Les Miserables 65: Foliis Ac Frondibus

After describing the house on the Rue Plumet where Valjean and Cosette landed, Victor Hugo takes some time to describe the garden out in the front.  This garden was carefully cultivated while the judge who originally owned this house lived there, but it since fell into disuse and reverted back to its natural state.

It seemed as though this garden, first made to conceal licentious mysteries, had been transformed and rendered fit for the shelter of chaste mysteries.  It no longer had either bowers, lawns, arbors, or grottoes; a magnificent disheveled obscurity fell like a veil on all sides; Paphos had become Eden again.  Some secret repentance had purified this retreat.  This flowergirl now offered her flowers to the soul.  This coquettish garden, once so compromised, had returned to virginity and modesty.  A judge assisted by a gardener, a man who thought he was a second Lamoignon, and another man who thought he was a second Lenotre, had distorted it, pruned it, crumpled it, bedizened it, fashioned it for gallantry; nature had taken it over again, had filled it with shade and arranged it for love.

Before we continue, allow me to share with you how Victor Hugo concludes this chapter.  Just sit back and enjoy.

Algebra applies to the clouds; the radiance of the star benefits the rose; no thinker would dare to say that the perfume of the hawthorn is useless to the constellations.  Who could ever calculate the path of a molecule?  How do we know that the creations or worlds are not determined by falling grains of sand?  Who can understand the reciprocal ebb and flow of the infinitely great and the infinitely small, the echoing of causes in the abyss of being and the avalanches of creation?  A mite has value; the small is great; the great is small; all is balanced in necessity:  frightening vision for the mind.  There are marvelous relations between beings and things; in this inexhaustible whole, from sun to grub, there is no scorn; each needs the other.  Light does not carry terrestrial perfumes into the azure depths without knowing what it does with them; night distributes the stellar essence to the sleeping plants.  Every bird that flies has the thread of the infinite in its claw.  Germination includes the hatching of a meteor and the tap of a swallow’s beak breaking the egg, and it guides the birth of an earthworm and the advent of Socrates.  Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins.  Which of the two has the greater view?  Choose.  A bit of mold is a pleiad of flowers; a nebula is an anthill of stars.  The same promiscuity, and still more wonderful, between the things of the intellect and material things.  Elements and principles are mingled, combined, espoused, multiplied one by another, to the point that the material world and the moral world are brought into the same light.  Phenomena are perpetually folded back on themselves.  In the vast cosmic changes, universal life comes and goes in unknown quantities, rolling everything up in the invisible mystery of the emanations, using everything, losing no dream from any single sleep, sowing a microscopic animal here, crumbling a star there, oscillating and gyrating, making a force of light and an element of thought, disseminated and indivisible, dissolving all, save that geometric point, the self; reducing everything to the soul-atom; making everything blossom into God; entangling from the highest to the lowest, all activities in the obscurity of a dizzying mechanism, linking the flight of an insect to the movement of the earth, subordinating–who knows, if only by the identity of the law–the evolutions of the comet in the firmament to the circling of the protozoa in the drop of water.  A machine made of mind.  Enormous gearing, whose first motor is the gnat and whose last is the zodiac.

From here we transition to Cosette.  First, a few words about the relation between Eponine and Cosette would be in order.

Eponine is a foil to Cosette:  this means Eponine is everything Cosette is not and vice versa.  Through this contrast, Eponine helps Cosette to shine all the more brightly.

There are also echoes of the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) here.  In this story a rich man lived lavishly and enjoyed the good life while a beggar named Lazarus lived at his gate, living in misery and longing to eat what fell from his table.  Lazarus died, and was carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom.  The rich man died and went to Hades (I believe it was Sheol in the Jewish tradition).  There the rich man was in torment and he longed for Abraham to send Lazarus to touch his tongue with cool water and lessen his agony.  But Abraham would not do so:  ” ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ ”  (Luke 16:25-26)

Like the rich man, Eponine received good things while she was growing up with the Thenardiers, while Cosette, who shared the Thenardiers’ home with her, received only bad things.  Eponine certainly could have shared with Cosette the blessings that she received from the Thenardiers, or sought to mitigate the abuse that Cosette received, but she did neither.  Then Valjean, an angel (or certainly an angel in the making, at least), came and took Cosette away.  Now Cosette is comforted while Eponine is in agony.  Cosette receives good things from her adopted father Valjean, while Eponine has received nothing but bad things from the Thenardiers ever since their inn failed.  And on top of that, Cosette (who does not yet even know Marius) has won his heart while Eponine, who loves him immensely and even sacrificially, does not receive any affection or even attention from Marius.