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.”


Les Miserables 88: War Between Four Walls

lesmiserablesLast time we saw Jean Valjean in his National Guard uniform heading out to the fighting after having his world rocked learning of Cosette’s love for Marius.  Now, as is typical for the pattern of the story, Victor Hugo breaks off into an expositional aside.  But as we are nearing the climax of the story, this aside is very brief.

Hugo fast-forwards to the revolution of 1848.  Keep in mind that this book was written several decades after the events described took place.  At the time Hugo wrote this book, 1848 was already in the rearview mirror by a couple of decades.  Hugo analyzes the 1848 revolution as an unfortunate instance of the people biting off the hand that feeds it, as it were, revolting against the very principles by which they are able to have a voice in how society is run.

Hugo then goes on to describe two barricades that arose during this conflict.  One was three stories high and seven hundred feet long, a massive pile built out of paving stones, rubble from demolished houses, carriage wheels, and any other such items as could be found.  Another was made out of paving stones built into a perfectly smooth wall with loopholes for guns.  In describing the contrast between these two barricades:

The barricade Saint-Antoine was the tumult of thunder; the barricade du Temple was silence.  Between these two redoubts there was the difference between the terrible and the ominous.  The one seemed a gaping mouth; the other a mask.

Admitting that the gloomy and gigantic insurrection of June was composed of an anger and an enigma, you felt in the first barricade the dragon, and behind the second the sphinx.

The barricade of the Rue de la Chanvrerie was a small rough draft by comparison to these two, but for the time it was formidable.  This is how Hugo leads us back into the story.  Here we find the insurgents taking stock of their situation after having repulsed the first attack.  Enjolras is leading the effort to repair the barricade; though Marius had been appointed the leader he was not good for anything as he was deeply troubled by all the events that had brought him to the barricade, and so the leadership has fallen back to Enjolras.  The kitchen of the bistro was converted to a hospital.  Mabeuf, laid out on a table and covered with a black cloth, and Javert, tied to a post, were in the lower room.  The others were outside, behind the barricade, talking.

It was around 2 AM, and the sun was beginning to rise.  Sunrise comes early in Paris in June, much earlier than it does here in Georgia.  The insurgents were full of hope, having repulsed the first attack so easily.  They imagined that a regiment would join them in the morning and by the end of the day all Paris would be in revolution.  But Enjolras dashed their hopes after returning from his reconnaissance.  Several legions of the Army were headed their way and would probably attack in an hour.  The ardor of the people had cooled since yesterday afternoon, so there was no help to be expected.  He then asked for volunteers to leave the barricade.  He and Combeferre brought out the National Guard uniforms taken from the dead soldiers, enough for four people.  But no one wanted to leave the barricade.  Combeferre then got up and made an impassioned speech.  He spoke stirringly of mothers sick with worry over their children, daughters and younger sisters given over to prostitution, and babies dying of malnutrition.

Marius had been taking it all in, but due to the intensity of his grief, he was zoned out:

Marius, hungry, feverish, successfully driven from every hope, stranded on grief, most dismal of shipwrecks, saturated with violent emotions and feeling the approaching end, was sinking deeper and deeper into that visionary stupor that always precedes the fatal hour when voluntarily accepted.

A doctor might have studied in him the growing symptoms of that febrile absorption known and classified by science, and which is to suffering what ecstasy is to pleasure.  Despair too has its ecstasy.  Marius had reached that point.  He witnessed it all as from outside, as we have said, the things that were occurring before him seemed remote; he saw the whole, but did not notice the details.  He saw the men going back and forth through a bewildering glare.  He heard the voices speak as from the depths of an abyss.

But one thing reached him.  He was going to die, but it was not forbidden for him to save another.  So he spoke up.  Under the weight of Marius’s words, some began to inform against each other.  Eventually they reached a unanimous consensus on five individuals who should be allowed to leave the barricade.  But there were only four uniforms.  Now they had to choose one to stay.

In all of this, recall that everyone in that barricade was under a death sentence.  Barring a miracle, no one in that barricade was making it out alive.  But four people now had the opportunity to escape with their lives.

And then, a fifth National Guard uniform appeared on the pile, as if dropped from heaven.  It was Jean Valjean’s.  Valjean had entered the barricade.

Les Miserables 87: The Rue De L’Homme Armee

lesmiserablesWe now return to Jean Valjean.

When he received the note that said “Move Out”, given to him by Eponine as we recall, he believed that he was being pursued.  He was already on edge because of the rising political tension in the city and the increased police presence, and this note put him over the edge.  He immediately made plans to move to the place in the Rue de l’Homme Armee.  Cosette objected but to no avail, so great was the danger Valjean believed himself to be in.

