Les Miserables

Les Miserables

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Les Miserables Volume 1, Book 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Chapter 1 On the afternoon following his visit with Javert, Madeleine goes to see Fantine, and summons Sister Simplice, a gentle, austere old woman, known for never having told a lie. The woman had grown affectionate towards Fantine. Madeleine asks her to continue to care for her, and then stays with Fantine for an entire hour. At one point, the doctor says that she is losing ground fast. Later that day Madeleine’s clerk sees him examining a map of France.
Sister Simplice is another of Hugo’s minor female characters, wholeheartedly good and obedient but also somewhat lacking agency or energetic spark. Still, she’s one of the few who treated Fantine with mercy, so Madeleine trusts her as he’s apparently making plans in another facet of his life.
Themes
Mercy vs. Judgment Theme Icon
Chapter 2 That night, Madeleine asks at the town stable for a horse and cabriolet (carriage) that can travel 20 leagues in a day. The owner remarks that he has only one horse that can do such a trip, and he gives Madeleine directions for keeping the horse alert. He asks where the mayor is going, but Madeleine doesn’t answer. He only asks how much the horse and cabriolet are worth, and gives the owner a bill for 500 francs when he tells him, as a guarantee. When he returns home, he paces his room all evening.
The narrator withholds from us exactly what Madeleine is preparing to do and where he’s preparing to go, allowing us to retain our own conjectures. The owner of the horse and cabriolet is similarly left in the dark. Madeleine attempts to conceal his traces as best he can, though as we’ve already seen, such an attempt may be hopeless.
Themes
Mercy vs. Judgment Theme Icon
Chapter 3 The narrator suggests that the reader must already know that Madeleine is Jean Valjean. Man bears infinity within him, he says, and like Dante before the door of hell, we now must hesitate but then enter into the soul of a human being: Valjean. He had been transfigured after robbing Gervais, his conscious saddened by the past but living in peace and hopeful. His only two desires were to conceal his name and to return to God. These goals made him kindly and simple, but sometimes clashed, such as when he used his notorious strength to save Fauchelevent. But this is the first time the two are in severe contradiction.
As he’s done before and will do again, the narrator emphasizes the importance of not being afraid to closely study the most frightening aspects of society and the human conscience. This fear is linked to darkness and thus moral confusion and ignorance. In attempting to erase his past, Valjean has been able to enact a great deal of good, but now it seems that he has not entirely redeemed himself, since his past has returned.
Themes
Love and Redemption Theme Icon
History, Revolution, and Progress Theme Icon
Valjean first turns instinctively to self-preservation. That night, he is faced with his conscience and with God. He is tormented and in anguish, fearing that his new life is on the brink of ruin. He could never have imagined that by confronting the phantom of Jean Valjean, the goodness of Madeleine would have emerged more respected than ever. He acknowledges that his proper place is in the galleys for the theft from Gervais, but then begins to think that his one danger—that he would be revealed as the true Valjean—is no longer a possibility, and through no active guilt of his own. Perhaps it’s Providence, he thinks, but feels despair rather than joy.
In confronting a new decision, Valjean is also confronted with his past choices, and now he must face the ways in which these past choices threaten to undo all the good he’s been able to accomplish in M.-sur-M. Does this good make up for the evil he’d done before? Does it make up for the theft from Little Gervais? Distraught at this choice, Valjean initially turns to “providence” as a way of not having to decide his own path—and of denying any responsibility for it.
Themes
Love and Redemption Theme Icon
Mercy vs. Judgment Theme Icon
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Valjean asks himself about his just-settled resolve, and confesses to himself that to “let things take their course” is just as sinful as acting. He does have another object in life, not just to conceal his name but to save his soul and become a just man. By morally murdering another man, he would become an assassin, but by surrendering himself to save him, he would actually achieve his own resurrection. He feels suddenly as if the Bishop is present. He decides he must go to Arras and reveal himself. Valjean begins to make preparations, writing a letter to his banker Laffitte. For the first time, he sees the two ideas that had ruled his soul—concealing his name and sanctifying his life—as totally distinct. He recognizes that the latter can only be good, but the first could turn bad and emanate from darkness.
