 3, Book 6

    Conjunction of Two Stars

    • During his meditative walks, Marius notices that a man aged somewhere around sixty constantly walks the same route as him, with a 13 or 14 year old girl. Marius finds her fairly ugly and doesn't think about her or the old man much, which is probably good given that he's TWENTY.
    • And then it all changes. In the second year of seeing the old man and young girl, Marius changes his walking route and goes six months without entering the public gardens. One day, he goes back to his old route and sees and man and girl seated on a garden bench.
    • But instead of the ugly little girl he used to see, he sees … a beautiful young woman. Guess the awkward phase is over.
    • Marius pretty much falls in love with the girl right on the spot. After the girl meets his eyes one day, Marius goes home and decides that he needs to put more thought into the way he dresses.
    • From this point onward, Marius goes to the public gardens with the sole purpose of seeing the beautiful young woman. He sits down at a bench near her and sneaks glances that he hopes the girl's old companion won't notice even though duh, he obviously has, because even people at the oh-so-advanced age of sixty aren't stupid.
    • Eventually, Marius decides that he needs to know more. He follows the girl home and questions the doorman, but the doorman won't give him any details.
    • The next time Marius comes to the house, he finds that the old man and beautiful girl have moved away. The pair has stopped coming to the public gardens, too.
    • Marius gets super depressed, sensing that he's lost the love of his life forever.
  • Part 3, Book 7


    • Again, we interrupt this plot for an honestly not super important digression.
    • Hugo begins this section by describing the Paris underworld and giving us sketches of some of the criminals who live in this underworld. Plot, shmlot. But the more you read this novel, the more you'll realize that Hugo is a real sucker for characterization.
  • Part 3, Book 8

    The Noxious Poor

    • Back to mopey Marius. He keeps going back to the public gardens where he used to see the dream girl, but it's no use. She's vanished.
    • One evening, Marius goes for a walk. Two ragged-looking girls pass him, one telling the other that the cops nearly caught her. He doesn't pay them much attention, but then finds something on the ground that one of them must have dropped.
    • It's a bundle of papers containing letters written by different people talking about their misfortunes and asking for help from someone rich. The thing is that all of the letters are written with the same handwriting. How weird.
    • Early the next morning, Marius hears a tap at his apartment door. In walks a disheveled young woman with a raspy voice. She hands him a letter. He opens it and finds that it has come from his neighbor Jondrette, thanking him for paying his rent a few months back.
    • The girl delivering the letter is Jondrette's daughter, and it really seems like Jondrette is pimping her out to Marius in exchange for more rent money.
    • Marius recognizes the young woman from the night before and realizes that her father, Jondrette, is someone who writes all kinds of letters under different personas describing his misfortunes and asking for money. It's kind of like an email scam back before email was invented.
    • Meanwhile, the young woman walks around Marius' apartment and looks through all of his stuff. To make her go away, Marius gives her a five-franc coin.
    • After the girl leaves, Marius goes to one of the walls of his room, which has a peephole looking into the apartment next door and which is not at all creepy. Compared to his own apartment, the Jondrettes live in total squalor.
    • While Marius looks in, the eldest daughter (who visited him earlier) comes running in and shouting about how a generous philanthropist is coming to visit the family and give them money.
    • Hearing this, the father tells the whole family to trash the apartment to make it look even more pathetic. The eldest daughter even cuts herself up breaking one of the windowpanes.
    • Finally, Monsieur Jondrette goes to the door to welcome an elderly man and a young woman. And guess what? It's Marius' dream girl!
    • The elderly man gives Monsieur Jondrette a bag full of household supplies – mostly stuff to keep warm. But Monsieur Jondrette is looking for more, so he lectures the elderly man about how horrible his family's life is.
    • The elderly visitor agrees to pay the Jondrette family's entire year of rent, but he doesn't have all the money on him at the moment, so he says he'll come back.
    • When the girl and man leave, Marius runs downstairs and tries to follow their cart. But he's not fast enough on his own and he can't afford another cart to follow them. (Gee, maybe if you'd taken the well-paying job, Marius.) Once again, he feels like he's lost the love of his life.
    • Heading back into the house, he sees Monsieur Jondrette speaking with a man Marius recognizes as a dangerous thief. He returns to his apartment to find the girl from next door saying she'd like to repay him any way she can, if you know what we mean.
    • Marius doesn't, though. Instead, he asks her if she can find out where the elderly visitor and his young female companion live. Bummer for the neighbor girl.
    • Once the girl is gone, Marius goes back to the peephole and hears Jondrette swearing that he knows the elderly rich man from somewhere. As soon as he whispers to his wife who they are, she gets super angry.
    • As the Jondrettes talk, Marius realizes that they are setting a trap.
    • Marius heads downtown to the police station and informs them of what's about to happen. The police officer gives him two pistols and tells him to fire them into the air when it looks like things are getting bad. He needs to catch the men in the act of robbing the elderly gentleman, so he and his police team will hide until it's time to spring into action.
    • The last thing the police officer tells Marius is that his name is Javert. Gasp!
    • Marius goes back to his apartment and takes his shoes off to keep the neighbors from hearing that he's home. He has to hide at one point when the eldest daughter comes into his apartment to make sure he's not there.
    • The elderly man returns alone. Jondrette chats up the man while more and more of his criminal buddies come into the apartment with their faces smeared with soot. It's clear that the elderly gentleman knows that something's wrong, but he acts cool.
    • After some menacing talk, Jondrette asks him whether he recognizes the family. It's the Thénardiers!
    • Oops. This is a real crisis for Marius, since Thénardier is the exact man he has devoted himself to finding and serving out of respect for his father's memory.
    • As Thénardier continues, he reveals that (obviously) the elderly man is Jean Valjean and now it's time for Thénardier to get his revenge.
    • Valjean moves for the window, but he's dragged back into the room by Thénardier's goon squad.
    • Just as Marius gets ready to fire his pistols, Thénardier orders the men not to hurt Valjean.
    • The goons tie him up and Thénardier gets him a pen. He wants Valjean to write a letter to Cosette, asking her to come to him at the Thénardiers' apartment. Thénardier plans on holding onto Cosette and using her to blackmail Valjean into giving him two hundred thousand francs.
    • When Valjean has written the letter, Thénardier gives it to his wife and tells her to take it to Cosette ASAP. When she comes back, she reveals that Valjean gave her the wrong address.
    • Valjean has simply stalled for time, because he has used his free hand (which he needed for writing the letter) to help cut his rope in other places. He springs up and seizes a red-hot fire poker, waving the attackers away with it. They get hold of him again, but only to have Inspector Javert and his police squad bust into the room.
    • While Javert inspects his prisoners, he doesn't bother to look at the victim (Valjean) who keeps his face lowered. When Javert's back is turned, Valjean takes the opportunity to leap out the window and disappear.
    • A few days after the incident, a young boy comes to the Jondrettes' apartment looking for the Jondrettes, his family. Hearing that they've all been sent away to prison, he shrugs and returns to the streets of Paris.
  • Part 4, Book 1