Because Valjean wanted to slip out quietly, he waited until nightfall.  This left Cosette time to write a note to Marius, which we saw last time.  Eponine kept this note and didn’t give it to Marius until she was dying in the barricade.

The next day, after he and Cosette were settled in the Rue de l’Homme Armee and everyone had had a good night’s sleep, he felt much more at ease.  In his mind, he could see no obstacle to continuing his happy life with Cosette.  They would go to England for a few months, wait for the situation in Paris to cool off, and everything would be good.

At certain moments, everything seems impossible; at others, everything appears easy; Jean Valjean was in one of those happy moments.  They usually follow after the bad ones, like day after night, by that law of succession and contrast that lies at the very heart of nature, and which superficial minds call antithesis.  In this peaceful street where he had taken refuge, Jean Valjean was relieved of all that had been troubling him for some time past.  From the very fact that he had seen a good deal of darkness, he began to glimpse a little blue sky.  To have left the Rue Plumet without complications or incidents was already a piece of good fortune.

…Cosette was his nation.  Cosette was enough for his happiness; the idea that perhaps he was not enough for Cosette’s happiness, this idea, once cause of fever and insomnia, did not even occur to him.  All his past griefs had disappeared, and he was in full flush of optimism.  Cosette, being near him, seemed to belong to him; an optical effect that everybody has experienced.  He settled in his own mind, and with great ease, the departure to England with Cosette, and he saw his happiness rebuilt, no matter where, in the landscape of his reverie.

Then he saw a sight that rocked his world.  Cosette had left the blotter she had used to write her letter to Marius out on the sideboard when they first arrived at the Rue de l’Homme Armee; it reflected in the mirror so that Valjean could clearly see what Cosette had written.  The effect on him was devastating.  He did not know Marius’s name, but he knew it was him.  In his grief at losing Cosette he began to feel hatred of Marius rising up inside of him.

After he had firmly established that the young man was at the bottom of this state of affairs, and that everything stemmed from him, he, Jean Valjean, the regenerated man, the man who had so labored on his soul, the man who had made so many efforts to resolve all life, all misery, and all misfortune into love; he looked within himself and saw a specter, Hatred.

Great griefs contain dejection.  They discourage existence.  The man they enter feels something go out of him.  In youth, their visit is dismal, in later years it is ominous.  Alas, when the blood is hot, when the hair is black, when the head is erect on the body like the flame on the torch, when the sheaf of destiny is still quite full, when the heart, filled with a fortunate love, still has pulsations that can be responded to, when we have before us the time to atone, when all women are there, and all smiles, and all the future, and all the horizon, when the strength of life is complete, if despair is a fearful thing, then what is it in old age, when the years rush along, growing bleaker and bleaker, at the twilight hour, when we begin to see the stars of the tomb!

Earlier in the day, the servant Toussaint had mentioned fighting in the city.  Now Valjean asked her where it was, and she told him it was over in Saint-Merry.  He then was seized by the impulse to go outside.  So he went outside, sat down and listened while brooding with his thoughts.

Recall that several chapters earlier, on that same day, M. Mabeuf was down to the last of his money.  He asked his servant, Madame Plutarch, what the noise was and she said there was fighting over near the Arsenal.  So he went out and began to wander the city.  We saw what happened to Mabeuf.  Now Valjean is leaving the house, faced with a similar grief, with the fighting off in the distance.  We will see what happens to him later.

But first, recall that Gavroche had left the barricade, sent by Marius with his response to Cosette’s letter.  Gavroche entered the Rue de l’Homme Armee, singing loudly and busting out streetlamps with rocks as he went.  He found Valjean and gave the letter to him.  Valjean went back inside and read the letter.  In his emotional turmoil, all he was able to process was Marius’s last line:  “–I will die…When you read this, my soul will be near you.”  First, Valjean was overjoyed.  Marius was going away on his own, without his having to do anything.  Recall that everyone in that barricade was under a death sentence; barring a miracle, no one would make it out alive.  Marius knew this.  And so did Valjean.  All he had to do was let events take their course, and soon he would have Cosette all to himself.  Just like at Montreuil-Sur-Mer when he was mayor M. Madeleine and all he had to do was keep quiet and let events take their course and an innocent man would go to prison in his place.  We saw Valjean struggle with that and ultimately decide to go to court and declare himself.  So we can guess that in this situation, Valjean will probably not sit back and just let events take their course.  Sure enough, Valjean begins to feel gloomy, and in just a few minutes he is out the door, dressed in his National Guard uniform.

