Les Misérables | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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Les Misérables | Part 4, Book 12 : Saint-Denis and Idyll of the Rue Plumet (Corinth) | Summary

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Summary

The narrator provides the history of the wine shop called The Grape of Corinth, which had been in business 300 years under various names. Laigle (Bossuet) and Joly are having breakfast at the Corinth when Grantaire comes in, and the men begin drinking heavily. A young gamin delivers a note to Laigle from Enjolras, which tells him in code that the revolution is on, but the three of them stay put. Soon Enjolras's crew is marching down the street, to find a place to make a barricade, and Laigle suggests they make it right there, since the far end of the street "narrowed like a cul-de-sac, with Corinth choking it off." The nearby Rue Mondétour is easy to close off; the Rue Saint-Denis will remain the only open street, but attackers coming from that direction will have no cover. As the mob comes into the wine shop, citizens on the street vanish. The revolutionaries take over the bistro, which becomes headquarters for operations. Directed by Enjolras, the street fighters begin building two barricades from anything at hand—pavement, empty lime barrows from the bistro, garbage, and so forth. Much of the wine shop is demolished in the process, to the horror of the proprietor, Mother Hucheloup. Many of the laborers are armed with muskets, and the crowd has other guns and weapons. In the kitchen, partisans are melting down the pewter ware to make bullets. By nightfall the makeshift army still has not seen any action and is just waiting. Enjolras sends Gavroche to sneak out beyond the barricade to see what is going on. Gavroche also points out an informant among them. When questioned by Enjolras, Inspector Javert reveals his identity, and some renegades tie him up. When one of the insurgents is denied entry into a nearby house, he shoots the porter through the door and kills him. Enjolras then executes this man in front of the crowd in retaliation for the unnecessary murder, establishing the insurrection will be conducted with discipline.

Analysis

Victor Hugo witnessed the July Revolution of 1830 up close, and no doubt some of what he saw informs these scenes at the barricade featured in the climax of the novel—the insurrection of 1832. Parts of Paris erupted, and the rebels built fortifications or barricades to fight behind. These barricades were tall and wide, made with old junk, furniture, and anything at hand.

Enjolras's band chooses a good location, which enables them to seal off most of the area and protect themselves. They take over private property and end up wrecking it, but the woman who runs the wine shop has no choice but to go along. The rest of the people on the street have retired inside and bolted their doors.

Not surprisingly Javert has been spying on the rebels and now is caught at the barricade when Gavroche recognizes him as a policeman who harasses the homeless. The inspector remains brave and defiant, giving his real name, even though he knows he will be executed at some point by the revolutionaries. When Enjolras executes the thug who kills the porter because he would not open his door, the young renegade is administering revolutionary justice. The thug who has attached himself to the insurgents has unnecessarily taken the life of a civilian, and Enjolras sees himself as the champion of the people. Thus he distinguishes what he is doing—fighting for a righteous cause—from what street criminals do, which is take life to satisfy their own selfish interests. In both cases, however, people die, a fact to which the author is calling the reader's attention.

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