    Part 4, The Idyll in the Rue Plumet and the Epic of the Rue Saint-Denis

    A Few Pages of History

    • Time for a history lesson. Victor Hugo walks us through the period of French history known as the Bourbon Restoration, which is the time after the Revolution when the French brought back their royal family and were ruled by Louis XVIII. It didn't take Louis long to become unpopular, although Hugo thinks that the guy was a very good leader in many ways.
    • By 1830, though, the French royal family had again made itself so unpopular that people were clamoring for democracy and the rule of reason over authority. When all was said and done, France entered the period of the July Monarchy and elected a guy named Louis-Philippe as "the people's king."
    • Confused? We don't blame you. France's political history is a hot mess there for a few decades. In any case, the main point of all this discussion is to say that in 1830, only a few decades after the debacle that the French Revolution became, France was once again a hotbed of revolutionary feelings.
    • Now it's time to look in on Enjolras and his revolutionary buddies in the ABC Society. A drunken guy named Grantaire says he'll go out and preach revolution to the people of France. Enjolras thinks he must be joking, but after some arguing agrees to give Grantaire a shot.
  • Part 4, Book 2


    • After the incident in the Jondrettes' apartment, Marius packs up and leaves his apartment to live with his friend, which causes Inspector Javert some annoyance when he comes to follow-up.
    • Since falling in love with Cosette, Marius hasn't worked very much because he can't keep his mind on anything but sweet, sweet love.
    • Meanwhile, the Thénardiers are sent off to different prisons, although Éponine gets out because the cops couldn't prove her connection to the events at the Jondrette apartment.
    • Enter Marius' old book collector friend. One evening, he's trying to water his garden. But he's too old to lift his bucket. Then out of nowhere, this young woman appears and waters his garden for him. In return, she wants to know where Marius lives.
    • The girl is none other than Éponine, and she tracks down Marius who is not super happy to see her—until she tells him she's found out where his sweetheart lives. Woohoo!
    • The first thing he does is make Éponine promise never to tell her father where Cosette lives. At this, Éponine reminds Marius that he promised her anything she wanted in return for getting Cosette's address. But when he tries to give her money, she's all hurt and tells him it's not his money that she wants. (Hint: it's him.)
    • Now Hugo transports us to a house in Paris that Jean Valjean and Cosette have rented. We learn that after she left the convent with Jean Valjean, Cosette realized that she was gettin' pretty and started paying attention to how she looked on the street. Valjean tries to go out as little as possible, but now it seems that Cosette is constantly dragging him out of the house.
    • At this point, Hugo tells us how Cosette feels. She always thought Marius was handsome, but he never noticed her when she was all adolescent and awkward.
    • Later on, after Marius started noticing her, Cosette didn't know how to feel what with her strict convent education. Pretty soon, though, she realizes that Marius loves her and that—gasp!—she might love him back.
    • Eventually, Jean Valjean wises up. He is jealous of Marius because quite frankly, he doesn't want to share Cosette with any other man. And if that sounds kind of creepy, that's because it is.
    • Over time, Valjean becomes worried about Cosette. She looks very pale and unhealthy after she has gone a long time without seeing Marius.
    • One day, Valjean and Cosette go out to watch the sunset. While they're walking, they pass a train of prison convicts marching slowly by. Cosette is frightened by the men, and Valjean is terrified to be confronted by the sort of life he could have easily been doomed to.
    • Valjean returns home that day all discombobulated. Cosette asks him what will happen to the prisoners they saw, but he can't bring himself to answer her.
  • Part 4, Book 4