We return to Gavroche, headed back towards the barricade, wandering the streets in a carefree manner, singing loudly and slinging stones at streetlamps.  He steals a cart from a homeless person, but causes such a racket that he awakens the National Guard.  They come at him, but he heaves the cart at them and in the confusion he escapes.

Les Miserables 86: The Grandeur of Despair

lesmiserablesLast time we caught up with Marius and followed his despondent journey from the Rue Plumet where he had failed to meet Cosette, to the barricade where his friends were.  We tracked with Victor Hugo as he painstakingly related Marius’s itinerary through Paris, and experienced a breathtaking description of the city on the verge of war as seen from the sky, of Marius entering into successive layers of increasing darkness as he approached the barricade.  We left him just outside the barricade, struggling with himself as to whether or not he would take the final step that would put him inside the barricade.

In all of this, it is easy to lose sight of an important reality:  No one who went into that barricade was going to make it out alive.  Barring an extraordinary miracle, all who were in that barricade were doomed to death when the better-armed and better-numbered Municipal Guards arrived.  (That is, unless the people themselves joined in the fight on the side of the student insurgents.  But as we have seen from events thus far, particularly the confrontation between Le Cabuc and the old man in the house at the end of the cul-de-sac, that is probably not going to happen.)  We must keep that reality front and center as we follow the action from here on out, because that is what is hanging over everyone in that barricade.  That is what is hanging over Marius as he hesitates over whether or not to take the final step and enter the barricade himself.

At this point we rejoin the others inside the barricade.  Gavroche has just returned from scoping out the area–and just in time.  The Guard was on the march, and quickly approaching the barricade.  In the initial melee, the flag at the top of the bus at the end of the barricade was shot down.  When the bullets subsided, Enjolras asked for volunteers to raise the flag again, but no one would do it.  Until the old man Mabeuf came out.  Mabeuf, upon arrival at the barricade, did not involve himself with the preparations, but instead went and sat with Javert in the room where he was tied up.  He looked down and sank into despondency–understandable, considering the story that had brought him to the barricade–and gradually into an unconscious stupor.  But the noise of the initial attack woke him up.  He went outside to see what was going on–just at the time Enjolras was asking for volunteers to raise the flag.  He agreed.

His presence produced some commotion in the group.  A cry arose:  “It’s the Voter!  It’s the Conventionist!  It’s the Representative of the people!”

Probably he did not hear them.

He walked straight to Enjolras, the insurgents fell back before him with a religious awe, he snatched the flag from Enjolras, who drew back petrified, and then, nobody daring to stop him or aid him, this old man of eighty, with shaking head but firm foot, began to climb slowly up the stairway of paving stones built into the barricade.  It seemed so somber and so grand that everyone around him cried, “Hats off!”  At each step it was terrifying; his white hair, his decrepit face, his large forehead bald and wrinkled, his hollow eyes, his quivering and open mouth, his old arm raising the red banner, surged up out of the shadow and loomed in the bloody light of the torch, and they seemed to see the ghost of ’93 rising out of the earth, the flag of terror in its hand.

When he reached the top of the last step, when this trembling and terrible phantom, standing on that mound of rubbish before twelve hundred invisible muskets, rose up, in the face of death and as if he were stronger than it, the whole barricade in the darkness seemed a supernatural, colossal image.

There was one of those silences that occur only in the presence of wonders.

Mabeuf yelled out in defiance.  The commander of the Guard gave the command for the insurgents to disperse, and then the soldiers fired.  Mabeuf was killed.  Courfeyrac recognized him and told Enjolras who he really was.  Enjolras gave a stirring speech about the old man’s bravery.  They carried his body into the bistro to tend to it there, and his bullet-riddled coat became their new flag.

Meanwhile the Municipal Guards pressed in upon the barricade yet again.  Bahorel was killed.  Courfeyrac and Gavroche would have been killed too, but their assailants were cut down by unseen bullets.  These came from Marius, who was just now entering the barricade.

Remember the lengths Hugo went to to make us aware that Marius still had the two pistols Javert had given him earlier in the story?  This is where the two pistols finally come into play.  One of them took down Courfeyrac’s assailant, the other took down Gavroche’s assailant.

Marius had been sitting outside, watching the first phase of the combat.  He saw Mabeuf raise the flag and get shot, he saw Bahorel slain, and when Courfeyrac cried out for help he could stand it no longer.  He took the final plunge into the abyss, and entered the barricade.

