Chapter 1 Winter arrives and Marius has still failed to find the girl, who has ceased to come to the Luxembourg. He is melancholy and despairing, berating himself for following her and thus being suspected by the father. One night he joins his friends at a ball, desperately hoping he might see her there, but he returns dejected and fatigued. Another day he catches sight of a man dressed like a workingman in the Boulevard des Invalides, whose white hair reminds him of M. Leblanc. But Marius cannot get a better look, and finally decides he was seeing things.
Marius has realized that he bears much of the blame for having lost track of the young woman, since he wasn’t careful enough and probably caused her father’s suspicion. Knowing Valjean as we do, we are less surprised than Marius at Valjean’s eagerness to change disguises and attempt to conceal his past once more. It’s quite likely that he is in fact the workingman Marius spotted.
Chapter 2 The only remaining residents of the Gorbeau house are Marius and the Jondrettes, whose rent he’d once paid. One night Marius is walking along when two wild-looking young girls in rags jostle past him and whisper that the “bobbies” have come: they have to run away. Then he sees they’ve dropped a package, but he cannot find the girls again. Marius thinks gloomily about how young girls used to appear to him as angels, but now only as ghouls.
His act of paying the Jondrettes’ rent had been the first intimation that Marius, though self-absorbed, was ultimately charitable and generous at heart. Still, Marius’s somewhat self-absorbed reaction in the face of the girls’ desperation suggests that he hasn’t entirely matured.
Chapter 3 That evening, he finds the package in his pocket and decides to open it in case he sees the address. In it are four letters, addressed to various wealthy philanthropists in Paris and signed by four different names. They all ask for money and describe number of wretched circumstances. All are written by the same hand, and none includes an address. Marius is too melancholy to try to solve this mystery, and he flings the papers away. The next morning, there is a knock at his door, and he hears the broken, hoarse voice of an old man: he opens and sees a young girl.
Once again, Marius’s obsession with finding the young girl and continuing the happy summer of his love prevents him from clearly understanding the situation around him. In this case, it’s obvious that there is something to be suspected in the undifferentiated appeals to multiple philanthropists—appeals apparently delivered by the two young girls in rags he’d seen on the street.
Chapter 4 The girl is skinny and frail, pale with missing teeth, though with the remains of beauty now dying away. The girl addresses Marius by name, though he doesn’t know her, and gives him a letter in which Jondrette thanks him, as he’s just found out that it was Marius who paid his rent six months ago. Jondrette says they haven’t had bread for four days and asks for a slight favor.
Once again, ugliness and misery are linked in the novel, as it is suggested that misery has done its best to wipe away any last remnant of beauty. Though Marius had been too wrapped up in his own love to piece together the mystery, the mystery has now come to him through this girl.
Marius suddenly understands the letters from the night before: this one is in the same hand. Jondrette evidently takes advantage of the charity of benevolent people and sends his daughters off to collect alms. His game has made the girls into a kind of impure but innocent under-species. Marius watches the girl wander around the room and feels pity for what she could have been. She cries out that he has books, and swears that she knows how to read. She and her sister were not always as they are now, she says.
The narrator clearly places the blame for the exploitation of wealthy philanthropists entirely on the shoulders of the Jondrette father. His two daughters are considered to be only more victims of his manipulation. This characterization underlines the general theme in Les Misérables of the particular misery of women, who are often taken advantage of and have few protections in place in society.
Marius tells the girl that he has a package that belongs to her. She’s delighted, saying that she’s been looking for it everywhere: now perhaps she’ll get breakfast today. Marius searches his pockets and finally finds five francs, which with 15 sous is all he now owns: he gives 5 francs to the girl, and, delighted, she departs.
Only by inviting the girl directly into his home and interacting with her does Marius finally take pity on her. This direct interaction invites his generosity.
Chapter 5 Marius realizes that he hasn’t known true misery. He reproaches himself for the passions and contemplations that have prevented him from seeing the true misery just next door. In fact, if he hadn’t been so dreamy he would have realized that he can hear everything from the other side of the wall: there’s a hole in the plaster. Now he peeps in to look.