    Help From Below May Be Help From Above

    • One evening, Jean Valjean comes home after visiting the poor. He has a big burn on his forearm, which we readers know he got from the tussle he had in the Jondrette (Thénardier) apartment. The wound gives Jean Valjean a fever and he has to stay in bed for a few months.
    • We return at this point to the young boy Gavroche, who is looking for a place to sleep, so he ducks into a hedge next to a private garden. While there, he listens to an old man named Monsieur Mabeuf (remember him?) talking about how he's behind on his rent.
    • Then Gavroche looks out to the street and sees a well-known criminal named Montparnasse attack an elderly man and try to get his money. But the elderly man overpowers him and pins him to the ground. After a moment, he gets up and lets Montparnasse go, but not before giving him a big long speech about how the criminal life will never make him happy.
    • He then hands Montparnasse his (the old man's) wallet, telling him to take whatever he wants. Montparnasse is stunned, but he walks away with the money nonetheless. Before he can get away, though, Gavroche sneaks up behind him, snags the money, and throws it into the private garden so that Monsieur Mabeuf will have enough to pay his rent.
    • Phew. Did you get all of that?
  • Part 4, Book 5

    Of Which the End Does Not Resemble the Beginning

    • Eventually, Cosette begins to forget about her heartache at not seeing Marius anymore. Instead, she pays more attention to a young military man who walks past the gate of her garden everyday. This man is none other than Marius' cousin, Théodule. But this interest quickly fades.
    • One night, while Jean Valjean is away getting more money for the household, Cosette thinks she hears a man walking around in the garden. When she looks out, it's empty.
    • The next evening, she goes out and inspects the garden. As she's looking down at the ground, she's terrified to see a second shadow come up alongside hers. When she turns around, though, there's nothing there.
    • When Jean Valjean gets back home, she tells him about what happened. He spends the next few nights patrolling the yard with a heavy stick.
    • Nothing happens for a while. But the moment things get back to normal, Cosette finds a stone in the garden one afternoon. The stone has been carefully placed on her garden bench, and it worries her. But she overcomes her fear and lifts the thing up, finding an unmarked envelope underneath it. Inside the envelope is the longest and most poetic expression of love she's ever read.
    • By the time she's done reading the message, Cosette knows what love is and she knows she feels it for Marius. She is certain that the message has come from him. From this point on, she cherishes the letter and keep it near her at all times.
    • Jean Valjean goes out that night, and Cosette dresses up in her finest clothes and goes into the garden, wondering if her lover might be out there.
    • Sure enough, Marius shows up. Face to face, he finally has the chance to proclaim his undying love for her. She tells him the same and they spend the evening telling each other how in love they are.
    • Oh yeah, and they also take this opportunity to tell one another their names. Seems important.
  • Part 4, Book 6

    The Boy Gavroche

    • In this book, we hear how Gavroche was one of the Thénardiers' sons but was cast out into the street because his parents couldn't afford to feed or clothe him anymore.
    • As we might recall from earlier, Monsieur Gillenormand (Marius' grandfather) has a maid named Magnon whose two sons require the old man's financial support. One day, though, these sons die from an infectious disease. She doesn't want to give up the money, so she arranges to take two of the Thénardiers' sons and pass them off as her own.
    • Magnon eventually gets herself arrested while the two boys are out playing. They come home and find out that there's no longer any home for them there. A neighbor tells them what happened and gives them a piece of paper with an address written on it. But the paper blows out of their hands in the wind and they become lost. The two boys set out into the cold night to find shelter.
    • The two children eventually come into a barbershop and ask for help, but the barber violently chases them away. Gavroche sees the whole thing happen and offers to help the kids.
    • He buys them some bread, then he brings them inside a statue of a giant elephant (erected in memory of Napoleon). The whole thing is made of plaster and it makes for a cozy little home, even though the little kids are scared by how dark it is.
    • The only thing they really need to worry about are the rats, which can smell the flesh of young boys and are looking for a nibble…
    • Late in the night, the criminal Montparnasse comes to the elephant statue and tells Gavroche that his help is needed. Gavroche follows him and leaves the two young children to sleep soundly.
    • We find out that during this same night, Monsieur Thénardier and a couple of his criminal buddies have decided to break out of prison. The only problem is that after escaping the prison, Thénardier finds himself on top of a high wall that he can't climb down from. His only option is to wait until the prison guards find him and put him away for the rest of his life.
    • But have no fear, because here comes Gavroche. The young boy takes a length of rope and carries it up to Thénardier so that Thénardier can let himself down to the ground. While doing this, Gavroche recognizes Thénardier as his father, but neither of them seems too excited about it.
    • Little does Gavroche know that the two children he helped on this night are also his two brothers. How's that for a small world?
  • Part 4, Book 8

