Les Miserables 89: What Horizon Is Visible from the Top of the Barricade

lesmiserablesLast time we saw Jean Valjean.  We saw his arrival at Rue de l’Homme Armee, Cosette’s despair over not seeing Marius again, and the effect of Cosette’s note on him, which ultimately led him to the barricade.

At this point there is a lull in the fighting.  Dawn has come but it will still be a few hours until people are awake.  Recall that in Paris the summer nights are much shorter than here in Georgia; it stays light until around 11 PM and the sun starts to come up around 2 or 3 AM.

Enjolras has mounted the barricade and he makes a lengthy speech on the revolutionary principles that they are fighting for.  Remember that Enjolras is the product of a specific era in history; it is interesting to consider his speech in light of where we are today.  He speaks of universal public education as a light that will melt away all of society’s ills; we in America have had universal public education for over a century and we might beg to differ with that.  Enjolras predicted that the twentieth century would be a happy time when men would no longer have to fear war or conquest; two world wars and the threat of nuclear annihilation for much of the century have pretty much put an end to that.

Recall that everyone in this barricade is for all intents and purposes under a death sentence.  Barring a miracle, no one is making it out of there alive.  Marius is very much aware of this, and is deeply troubled by it:

…nothing seemed any more to him now than a dream.  His understanding was troubled.  Marius, we must insist, was under the shadow of the great black wings that open above the dying.  He felt he had entered the tomb; it seemed to him that he was already on the other side of the wall, and he no longer saw the faces of the living except with the eyes of the dead.

How did M. Fauchelevent come to be there?  Why was he there?  What had he come to do?  Marius asked himself none of these questions.  Besides, since our despair has the peculiarity of including others as well as ourselves, it seemed logical to him that everybody should come to die.

Except that he thought of Cosette with a pang.

Marius recognized Valjean.  He only knew him as Fauchelevent; he did not know his true name.  But he felt powerless to go up and talk to Valjean; he could never bring himself to talk to him when he saw him with Cosette on the outside, and now it has been such a long time that he feels especially powerless to talk to him.

Enjolras went to check on Javert, the prisoner, down in the basement of the wineshop.  Javert requested to be laid down on a table like Mabeuf.  Four insurgents accommodated this request, while securing Javert’s bonds even more tightly.  Javert recognized Valjean, but even this had little effect on him:

While they were binding Javert, a man, on the threshold of the door, gazed at him with singular attention.  The shadow this man produced made Javert turn his head.  He raised his eyes and recognized Jean Valjean.  He did not even give a start; he haughtily dropped his eyelids and merely said, “Of course.”

 

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