Les Misérables
Victor Hugo

These pages: Les Misérables
Preface and Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV (here)
Part V

index pages:

Les Misérables

French original published 1862
English translation by Charles Wilbour published 1862

Part IV

Saint Denis
and Idyl of the Rue Plumet
Book First: A Few Pages of History

II: Badly Sewed

As soon as the revolution strikes the shore, the able carve up the wreck.

The able, in our age, have decreed to themselves the title of statesmen, so that this word, statesman, has come to be, in some sort, a word of argot. Indeed, let no one forget, wherever there is ability only, there is necessarily pettiness. To say “the able,” amounts to saying, “mediocrity.”

Just as saying, “statesmen,” is sometimes equivalent to saying “traitors.”

Royal houses resemble those banyan trees of India, each branch of which, by bending to the ground, takes root there and becomes a banyan. Each branch may become a dynasty. On the sole condition that it bend to the people.

Such is the theory of the able.



Who stops revolutions half way? The bourgeoisie.


Because the bourgeoisie is the interest which has attained to satisfaction. Yesterday it was appetite, to-day it is fulness, to-morrow it will be satiety.

The phenomenon of 1814 after Napoleon, was reproduced in 1830 after Charles X.

There has been an attempt, an erroneous one, to make a special class of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie is simply the contented portion of the people. The bourgeois is the man who has now time to sit down. A chair is not a caste.

But, by wishing to sit down, we may stop the progress even of the human race.

IV: Crevices under the Foundation

God makes visible to men his will in events, an obscure text written in a mysterious language. Men make their translations of it forthwith; hasty translations, incorrect, full of faults, omissions, and misreadings. Very few minds comprehend the divine tongue. The most sagacious, the most calm, the most profound, decipher slowly, and, when they arrive with their text, the need has long gone by; there are already twenty translations in the public square. From each translation a party is born, and from each misreading a faction; and each party believes it has the only true text, and each faction believes that it possesses the light.

Often the government itself is a faction.

Revolution is precisely the opposite of revolt. Every revolution, being a normal accomplishment, contains in itself its own legitimacy, which false revolutionists sometimes dishonour, but which persists, even when sullied, which survives, even when stained with blood. Revolutions spring, not from an accident, but from necessity. A revolution is a return from the factitious to the real. It is, because it must be.
Errors are excellent projectiles. [...] Factions are blind men who aim straight.

All the problems which the socialists propounded, aside from the cosmogonic visions, dreams, and mysticism, may be resolved to two principal problems.

First problem:

To produce wealth.

Second problem:

To distribute it.

The first problem contains the question of labour.

The second contains the question of wages.

In the first problem the question is of the employment of force.

In the second of the distribution of enjoyment.

From the good employment of force results public power.

From the good distribution of enjoyment results individual happiness.

By good distribution, we must understand not equal distribution, but equitable distribution. The highest equality is equity.

From these two things combined, public power without, individual happiness within, results social prosperity.

Social prosperity means, man happy, the citizen free, the nation great.

V: Facts from Which History Springs, and Which History Ignores

They proclaimed the right furiously; they desired, were it through fear and trembling, to force the human race into paradise. They seemed barbarians, and they were saviours. With the mask of night they demanded the light.

In contrast with these men, wild, we admit, and terrible, but wild and terrible for the good, there are other men, smiling, embroidered, gilded, beribboned, bestarred, in silk stockings, in white feathers, in yellow gloves, in varnished shoes, who, leaning upon a velvet table by the corner of a marble mantel, softly insist upon the maintenance and the preservation of the past, the middle ages, divine right, fanaticism, ignorance, slavery, the death penalty, and war, glorifying politely and in mild tones the sabre, the stake, and the scaffold. As for us, if we were compelled to choose between the barbarians of civilisation, and the civilisees of barbarism, we would choose the barbarians.

But, thanks to heaven, other choice is possible. No abrupt fall is necessary, forward more than backward. Neither despotism, nor terrorism. We desire progress with gentle slope.