    Enchantment and Despair

    • Cosette and Marius meet one another in Cosette's garden whenever they can, but you can stop clutching your pearls: they love each other so much that neither of them ever thinks about sex. Uh-huh.
    • Cosette also finally takes the opportunity to tell Marius that her true name is Euphrasie.
    • One day, right after Marius leaves the garden, a group of men led by her dad Thénardier comes by and talks about breaking in and robbing the place. But Éponine shows up and tells them she'll scream if they make any effort to rob the house. They don't even realize that the place belongs to Jean Valjean. They've just heard that there's money inside.
    • Eventually, the men give up and leave.
    • Meanwhile, everything is going well for Cosette and Marius, so you know Victor Hugo has to throw a wrench into their plans. And here it is: Cosette tells Marius one day that she and her father are going to go to England and she doesn't know when they'll be back. Marius is heartbroken.
    • Marius says he'll need a day to himself in order to figure things out and writes down his address for Cosette.
    • Now we look back in on Monsieur Gillenormand, who has spent the last several years brokenhearted and lonely after the departure of Marius.
    • Then one day, out of the blue, Marius shows up at Gillenormand's front door. He wants his grandfather's blessing to marry Cosette. But Mr. Gillenormand was hoping that Marius was coming back to grovel and beg for money. He's so stunned that he speaks harshly to Marius and declares that he won't give Marius permission to marry.
    • Eventually, the argument calms down and Mr. Gillenormand asks Marius to tell him more about the girl he (Marius) wants to marry. They chat for a bit and Mr. Gillenormand gets a kick out of living vicariously through his grandson's love affair.
    • When he tells Marius to just make Cosette his friend with benefits instead of marrying her, though, Marius gets super offended and storms out of the house.
    • Mr. Gillenormand runs to the window and calls for Marius to come back. But it's too late. The boy is gone. The man sinks back into his chair, crushed by the thought that he'll never see Marius again.
  • Part 4, Book 9

    Where Are They Going?

    • Jean Valjean has been on edge ever since the run-in with Thénardier. He decides that it's time to get out of Paris and go to England. And one day, while siting on a bench, he sees a piece of folded paper fall onto his knee. Glancing up, he sees a young girl running away. The piece of paper simply says, "CLEAR OUT." That pretty much clinches it. Time to jet.
    • Meanwhile, we pick up with Marius leaving his grandfather's house. That night, he returns to Cosette's garden to meet her. But she never shows up. While he's busy feeling sorry for himself, someone whispers through a hedge that his friends from the ABC Society are waiting for him in a downtown street. It sounds like the radicals have set up a public barricade.
    • In another part of Paris, the old Monsieur Mabeuf hears about the barricade and the rioting in downtown Paris and decides that he's going to go check it out. He has no money left and has sold all his books to feed himself, so he figures there's nothing left for him to do but go where the action is.
  • Part 4, Book 10

    5 June 1832

    • Things are really heating up in the streets of Paris. All over the place, young people are getting fed up with their government. What this all leads to is an event known as the June Rebellion or Paris Uprising of 1832. As history tells us, this was an unsuccessful uprising that involved democratic thinkers who wanted to overthrow the French monarchy once and for all.
    • We're about to get a look into how this whole thing went down.
    • All of Paris is like a loaded gun in June of 1832, according to Hugo. It only needs a spark to set it off, and that spark came from the death of a guy named General Lamarque.
    • Lamarque was a revolutionary warrior, and his public funeral gives a lot of radical people the opportunity to gather as a group in the streets of Paris.
    • The French government knows that something bad could go down with all these revolutionaries in one place and they have a plan in place. Unfortunately, it doesn't exactly go smoothly.
    • At one point, French soldiers try to prevent the mob from following Lamarque's funeral procession, leading leads to a standoff between the mob and the soldiers.
    • All hell breaks loose. Within the next hour, rebelling Parisians are building barricades in the streets of Paris and using them as military forts.
  • Part 4, Book 11

    The Straw in the Wind

    • As soon as the fighting starts, Gavroche wants in on the action. Walking down a street, he sees a man's pistol lying unattended and snatches it up, waving it in the air and singing revolutionary French songs.
    • He only realizes later on that the pistol has no hammer mechanism, so it can't fire. (We think this just might be a metaphor for something.)
    • Before finding the French fighters, he makes sure to visit the barber who was mean to him and his two urchin friends earlier in the book. He picks up a rock and breaks the barber's window, peeling away before the barber can see who did it.
    • Meanwhile, all the dudes in the ABC Society are marching toward a barricade in a nearby part of Paris. As they go, they run into the old Monsieur Mabeuf, who wants to come with them and join the fighting.
    • They tell him to go home at first, but he insists on fighting with them. Remember, this is the same dude who wanted nothing to do with anything political earlier in this book.
    • Courfeyrac comes out of his apartment and finds a mysterious young man waiting for him outside. The young man wants to know where Marius is, but Courfeyrac doesn't know. The young man then asks if he can follow Courfeyrac to the barricade and Courfeyrac figures that it couldn't hurt to have more people on the side of the revolt.
  • Part 4, Book 12


    • After giving us a history of certain Paris streets (there's a reason this book is so long), Hugo takes us to a bar scene in which the ABC dude named Grantaire gets stinking drunk while there's fighting going on outside.
    • He seems a lot more concerned with drinking than he does with changing the world. But you're always going to get these kinds of people during times of revolution—people who just want to sit back and enjoy life without getting into any trouble.
    • They head outside the bar for a bit and see their buddy Courfeyrac walking past, heading off to build a barricade. But they invite him to build a barricade just outside the bar, and it turns out to be a pretty good idea, since the street is in a good strategic location.
    • The leader of the ABC gang, Enjolras, eventually shows up and get down to some more barricade building. Grantaire keeps drunkenly offering his help, but Enjolras looks down on him and considers him a fool.
    • Soon enough, Gavroche starts helping out. He keeps asking Enjolras to find him a pistol that works, but Enjolras tells him to be patient. Gavroche ends the conversation by saying that if Enjolras dies, he (Gavroche) will take the dude's pistol. Bloodthirsty little guy!
    • Once the barricade is built, the men have nothing to do but wait for the army to come and attack them. It's a weird plan, considering that they're the ones who want to take over the Paris streets. But it sounds like none of them really thinks they'll conquer Paris. They just want to show their defiance as part of a more long-term battle for the souls of Paris.
    • While folks are waiting inside the bar, one of the new recruits for the revolt gets himself a musket and sits down with it, taking in the scene around him.
    • Meanwhile, Enjolras asks Gavroche to sneak out and check what's going on in the streets. Before he leaves, though, Gavroche nods toward the stranger sitting down with the musket and says that he is none other than Inspector Javert from the police. He's a total narc who's gone undercover to infiltrate the revolution!
    • Just like that, the folks from the ABC Society seize Javert and tell him to prepare for death. Gavroche—who's nothing if not single-minded—asks whether he can have Javert's musket once the man is dead.
    • Meanwhile, a dude named Cabuc is outside in the street. For strategic purposes, he wants to get into the house of one of the men in the neighborhood. The neighborhood man sticks his head out his second floor window and says he won't open the door for anyone, so Cabuc shoots him in the head. Enjolras is so disgusted by this behavior that he executes Cabuc on the spot.
    • We find out later that this Cabuc was actually a famous criminal in disguise.
  • Part 4, Book 13

