Les Miserables

Les Miserables Summary and Analysis of Part Four: The Idyll in the Rue Plumet and the Epic of the Rue Saint-Denis (Chapters IX - XII)

Chapter IX: Where Are They Going?

Valjean ponders his safety and his next move. He has seen Thénardier wandering about the neighborhood. Ironically, Valjean is more threatened by the law than he is by criminals: political unrest has provoked an increased police presence, and Valjean fears that he could be identified. He has also noticed a mysterious note on the wall of his garden: "16 Rue de la Verrerie."

The reader knows that this is simply Marius' address, which he has written so that Cosette can find him, but to Valjean it is a threatening cipher. As Valjean sits and ponders these developments, a note from Éponine falls into his lap. "Move," it says. Deeply shaken, Valjean decides that he must do just that.

Marius wanders the streets in despair after leaving his grandfather's house. He has exhausted all of his possibilities. He is going to lose the love of his life; Cosette will move to England and he will never see her again. Absentmindedly, he takes Javert's pistol (which the police officer gave him during the Thénardier affair) with him. All around him, the rumblings of a great uprising are beginning; people are rushing about, barricades are being constructed, slogans are being shouted. Marius is only dimly aware of all of this.

Marius arrives at Cosette's garden to say goodbye, but the house is already empty. Marius is stunned, a falls on the bench like a man who has received a mortal blow. Then a dim figure whispers, "Marius, your friends are waiting for you at the barricade in the Rue de la Chanvrerie." Having nothing else to live for, Marius decides to head this message.

Mabeuf is also in despair. He has nothing to eat, no credit to live on. He has taken Gavroche's purse to the police out of concern and goodness. He has not succeeded in his endeavors to breed a new strain of indigo, and he is slowly selling each of his beloved books. To his despair, he must sell the illustrated plates from his own published volume. At last, when his beloved servant becomes sick, he must sell his rarest and most precious book (a volume by Diogenes Laertius) to buy medicine for her. When he hears the sound of gunshots on the day of the uprising, he unthinkingly grabs his hat and walks towards them.

Book X: 5 June 1832

This chapter is a meditation on the meaning of an insurrection. Hugo utilizes a number of metaphors to describe insurrections. He compares them to a conflagration, a spark that falls upon dry tinder and speeds through the city with intensity. Like a fire, Hugo admits that insurrections can be brutally destructive, tearing apart cities, costing millions of francs, and ending hundreds of lives, but he also suggests that there are worthy insurrections that speed progress. Insurrection, he notes, can also be resurrection.

Hugo considers other insurrections throughout history, both in France and outside it. In this context, Hugo characterizes the unsuccessful (in that it did not achieve its aims of the redistribution of wealth and power) insurrection of 1832 as a justified insurrection. It was a revolt of the students, workers, and powerless against the bourgeoisie; it was done in the name of Progress.

The insurrection of 1832 was sparked by the funeral of Lamarque, one of Napoleon's generals and a beloved hero of France. His funeral procession drew enormous crowds, bringing all of the conflicting elements of Paris together. Revolutionaries can be heard talking in low tones and picking fights with police officers.

Suddenly, a young man on a horse rides in front of the funeral procession waving a red flag (the symbol of the revolution), and the fury of the people is unleashed. A group of men try to steal the casket of Lamarque, and the forces of the law advance to stop them, meeting with heavy resistance from the crowd. Someone - no one is ever sure who it was - fires three shots, one of which kills a squadron commander. The insurrection has begun.

The rebels build barricades to defend themselves from the police and the Gaurde Nationale. The military leaders hesitate to attack and the rebels prepare for war behind their barricades. The bells of Saint-Merry ring through a city preparing for the worst.

Book XI: A Straw in the Wind

Gavroche prepares for war. He skips down the street singing, and steals a gun from the window of a shop. (He has lost track of the two little boys that he took in before; they may have been kidnapped by a circus, picked up by the police, or they may still be wandering the streets. Gavroche often worries about them, but he cannot find them).

Gavroche is caught up in the revolutionary fervor, dreaming of a new world order. He exchanges insults with a trio of women, and throws a brick through the window of the stringy barber who previously harassed him and the two lost boys. When Gavroche meets Enjolras and the rest of the ABC Society, who are seeking a place to plant a barricade and stage in uprising, he is enchanted. Gavorche happily joins them.