Marius threw down his discharged pistols, and then noticed a powder keg just inside the door of the bistro.  At that point a soldier with a musket took aim at him, but a hand stopped it.  It was the hand of the young workingman in the corduroy trowsers, whom alert readers will recognize as Eponine.  There is no time to dwell on this now, as the events of the battle are moving at breakneck speed, but we will come back to it later.  Meanwhile, the barricade was crawling with Municipal Guards.  In the smoke of the battle, Marius got the powder keg and brought it over to the other end of the barricade.  He dropped it into the spot where the torch had been, picked up the torch, and threatened in a very loud voice to blow up the barricade.  Something in his voice caused the Guards to think he was just crazy enough to actually do it, because they all cleared out immediately.

With the barricade cleared, the insurgents took stock of things.  Marius asked where the leader was, to be told by Enjolras that he was now the leader.

All day Marius had felt a furnace in his brain, now it was a whirlwind.  This maelstrom within him affected him as if it were outside his body and sweeping him along.  It seemed to him that he was already at an immense distance from life.  His two luminous months of joy and of love, terminating abruptly on this frightful precipice, Cosette lost to him, this barricade, M. Mabeuf dying for the Republic, himself a chief of insurgents, all these things appeared as a monstrous nightmare.  He was obliged to make a mental effort to assure himself that all this surrounding him was real.  Marius had lived too little as yet to know that nothing is more imminent than the impossible, and that what he must always foresee is the unforeseen.  He was a spectator of his own drama, as of a play one does not grasp.

They noticed that Jean Prouvaire was missing, and surmised that he must have been taken prisoner.  When they heard his voice and then heard the shots from down the street, their worst suspicions were confirmed.

While the other insurgents were inspecting the main barricade, Marius inspected the side barricade on the Rue Mondetour.  As he finished his inspection, he heard a voice.  He recognized the same voice that had called to him at the Rue Plumet, but by this point it was merely a breath.  He saw the young workingman in the corduroy trowsers lying at his feet in a pool of blood, and this time there is no doubt that it is Eponine.  Marius attempted to move Eponine but could not.  Eponine showed him her hand with the hole in it; that was the hand which had stopped the bullet aimed at Marius earlier.  At Eponine’s behest, Marius sat down with her.

What follows is a heartrending scene:

“Do you know, Monsieur Marius?  It bothered me you went into that garden; it was silly, since I was the one who showed you the house, and then, well, I surely should have known that a young man like you–”

She stopped, and, leaping over the gloomy transitions that were undoubtedly in her mind, she added with a heartrending smile, “You thought me ugly, didn’t you?”

She went on, “See, you’re lost!  Nobody will get out of the barricade, now.  It was I who led you into this, it was!  You’re going to die, I’m sure.  And still when I saw him aiming at you, I put my hand on the muzzle of the musket.  How odd it is!  But it was because I wanted to die before you.  When that bullet hit me, I dragged myself over here, nobody saw me, nobody picked me up.  I waited for you, I said, So, he won’t come?  Oh!  If you knew, I bit on my blouse, I was suffering so!  Now I’m fine.  Do you remember the day I came to your room and looked at myself in your mirror, and the day I met you on the boulevard near some working women?  How the birds sang!  It wasn’t so very long ago.  You gave me five francs, and I said to you, I don’t want your money.  Did you pick up your coin?  You’re not rich.  I didn’t think to tell you to pick it up.  The sun was shining.  I wasn’t cold.  Do you remember, Monsieur Marius?  Oh!  I’m happy!  We’re all going to die.”

At that point Gavroche let out a loud song while loading his musket.  Eponine informed Marius that Gavroche was her brother; up until then he didn’t know.  Eponine had a letter from Cosette that she had taken with the promise to deliver it to him; she had kept it because she didn’t want him to have it, but now that it was all over she gave it to him.  She then asked Marius to kiss her on the forehead after she died.

She let her head fall back on Marius’s knees and her eyelids closed.  He thought the poor soul had gone.  Eponine lay motionless, but just when Marius supposed her forever asleep, she slowly opened her eyes, revealing the somber depths of death, and said to him with an accent whose sweetness already seemed to come from another world, “And then, do you know, Monsieur Marius, I believe I was a little in love with you.”

She tried to smile again and died.

Marius kept his promise, and kissed her on the forehead.  He was able to justify this in his mind as a thoughtful gesture of farewell to an unhappy soul instead of disloyalty to Cosette.

Marius then went inside the bistro to read Cosette’s letter, because he couldn’t bring himself to do it in the presence of Eponine’s body.  Cosette attempted to inform Marius that she would be at the Rue de l’Homme Armee, and then in a week she and Valjean would be going to England.