    Marius Enters the Darkness

    • Marius wanders the streets of Paris wishing that he were dead, since his beloved Cosette has disappeared and he doesn't know if they'll ever see each other again. And he's in luck, because this is a very easy day to get yourself dead in Paris. You know, with the people revolting and everything.
    • On the way to the ABC Society's barricade, Marius finds himself thinking about his father's heroic acts in battle. Whenever he's not thinking about Cosette, that is.
    • When he finally finds the barricade, Marius heads inside without too much trouble. The dude's pretty much a zombie at this point, since he cares so little about being alive.
  • Part 4, Book 14

    The Greatness of Despair

    • Enjolras and a buddy are holding their rifles when they hear Gavroche yelling that the French army is on its way and that some serious fighting is about to go down.
    • The ABC folks and their partners (43 people in total) take their positions behind the barricade. The army offers them a chance to surrender, but Enjolras loudly rejects it. Next thing you know, there bullets flying into the barricade. Luckily, none of them can make it through. However, the group's revolutionary flag has fallen in the process, and someone needs to go get it. But surprise surprise, no one wants to risk getting shot to save a flag.
    • The person who eventually emerges from the crowd is Monsieur Mabeuf. He climbs down to get the flag and inspires everyone behind the barricade. Even the French soldiers stop shooting for a moment. But then the old man starts waving the flag and shouting revolutionary slogans, and the army guns him down.
    • Enjolras removers the old man's bloodstained coat and declares that it will be the new flag of the revolution.
    • After Mabeuf's death, the French army charges the barricade. Gavroche and Courfeyrac are in serious dangers until Marius shows up at the last second and blows away the men attacking them. But now his weapons are empty.
    • A French soldier fires at Marius, but at the last second, a young person jumps in front of the shot and takes it for him. Marius isn't even aware of what just happened, and he runs into the tavern. When he comes back out, he seizes a giant powder keg (or in other words, a bomb) and tells the attacking army that he'll blow all of them (including himself) to kingdom come if they don't retreat. The men don't want to call his bluff, so they retreat.
    • With the attacking soldiers gone, the ABC folks crowd around Marius and pat him on the back, thanking him for saving their lives.
    • Unfortunately, the attacks took a prisoner while they were on the barricade, a young poet named Jean Prouvaire. After hearing them execute Prouvaire, Enjolras turns to the captive Javert and says that his army friends have just gotten him killed.
    • Meanwhile, Marius finds the young man who took his bullet dying outside. On further inspection, Marius realizes that the young man is actually a young woman—none other than Éponine.
    • In case we haven't figured it out yet, Éponine has always had a crush on Marius. Before she dies, she apologizes to Marius and pulls out a letter from Cosette that she was supposed to give to him. She held onto it because she wanted Cosette out of Marius' life.
    • As her dying wish, Éponine asks Marius to kiss her forehead after she's dead. And he does, the big softy.
    • With that done, Marius reads the letter Éponine held back from him. It's from Cosette and it says she'll be staying in a certain part of Paris for the next week before she leaves for England. Marius decides that he must find Cosette. First though, he writes his own response, gives it to Gavroche, and asks him to sneak out of the barricade and bring it to Cosette's address. Gavroche doesn't want to leave the action, but he does.
  • Part 4, Book 15

    In the Rue de L'Homme-Armé

    • Back in the safe house, Valjean is walking around and thinking about going to England with Cosette. Part of him wonders whether he's being overly cautious, but in the end, he decides to go to England with Cosette for just a few months.
    • While walking around his house, Jean Valjean wanders into Cosette's room and accidentally finds a copy of a letter she has sent to Marius. Sensing the love and affection in the letter, Jean Valjean feels his whole world crumbling. His little girl is in love!
    • To clear his head, Jean Valjean goes out into the street and sits on the curb. This happens to be the time when Gavroche comes by with the letter for Cosette. Valjean receives it on her behalf and reads it. He's dumbfounded to find that it's from Cosette's lover, Marius, and that this dude is on the barricade fighting the French army.
    • Without telling Cosette about the letter Valjean heads for the barricade, dressed in his best National Guard uniform.
    • Meanwhile, Gavroche steals a man's handcart on his way back to the barricade. It's okay though, because he leaves the guy an I.O.U. on behalf of "The French Revolution." A French soldier asks what he's doing, but Gavroche rams the cart into the guy's stomach and runs away.
  • Part 5, Book 1

