He [Myriel] sought to counsel and soothe the despairing by pointing to the resigned, and to transform the grief which sees only a pit into the grief with sees a star.
This quote describes Bishop Myriel's work of ministering to the poor. He combines charitable work and preaching, which endears him to the impoverished people of his district.
Despite dedicating nearly all his money and time, Bishop Myriel does not have enough resources to completely eradicate poverty; in some cases, the only thing he can offer is a better way to view grief, but this is still useful to the impoverished people of rural France. "Resigned" does not mean those who have numbly submitted to their horrendous situation, but rather those who have creatures a peace for themselves. This passage indicates that there are many different types of suffering. There is suffering in complete hopelessness, and there is another type of suffering in which the hope of brighter days still remains.
The notary who becomes a deputy, the hack playwright who produces a mock-Corneille, the eunuch who acquires a harem, the journeyman-general who by accident wins the decisive battle of an epoch. [...] All this is what men call genius, just as they call a painted face beauty and a richly attired figure majesty. They confound the brilliance of the firmament with the star-shaped footprints of a duck in the mud.
This quote offers the counterpoint to the character of Bishop Myriel. The opposite of this sincere and gentle man is a shallow and grasping personality, such as the bad writer who produces a cheap but popular work. This quote also demonstrates a particular vision of goodness: substance and integrity are far more importance than appearance or popular esteem. The emptiness of this idea is vividly demonstrating by the contrast between the stars and the footprints of a duck.
Did any voice whisper to him that he was at a turning-point in his life, that henceforth there could be no middle way for him, that he must become either the best of men or the worst, rise even higher than the bishop himself or sink lower than the felon, reach supreme heights of goodness or become a monster of depravity?
After Myriel pardons Valjean by saying that the stolen silver was a gift, Valjean is forced to reexamine himself. The terrible guilt he feels after stealing a coin from a child makes him realize that he cannot support himself through a life of crime anymore. He realizes that he must model his life on Bishop Myriel's generous life. Just as it was within his abilities to become a hardened felon who would steal from anyone, it is also within his power to become a man of great kindness and generosity.
The supreme happiness in life is the assurance of being loved; of being loved for oneself, even in spite of oneself.
In the last few years of Myriel's life, he becomes blind. But for this big-hearted man, blindness is not a terror or a trial; his sister, Baptistine, and his maid, Madame Magliore, care him for tenderly. Their enduring love for him warms his last days.
This passing meditation on the importance of love is one of the most famous quotes from the novel.
Had it not rained in the night of 17-18 June 1815, the future of Europe would have been different. A few drops of water, more or less, were what decided Napoleon's fate. Providence needs only a downpour of rain to make Waterloo the retort to Austerlitz. An unseasonably clouded sky sufficed to bring about the collapse of a world.
The wet earth caused by the rain made it impossible for the heavy artillery (such as cannons) to maneuver easily, and allowed time for Blücher, who was leading one of the reinforcements to the English side, to arrive. Napoleon's famous army was depended on artillery, but they were prevented from using it in this battle.
Victor Hugo includes a substantial interlude (an entire chapter) on the events and significance of Waterloo, of which this quotation is a part. At stake in the battle of Waterloo was the future of the French empire built by Napoleon - his defeat at Waterloo resulted in the reinstatement of the monarchy in the form of the Bourbon kings.
This quote also demonstrates the strong emphasis in Les Misérables on small details, the tiny chance acts that change the course of a life.
We are not among those who sing the praises of war; we tell the truth about it when the need arises. War has tragic splendors which we have not sought to conceal, but it also has its especial squalors, among which is the prompt stripping of the bodies of the dead. The day following a battle always dawns on naked corpses.
This quotation is also from the chapter where Hugo meditates on the significance of Waterloo. It demonstrates the realistic attitude of the book; it does not shy away from portraying the degradation of human suffering, but it also highlights the ways that such suffering can provide the chance to achieve glory.
The pupil dilates in darkness and in the end finds light, just as the soul dilates in misfortune and in the end finds God.
Describing the last days of Jean Valjean, this quotation compares the way in which the pupil expands to bring in more light to see with the way that the soul expands to bring in God during times of misfortune. This quotation also offers a succinct summary of the primary message of the book: the ways that misfortune can break down human beings, but also offer an opportunity for divine growth.
There are people who observe the rules of honor as we do the stars, from a very long way off.
Combeferre speaks these words towards the end of the battle of the barricade. The revolutionaries know that they have lost, and they focus on making a heroic last stand.
It is a charming quality of the happiness we inspire in others that, far from being diminished like a reflection, it comes back to us enhanced.
This quotation describes the emotional state of Valjean and Cosette in the convent. She is allowed to see him for one hour everyday, and she comes running to see him in delight. Her joy inspires even greater joy in Valjean; Cosette is happy that she has inspires such happiness in him. This is also an example of the numerous powerful observations of human nature that pepper the book.
In a word, they wanted Progress, that hallowed, good, and gentle thing, and they demanded it in a terrible fashion, with oaths on their lips and weapons i their hands. They were barbarous, yes; but barbarians in the cause of civilization. [...] For our part, if we had to choose between the barbarians of civilization and those civilized upholders of barbarism, we would choose the former.
This quote describes the general public feeling of unrest before the social uprisings of the early 1830s. The people want Progress; they want an end to poverty and suffering, and they are willing to resort to violent means to get it. The narrative does not explicitly sanction violent action in the favor of Progress, but it is also does not condemn it. Sudden uprisings of violence in the service of revolution are deemed preferable to the slow burn of violence that is necessary to maintain the status quo. This quote emphasizes the centrality of Progress in the narrative: movement towards greater human actualization, decreased poverty, increased power for the people. It also offers an example of Hugo's use of the royal "we" to introduce his own opinions in the narrative.
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.