Thanks to the arrival of the young Jondrette girl at his doorstep, Marius now begins to understand the extent of the misery around him, and begins to emerge from the self-absorption that has long characterized his youth.
Chapter 6 Marius’s own chamber is shabby, but neat. The hovel he now sees is sordid and dirty, with dark nooks holding insects and who knows what else. Near the table is a small haggard man with a cunning, cruel air, sitting with pen and paper and writing more letters. A large middle-aged woman is crouching near the fireplace, reading a romance, next to her daughter, a puny, ragged 14-year-old.
Like the contrast between physical beauty and ugliness, the contrast between cleanliness and dirt has moral implications in Hugo. He implies a kind of moral darkness in the sordid, grimy hovel where the Jondrettes live.
No trace of work can be seen in the hovel, and the man is grumbling about other wealthy people. The woman comforts him, though she clearly retains only ashes of affection for her husband.
The narrator suggests that laziness on the part of the Jondrettes means that they, rather than others, hold the full blame for their misery.
Chapter 7 Marius is about to duck back down when the door bursts open and the eldest sister walks in to the filthy room. Breathlessly, she announces that the philanthropist from the church of Saint-Jacques is coming in a fiacre (small carriage). She’s given him the address. First, the father doesn’t believe her, but then his eyes light up and he tells his wife to extinguish the fire. He tells his daughter to pull the straw off the chair: she doesn’t understand, so he kicks it through. He tells the smaller girl to break a pane of glass; she strikes it and begins bleeding, and sobbing. The wife chastises him, and the man says this is better—he foresaw that. An icy wind whistles through the room, and the father says they’re ready for the philanthropist.
Clearly, Jondrette has employed his two young daughters in his attempts to wring money out of others. This is a shrewdly exploitative move, taking advantage of their youth and pathetic air so that he’ll get more out of it. Though Jondrette is apparently looking for the philanthropist’s generosity to bring him out of his misery, getting the funds out of him now becomes Jondrette’s one obsession, such that he’ll make the hovel look even more wretched, with a sobbing young daughter to boot, just to ensure greater generosity.
Chapter 8 After a pause, Jondrette cries that if the philanthropist isn’t coming he’ll have done all this for nothing. He hates those who make people like them wait, he says—rich men who must have stolen their money. Then a white-haired man and a young girl appear on the threshold. Marius is blown away: it’s the young girl whom he hasn’t seen for six months.
In a coincidence characteristic of Hugo, several plot strands meet again here, though we’ve had hints (such as the porter telling Marius of Leblanc’s generosity) of this earlier. Jondrette’s comment is ironic, given his own cheating and scheming.
Chapter 9 The old man tells Jondrette that he’s brought a package with new clothes and blankets. In a low voice, Jondrette asks his daughter which name he’d signed that letter under. When she answers, Jondrette introduces himself as Monsieur Fabantou and makes up a wild tale about his fall into misfortune. He pinches his younger daughter so that she starts sobbing again, and he tells the old man that she cut her hand working for six sous a day at a factory. Jondrette suddenly tells his wife in a low voice to take a good look at the old man, as he continues to complain about all of his woes and his debts of sixty francs for his rent (a lie). M. Leblanc throws five francs on the table, and says he will return that evening at six o’clock with sixty francs. He also leaves behind his coat for the family.
Jondrette has attempted to wring charity out of so many people, under so many different guises, that he’s unable to remember which mask he had donned to ask money from this particular philanthropist. Again, Jondrette has an almost theatrical flair in his manipulation of his family for material benefit, intentionally hurting his daughter so that she’ll appear even more wretched and miserable, and so inspire more charity. Marius can immediately grasp that Jondrette is lying, since it was Marius himself who paid the rent several months earlier.
Chapter 10 Marius had remained fixated on the young girl for the entire scene. She seemed like a kind of vision in light. When she departs, his sole desire is to follow her, but he realizes that M. Leblanc will see him. Still, Marius decides to take the risk and run out the door to follow the couple in the fiacre. He can’t afford the carriage, though, as he has only 16 sous with him, and he bitterly watches the fiacre depart. As he returns, he sees from across the street Jondrette speaking with an ominous-looking man, a man of the street: Panchaud, alias Printanier, alias Bigrenaille, a famous rascal who later would become notorious.
