Study Guide

Les Misérables Part 2, Book 2

By Victor Hugo

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.