At this point Hugo backtracks and briefly relates the events that brought Valjean and Marius to the present state.  When first relating these events a few chapters back, Hugo planted enough clues for alert readers to suspect Eponine’s hand in these events; now we see that those suspicions are correct.

As noted earlier, Eponine is a very complex character.  She is a Thenardier, so understandably she has at least some of the Thenardiers’ evil tendencies in her.  This explains her jealousy to Marius in leading him into the barricade, to what she thought would surely be his death.  But at the same time, unlike her parents or her sister Azelma (as far as we know), she does have some good in her.  We saw that earlier when she helped Mabeuf water his garden that night and when she found Cosette’s address for Marius, and we saw it again when she stopped the bullet to save Marius’s life.  But even in saving Marius’s life by stopping the bullet, her motivations were mixed and even quite dark–“it was because I wanted to die before you.”  A noble deed, because she was a good person, but with mixed and dark motives, because she was a Thenardier.

At this point Marius remembered the debt of honor his father Pontmercy had laid on him toward Thenardier.  Now knowing that Gavroche was a Thenardier, he wanted to make sure no harm came to him.  So he wrote a response to Cosette’s letter and sent Gavroche out to deliver it to her, thinking and hoping that he would miss the battle and spare his life.  But Gavroche had other ideas.

Les Miserables 85: Marius Enters The Shadow

lesmiserablesLast time we saw the students making their preparations at the barricade, and we saw a young boy whom alert readers should recognize as Eponine enter the barricade.  Now we will track with Marius.

When last we saw Marius, he was despondent because he had gone to the Rue Plumet to meet Cosette and she was not there.  The previous evening he had gone home to his grandfather to attempt to ask his blessing to marry Cosette.  That did not go well, so he was in horrible spirits that day.  But he consoled himself with the thought that at least he would get to see Cosette one last time that evening.  And then he found her gone without a trace.  Then he heard the voice of Eponine (alert readers would have recognized it as such but Marius did not) calling him to join his friends at the barricade.

That voice which through the twilight had called Marius to the barricade of the Rue de la Chanvrerie sounded to him like the voice of destiny.  He wanted to die, the opportunity presented itself, he was knocking at the door of the tomb, a hand in the shadow held out the key.  These dreary clefts in the darkness facing despair are tempting….

Mad with grief, no longer feeling anything fixed or solid in his brain, incapable of accepting anything henceforth from fate, after these two months passed in the intoxications of youth and of love, overwhelmed by all the reveries of despair, he had now one desire alone: to make a quick end of it.

He began to walk rapidly.  It happened that he was armed, having Javert’s pistols with him.

This is an apparently insignificant detail, yet Victor Hugo feels compelled to note it at this point.  So we can be sure that at some point later on, it will be significant for us to know that Marius is armed with Javert’s two pistols.

So Marius began his journey toward the barricade.  Hugo traces his route in painstaking detail, though Paris had changed significantly by the time he wrote this book and many of the streets he references were no longer in existence.  Certainly many of the streets he references are no longer in existence today.

At first Marius passed through areas where life was normal except that some carriages were proceeding off at a fast gallop.  Then he passed into areas where the shops were closing but the streets and houses were lit and people were carrying on as normal.  Then he passed into areas where all the shops were completely closed and all the houses were dark and the people in the street turned into a densely packed throng.  It was at this point that many of the merely curious turned back.  But Marius was on a mission.  Fueled by desperation coming from the loss of love and the determination to make a quick end of things, he pressed on to the barricade.  He pushed through the crowd and found a way to escape detection from the patrols at the edge of the insurgent quarters.

Finally entering the insurgent quarters, Marius entered into something much more terrible in that everything was completely dark and there wasn’t a single sign of life.  Along the way he passed an abandoned barricade which Hugo made reference to several chapters earlier, and he met a pair of horses which Bossuet had unhitched earlier in the day.  An omnibus had passed in front of the bistro Corinth, and Bossuet ordered everyone off, unhitched the horses, and turned the omnibus on its side in order to complete the barricade.

Marius left the horses behind him.  As he came to a street that felt like the Rue de Contrat Social, a musket shot coming from who knows where and passing at random through the darkness whistled by close to him, and the ball pierced a copper shaving bowl hanging in front of a barber’s shop.  This shaving bowl with the bullet hole could still be seen in 1846, in the Rue de Contrat Social, at the corner pillars of Les Halles.

This musket shot was still a sign of life.  From that moment on he met not another thing.

The whole route was like a descent down a flight of dark stairs.

Marius went on nonetheless.