God provides for this. The smoothing of acclivities is the whole policy of God.



Book Second: Eponine

I: The Field of the Lake

During all these torments, and now for a long time, he had discontinued his work, and nothing is more dangerous than discontinued labour; it is habit lost. A habit easy to abandon, difficult to resume.

A certain amount of reverie is good, like a narcotic in discreet doses. It soothes the fever, sometimes high, of the brain at work and produces in the mind a soft and fresh vapour which corrects the too angular contours of pure thought, fills up the gaps and intervals here and there, binds them together, and blunts the sharp corners of ideas. But too much reverie submerges and drowns. Woe to the brain-worker who allows himself to fall entirely from thought into reverie! He thinks that he shall rise again easily, and he says that after all, it is the same thing. An error!

Thought is the labour of the intellect, reverie is its pleasure. To replace thought by reverie is to confound poison with nourishment.

II: Embryonic Formation of Crimes in the Incubation of Prisons

Robbers do not cease operations because they are in the hands of justice. They are not disconcerted so easily. Being in prison for one crime does not prevent the commencement of another crime. They are artists who have a picture in the parlour, and who labour none the less for that on a new work in their studio.



Book Third: The House in the Rue Plumet

V: The Rose Discovers That She Is an Engine of War

Cosette, by learning that she was beautiful, lost the grace of not knowing it; an exquisite grace, for beauty heightened by artlessness is ineffable, and nothing is so adorable as dazzling innocence, going on her way, and holding in her hand, all unconscious, the key of a paradise. But what she lost in ingenuous grace, she gained in pensive and serious charm. Her whole person, pervaded by the joys of youth, innocence, and beauty, breathed a splendid melancholy.



VI: The Battle Commences

Seeing that Marius was not coming to her, she went to him. In such a case, every woman resembles Mahomet. And then, oddly enough, the first symptom of true love in a young man is timidity, in a young woman, boldness. This is surprising, and yet nothing is more natural. It is the two sexes tending to unite, and each acquiring the qualities of the other.



Book Fifth: The End of Which Is Unlike the Beginning

IV: A Heart Under a Stone

Certain thoughts are prayers. There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees.



Book Sixth: Little Gavroche

I: A Malevolent Trick of the Wind

At a certain depth of misery, men are possessed by a sort of spectral indifference, and look upon their fellow beings as upon goblins.

III: The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Escape

Formerly these stern cells in which the discipline of the prison delivers the condemned to himself, were composed of four stone walls, a ceiling of stone, a pavement of tiles, a camp bed, a grated air-hole, a double iron door, and were called dungeons; but the dungeon has been thought too horrible; now it is composed of an iron door, a grated air-hole, a camp bed, a pavement of tiles, a ceiling of stone, four stone walls, and it is called chamber of punishment.



Thénardier was upon the crest of this ruin a little after three o’clock in the morning.

How had he got there? That is what nobody has ever been able to explain or understand.

Note (Hal’s):
I find this narrative shortcut, in the middle of a lengthy, detailed account of a four-person jailbreak, highly amusing.

— end note

Book Seventh: Argot

I: Origin

The real argot, the argot par excellence, if these words can be joined, the immemorial argot which was a realm, is nothing more nor less, we repeat, than the ugly, restless, sly, treacherous, venomous, cruel, crooked, vile, deep, deadly language of misery. There is, at the extremity of all debasements and all misfortunes, a last wretchedness which revolts and determines to enter into a struggle against the whole mass of fortunate things and reigning rights; a hideous struggle in which, sometimes by fraud, sometimes by force, at the same time sickly and fierce, it attacks social order with pin-thrusts through vice and with club strokes through crime. For the necessities of this struggle, misery has invented a language of battle which is argot.

To buoy up and to sustain above oblivion, above the abyss, were it only a fragment of any language whatever which man has spoken and which would otherwise be lost, that is to say one of the elements, good or evil, of which civilisation is composed or with which it is complicated, is to extend the data of social observation; it is to serve civilisation itself.

