Study Guide

Les Misérables Part 2, Book 8

By Victor Hugo

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.