    Part 5, Jean Valjean

    War Within Four Walls

    • By this point, darkness has fallen and the people fighting on the Paris barricade are waiting for the next army attack, which probably won't come until the next morning.
    • All the rebels talk about their friends who have died in the attack and what great guys they were.
    • In the middle of all this, one dude steps up and gives an inspiring speech about how they're all going to die for the cause of freedom, really pumping everyone up.
    • Enjolras, however, doesn't see the point in sacrificing forty men to defend a barricade that only needs thirty. He tells some of the men with wives and families to get on out. No one wants to, but eventually five men sneak out by wearing the uniforms of dead French army officers—one of which Valjean offers, once he shows up.
    • Enjolras thanks Valjean for his help, then asks him if he's willing to die, since everyone who's staying at the barricade has accepted this fact.
    • Now that the men have all decided to give their lives for freedom, Enjolras stands up and gives an inspiring speech about how the spread of democracy and education is a fundamental part of the world's progress.
    • When the speech is over, Jean Valjean goes inside the rebels' bar and sees Javert tied up. How darkly humorous.
    • Next morning, the rebels brace for battle. From the end of the street, a bunch of French soldiers bring a big cannon into view, which they plan on using to blow up the barricade.
    • Gavroche returns just at the moment the cannonball hits the barricade. But the cannonball just lodges in the barricade and does no real damage. All of the rebels snicker at its uselessness, and the French army officers are super frustrated.
    • Marius grabs Gavroche and asks him whether he delivered his letter to Cosette. Gavroche says yes, even though it's a lie and he definitely gave the letter to Jean Valjean. Marius suspects that Valjean has appeared because of the letter to Cosette, but he can't prove it.
    • Next thing you know, the French army is loading their cannon with something called grapeshot, which is kind of like a shotgun cartridge designed for a cannon. In other words, it's a bunch of tiny pellets that spray out in all directions, killing everything they hit. Before the French can fire this weapon, the rebels shoot the guy who's manning the cannon. This buys them more time, but really cheeses off the French army.
    • The grapeshot does a ton of damage to the barricade when it's eventually fired. The only way to stop it is to use a mattress to absorb all of its shrapnel. So Jean Valjean heroically jumps out from behind the barricade and pulls a mattress off the street while taking heavy fire. Eventually, he gets back with it and the mattress neutralizes the next round of grapeshot.
    • While all of this is happening, Cosette wakes up in her bed back at the Valjean house. She has no clue that her father is off fighting a battle, or even that there's fighting at all in Paris.
    • However, she does feel really put off by a family of birds outside her window, so there's obviously something going on.
    • Meanwhile, the French army has gotten fed up with the rebels and is sending waves of men toward the barricade. But the rebels just keep mowing them down. Enjolras is even annoyed, since the tactic is getting French soldiers needlessly killed and wasting the rebels' ammunition.
    • After all of this, a rumble starts up in the streets of Paris. For a moment, it sounds like the entire city is about to break into rebellion. But then the energy dies down, and Enjolras and the rebels know that they're alone. Worse yet, they're running out of ammo.
    • Hearing about the ammo situation, Gavroche leaves the barricade with a basket and starts taking ammunition from all of the dead French soldiers. He's totally exposed and getting shot at, but he doesn't seem to care. He just keeps singing and making fun of the soldiers who are shooting at him.
    • Eventually, Gavroche's luck runs out and he gets shot and killed. The rebels are inspired by his defiance, though, and they snatch up the basket of ammo he has collected.
    • As Gavroche dies, we look in on the two street urchins he helped a few days earlier – the ones who are actually his brothers. They stand by a pond, feeling hungry. A man and a child are walking by, and the child is so rich and spoiled that he throws his bread away into a nearby duck pond. The two urchins snatch at the bread and eat it, even though it's wet with pond water and they have to fight a swan to get it.
    • Back at the barricade, Enjolras decides that it's finally time to give up the barricade and to make one last stand inside the ABC Society's tavern.
    • He and his buddies gather up a bunch of rocks to reinforce the tavern's first floor, then they run inside. The French soldiers are in close pursuit, and the battle rages on.
    • While they're inside, they decide that someone needs to kill Javert before his cronies have a chance to save him. Jean Valjean volunteers to do it. He takes Javert out of sight and pulls the trigger. Say goodbye to Inspector Javert…
    • Wait a sec! Valjean doesn't kill him at all. He just fires his gun into the air and then totally lets Javert go and tells him where he (Valjean) is currently living. Javert leaves, determined to arrest Valjean if he doesn't get himself killed in the fighting in the meantime.
    • One by one, the leaders of the revolt get themselves killed until only Marius and Enjolras are left fighting. Marius is shot through the shoulder and he passes out. Before he loses consciousness, though, he feels a strong hand picking him up. He assumes he's been captured by the army and that he'll be killed, so he says goodbye to Cosette in spirit.
    • Meanwhile Enjolras gets himself cornered in a second-floor room in the tavern. He is out of ammo and is basically waiting for the French soldiers to shoot him. Before they shoot him, though, the drunken buffoon Grantaire wakes up from being passed out and stands by Enjolras' side, ready to die. It looks like the guy has some bravery in him after all.
    • Or it could just be that he has a really bad hangover and would rather die.
    • Now we look in on Marius, who has in fact been taken prisoner… by Jean Valjean! That's right, Valjean has saved Marius and is now carrying him away from the battle. But the only way to escape without being caught is to go down into the Paris sewers.
    • True, the French army has already thought of this and is patrolling the sewers, but Valjean manages to elude them.
  • Part 5, Book 2