At this point Victor Hugo pulls back and gives us an aerial view of the city as a bat or owl or other nocturnal bird might have seen that night.

All that old market district of Les Halles, which is like a city within the city, traversed by the Rues Saint-Denis and Saint-Martin, where a thousand little alleys cross each other and where the insurgents had made their stronghold and their assembly area, would have appeared to him like an enormous black hole dug out of the center of Paris.  There the eye fell into an abyss.  Thanks to the broken street lamps, thanks to the closed windows, all radiance ceased there, all life, all sound, all motion.  The invisible police of the uprising watched everywhere and maintained order, that is to say, night.  To drown the paucity of their number in a vast obscurity and to multiply each combatant by the possibilities that obscurity contains are the necessary tactics of insurrection.  At nightfall, every window where a candle was lit had received a bullet.  The light was extinguished, sometimes the inhabitant killed.  Thus nothing stirred.  There was nothing there but fright, mourning, stupor in the houses; in the streets a sort of sacred horror.  Even the long lines of windows and of stories were not perceptible, the notching of the chimneys and the roofs, the dim reflections that gleam on the wet and muddy pavement.  Any eye looking down from above into that mass of shade would have glimpsed here and there perhaps, at extended intervals, indistinct lights showing up broken and fantastic lines, outlines of singular constructions, something like ghostly glimmers coming and going among ruins; these were the barricades.  The rest was a lake of obscurity, misty, heavy, funereal, above which rose, motionless and dismal silhouettes, the tower of Saint-Jacques, the church of Saint-Merry, and two or three others among those great buildings of which man makes giants and night makes phantoms.

This is what Marius was entering into.  Though all was dark, there was a red glare in the sky, and this led Marius to the Rue de la Chanvrerie.  He entered via the winding Rue Mondetour, and just happened to come in on the one side that Enjolras had left open to the outside.  With only one more step to take to enter the barricade, Marius stopped short, sat down, and began to reflect.

He reflected on his father Colonel Pontmercy, who had fought valiantly in the fields, defending the frontier of France under Napoleon’s Republic.  He thought of all the places his father had been, all the battlefields around Europe where his father had left drops of his blood, all the discipline of a soldier’s life in service of the Republic.  Now, at last, the hour had come for Marius to be brave and face the bullets as his father had done.  But in civil war?  He reflected on his father’s sword, which his grandfather Gillenormand had sold at auction to a junk dealer.  He reflected that this was in fact a fortuitous turn of events, and that Gillenormand had been the true guardian of his father’s legacy.  Better that his father’s sword be turned into scrap metal than that he should carry it into a Frenchman-on-Frenchman conflict such as this.

But then he began to reflect upon Cosette, and his mind began to run down paths familiar to anyone who has experienced the loss of love.  He could not live without Cosette.  He had given Cosette his word that he would die if she went away.  But she went away.  She went away knowing this, so it must have pleased her that he should die.  Furthermore, it was clear that she no longer loved him, since she had left without so much as a note, even though she knew his address.  And then, to have come so close, to have come close enough to look inside the barricade and see all his friends, only to turn back and leave his friends in the lurch because he didn’t like the idea of being in a civil war.  To give cowardice the pretext of patriotism.  He imagined his father striking him with the flat of his sword and saying “Advance, coward!”

And then Marius’s mind began to shift.  He caught a new vision for the war he was about to enter into.  This was not a question of civil war or foreign war, of fighting for France, but a question of fighting for liberty, of just war or unjust war, of the hurrying future fighting against the lingering past.  Here again Victor Hugo’s views of history as advancing and progressing toward the ideal come out.  Any fighting which furthers that advance is just, while anything which is intended to impede or retard that advance is unjust.  The frontier was not a physical frontier but a moral frontier, where monarchy, despotism, divine right, and oppression are the enemy to be resisted.

With Marius just on the outside of the barricade, Hugo gives us a vision of what he saw there:

Even while thinking, overwhelmed but resolute, hesitating, however, and indeed shuddering in view of what he was about to do, his gaze wandered around the interior of the barricade.  The insurgents were chatting in undertone, without moving around, and there was the quasi-silence which marks the last phase of waiting.  Above them, at a fourth-story window, Marius made out a sort of spectator or witness who seemed strangely attentive.  It was the doorkeeper killed by Le Cabuc.  From below, by the reflection of the torch hidden among the paving stones, the head was dimly visible.  Nothing was stranger in that gloomy and uncertain light than that livid, motionless, astonished face with its bristling hair, its staring eyes, and its gaping mouth, leaning over the street in an attitude of curiosity.  One would have said that the one who was dead was gazing at those who were about to die.  A long trail of blood that had flowed from his head ran down in ruddy streaks from the window to the height of the second story, where it stopped.