Although Marius has slowly developed an interest in the Jondrette family, with its wretched daughters and scheming father, at the sight of the young woman from the Luxembourg he returns to his single-minded obsession on how not to lose her again. Because of this, he’s unable to see the full significance of several clues, such as Jondrette’s meeting with a criminal, part of the “Patron-Minette” group.
Chapter 11 Marius returns to his room and sees the elder Jondrette girl there. She now seems hateful to him, since he had given her the five francs he could have used for the carriage. He harshly asks what she wants, and she raises her eyes dully to ask why he looks sad. Marius tells her to leave him alone, but she says he was kind this morning, and asks him if she can do anything for him. Marius asks her to find the address of that gentleman and his daughter. Gloomily, she says he must wish to know the beautiful lady, but she will find the address for him.
Ironically, because of Marius’s love for the young woman, he feels bitter and bemoans his generosity (another element of love) towards another person. Though Marius is too wrapped up in his own struggles to realize it, the reader quickly understands that the elder Jondrette girl must feel for him something like what he feels for Mademoiselle “Lanoire.”
Marius drops into his chair as the girl leaves, but suddenly he hears Jondrette’s voice exclaim that he is sure he recognizes the man. Perhaps Jondrette is speaking of M. Leblanc, Marius thinks, and he springs back up to the peep-hole.
Once again, Marius’s interest in the Jondrette intrigue stems almost uniquely from his feelings for the girl, and the hope that he’ll find out more about this personal mystery.
Chapter 12 The woman turns to Jondrette and asks if he’s sure. He says he is—the man hasn’t grown old. Jondrette tells his daughters to be off, but to return at five o’clock, as he’ll need them then. The young lady, Jondrette says to his wife—it is “she.” Rage, hate, and surprise mingle in the wife’s face, and she exclaims at the unfairness of this girl’s fine clothes when contrasted to her own daughter’s misery. She’d like to kick in the beggar brat’s stomach, she cries.
For Marius, this scene is largely inexplicable. He cannot know the existing relationships between the Jondrettes and the father and daughter, although we as readers can probably guess. Marius is aware only of the wrath and hatred directed towards the father and daughter by both the Jondrettes.
In a low voice, Jondrette says that his fortune is made: he’s had enough of misery. The man will come back at six o’clock to bring 60 francs. There’s no one in the house, and the man will give in. If not, they’ll fix him, Jondrette says, laughing. As he prepares to leave, he tells his wife to prepare a charcoal stove, while he goes off to buy something in the ironmonger’s shop.
Now, even if Marius is unable to fully grasp how the Jondrettes know the father and daughter or why they feel so hostile towards them, he is now certain about what the Jondrettes are planning—or at least that they’re planning nothing good.
Chapter 13 Now, Marius sees clearly the nature of these monsters, and knows that the young girl and her father must be saved. It’s one o’clock and he has five hours: there’s only one thing to be done. He departs for the Rue du Petit-Banquier, where he hears voices from across a wall, two ruffians who are saying that Patron-Minette’s assistance means that the affair can’t fail. Marius continues on to Rue de Pontoise, No. 14, thinking that if it wasn’t for the five francs he had given to the sister, he never would have heard Jondrette’s plan and thus been able to save “Ursule.”
Once again, Marius finds himself at the intersection of various plots and schemes. He’s unable to grasp the significance of all of them, but his presence allows the narrator to better acquaint the reader with the stakes—for instance, the involvement of Patron-Minette in the affair. Again Marius’s generosity is mainly valuable to him insofar as it helps him save “Ursule.”
