Les Miserables By Victor Hugo Summary and Analysis Part 2: Cosette: Book V, Chapters 6-10

Summary

Jean Valjean maneuvers through the back streets of Paris like a hunted deer. He has no destination, no plan; he simply wants to throw Javert off the scent. Instead of leading him to freedom, his labyrinthine escape route brings him to a police station, where Javert picks up three allies and gives the alarm.

Valjean beats a hasty retreat and momentarily confuses his pursuers. When he reaches the Austerlitz Bridge, he is detained at the tollgate and consequently observed by the gatekeeper. He continues his headlong flight, but Cosette's exhaustion impedes his progress. Then, tragically, he is trapped. The street he is following forms a "T" with another street, terminating on the right in a dead end and barred on the left by a police lookout. Behind him, invisible but terribly present, Javert inexorably advances.

Frantically casting around for an avenue of escape, Valjean notices a vast building that might possibly serve as a refuge, but the windows are barred, the pipes rickety, the doors unyielding. In his desperation, he decides to climb the walls and miraculously finds a rope to aid him — the rope that lowers and raises the gas street-lanterns so that they can easily be lit. He cuts it, ties it around Cosette's body, takes the other end between his teeth, throws his shoes and socks over the wall, and then climbs it like a cat-burglar at the spot where the wall forms an angle with another building.

When he reaches the top, he pulls Cosette up, jumps on the roof of a building leaning against the wall, clambers down what appears to be a linden tree, and winds up in a garden. Outside, Javert's voice barks imperative orders. The garden in which Valjean has arrived is vast and depressing. He distinguishes a big building with barred windows and, in the distance, the silhouette of other buildings. Suddenly an eerie sound breaks the silence, a hymn sung by an ethereal choir.

The winter wind begins to blow and Cosette shivers; Valjean wraps her in his own coat and then starts out to explore the grounds. As he peers through one of the windows, a macabre sight paralyzes him with terror. In a deserted room, a human form is lying prone on the floor, motionless, covered with a shroud, its arms in the shape of a cross.

He returns to Cosette panting with fright and sits down next to her; she has fallen asleep. His loving contemplation of the child is broken by the ringing of a little bell, and he sees a man limping alone in a melon patch, bending and rising rhythmically, accompanied by the sound of the bell. Valjean has no time to examine the mystery, for he suddenly notices that Cosette's hands are nearly frozen. She is not dead, as he at first fears, but her breathing is shallow. There is obviously an urgent need to find her warmth and a bed.

Valjean does not hesitate. He goes straight to the man in the garden and shouts to him, "A hundred francs if you give us shelter for the night." Unexpectedly, the stranger answers, "Well! It's you, M. Madeleine!" and continues to chat with Valjean like an old friend. Valjean, astonished, recognizes Fauchelevent, the old man whose life he saved when he was trapped under a cart. Fauchelevent explains that they are in the garden of the convent of Petit-Picpus, where he is gardener. He is still very grateful to "M. Madeleine" for saving his life and left Montreuil before Valjean's true identity was discovered, so he readily agrees not only to keep Valjean's secret but to harbor him and Cosette. A warm bed in his cottage brings Cosette back to consciousness, and a glass of wine and a frugal meal revive Valjean.

While they rest, Hugo explains Javert's uncanny arrival on the scene. There is really no mystery about it. When Valjean "drowned," the police suspected he might really have escaped and would, like many fugitives, head for Paris. Javert was called to Paris to assist with the hunt because he knew Valjean by sight, and his subsequent zeal and intelligence earned him an appointment to the Paris police force. Some time later, Javert came upon the report of the kidnapping of a little girl from her guardians, the Thénardiers, at Montfermeil. He suspected it was Jean Valjean who had taken Cosette away and subsequently learned that at the Gorbeau House there lived an old bourgeois whose "granddaughter" came from Montfermeil. Thoroughly suspicious now, he disguised himself as the old beggar one evening and identified Jean Valjean.

Analysis

Once again we see Jean Valjean fleeing, as he fled from Digne and from Montreuil, but this time something in his silhouette is different — he is carrying a child as he flees. No longer the solitary thief, he takes on the appearance of a St. Christopher, a man defined not by what he is but by what he carries and how he bears his burden. But as Hugo points out, Jean Valjean's burden is in itself its own reward. In taking on Cosette, he expects responsibility, but what he gets is love. Jean Valjean may be an apprentice saint, but as a social human being he is stunted because his criminal past has cut him off from the society of others. Cosette too has been stunted by cruelty and neglect. Together, however, they can form their own society and expand in heart and soul through the experience of loving each other.

Throughout Part Two, Hugo's palette is somber, and in both the episode of Cosette's trip to the well and that of the "night hunt," we have scenes of darkness only fitfully touched by light that resemble the scene in the bishop's bedroom in Part One. However there is a contrast in mood and movement between the two darkness scenes in Part Two. The total darkness at the well is sinister, and Cosette escapes it by moving into the moonlight where she meets Jean Valjean, then into the firelight at the inn where he protects her. In the "night hunt," it is the fitful moments of light that reveal Jean Valjean to his pursuers that are sinister, and the total darkness into which he plunges on the other side of the wall in the Rue Droit Mur spells safety.

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