Les Misérables | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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Les Misérables | Part 4, Book 15 : Saint-Denis and Idyll of the Rue Plumet (The Rue De L'Homme-Armé) | Summary



After receiving the ominous note from Eponine, Jean Valjean removes both Cosette and Toussaint to one of his other residences without taking anything except the mysterious case he never leaves behind. Jean Valjean is too preoccupied to notice how upset his daughter is as he thinks about escaping to London for a few months. As he paces around, he notices the lines of a letter in the mirror. Cosette has inadvertently left her blotter on the sideboard, and that blotter, which holds the contents of her short note to Marius, is reflected in the mirror. She has addressed the letter to "My beloved." The narrator notes all the tortures the hero has undergone are nothing in comparison to this ordeal—of finding Cosette in love with a man. While he loves Cosette as a father, "into this paternity the very bereavement of his life had brought every love; he loved Cosette as his daughter, and he loved her as his mother, and he loved her as his sister." Jean Valjean feels himself annihilated. He figures out the interloper is the man from the park.

Jean Valjean is ruminating on the street outside his door when Gavroche arrives, and the gamin hands the letter over after the old man promises to deliver it. When he gets upstairs and reads the contents, Jean Valjean feels joy in realizing "the hated being" will likely die at the barricade. About an hour later he dresses in his National Guard uniform and arms himself, heading for the barricade.


Jean Valjean is thunderstruck when he learns his daughter has been seeing the young man from the park behind his back. After he accomplished their first separation, he begins to take for granted he will have Cosette to himself for the rest of his life. He seems to have forgotten he removed her from the convent so she can experience the world outside the cloister. However, she has become his world—his cloister—and he needs nothing else. But while she loves him dearly, she needs a wider world and a suitable mate, and it is only natural for her to break out of the gilded cage he has fashioned for her. It is natural for children to leave their parents and make a new life, but Jean Valjean selfishly wants to keep his daughter from leaving the nest. This is the hero's last and greatest test—to renounce his attachment to Cosette.

As the narrator so eloquently explains, Jean Valjean, a man of considerable passion, has taken all the love he was thwarted from giving to a family in the normal course of events and has given it to Cosette. Not surprisingly he is wildly jealous of her love and initially rejoices in the thought of her suitor's death. But then his higher nature takes him in hand, and he dons his National Guard uniform for the purpose of going to the barricade. In an act of selfless love he plans to save Marius so he and Cosette can have a life together.

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