Artists, students, workers, and social outcast join the ABC Society, swelling their ranks. One of these new additions in Monsieur Mabeuf, whose appearance provokes much speculation among the rebels. Courfeyrac stops by his house to grab some money and objects, and he encounters a mysterious youth who is as slender and delicate as a young woman. The youth asks Courfeyrac where Marius is, but Courfeyrac does not know. The youth also joins the ABC Society.

Book XII: Corinth

In the Rue de la Chanvrerie, there is a little restaurant grandly named Au Raisin de Corinth, often just referred to as the Corinth. This establishment is located in the midst of a neighborhood of particularly short and winding streets; the Corinth is located in an area blocked by a row of tall houses. Only a tiny alley, called the Rue Mondétour, leads out of it.

This rather shabby establishment has become popular among some members of the ABC Society, and on the morning of the uprising, Joly, Laigle, and Grantaire are eating breakfast there. Despite the early hour, The three are imbibing a great deal of alcohol. Grantaire is particularly drunk: he launches into a high-winded rant about the fickleness of women, the failures of God, and the impossibility of any true change.

Suddenly, a young street urchin appears with a short message from Enjolras: "ABC." Joly and Laigle recognize this as a call to arms; the uprising has begun, and they must join their comrades. Grantaire shifts from drinking wine to drinking a potent mixture of brandy, stout, and absinthe. Through the window, Laigle and Joly spot Enjolras, and they suggest building the barricade on this street: it is narrow and easily defended (and it also offers easy access to the tavern and all its alcohol.

The rebels quickly begin to prepare for war: distributing cartridges, preparing bandages, and so on. Grantaire continues to drink and to ramble in his long-winded, nihilistic manner. The puritanical Enjolras is frustrated at Grantaire's disrespect for revolution, and tells him to go and sleep off his drunkenness. Grantaire is stunned at this harsh rebuke; he implores Enjolras to let him sleep here by the barricade, and die here if need be. Enjolras scornfully replies that Grantaire is incapable of believing, thinking, or even living or dying. Grieved by his friend's cruel words and deeply drunk, Grantaire passes out.

Over fifty man control the barricade, which is reinforced with paving stones, a commandeered carriage, and other detritus. Gavroche flits about, singing and urging on the defenders in his playful way. Suddenly, he catches sight of a man lurking to the back of the group. He immediately goes to Enjolras, telling him that this man is a spy: Gavroche recognizes him because he often arrests the street urchins of Paris. Enraged, Enjolras interrogates the man. His police papers are quickly discovered, and Enjolras has him tied to a post; the spy will be shot just before the capture of the barricade. As an afterthought, Enjolras asks the spy his name. The spy replies that he is called Javert.

The rebels are not without a code of honor (nor are they all noble-spirted). One of the revolutionaries, Le Cabuc, decides that a tall building would be an excellent look-out point for snipers; however the owner of the building refuses to let him in. Le Cabuc kicks down the door and kills the old man. Furious, Enjolras forced Le Cabuc to his knees and holds a gun to his head. Enjolras explains that they are fighting for a better and more just world, and that he regrets what he must do but that it is necessary. Then he shoots Le Cabuc. The rebels, stunned, recover from this turn of events just as Courfeyrac notices the return of the mysterious youth who asked him about Marius that morning.


Mabeuf's experiences parallel those of Fantine - like her, he is forced to sell his most precious possessions to scrape by. These beloved possessions (For Fantine, her daughter, teeth, hair, and virtue; for Mabeuf, his home, plants, and books) are parted from them one by one, like peeling away an onion. At last when this becomes unendurable, their lives erupt in violence. Fantine assaulted a man who shoved a snowball down her back, and Mabeuf has joined the forces at the barricade.

The rebels operate according to a new and somewhat different standard of conduct. They do not hesitate to imprison a spy and make plans to execute them, but neither do they tolerate the murder of civilians. The rebels, by stops and starts, and imagining and creating a new world: one in which everyone is equal.

The rebels are not optimistic about their chances of success. Enjolras and the others understand from the beginning that they will not be overthrowing the government through their actions; Enjolras' order for Javert's execution right before the fall of the barrier indicates this fact. However, they do believe that their actions will be part of a sea change, that they will usher in a new democratic form of governance where all people are equal and free.