"As for Fantine, she was happiness itself. Those beautiful white teeth had evidently been intended most especially for laughter. She carried in her hand, more often than she wore it on her head, a star bonnet with long white ribbons, and her thick golden locks, which so easily broke loose and were always having to be pinned up, might have been those of Galatea fleeing under the willows. Her lips were parted in delight. The corners of her moth, sensually upturned like an antique mask of Erigone, seemed to invite some bold advance, but long eyelashes cast their discreet shadow over their wantonness, as though to call it to order" (pg. 127)
This passage uses a number of strategies to convey Fantine's unique beauty. Beginning with a metaphor (equating Fantine to laughter itself), the passage then describes Fantine's quirky habit of carrying her hat rather than wearing it, which allows her beautiful hair to flow free. Additionally, the author makes allusion to Greek myths to convey her appearance: Erigone was a young woman who was seduced by Dionysus, and Galatea was a statue brought to life, who fell in love with her creator. Fantine's somewhat contradictory nature as a sweet and pure young woman who also has premarital sex is conveyed by the difference between her seductive mouth and her discreet eyelashes.
"Montfermeil is situated between Livry and Chelles, on the southern slopes of the high plateau separating the river Ourcq from the Marne. In these days it is a fair-sized town ornamented with stucco villas all the year round and with prosperous inhabitants on Sundays. In 1823 there were fewer villas and fewer contented citizens. It was then nothing but a woodland village with here and there a country house dating from the last century and distinguished by an air of opulence, wrought-iron balconies and tall windows whose small panes reflected different hades of green against the white of closed chatters" (pg. 338)
Montfermeil is the town where Cosette lives with the Thénardiers. Victor Hugo's vivid descriptions of French towns are a primary feature of the novel, and his description of Montfermeil is an excellent example of this.
"[Javert's face] consisted of a flat nose with two wide nostrils flanked by huge side-whiskers. A first glance at those two thickets enclosing two caverns was disconcerting. When Javert laughed, a rare and terrible occurrence, his thin lips parted to display not only his teeth but his gums, and a deep and savage furrow formed on either side of his nose as though on the muzzle of a beast of prey" (pg. 165)
Javert is like a beast of prey - uncompromising, operating according to a rigidly strict understanding of right and wrong. In fitting with this personality, he has a heavy, squat face. This passage also exhibits the tendency of Victor Hugo to describe his characters with an appearance that emphasizes their personalities.
"Each step he took was terrifying to watch, the white hair, the shrunken face with its high, wrinkled forehead, the deep-set eyes, the open, astonished mouth, the old arms lifting the red flag on high, these things rose up out of the darkness, seeing to grow larger in the ruddy glare of the torch. It might have been the ghost of '93 arising from the tomb and bearing aloft the flag of Terror. When he reached the topmost step, a quivering, terrible ghost, and stood on the pile of rubble racing twelve hundred invisible muskets, facing death as though he were stronger than death, the whole dark barricade acquired a new and awe-inspiring supernatural dimension. [...] 'Long life the Revolution!' [he cried.] "Long live the Republic! Fraternity, Equality - and Death!'" (pg. 956)
Completely destitute, Mabeuf decides that he will join the revolution. He becomes part of Enjolras' group. During the first standoff with the army, the red flag of the rebels is blown off the barricade. Courageously, Mabeuf retrieves this flag, though it means he loses his life. This quote describes the retrieval of the flag.
Mabeuf is fatally shot shortly after this outburst, but his courage inspires the rebels. In Hugo's description, this frail old retired churchwarden has become the incarnation of the French Revolution and the desire of the people for equality.
Les Miserables Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Les Miserables is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Valjean is an ex-convict who was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. Upon his release, he finds that he is treated like an outcast everywhere he goes in Paris. Nobody will give him work and he finds himself starving and walking the streets.