Here Valjean turns back from denial to reality, understanding that in the moral system that he’s attempted to adhere to during his time in M.-sur-M., neither intention nor lack of direct responsibility can serve as excuses for not acting. This passage is full of Christian imagery of sacrifice, resurrection, and redemption, a connection further underlined by the fact that Valjean thinks of the Bishop as he tries to decide what to do. In addition, Hugo once again ties darkness to evil, as he links light to ultimate goodness.
Themes
Love and Redemption Theme Icon
Mercy vs. Judgment Theme Icon
Valjean feels on the brink of another crisis and grand test. He thinks that perhaps Champmathieu was guilty of stealing apples, and then again that his own heroism might allow mercy to be bestowed on him, but he soon remembers that the theft of little Gervais will count as a second offense after conviction, and commit him to life in the galleys. His choice, he realizes, is virtue on the outside and abomination within, or else the opposite. He reverts to his former stupor, finally recalling that he had resolved to inform against himself, before suddenly thinking of Fantine.
Even Valjean’s invocation of the Bishop cannot fully allow him to emerge from his internal turmoil. He desperately tries to think of ways out of the quagmire, but continues to come up against the system of justice that he’s constructed for himself. Only when he thinks of another person, Fantine, is this system of justice challenged in a meaningful way.
Themes
Love and Redemption Theme Icon
Mercy vs. Judgment Theme Icon
Justice and Injustice Theme Icon
Fantine adds a wrinkle to the ethics of Valjean’s plan—in fact, he’s been egotistical in only thinking of himself. If he denounces himself, the town could well descend back into ruin, and this woman would never see her child—who knows what would happen to the child. Again, Valjean repeats that Champmathieu is guilty of something, a theft, and that it would be absurd for him to denounce himself, and would lead only to much greater evil.
Now another wrinkle is added to Valjean’s mental tumult: would giving himself up ultimately be more selfish than continuing to conceal his identity for the benefit of Fantine and of the community of M.-sur-M.?
Themes
Love and Redemption Theme Icon
Mercy vs. Judgment Theme Icon
Justice and Injustice Theme Icon
Valjean turns the key in his cupboard and takes out his knapsack, which contains the possessions he had arrived at D--- with. He prepares to throw it into the fire. He catches sight of the Bishop’s candlesticks among the possessions, and is about to throw them in as well. He seems to hear a voice calling his name, beseeching him to complete this, destroy everything, forget the Bishop. Remain honorable and honored, the voice says, while another man bears your name. Valjean continues to pace back and forth, distraught and confused. He is terrified to leave the peaceful existence he has created here and return to the convict gang and ankle chain, especially now that he is no longer young. As he paces, he begins to simply ask himself two questions: should he denounce himself, or keep quiet? He feels that whatever he decides, something in him must die. By the middle of the night he has made no progress in reaching a decision.
The Bishop’s candlesticks, which Valjean has kept as one of his prized possessions ever since his encounter at D---, serve as a reminder of the mercy bestowed upon him by the Bishop, and a reminder of the new life path Valjean had promised to follow. By throwing the candlesticks and his other possessions away, Valjean would destroy some of the last items that could create a link between him and his former life, but he would also be rejecting the possibility given to him by the Bishop. The candlesticks are both the connection to Valjean’s past life and sins, and the symbol of his present and future, if he continues along the same path.
Themes
Love and Redemption Theme Icon
Mercy vs. Judgment Theme Icon
Justice and Injustice Theme Icon
Chapter 4 Valjean falls asleep and has a nightmare in which he’s in a vast plain with no grass, walking with his brother, whom he barely remembers. A man passes silently by them, nude with no hair and mounted on a horse, carrying a heavy switch. They turn onto another road and reach the village of Romainville. Valjean asks where they are, but no one answers. He wanders into the village, where all the streets are deserted and all the doors open, but behind each door stands a silent man, all of whom watch him pass. Finally, he sees a great crowd behind him approaching, and one person asks where he’s going, since he has been dead all along. He opens his mouth to answer, but no one is there, and he wakes up.