Les Miserables 84: Corinth

lesmiserablesLast time we saw Enjolras and friends heading off to war.  Their group picked up several recruits along the way, including Gavroche, Mabeuf, and an older man whose identity no one was clear on.  They had intended to go to Saint-Merry and make a barricade there.  But, as Victor Hugo notes, mobs don’t go where they want.  They get swept up in the wind and go wherever the wind takes them.  For that reason, they overshot Saint-Merry and wound up at Saint-Denis.

Tucked away in the Saint-Denis neighborhood is a labyrinthine network of streets which includes the Rue de la Chanvrerie, which to all appearances is a cul-de-sac.  However it is cut across right near the end by a narrow winding street called the Rue Mondetour.  At this corner, overlooking the end of the Rue de la Chanvrerie, is a bistro called Corinth.  None of this is in existence nowadays; all these streets were torn up and redesigned just a few decades later.

Hugo takes a timeout to relate the history and traditions of the bistro Corinth.  This place was discovered by Grantaire and in time became a regular hangout of Enjolras and friends.  The founding chef died in 1830 shortly before the July Revolution, and the food was never quite the same.  But Enjolras and friends still continued to hang out and drink there.

Early on the morning of June 5, 1832, Grantaire, Joly, and Bossuet were hanging out at Corinth.  Grantaire was already wasted, having downed two bottles of wine and working on a concoction of bourbon, stout, and absinthe.  Eventually a gamin, a friend of Gavroche’s, brought word from Enjolras to Bossuet that Lamarque’s funeral procession was starting.  The three decided to pass on the funeral and wait for the insurrection to follow.  So they sat tight and later Enjolras and friends arrived.

They immediately went to work building a barricade at the intersection of the Rue de la Chanvrerie and the Rue Mondetour to cut off the cul-de-sac at the end where the bistro Corinth was located.  They also built a side barricade along the Rue Mondetour.  At this point Grantaire was so wasted that he finally passed out.

After finishing the barricade and completing all the preparations, they waited.  Night came on.  Gavroche keyed in on the older man who had joined them at the Rue des Billettes.  This man had observed everything there was to observe about the barricade while the students were busy with preparations.  When he finished, he entered the bistro and sat down at the table with the least light.  Gavroche then began to observe this man, and a wave of recognition passed over him.  He pointed him out to Enjolras as an informant.  Enjolras, along with four large workingmen, confronted the man.  The man admitted to being a government official named Javert, and was immediately handcuffed.  He was searched, then tied up and fastened to a post in the center of the bistro.  Gavroche then left to scope out the surrounding area.

At this point Hugo relates a very disconcerting incident.  Mobs attract all sorts of people, and no one asks any of the others where they come from.  One older hanger-on by the name, or possibly the nickname, Le Cabuc, had joined up with the students at some point along the way to the barricade.  He was not known by anyone in the group.  He was very drunk, or at least pretending to be.  While on the barricade, he eyed a five-story house at the end of the cul-de-sac and suggested that they ought to be shooting from there.  The upper windows of that house would have commanded a view of the entire street, and from those windows they would have been able to make life miserable for anyone who tried to attack.  But the house was shut up.  Le Cabuc was not deterred.  He knocked on the door.  When no one responded, he seized a musket and beat on the door with it.  This roused an old man, who placed a candle in the fourth floor window and addressed Le Cabuc below.  He would not open the door, but he could not see that Le Cabuc had a gun.  So Le Cabuc blew his head off.

The porter did not finish.  The musket went off; the ball entered under his chin and passed out at the back of the neck, passing through the jugular.  The old man sank without a sigh.  The candle fell and was extinguished, and nothing could now be seen but an immovable head lying on the edge of the window, and a little whitish smoke floating toward the roof.

Enjolras heard the gun go off, and he was on Le Cabuc immediately.  When Le Cabuc would not kneel, he forced him to a kneeling position with superhuman strength unexpected in one so young.

Pale, his neck bare, his hair flying, Enjolras, with his woman’s face, had at that moment some inexpressible quality of the ancient Themis.  His flaring nostrils, his downcast eyes, gave to his implacable Greek profile that expression of wrath and chastity which from the point of view of the ancient world belonged to justice.

Everyone else that was on the barricade rushed out to join Enjolras.  They encircled him and Le Cabuc.  Enjolras gave Le Cabuc one minute to collect his thoughts.  But in that entire minute Le Cabuc did nothing but just sit there on his knees, blubbering like an idiot.  Finally Enjolras took his pistol and blew his brains out.

