Les Misérables | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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Les Misérables | Part 2, Book 4 : Cosette (The Old Gorbeau House) | Summary



Jean Valjean finds rooms for himself and Cosette at the Gorbeau House, a dilapidated building in an out-of-the-way, rundown part of Paris. The narrator provides a history of the house, named after a lawyer, as well as some of the streets around it.

Jean Valjean has set up simple housekeeping in a garret. He'd been alone for 25 years and is now 55, and his lost sister and her children are a distant memory. But with the rescue of Cosette, his heart comes alive, and "everything within him, all feeling and affection, was aroused and poured out on this child ... he felt inward yearnings, like a mother, and did not know what they were." Jean Valjean teaches Cosette to read, and the pair of them take walks at night. The landlady, also their housekeeper and cook, notices one day Jean Valjean has money hidden in the lining of his coat and wigs and other items stashed in a large pocketbook. He is in the habit of giving alms to a neighborhood beggar, and one day when the beggar looks up, he appears to be not himself but Javert in disguise. Days later, a new lodger shows up, and Jean Valjean takes Cosette by the hand and leaves that evening.


If the bishop had awakened in Jean Valjean his virtue, Cosette has awakened his love. Likewise Cosette has been mistreated for as long as she can remember, and her "instinct sought a father." Jean Valjean has not been able to find his sister and her family and has had no intimate human contact until he begins taking care of Fantine and now her daughter. The helpless child creates an avalanche of new emotions inside the outcast. He has been deprived of love and thus has stifled love inside himself. Now all of that unspent love comes to the surface and is poured onto the child. While Jean Valjean was in danger of becoming bitter after a second arrest for doing the right thing, he now has no time for bitterness, because a new world of fatherhood has opened to him. Nonetheless he continues to act as if he is on the run—and with good reason.

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