Hugo often uses dreams as a device for characters to work out what they should do, though a dream’s system of reason, cause, and consequence is different than that of waking life. Here, the overwhelming feeling of the dream is one of loneliness and alienation. Valjean is turned away everywhere, as he had been in D---, and the crowd behind him seems to reflect the judgment and condemnation that Valjean has felt for much of his life—and that he may fear will follow him even to his death.
Themes
Mercy vs. Judgment Theme Icon
Valjean goes to the window and thinks he sees low-hung stars, but they turn out to be the lights of the cabriolet (carriage). He tells his porter he’s arriving.
Having failed to make a decision, Valjean now finds at least part of the decision being made for him.
Themes
Mercy vs. Judgment Theme Icon
Chapter 5 Early that morning, the postman notices Valjean’s cabriolet speeding towards Arras. Still, Valjean himself still doesn’t know what he’ll do. Whatever the case, he should judge the matters himself, with his own eyes, at trial. He pauses at Hesdin shortly after daybreak, and meets a stableman who says that Valjean’s wheel has suffered serious damage, and he’ll need a day to fix it. Valjean says this is impossible—he must set out within the hour—but the stableman says he doesn’t even have a pair of wheels that will fit the axle. There is only an old wheelwagon, worth little, that would take two post-horses, but that would take until tomorrow as well. Finally, Valjean says he will go on horseback—but this horse won’t bear a saddle. After continuing to ask questions to determine if there’s any other way, Valjean feels an immense joy, and that Providence has intervened: there’s nothing else he can do.
The narrator often sets up a scene by taking on the perspective of a minor character or someone who never again appears in the book. This device helps to underline the interrelationship of decisions, and the inability for characters like Valjean to entirely erase their pasts, since there might always be a witness to their choices. Once again, Valjean grows relieved at the intervention of “Providence”—if his failure to arrive at the trial is beyond his control, it means that he cannot be forced to assume guilt or responsibility for what happens (even if what does happen turns out to be objectively unjust).
Themes
Mercy vs. Judgment Theme Icon
Justice and Injustice Theme Icon
At that moment, a young boy—who had been listening to the conversation and then ran off—returns with an old woman, who says she can let Valjean borrow her cabriolet. He shudders, but pays for the cart, and finally tells himself that he is not necessarily losing anything merely by going to trial. Near twilight, he reaches a town called Tinques, where a road-mender suggests he goes to an inn to rest and be guided through the cross-roads, an easier way to get to Arras. Stiff with cold and very hungry, Valjean wonders if he’ll even arrive before the end of the trial.
“Providence” has turned against Valjean once again, here in the guise of a young boy who, ironically, believes he is being kind and helpful. Valjean is still ethically suspended—he has not yet made a choice as to whether he should reveal himself at the trial or simply remain silent. Still, he seems to be implicitly punishing himself already through the cold, hard journey to Arras.
Themes
Mercy vs. Judgment Theme Icon
Justice and Injustice Theme Icon
Chapter 6 Fantine, on the other hand, feels joyful, despite having a painful night. She continually asks to see Madeleine. At three o’clock, when he usually comes, she waits for him, and feels melancholy when he doesn’t arrive. She begins to sing lullabies that she used to sing to Cosette. At six, the porter tells Sister Simplice that Madeleine had left and would not be back that evening. When Fantine hears what has happened, she beams, saying that he has gone to get Cosette. She begins to tell Sister Simplice all about her daughter. She grows rosy and lively, convinced that she’ll see Cosette in the morning. The doctor even says to the Sister that if he does arrive with the child, there might be a way of saving Fantine.
Fantine, her thoughts about the mayor having been utterly transformed, now remains steadfast in her trust that Madeleine will remain the key to her salvation, and to the protection of her daughter. Even Madeleine’s departure—whether or not he ultimately betrays himself—already seems to be an unsatisfactory compromise, given that Fantine’s health is quickly deteriorating, and the reader knows, even if she doesn’t, that she may not have much time to live.
