Les Misérables | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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Les Misérables | Part 2, Book 2 : Cosette (The Ship Orion) | Summary



The novel now returns to Jean Valjean, who has been retaken by the authorities and sent back to Toulon. Before his arrest, however, he has been able to withdraw his 600,000 francs from the bank and hide it somewhere. The narrator also reveals that, around the time of Jean Valjean's escape, an old road worker in the area of Montfermeil, where the Thénardiers live, saw a man go into the woods with a box and digging tools. The man figured he had buried money and then began digging around in the woods after him but came up empty.

In October 1823 Jean Valjean is laboring on a warship in Toulon that has come in for repairs. The vessel has participated in the French efforts to bolster the Spanish monarchy by helping put down a rebellion and restore Ferdinand VII to the throne. Suddenly a sailor who is helping furl a topsail loses his footing and falls, although he grabs on to a rope and is now dangling helplessly, many feet in the air. Jean Valjean gets permission to try to rescue the man. His guards then break his shackle, and he rescues the man because of his great strength and agility, but then he falls into the ocean. Although boats are sent out to find him, he has disappeared, and everyone assumes he has drowned.


Jean Valjean has been able to retrieve his money and once again has escaped the authorities. It is not clear whether the hero falls accidentally or on purpose. The narrator creates some suspense by citing a newspaper report that the prisoner has drowned, but the reader will soon see Jean Valjean reappear and keep his promise to Fantine.

Hugo also takes the opportunity to comment on France's shameful participation in Spanish politics, in which French forces under a Bourbon duke's command put an oppressive monarch back on the throne. After the French restored the Spanish king, he ruthlessly killed the rebels after having promised them amnesty. "The war of 1823, an outrage against the generous Spanish nation, was at the same time an outrage against the French Revolution ... As for the Bourbons ... they did not see what danger there is in attempting to kill an idea by a military watchword."

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