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Les Misérables | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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Les Misérables | Part 4, Book 14 : Saint-Denis and Idyll of the Rue Plumet (The Grandeur of Despair) | Summary



Gavroche climbs over the barricade and warns Enjolras the enemy is upon them. When the fighting begins, an explosion takes down the insurgents' red flag. Mabeuf steps forward to raise the revolutionary flag again, and everyone looks at him in awe, thinking he is an old Conventionist. He climbs the barricade, waving the flag and shouting, "Vive la revolution! Vive la république! Fraternity! Equality! And death!" When a voice cries out to disperse, Mabeuf waves the flag and shouts again until they shoot him. The renegades take Mabeuf into the bistro and cover his body.

The National Guard is trying to get into the barricade when Marius arrives, and he shoots two of them, saving Gavroche's life. Many of the insurgents have now gone up to the second story of the Corinth, while Enjolras and his lieutenants face the enemy at the barricade. Marius has taken a keg of powder from the Corinth and a torch and threatens to blow up the barricade if the soldiers don't stand down, and they soon clear the barricade.

Marius now hears Eponine calling him. Dressed as a boy, she is badly wounded with a hole in her hand and back. She blocked a bullet that was meant for Marius. He picks her up, and as she lies in his lap, she confesses she directed him to the barricade out of envy. She hears Gavroche singing and tells Marius that Gavroche is her brother. She also gives him a letter she was supposed to mail the day before. The last thing she says is, "I believe I was a little in love with you," and then she dies. He reads the letter from Cosette, which gives him a new address and tells him she is leaving for England.

The narrator explains Cosette thought Eponine was a workingman when she gave her the letter to mail. Eponine had planned to go to the barricade to die, correctly guessing Marius would want to do the same after Cosette disappeared. The two of them would have died together, she explains before her last breath. Marius now feels protective toward Gavroche, knowing he is a Thénardier. To get Gavroche away from the barricade, he asks him to carry a message to Cosette telling of his failed mission to his grandfather and promising to die because he cannot live without her.


The fates of Mabeuf and Eponine, ground down by hardship and poverty, show the reader the cruelty and indifference of the social and political system that leaves no place at the table for les misérables. Like Marius, both Mabeuf and Eponine have come to the barricade to die—choosing to use the revolution to commit suicide. Mabeuf's revolutionary actions amount to a desperate method of doing away with himself. He is an old man who has lived beyond his use, and no one is available to take care of him. Mabeuf is unlike the other unfortunates in the story. He begins as a churchwarden and a respected botanist, so he is an example of how even someone in the middle class can be crushed by a system with no safety net.

Eponine also comes to the barricade to die, but her case is complicated by the fact that she loves Marius. Her intention in holding back Cosette's letter and sending Marius to the barricade is to separate them. She also wishes Marius to die rather than allow another woman to possess him, but she regrets her envy, as she confesses to Marius. She ends up giving up her life to save his, dying for love.

However, Eponine also knows she has outlived her use—just like Mabeuf. While previously she was her father's partner in crime—for example, delivering his phony letters or serving as a lookout when he attempts to rob Jean Valjean—he no longer needs her now as he is running with a band of criminals. Thénardier has left her and Azelma on their own now that their mother is in jail. Eponine has no choice but to become a prostitute or a criminal to support herself. But that road becomes closed to her, because in loving Marius she has imbibed his values and can no longer live a debased life. Evidence of her basic goodness is seen in her shielding of Jean Valjean and Cosette from the gang of thugs at the Rue Plumet. Marius will never love Eponine, and she has no friends or family. Cosette has been lucky to fall into the hands of a good father, but Eponine is the unfortunate daughter of a bad father. Death is a way out of her hopeless situation.

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