Themes
Love and Redemption Theme Icon
Chapter 7 Near nightfall Valjean arrives at an inn in Arras. He asks a citizen passing by with a lantern where the court-house is. The man is going that way himself, but tells him that cases generally close at six. Valjean finally arrives in a large crowded hall: at the end of it is a massive closed door to the courtroom. The first lawyer Valjean approaches tells him that the jury has just finished: they’ve decided on jail for life. But then the lawyer continues to talk about the case—a woman’s infanticide. It turns out that the hall is still lit for another case, which began two hours ago—for a convict apparently guilty of theft. Seeing that nothing has been settled, Valjean breathes freely again.
The man whom Valjean encounters along the way serves as another suggestion that Valjean has arrived too late, and that he no longer needs to feel guilty or responsible. But when he learns that the jury has sentenced the man, he feels constricted rather than relieved, and then he feels a new sense of relief upon learning that the verdict has not in fact been handed down. Valjean’s feelings of guilt and responsibility are very complicated.
Themes
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As he listens to groups whispering outside the hall, he hears that all are convinced that the man had already been in the galleys, and would probably be condemned. He asks the usher when the door will be opened; he says it won’t be, since the courtroom is full. Valjean crosses the hall, his head hung and his internal conflict still raging. Then, he takes out a pen and writes “Madeleine, Mayor of M. Sur M.” on a note. He tells the usher to take it to the judge.
Now, when Valjean is faced with a possible way out of his quandary, he reacts to it not with relieved passivity but rather with a renewed desire to act. He even has to actively put his creativity into use to ensure that he makes it into the courtroom: here, taking advantage of his eminent position as mayor.
Themes
Justice and Injustice Theme Icon
Chapter 8 Madeleine is relatively well-known in the area, and the judge writes on the back of the note to admit him. Valjean follows the usher through to the judge’s chamber—the entry to the courtroom. He looks around, thinking of Fantine and Cosette. He gazes at the door to the courtroom, terrified, and then suddenly wheels around and goes back through the door he came in through. He paces back and forth, and then reenters the chamber. At once, not knowing himself how it happened, he finds himself in front of the doorknob. He seizes it and enters the courtroom.
Here, Madeleine’s most recent past does in fact serve as proof for his character (proof that his more distant past as a convict might nevertheless weaken). Madeleine’s choice now seems boiled down to two options: save Fantine and Cosette, or save Champmathieu. Finally, he chooses the latter, underlining his commitment to honesty in addition to justice.
Themes
Mercy vs. Judgment Theme Icon
Justice and Injustice Theme Icon
Chapter 9 At one end of the hall are the distracted-looking judges, and at the other, a crowd of lawyers, soldiers, and others, lit up by smoky lamps and candles: they create a severe impression. Valjean catches sight of the defendant, and thinks he’s looking at himself grown old, though colored by hatred and bitterness. Valjean is suddenly faced with real judges, gendarmes, and a gossipy crowd once again. He shuts his eyes and shouts “Never!” to himself.
Champmathieu is accused of being Valjean, and in fact, Valjean recognizes his past self in the man, showing the common fate of men subjected to the galleys. He feels that he himself is on trial, and the former world of judgment, condemnation, and misery rushes back into him, making him hesitate in his decision.
Themes
Love and Redemption Theme Icon
Mercy vs. Judgment Theme Icon
Justice and Injustice Theme Icon
History, Revolution, and Progress Theme Icon
M. Bamatabois (the dandy tormenting Fantine earlier) is one of the jurors, but Valjean cannot see Javert. The defense has just rested its case. The audience is excited by the prior three hours, in which they’ve heard damning condemnations of the defendant: Champmathieu shook his head or simply stared ahead. The crowd and jury both seem puzzled by the man’s seeming apathy, wondering whether he is dim-witted or crafty. The defense lawyer says that Champmathieu merely picked up some apples rather than stole them. The only evidence against him is his character as an ex-convict. Despite Champmathieu’s denial, the lawyer concedes that he is indeed Valjean, though saying this doesn’t prove he was the thief.
