Les Miserables 62: A Few Pages of History

It has been a while since we’ve done one of these.  So before we jump back in, let me catch you up with where we are in the story.

Jimmy Swaggart was a Seventh-Day Adventist preacher and a very well-known televangelist with a huge TV and radio ministry.  He owned a waterslide in the northwest suburbs of Atlanta.  This was hugely successful, with much of its success driven by his TV and radio audience.

One day he had a vision of a 900-foot-tall Jesus who threatened to “call him home” if he did not begin to insist on “whole-hog conversions”.  In other words, if you were not a Seventh-Day Adventist and you wanted to ride the waterslide, you had to “go the whole hog” and convert to Seventh-Day Adventism before you could ride.  He even had a baptistry installed at the top of the waterslide to facilitate this.

Needless to say, the waterslide tanked after Swaggart began to insist on “whole-hog conversions”.

Whoops.  Wrong story.

Jean Valjean was fresh out of prison after serving 19 years for illegally downloading Chris Tomlin CD’s.  As he was walking across the countryside, he stopped to spend the night with a bishop named Gene Robinson.  When Robinson tried to make sexual advances, Valjean stole all his silver and escaped through the back door.

When Valjean reached the town of Montreuil-Sur-Mer, he sold all the silver and used the proceeds to open up a chop shop.  As his criminal influence expanded, he ultimately reached the position of mayor of Montreuil-Sur-Mer.  Until he was outed and arrested by a zealous police official named Javert for sexting pictures of Brett Favre to a local news reporter who turned out to be a prostitute named Fantine.

Valjean escaped and went to visit Fantine one last time before fleeing to Paris.  There he was shocked to find Jimmy Swaggart, who is in this story after all.  He grabbed Fantine’s daughter Cosette and fled to Paris.  There he ran into Thenardier while staying in a Motel 6 on the outskirts of town.  Thenardier and his criminal gang Patron-Minette attacked Valjean because Thenardier held a longstanding grudge against him.  Several years ago Thenardier had asked someone to recommend a place to get good ribs in Atlanta, and Valjean recommended Shane’s Rib Shack.

Meanwhile Cosette fell in love with a student named Marius.  Marius was heavily involved in a group of student revolutionaries who were demonstrating because their school had not been invited to the BCS championship game.

Okay, I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that this is not the real story.  Want to know the real story?  Read the book.

Prior to Marius falling in love with Cosette, we saw that his political passions had cooled.  He still retained feelings of devotion to his father and to Napoleon, but they were not as strong as before.  Victor Hugo attributes this in part to the events of 1830:

Marius’s political fevers were over.  The Revolution of 1830, by satisfying and soothing him, had helped.  His opinions remained unchanged, but without the fervor.

Indeed, the events of 1830 play a huge role in pushing things along to the climax of the story, in the lives of M. Mabeuf, Enjolras and the other Friends of the ABC, and in virtually all of Paris, for that matter.

For this reason, Victor Hugo stops after the climactic attack on Valjean by the Thenardiers to unpack these events.  Much of what he writes is his critique of the events, and much of it is obscure to people in the present day.  (Or maybe I should just speak for myself because I am the only one that it is obscure to.)  But be that as it may, this passage would have been understood quite well by people living in the 1860s when this book first came out, because the events of 1830 to which Victor Hugo refers were still fresh in everyone’s minds.

So what happened in 1830?

Some backstory:  In 1814 Napoleon was defeated and deposed.  At the Congress of Vienna which followed this, the powers of Europe met to discuss the fate of France.  Ultimately it was decided that France and all of Europe would revert to their pre-1789 borders and that the Bourbon monarchy would be restored to power in France.  Louis XVIII took over as king, under the condition that he sign a constitution which would place limitations on his powers and grant limited suffage to the people.

Louis XVIII was sensitive to the fact that much had changed with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era, and he conducted his reign accordingly.  He died in 1824 and was succeeded by his brother Charles X, since he had no children.  Charles X was much more conservative.  During his reign the Anti-Sacrilege Act was passed, which made it a crime punishable by death to desecrate the communion host in any way.  This, in effect, made the Catholic Church the state religion of France, even though the constitution of 1814 said that there would be no state religion.  In the summer of 1830 the July Ordinances were passed, which canceled suffrage and shut down all newspapers that were not loyal to Charles X.

In response to this, the people of Paris rose up in revolt.  This revolution lasted for three days, referred to in French as “Les Trois Glorieuses” (The Three Glorious Days), from July 27 to July 29.  Charles X was deposed and forced into exile, and Louis-Philippe, the duke of Orleans, was installed as king.

Louis-Philippe’s monarchy was called the July Monarchy.  It was a constitutional monarchy; the Charter of 1830 limited the king’s powers and granted suffrage to a greater number of people.  Louis-Philippe even referred to himself as “king of the French” rather than “king of France”, a recognition that his authority came from the people rather than from God, as previous kings held under the idea of divine right.

But there were problems right from the giddy-up.  Louis-Philippe faced pressure from both sides of the fence:  from a very strong Legitimist faction which demanded the reinstatement of the Bourbon monarchy, and from Republicans who were frustrated with the slow pace of reform under him.  All of this would come to a head with the revolution of 1848, which would lead to the Second Republic and then to Louis-Napoleon.

That, in a nutshell, is the story of the July Revolution of 1830.

Victor Hugo’s basic critique of the July Revolution was that it was a halfway revolution.  Charles X had gone too far in trying to take back royal powers that had been ceded in the constitution of 1814, and the people were right to rise up in revolt.  But why did they stop with the installation of Louis-Philippe as a substitute king?  This was an untenable solution, and one that would not last in the long term.

Foment was beginning to stir in the streets.  Secret revolutionary organizations began springing up like weeds and making preparations for the revolution that they believed was inevitable.  Among these was Enjolras’s group, the Friends of the ABC.

Towards the end of this section, Victor Hugo draws us back into the story by showing Enjolras seeking to make preparations for the coming revolution.  He gathers together his top assistants and sends them out to whip up revolutionary fervor in all the places where the Friends of the ABC recruit.  Grantaire, a dreamer, is upset with Enjolras because Enjolras won’t give him an assignment.  Finally, Enjolras reluctantly sends him to the Barriere du Maine.  A couple of hours later, Enjolras comes behind to check up on him, and what do you know?  finds Grantaire embroiled in a hot game of dominoes.