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Les Misérables | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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Les Misérables | Quotes


Justice has its anger, Monsieur Bishop, and the wrath of justice is an element of progress.

G_____, Part 1, Book 1

G_____ is an unnamed "Conventionist" who is near death and to whom Monseigneur Bienvenu pays a pastoral visit. The two men begin to debate the merits of the French Revolution, and the bishop says he doesn't trust what is destroyed in anger. The Conventionist answers that anger stemming from a desire for justice is a positive force, since it stirs people to demolish what is unjust and thus make way for improvements in the political and social system.


I withdraw [your soul] from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!

Monseigneur Bienvenu, Part 1, Book 2

The bishop makes this statement to Jean Valjean, after he covers for his theft. He adds his two silver candlesticks to the loot Jean Valjean stole, saying he has ransomed the thief's soul. His blessing and his forgiveness—not to mention his trust that Jean Valjean can live a righteous life—amount to removing Jean Valjean's dark and bitter thoughts and taking him out of his mental "hell" so he can dwell with God.


The poor cannot go to the far end of their rooms or ... their lives, except by continually bending more and more.

Narrator, Part 1, Book 5

This is said by the narrator in describing how Fantine struggles with poverty. There is little work as a seamstress, and what work she gets pays pennies. To save money, she keeps changing her living quarters, and they become progressively more cramped, with lower ceilings, so she must bend—both literally and metaphorically.


Cosette's instinct sought a father, as Jean Valjean's instinct sought a child. To meet was to find one another.

Narrator, Part 2, Book 4

The narrator is describing Cosette's new life with Jean Valjean in their garret at the Gorbeau House, which seems pretty to her, even as her new father seems handsome. After being abused for so long, she is grateful for her benefactor and open to accepting him as the father she needs. Likewise he has been lonely and sad, and she arrives as a being he can nurture and protect.


When the unfortunate and the infamous are ... confused in one word, ... les misérables, whose fault is that?

Narrator, Part 3, Book 8

This key passage, which are Marius's thoughts, points out that society often does not make a distinction between those who are poor and those who are criminal. At the same time the poor are often depraved, as are the Thénardiers, whom Marius is watching through his peephole. But are they really to blame for succumbing to poverty, he wonders, and isn't it at this very moment society should offer them the most compassion and charity?


Becoming a rascal isn't practical. It's not so hard to be an honest man.

Jean Valjean, Part 4, Book 4

Jean Valjean is speaking to the young criminal, Montparnasse, who has just tried to rob him of his purse. When he asks him why he steals, he says it's too boring to work, and then Jean Valjean gives him a preview of prison life, telling him it's much easier to work than to labor at robbery. But his comment contains some situational irony, since to be a truly honest man—and uphold the standard Jean Valjean or even Javert sets for himself—is not easy at all, but a lifelong struggle.


This summer, I'll be hungry; this winter I'll be cold. Are there some fools, ... to think they can scare a girl?

Eponine, Part 4, Book 8

Eponine is standing up to the Patron-Minette gang who wish to rob the house on the Rue Plumet, where Cosette and Jean Valjean live. Her comment reflects how much she has been through, as if she has already lived a lifetime. She is brave because she has already experienced the worst. Moreover, she knows she will not live long and doesn't value her life that much. This scene is especially poignant because Eponine both devalues herself (when she says it doesn't matter if her father kills her now or if she dies in the street a year from now) and rises to the heroic by standing up to the gang.


A revolution is a tollgate. Oh! The human race will be delivered, uplifted, and consoled!

Enjolras, Part 5, Book 1

This quotation is part of Enjolras's extended speech to the people on the barricade, in which he tells them their sacrifice is noble. They know they will probably all die, but he says their deaths are the toll that must be paid to move the human race forward.


There can be an error in the dogma ... the law may be deceived.

Javert, Part 5, Book 4

Javert finds a flaw in the obsessive faith in the law that has ruled his life: he is able to acknowledge Jean Valjean's goodness and lets him go. However, Javert cannot live with the fact that his belief system has been proven to be incorrect, and so he commits suicide.


To love or to have loved ... ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.

Gillenormand, Part 5, Book 6

Grandfather Gillenormand says this at Marius's wedding. He has gone through a period in which he didn't know whether he would lose Marius, but now he can enjoy a happy ending. He loves Marius more than he's ever loved anybody in his life, and when he speaks to the couple about the importance of love, he doesn't mean only romantic love. He says love is the pearl of life—its only real joy.


You were Monsieur Madeleine, why not have said so? You had saved Javert, why not have said so? I owe my life to you, why not have said so?

Marius, Part 5, Book 9

Marius blames Jean Valjean for telling only half-truths and making himself look bad. While Marius is not wrong, he doesn't understand the complicated moral calculus that determines Jean Valjean's decision to hold back certain facts so as not to make Marius or Cosette feel pressured or beholden to him. If Marius had more sense and more empathy, he would be able to figure out on his own that Jean Valjean is worthy of his love and respect.


The convict was transfigured into a Christ.

Narrator, Part 5, Book 9

Marius compares Valjean to Jesus, who suffered at the hands of an unjust society yet lived a life of perfect goodness. His recognition of Valjean's saintly nature comes too late, however, to save Valjean's life.

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