    The Entrails of the Monster

    • Victor Hugo opens this part of the book by giving us a very long and detailed account of the Paris sewer system. He even suggests that Paris is wasting a lot of money by pumping human waste into the sewer instead of using it to fertilize fields and grow food. Good idea!
  • Part 5, Book 3

    Mire, But the Soul

    • Now we're back to following Jean Valjean, who is desperately looking for a way to get himself and Marius out of the Paris sewer system safely.
    • As he travels through the sewer, Valjean has to elude French army troops who have come down into the sewer to look for retreating rebels. He manages to get away from them, but gets stuck in a giant pit of sewage in the process. He can barely keep his mouth above the murk as he carries Marius onward, gross.
    • Finally, Jean Valjean reaches daylight. But here's the problem. The sewer is blocked by a locked grate, and Valjean knows he doesn't have the strength to go back the way he came. Meanwhile, Marius might already be dead from loss of blood.
    • Just when everything seems lost, a shadowy figure appears in front of Valjean. It is none other than Thénardier, who is hiding in the sewer because he's on the run after escaping prison. Thénardier assumes that Valjean has murdered Marius and is going to dump his body in the nearby river. But Thénardier is the one holding a key to the sewer grate, so he makes Valjean a deal. He wants half the money Valjean has stolen from his dead "victim" in return for opening the grate. Valjean gives Thénardier everything he has, and even though it isn't much, Thénardier lets him pass. While Valjean walks away, Thénardier grabs a fistful of Marius' clothing and tears off a chunk. He figures that you never know when proof of a murder might come in handy…
    • And just like that, Valjean has escaped the sewer. He lays Marius on the bank of the river (which the sewer flows into) and checks his pulse. It's hard to tell whether the kid is alive or dead, but he seems dead.
    • And guess what? That's not the worst of it, because somehow, Inspector Javert is waiting for Valjean on the riverbank?
    • Wait, huh? Yeah, Javert was actually trying to track down Thénardier, but he's more than happy to take Valjean. Letting Valjean go, you see, was all part of Thénardier's plan to avoid capture.
    • Valjean asks Javert for one favor, to let him (Valjean) take Marius home so that he can have the best shot at survival. Javert figures the guy is already dead, but hey, Valjean kind of saved his (Javert's) life, so he allows it.
    • He calls on a nearby carriage and the three of them head to Monsieur Gillenormand's house, which is the only address Valjean associates with Marius. After they drop Marius off, Jean Valjean asks for one more favor. He'd like to go home and say goodbye to Cosette and tell her what happened to Marius and where he is.
    • Javert takes Valjean to his house and waits outside. But when Valjean checks a few minutes later, he finds that Javert is gone.
    • Back at Monsieur Gillenormand's house, Marius recovers consciousness just as the doctor is about to pronounce him dead. It looks like he just might pull through. The whole thing is too much for Monsieur Gillenormand, who faints on the floor with relief.
  • Part 5, Book 4

    Javert in Disarray

    • Inspector Javert doesn't really know what to do after letting Jean Valjean go. On the one hand, he had to let him go because the dude saved his life. On the other hand, how can he live with himself now that he has failed to do his job by letting a known criminal go?
    • Not knowing what to do with himself, Javert goes to the nearest police station and writes out a series of recommendations for the Paris police force to improve its practices and be more efficient. When he's done, he signs his name, goes back into the street, and jumps off a bridge.
    • Yeah, now you can actually say goodbye to Javert for good.
  • Part 5, Book 5

    Grandson and Grandfather

    • This book takes us all the way back to the village of Montfermeil, where Jean Valjean buried his fortune many years ago and where he still goes now and then to replenish his cash flow. As you might remember, there's a road worker who has always wanted to know where this cash is hidden. But for one last time, Valjean gives him the slip and gets away with all of his money.
    • Back at Monsieur Gillenormand's house, Marius is recovering and ready for a fight with his grandfather, since he's still intent on marrying Cosette. But his grandfather doesn't oppose the marriage anymore—he's just happy to have Marius back in his life, safe and sound.
    • When Marius is feeling better, Cosette visits him and the two of them bask in the happiness they've found together.
    • While all this is happening, Marius' aunt can't help but ask what the two young lovers will do for money once they're married.
    • This is a good moment for Jean Valjean to speak up and announce that Cosette has more than half a million francs to her name.
    • Minds. Blown. Let the wedding preparations begin!
    • Monsieur Gillenormand and Jean Valjean take responsibility for organizing everything.
    • While the preparations are going on, Marius thinks about how badly he'd like to track down Thénardier (to whom he still owes a debt) and the mystery man who carried him away from the rebel barricade.
    • In the meantime, Cosette and Jean Valjean visit him every day of his recovery. He eventually finds the driver of the carriage that brought him home that day, but the driver doesn't know who brought him, since Jean Valjean was completely covered with sewage that day.
  • Part 5, Book 6