Chapter 14 At the address he asks for the police commissary. He’s presented to the inspector, a tall man with a thin, firm mouth and searching glance. Marius tells him that a person whom he only knows by sight is about to be tricked into a trap. He, a lawyer, had heard it all, and there would be some accomplices, including Bigrenaille. There was no way of warning the threatened man. Patron-Minette must have had a hand in this, the inspector mutters, and notes that he knows the Gorbeau hovel. The inspector asks Marius to give him his pass-key, and gives Marius two small pistols. He tells him to hide in his chamber so that the Jondrettes think he’s gone out: he’ll keep watch, and when matters have reached a crisis, he should fire a shot. As Marius leaves, the inspector tells him that his name is Inspector Javert.
Marius takes advantage of his position as a lawyer (not that he’s practiced as one) in order to justify his story and gain greater legitimacy as he tells the inspector what is admittedly a somewhat vague tale. The inspector seems to know more than Marius about the dark underworkings of Paris, though he’s not acquainted with as many of the facts as the reader. By only revealing at the chapter’s end that the inspector is none other than Javert, the narrator introduces a level of dramatic irony. The reader knows that there is a greater danger than what Marius is aware of.
Chapter 15 A few moments later, Bossuet and Courfeyrac are ascending the Rue Mouffetard when they see Marius. They’re about to call out to him when they realize that he’s following a man with a gray cap—in fact, Marius is following Jondrette. He sees him emerge from a shop holding a huge chisel. Then he returns to his chamber alone.
As usual, the narrator rapidly shifts perspectives and points of view, such that the reader gains an almost bird’s-eye view of what is happening in this particular neighborhood of Paris, where the stakes of Jondrette’s plan seem to be rising.
Chapter 16 At five o’clock, Marius’s heart is beating hard, and only the feeling of the hard pistols in his pocket make it seem like this isn’t a dream. Jondrette has just returned, and he tells his wife that the mouse-trap is set. He orders his daughter to go into the neighbor’s room to see whether he’s in. Marius crawls silently under the bed, and the eldest daughter walks into the room. She smiles into the mirror, humming as she looks at herself and calling over to her father that she’s looking under the bed and furniture, and there’s no one there. She shuts the door behind her.
Already Marius has changed from a silent observer to an active participant in this affair, thanks to his feelings for the young “Ursule” girl. Here, Marius is saved by the adolescent vanity of the eldest Jondrette girl, who would rather look at herself in the mirror than fully follow her father’s instructions to seek out every possible obstruction to his careful plot.
Chapter 17 Marius springs back up to the peep-hole, and sees the hovel entirely illuminated by the reflection from the burning charcoal stove in the fireplace. The chisel bought by Jondrette that day is heating in the charcoal, and by the door is a heap of old iron and a heap of ropes. The hovel is the most isolated chamber in the most isolated house in Paris’s most deserted boulevard: ideal for a crime.
The various strands of Jondrette’s preparation for the “crime” begin to take on ominous proportions, as Marius has to wonder what the charcoal-heated chisel will be used for. The narrator suggests just how isolated the darkest corners of Parisian existence can be.
Jondrette tells his wife to fetch two chairs from the neighbor’s room. Marius has no time to hide, but he’s leaning against the wall in shadow. The wife comes in, takes the two chairs without looking up, and departs without seeing him. Jondrette then sends his wife downstairs to keep watch. His own scowling, conniving face is illuminated by candlelight.
Marius is once again saved by the absent-mindedness of the Jondrette women, suggesting that they lack the father’s totally careful, conniving nature. Here light serves a somewhat different purpose than usual, exposing Jondrette’s true character in his face.
Chapter 18 Six o’clock strikes, and Jondrette begins to pace. Then M. Leblanc arrives and lays the sixty francs on the table. Leblanc sits down, and Marius feels horror but no fear, thinking he’ll be able to stop Jondrette whenever he wants.
Marius believes himself to be in a position of power, given that he holds several pistols and knows Javert to be just outside, but the reader realizes that there is a greater danger.