The trial makes clear how much the legal justice system allows people to witness and even take part in the judgment and condemnation of others, making them satisfied with themselves in their own freedom from such judgment. The narrator’s portrayal of the social aspect of justice is severe. This scene shows how difficult it can be for someone assumed to be a “convict”—this is the aspect of the story even the defense lawyer doesn’t question—to free himself from suspicion as a human being.
Themes
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Justice and Injustice Theme Icon
The district attorney, in turn, had taken the opportunity to eloquently detail the monstrousness of Jean Valjean—including the fact that he would even dare to deny everything this time around, against the words of five separate people.
The attorney’s eloquence serves not only to condemn the accused, but also to further inflame the passions of the audience and incite their desire for “justice.”
Themes
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Chapter 10 Finally, Champmathieu is asked if he has anything to add to his defense. He first seems not to hear the question, but then begins a rambling speech about his job as a wheelwright in Paris and the hardship associated with it. At the end he names several people who can confirm that he worked there. When he stops, the audience bursts into laughter, and Champmathieu stares at them before beginning to laugh himself—an inauspicious sign. In response to the district attorney’s and the judge’s questions, he continues to claim that he’s not Jean Valjean, finally bursting out that both of them are wicked, and that he does not know how else to prove that he isn’t Valjean.
For Champmathieu, the trial has been absurd: he’s listened to a litany of descriptions and condemnations of another man, and cannot see how to free himself from suspicion other than by describing in minute detail his own identity and his own past. But these details only seem absurd to the audience in turn. His laughter underlines the absurdity that he sees in this trial, though this is lost among the public and the jury.
Themes
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The district attorney reminds the jury of Javert ’s earlier testimony and of his upstanding character: Javert had said that he recognized the man perfectly. The ex-convict Brevet, as well, is placed on the stand and swears that he recognizes Champmathieu as Valjean, with whom he worked in the galleys. Two other convicts, Chenildieu and Cochepaille, swear the same thing, as Champmathieu shakes his head in amazement. After the third testimony, the audience breaks into an uproar: it is certain that the man is lost.
Javert’s character as a police inspector hell-bent on achieving justice gives him great legitimacy and accountability among the jury. It’s difficult to see how all these witnesses can claim that Champmathieu is really Valjean, apart from the general cloud of suspicion that is cast on anyone even thought to be associated with the prison system.
Themes
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Chapter 11 At that moment, Madeleine enters the courtroom. In the hour since he’s arrived in Arras, his hair has turned from gray to white. The audience hesitates, and Madeleine advances towards the three convicts, asking if they recognize him. They’re speechless and shake their heads. Madeleine turns to the jury and tells them to order the prisoner to be released and to have himself arrested: he is Jean Valjean. The audience remains entirely silent, while the judge whispers that a physician should be called. Madeleine thanks him but says he is not mad. He acknowledges that he robbed the Bishop and Gervais. He says that in the galleys he became both stupid and vicious before being saved by indulgence and kindness. He turns back to the convicts, reminding each of them of a detail of their time together in the galleys which only he could have known.
The change of Madeleine’s hair from gray to white underlines the acute moral quandary that he’s been facing for the past 24 hours. It’s not until this moment that Madeleine knows for sure whether or not he’ll betray himself. Even now, it’s only action that has replaced contemplation, and it’s unclear if Madeleine has even settled on his decision as the rational, ideal choice. Ironically, Madeleine’s affirmations, just like Champmathieu’s denials of being Valjean, are initially dismissed—but unlike Champmathieu, Madeleine has and is willing to use incontrovertible proof.
Themes
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Suddenly, it becomes evident that the man is indeed Jean Valjean. No one moves, and Valjean says that he will withdraw since he’s not being arrested, and he has much to do: the district attorney can have him arrested when he likes. He walks out the door, and an hour later, the jury frees Champmathieu, who goes off stupefied and uncomprehending.
Dismissal and then uncertainty have now been replaced by uncomprehending stupefaction. It initially appears as though Valjean’s earlier wish might be fulfilled, that his confession would absolve him and free him from retribution.
Themes
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