Les Misérables | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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Les Misérables | Part 2, Book 5 : Cosette (A Dark Chase Requires a Silent Hound) | Summary

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Summary

Not for the first time the narrator begins by identifying himself as the author, this time to say he is recalling the Paris of his youth as he writes and that no doubt some of those places no longer exist or have been changed. He also expresses his love and nostalgia for the city he has not seen in many years.

He then returns to the story to say Jean Valjean is zigzagging the streets with no definite plan, trusting in God as Cosette trusts in him. Three men chase him, and at one point he sees seven or eight soldiers on the march. In order to keep her scared and sharp enough to cooperate, Jean Valjean tells the child they are escaping from the Thénardiess. The pair find themselves in a cul-de-sac created by two streets, and Jean Valjean sees an escape route over a wall; he climbs it and then pulls Cosette up with an improvised harness. On the other side is a gloomy garden, a ruined building being used as a shed, and a large structure facing the garden. They hide in the shed until the sound of the patrol is replaced by the sound of women singing. As the night goes on, Cosette falls asleep, despite the cold. Jean Valjean then sees a man and offers him money in exchange for shelter. This stranger turns out to be Fauchelevent, whom he rescued in Montreuil-sur-mer after the old man fell underneath a cart. The gardener for the Convent of the Petit-Picpus agrees to shelter Jean Valjean and the child in his hut.

The narrator also provides an account of Javert's career as of late. He is now with the Paris police, having aided in the recapture of the infamous convict. Although he knows Jean Valjean has been reported dead in Toulon, he becomes suspicious when he hears of a kidnapping in Montfermeil. However, when Javert investigates, the innkeeper takes back the accusation and says Cosette left with her grandfather. Later Javert hears about a "beggar who gives alms" and keeps bank bills in his coat. Thus he tracks down Jean Valjean but then plays a cat-and-mouse game with him during the attempted capture, to extend the enjoyment of chasing his prey.

Analysis

Hugo's identification with the narrator serves to unmask him as the author and thus gives him more flexibility to break into the story at intervals and provide information or commentary that might otherwise seem out of place. At the same time, he never violates the convention of presenting fiction as a "real" story, and he acts as if Jean Valjean is a real person he is telling us about, even if he is an exiled author from his beloved homeland. This is the idea he begins with in Part 2, Book 5. His story takes place in the Paris of Victor Hugo's youth, and he remembers every street and house with love.

When Jean Valjean realizes Javert has been in the Gorbeau House spying on him, he quickly decamps with Cosette, and he has to lie to her so she understands the gravity of their situation. Once again the hero is saved by grace, as a past good deed provides him with a lifeline at the convent of Petit-Picpus, in the form of still another gardener—a symbol in this novel for the beauty of the soul and the care that is rendered by one soul for another.

The narrator also provides a glimpse into the sadistic, dark side of Javert's psychology. He is compared to a tiger who "shudders to his core" in finding his prey. He prolongs the chase, letting "his man get ahead of him, knowing he had him, but wishing to put off as long as possible the moment of arrest ... gazing at him with the rapture of the spider that lets the fly buzz, or the cat that lets the mouse run." Javert is like Jean Valjean in that he is an outsider and also a man who has been alone, but while the hero channels his unspent emotion into loving and caring for a child, his nemesis channels his into capturing and incarcerating a man he can't begin to understand.

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