Chapter 2 0 Leblanc asks after the younger, wounded girl, and Jondrette says she’s very bad, but will return shortly from the hospital with her wounds dressed. Jondrette launches back into his complaints about his descent into wretchedness, for which he is not to blame. As he speaks, Marius notices a man in a vest with no shirt, tattooed arms, and face smeared with black, enter the room. Leblanc asks who it is, Jondrette says it’s a neighbor. He says he has a painting to sell, a picture of great value. Leblanc is clearly beginning to feel a bit uneasy as Jondrette shows him the painting, and his glance returns to the other end of the room, where four grim-looking men are now sitting on the bed.
Jondrette once again takes on his theatrical persona, taking advantage of what he sees as the inevitability of his triumph to listen to himself prattle on and await the entrance of the Patron-Minette men. With their faces smeared with black, these men’s disguises are meant to conceal their true identity, but they also underline their acquaintance with evil by suggesting they are emerging from the depths of society, where darkness accumulates like sediment.
Jondrette sweetly asks Leblanc for 1,000 crowns for the picture. Leblanc springs up. In a plaintive tone, Jondrette continues to talk about his misery, with his eye fixed on the door. Suddenly, with no transition whatsoever, the man draws himself up, lunges towards Leblanc and cries, “Do you know me?”
“Leblanc” can clearly tell that something’s wrong, but immediately Jondrette switches registers: from a swindling attempt to wring money from him, to delivering a dramatic revelation from the past.
Chapter 20 The door has just opened, and three masked men enter. Jondrette asks if everything’s ready, and they say it is. Leblanc has turned pale, and is scrutinizing the room around him. Three of the original men arm themselves with the irons and place themselves across the entrance. Marius raises his hand towards the ceiling, preparing to shoot his pistol. Jondrette remarks that Leblanc doesn’t recognize him: Leblanc looks him straight in the face and says no. Jondrette advances towards him and exclaims that he is the inn-keeper Thenardier. Leblanc’s face flushes, but he says he still does not know him.
It’s not entirely clear whether Jondrette is more interested in exposing “Leblanc’s” identity, getting money out of him, or taking revenge on him for the past—or a combination of all three. The stranger, as we know, must step gingerly in this situation, as once again, his past has returned to haunt him, and his ability to establish a new life for himself and Cosette is threatened. His only recourse is to refuse identification with the past.
Meanwhile, Marius is trembling in every limb, and almost drops his pistol. This man is the one he’s sought in vain, his father’s savior, who now he realizes is only a ruffian. Now he’s at the point of having the man seized and delivered to the executioner, precisely the opposite of what his father had asked. It is a mockery of his father’s last wish, and yet, shuddering, he knows that if he doesn’t fire, Leblanc will be sacrificed. Should he ignore his father’s testament or allow for a crime to happen? He feels that he’s going mad, and his knees give way.
Marius—the one who can save Leblanc, though only at the expense of allowing Javert to barge in (a potentiality that may prove even more harmful)—finds himself strung between totally opposing moral obligations. Like Valjean having to decide whether to sacrifice himself for Champmathieu or remain in charge of a newly thriving town, Marius understands that there’s no real correct path—only a choice between evils.
Meanwhile, Thenardier is pacing in frenzied triumph, crowing that it was the old man who came to his inn in 1823 and carried off Fantine’s child from him—a sanctimonious child-stealer who stole a girl from whom he could have extracted enough to live on his whole life. Now he’s taking his revenge, and he laughs at the man’s gullibility in going along with his ruse. Thenardier pauses, panting, and Leblanc says only that he is mistaken—he is a poor man rather than a millionaire, and Thenardier must only be a villain. Thenardier cries that rich men call people like him villains, only because he hasn’t had enough to eat. He was at Waterloo, he claims, where he saved a general, a nameless general who was no better than the rest, and now he is owed all the money he can get.
Now the reader is able to make the explicit connection between Thenardier, Jean Valjean, and “Leblanc,” even if Marius himself remains in the dark. For Thenardier, anyone who prevents him from extracting as much money as he can is a “criminal.” His argument that he’s only considered a villain because he’s not able to get enough to eat is, for the narrator, a weak one. The narrator has shown the truth of such a statement for other characters, but the book generally stresses complexity and nuance, and does so here by refusing to grant Thenardier the status of society’s innocent victim.