    The Sleepless Night

    • It's the wedding day, and everything is going smoothly. The only snag is that Jean Valjean can't sign the wedding registry because, gee whiz, he's hurt his hand. No worries, though; Monsieur Gillenormand can just as easily sign it.
    • When the wedding is over, they all leave the church and promptly get stuck in traffic. There's some sort of Mardi Gras celebration going on, with people all around wearing masks. One of the people wearing masks sees Valjean's carriage goes by and recognizes him, but can't recall from where. The guy sends one of his companions to follow Valjean's group. He won't do it himself because the cops are after him.
    • During the wedding party, Jean Valjean sits in a corner frowning. Cosette asks him if anything is wrong, but he says no. A few moments later, a servant walks up to Cosette and says Valjean has left, since his hurt hand was bothering him.
    • Cosette feels bad at first, but forgets about Valjean as soon as Marius starts talking to her. Monsieur Gillenormand makes a pretty speech about marriage and everyone feels really happy.
    • When the party is over, Marius and Cosette head off to bed and… well… Hugo is too coy to tell us anything after that.
    • Meanwhile, in another place not far away, Jean Valjean sits in his bedroom holding Cosette's baby clothes and cries. There's obviously something that's deeply bothering his conscience, and in the end, he seems to make a decision that's going to be really tough to swallow.
  • Part 5, Book 7

    The Bitter Cup

    • The day after Cosette and Marius' wedding, Jean Valjean visits and asks for Marius only. Marius comes to meet him and Jean Valjean spills the beans about his past and about how he's a convict. As you can imagine, Marius is shocked by this. Don't forget that he doesn't know Valjean saved his life, so he's mostly just concerned about Cosette. So he thinks it'd be best if Valjean didn't come around as often anymore.
    • Oh yeah, and it turns out that Valjean's hand isn't hurt at all. He just pretended it was hurt so he wouldn't have to sign Cosette and Marius' wedding certificate. Had he signed it, the certificate would have been worthless because he would have signed with a fake name.
    • Around this time, Cosette walks into the room and asks what Valjean and Marius are talking about. Marius tells her that it's private, which makes Cosette pretty annoyed with both of them. Eventually, though, she agrees to leave and does.
    • Before Valjean leaves, Marius promises to keep this all a secret from Cosette so that she won't have to hear the brutal truth. (Women, you know.)
    • Once Valjean is gone, Marius can't help but wonder if all the money Valjean gave Cosette has come from immoral practices. Further, Marius also knows that Inspector Javert is dead, and he suspects that Valjean murdered him.
  • Part 5, Book 8

    The Fading Light

    • Shortly after his heart-to-heart with Marius, Valjean visits the Gillenormand house and meets with Cosette. He basically tells her that she shouldn't call him "father" anymore, since she has a husband and won't need a father. Cosette thinks this is silly, but Valjean insists.
    • As time goes on, Jean Valjean periodically leaves his house and walks toward Cosette's new home. But he always stops midway in his walk and turn back home. It's all pretty heartbreaking.
  • Part 5, Book 9

    Supreme Shadow, Supreme Dawn

    • Marius and Cosette continue to live married life without Valjean in the picture. Marius even takes Cosette to visit his father's grave and he tells her the whole story of his father's tragic life.
    • Meanwhile, Valjean becomes so lonely without Cosette that he stops eating and grows sickly. A doctor visits and says that the situation looks no bueno.
    • One day, Valjean cracks. He gets himself a pen and paper and starts writing a letter to Cosette. In this letter, he explains how he made his fortune by perfectly legal means and that Cosette and Marius shouldn't be afraid to enjoy it with a clear conscience.
    • Once he's done this, he finds he can no longer lift his pen, and he collapses, knowing that he'll never see Cosette again.
    • While this is happening, Marius receives a different letter at his house. The writer of the letter claims to have valuable info about Cosette's father. It's basically a letter of blackmail, and surprise surprise, it's signed by Thénardier, who just happens to be waiting downstairs.
    • Marius heads downstairs to speak with Thénardier. But Thénardier is in for an unpleasant surprise. Marius already knows the whole story of Jean Valjean, and Thénardier has nothing to blackmail him with.
    • It turns out that Thénardier wants money so he can move to the New World (Central America, to be more specific) and start a new business.
    • While they speak, Thénardier claims that Valjean is a murderer, and Marius says that he already knows that Valjean murdered Inspector Javert.
    • Never one to stick to a plan that's not working out, Thénardier changes tactics and tells Marius that Javert committed suicide. He even has a newspaper article to prove it. He also shows an article explaining how Valjean made all of his fortune honestly as a businessman.
    • On the subject of murder, Thénardier says that he saw Valjean carrying a dead body out of the Paris sewer one day, and he produces the fabric he tore off Marius' coat as proof.
    • All he ends up doing, though, is confirming for Marius that Jean Valjean saved his life. Marius is bowled over. Out of respect for his father, he gives Thénardier enough money to move to Central America, then heads out in search of Jean Valjean.
    • Back at the Valjean house, Valjean hears a knock on the door and Cosette and Marius come pouring into the room. They quickly explain to Valjean that they understand his story completely and love him more than ever.
    • It's too late to save Valjean's life, though. In one last tender moment, he, Cosette, and Marius say their goodbyes. Valjean tells the young lovers to be good people and to live life to its fullest. Then he dies.
    • Jean Valjean ends up buried in an unmarked grave. It looks like the guy was humble to the end. But despite his efforts to die anonymously, someone uses chalk to scribble a poem on his blank gravestone.
    • In the passing years, these words have disappeared, but at one point, there was a poem about how people live and die and the cycle of nature goes on.
    • Okay, it's a bit cliché, but how else could you sum up a book this huge?