Study Guide

Les Misérables Part 5, Book 3

By Victor Hugo

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.