Marius shudders at Thenardier’s avowal, and at the reproach against his father. Marius now has no more doubt on his identity. He looks at the picture that Thenardier had told Leblanc to purchase: he can recognize a battleground and a man carrying another—it’s Pontmercy and Thenardier at Waterloo.
In growing convinced that Thenardier is who he says he is, Marius is both resolved in and more troubled by what he should do, given that his father’s savior is not a hero but in fact a despicable villain.
Leblanc has followed all Thenardier’s movements. Suddenly he overturns the table and chair and leaps into the window. He’s half out by the time the six men drag him back in. Bigrenaille lifts a lead bludgeon. Marius silently asks his father to forgive him as he prepares to shoot the pistol, when suddenly Thenardier shouts not to harm Leblanc. Leblanc lashes out at Thenardier, sending him tumbling across the room, and manages to overthrow two other men before four others seize him and tie him to the bed. When Thenardier calms down, he begins to speak to Leblanc again, noting that he has not uttered any cry. It must be because he doesn’t want the police to come—he must be hiding something. They should thus be able to come to an understanding.
Even outnumbered seven to one, Leblanc nearly manages to escape, a testament to the remarkable strength developed in the galleys, which he’s employed before to more benign uses. Now, though, he’s trapped, and Marius nearly decides against loyalty to his father—though he ultimately is saved from having to. Thenardier has shrewdly picked up on Leblanc’s strategy, familiar as he is with the ruses necessary to escape the police—another example of the complexity of crime and ethics, since Thenardier and Valjean do still have some things in common.
The man remains impassive, and Marius admires his stoicism and refusal to despair. Thenardier says he doesn’t want to ruin the man: he’s asking only for 200,000 francs, which can’t be a huge amount for the man. He places a piece of paper and pen in front of Leblanc and tells him to write a letter to his daughter, “the Lark,” saying he’s in absolute need of her, and she must come immediately. He signs it Urbain Fabre. Thenardier seizes the letter and sends his wife out with several of the men to fetch the girl.
Given the stranger’s behavior when he took Cosette away in Montfermeil, Thenardier is confident that he can extract a high sum from him—a goal that he equates in importance with recovering his pride and taking revenge on the man. Cosette, whom the Montfermeil residents called “the Lark,” is the lynchpin in this carefully plotted ruse.
Only five of the men remain. They don’t seem to take pleasure in the crime, instead acting with ennui. They wait in silence. Marius wonders whom “the Lark” could be, now knowing that the “U” refers to her father. In any case, he knows that if he continues to wait he’ll see her come, and will give his life for her.
The narrator suggests that for seasoned criminals like the Patron-Minette gang, darkness becomes habitual, and crime has less to do with the thrill of the act than with the maintenance of a certain ethical status and lifestyle.
Thenardier tells Leblanc that he assumes the Lark really is his daughter. The girl will follow his wife to a fiacre, and the men will lead her to a place where she will be released as soon as the 200,000 francs are handed over: if not, his comrade will take care of her. Marius is struck dumb, unable to decide if he should shoot the pistol. But the man of crime is out of reach, and he worries that the Lark will be killed if he has Thenardier arrested.
Thenardier believes he’s outsmarted Leblanc, taking advantage of what he knows to be the man’s love for Cosette in order to get what he wants. For Marius, similarly, his love for “the Lark” is stronger than his desire to have Thenardier arrested, whatever his transformed opinions on his father’s “savior” are.
The Thenardier woman rushes into the room, shouting, “False address!” The old man has duped him, she cries. Marius breathes freely. Thenardier quietly asks the prisoner what he expected to gain through a false address, and the prisoner cries out, “Time!” He shakes off his bonds, grabs the red-hot chisel from the fire, and brandishes it. Later, a large sou piece cut into a knife (Valjean’s hidden tool to escape his chains) would be found in the apartment. But he’s still held to the bed by one leg.
Once again, Thenardier is at least partially outsmarted by Valjean, who uses all the tools and disguises at his disposal—including tricks probably learned in prison, such as the ability to hide a small knife in an inconspicuous coin. The narrator thus suggests that, even as his crimes continue to haunt him, Valjean can still justifiably gain from his past.