They heard the explosion, the assassin fell face forward on the pavement, and Enjolras straightened up and looked around the circle, determined and severe.

Then he pushed the body away with his foot, and said, “Throw that outside.”

Three men lifted the wretch’s body, which was quivering with the last reflex convulsions of the life that had flown, and threw it over the small barricade into the little Rue Mondetour.

The whole group was troubled by what they had just witnessed.  Enjolras spoke at length on the meaning of what he had just done, then instructed them to dispose of Le Cabuc’s body.

Let us add that, if we are to believe a police tradition, strange but probably well founded, Le Cabuc was Claquesous.  The fact is that after the death of Le Cabuc, nothing more was heard of Claquesous.  Claquesous left no trace on his disappearance.  He would seem to have been amalgamated with the invisible.  His life had been darkness, his end was night.

At this point a young workingman slipped into the barricade.  Courfeyrac had recognized him as the same youth who had called upon him at his apartment earlier that day.  Who was this youth?  From earlier descriptions, we know enough to know that it was Eponine.

Les Miserables 83: The Atom Fraternizes With The Hurricane

lesmiserablesIn this section we see young Gavroche off to war.  We first see him snatching a horse pistol out of a secondhand shop, then taking off down the street singing.

Who wrote this refrain that gave him the beat for his marching, and all the other songs he liked to sing from time to time?  We do not know.  Who knows?  They were his own, perhaps.  Actually, Gavroche kept up with all the current popular tunes, and mixed in his own warbling with them.  A sprite and a devil, he made a medley of the voices of nature and the voices of Paris.  He combined the repertory of the birds with the repertory of the workshops.

When last we saw Gavroche he had just finished helping his father Thenardier escape from prison.  He had let two young street urchins who, unbeknownst to him, were his younger brothers, spend the night with him in his elephant.  He returned to let them out, then asked them to return that evening if they had not found their home.  They did not return.  Twelve weeks went by and still they did not return.

As Gavroche continues down the street, we see him poking fun at a rich bourgeois and then a quartet of old ladies.  We then see him hurling a stone at the window of a barbershop–the same barber who had thrown him out on the evening he was with his younger brothers.

Gavroche then falls in with Enjolras and friends, who are on their way to the barricade.  Gavroche notices an old man with the group, who turns out to be M. Mabeuf.  When last we saw Mabeuf, he was wandering off in a daze after realizing that he had no money left and no more books to sell.  As he was wandering he met up with Enjolras and friends.  Courfeyrac recognized him because of Marius’s frequent visits to his home, and tried to persuade him to go home.  But when Mabeuf learned where they were going, he became all the more determined to join them.  His aimless wandering transformed into a firm, resolute march as he tried to keep up with them.

“What a desperate old man!” murmured the students.  The rumor ran through the assemblage that he was–a former Conventionist–an old regicide.

Note the tragic irony here:  Mabeuf, the most apolitical person in all of France, who had repeatedly expressed his revulsion for politics after seeing how it tore Marius’s family apart and robbed him of his father, was now indistinguishable from an old Conventionist taking to the streets to have his revenge against the Restoration monarchy.

Note also how the labels applied to Mabeuf here–former Conventionist, old regicide–harken back to another former Conventionist and old regicide whom we met near the beginning of the story.  This was the former Conventionist G—, whom the bishop Monseigneur Bienvenu met on his deathbed.  This man was a pariah who lived alone on the outskirts of his town.  He was greatly feared by his community, and the people whispered many terrible things about him.  The sight of Mabeuf on the march evoked similar fears and whisperings.  This linkage between Mabeuf and the former Conventionist G— only reinforces the tragic irony here.

More recruits joined the cortege.  Among them was a tall man with graying hair whom nobody knew.  Since Hugo feels compelled to single him out for specific mention at this point, we can be sure that he will have some significance later on.  Since the group just happened to be passing by Courfeyrac’s apartment he dropped off and went in to retrieve some forgotten items and met a young man waiting in the apartment.

At the same time a sort of young workingman, thin, pale, small, freckled, dressed in a torn workshirt, and patched corduroy pants, and who looked more like a girl in boy’s clothes than a man, came out of the lodge and said to Courfeyrac in a voice which, to be sure, was not the least like a woman’s voice, “Monsieur Marius, if you please?”

This matches descriptions of Eponine that we have seen earlier in the story.  Eponine was waiting for Marius, intending to bring him to the barricade.  Rather than continue to wait for Marius, she fell in with Courfeyrac and the group.