The prisoner says that all these men are wretches, but his life is not worth defending. He lays the burning chisel on the bare flesh of his arm, and Marius reels in horror, but the man looks serenely and without hatred at Thenardier. He tells the wretches not to fear him more than he fears them, and hurls the chisel from his wound through the window, remaining disarmed. The husband and wife deliberate on what to do, and Marius hears them say in a low voice that they can only cut his throat. Marius has been struggling to find some way of uniting his contradictory impulses, but now realizes that there is none. Suddenly he has an idea: he sees a sheet of paper written that morning by the eldest of the Thenardier daughters, saying “The bobbies are here,” and thrusts it through the crevice. The wife claims she saw it fall through the window, and they see that it is Eponine’s handwriting. Thenardier cries that they must leave through the window. He heads that way, but Bigrenaille seizes him and says they should draw lots to see who will go first. Thenardier exclaims that he’s mad. Suddenly, they hear a voice behind them: it’s Javert.
Valjean’s motivation in laying the burning chisel on his arm is not entirely clear. In choosing suffering, he may be showing those around him that he doesn’t fear pain or death, but rather wants to escape for other reasons—most likely having to do with his mandate to love and protect Cosette. In any case, this unexpected move proves shocking to the Thenardiers, and gives Valjean a bit more time before being overwhelmed by the other men. For the first time, Marius actively intrudes in the scene, finally conquering his ethically-undecided conscience and deciding on the side of “Leblanc” and “the Lark”—the side that also, according to the narrator’s perspective, has the advantage of lying on the side of light and moral goodness. This is a position in which, interestingly, loyalty plays little part.
Chapter 21 At nightfall, Javert had ambushed the house on all sides, seizing Azelma who was outside the house, but not Eponine, who had escaped. He had been waiting for the agreed-upon signal, but finally grew impatient and used Marius’s pass-key to go upstairs himself. He enters the room and tells the men there are 15 policemen—they shouldn’t try to fight. Thenardier points his pistol at Javert, who says he’ll only misfire: he shoots, and does misfire. A squad of policemen, armed, rushes in and handcuffs all the men. Madame Thenardier rears up, shielding her husband with her body, as she grasps a paving-stone above her head and threatens to crush whomever approaches. Javert advances, and she throws the stone: he ducks, and then handcuffs them both.
Javert, as we well know by now, will stop at nothing to find and arrest criminals. The Patron-Minette gang is a particularly enticing catch, operating as it does as a kind of underground web of crime. The narrator has suggested before that Javert’s single-minded pursuit of legal justice is not as unquestionably ethical as it might seem, but here, Javert clearly occupied the moral high ground when compared to the Thenardiers, who are growing increasingly desperate (though Madame does show striking loyalty to her husband).
Javert greets the six handcuffed ruffians merrily, greeting them all by name. Then he asks for the gentlemen’s prisoner to step forward. The old man, however, has disappeared through the window—the rope ladder is still shaking. Javert grits his teeth and says that he must have been the most valuable of all.
As we’re aware, perhaps the only thing worse for Valjean than being caught by Thenardier would be being found by Javert. Javert may not know who slipped through his fingers, but he’s aware of the missed opportunity.
Chapter 22 The following day, a small boy, pale and clad in rags, is walking up the Boulevard de l’Hopital. He jostles against an old woman, whom he exclaims he mistook for a huge dog. She straightens in a fury, but the boy slips away and continues to the Gorbeau hovel, where he tries to kick in the door. The boy says he’s come to see his ancestors. The old woman, Madame de Bourgon, says no one is there anymore: they are all at different prisons. The boy scratches his head, and turns on his heel, singing a ditty.
This boy, we’re meant to assume, is the same as the “street urchin” whom the narrator described in detail in an earlier section of the book—a ruffian but also a child, and so to be considered with compassion. It’s through this “gamin,” a classic Parisian type, that we learn of the disintegration of the Thenardier family.