Certainly, if the language which a nation or a province has spoken is worthy of interest, there is something still more worthy of attention and study in the language which a misery has spoken.
No man is a good historian of the open, visible, signal, and public life of the nations, if he is not, at the same time, to a certain extent, the historian of their deeper and hidden life; and no man is a good historian of the interior if he know not to be, whenever there is need, the historian of the exterior. The history of morals and ideas interpenetrate the history of events, and vice versa.



Man is not a circle with a single centre; he is an ellipse with two foci. Facts are one, ideas are the other.



III: Argot Which Weeps and Argot Which Laughs

In the eighteenth century the old melancholy of these gloomy classes is dissipated. They begin to laugh. [...] They are almost cheerful. A sort of flickering light comes from these wretches, as if conscience ceased to weigh upon them. These pitiful tribes of the darkness have no longer the desperate audacity of deeds merely, they have the reckless audacity of mind. A sign that they are losing the perception of their criminality, and that they feel even among thinkers and dreamers some mysterious support which is unconsciously given. A sign that pillage and robbery are beginning to infiltrate even into doctrines and sophisms, in such a way as to lose something of their ugliness by giving much of it to the sophisms and the doctrines. A sign in short, if no diversion arises, of some prodigious and speedy outburst.
But beside and beneath the philosophers, there were the sophists, a poisonous vegetation mingled with the healthy growth, hemlock in the virgin forest. While the executioner was burning upon the chief staircase of the Palais de Justice the grand liberating books of the century, writers now forgotten were publishing, with the privilege of the king, many strangely disorganising writings greedily read by the outcast. Some of these publications, strange to say, patronised by a prince, are still in the Bibliothèque Secrète. These fact, deep rooted, but ignored, were unperceived on the surface. Sometimes the very obscurity of a fact is its danger. It is obscure because it is subterranean.

Suffering engenders wrath; and while the prosperous classes blind themselves, or fall asleep, which also is to close the eyes, the hatred of the unfortunate classes lights its torch at some fretful or ill-formed mind which is dreaming in a corner, and begins to examine society. Examination by hatred, a terrible thing.

Hence, if the misfortune of the time so wills, those frightful commotions which were formerly called Jacqueries, in comparison with which purely political agitations are child’s play, and which are not merely the struggle of the oppressed against the oppressor, but the revolt of discomfort against well-being. All falls then.

Jacqueries are people-quakes.

This danger, imminent perhaps in Europe towards the end of the eighteenth century, was cut short by the French Revolution, that immense act of probity.

The French Revolution, which is nothing more nor less than the ideal armed with the sword, started to its feet, and by the very movement, closed the door of evil and opened the door of good.

It cleared up the question, promulgated truth, drove away miasma, purified the century, crowned the people.

We may say of it that it created man a second time, in giving him a second soul, his rights.

The nineteenth century inherits and profits by its work, and today the social catastrophe which we just now indicated is simply impossible. [...] Revolution is vaccination for Jacquerie.

Thanks to the Revolution, social conditions are changed. The feudal and monarchical diseases are no longer in our blood.

Book Eighth: Enchantments and Desolation

III: Shadow Commences

During this sweet month of May, Marius and Cosette knew these thranscendent joys:

To quarrel and to say monsieur and mademoiselle, merely to say Marius and Cosette better afterwards;

To talk at length, and with most minute detail, of people who did not interest them in the least; a further proof that, in this ravishing opera which is called love, the libretto is almost nothing;

For Marius, to listen to Cosette talking dress;

For Cosette, to listen to Marius talking politics;

To hear, knee touching knee, the waggons roll along the Rue de Babylone;

To gaze upon the same planet in space, or the same worm glow in the grass;

To keep silence together; a pleasure still greater than to talk;

Etc., etc.

Book Tenth: June 5th, 1832

II: The Bottom of the Question

There is the émeute, there is the insurrection; they are two angers; one is wrong, the other is right. In democratic states, the only governments founded in justice, it sometimes happens that a fraction usurps; then the whole rises up, and the necessary vindication of its right may go so far as to take up arms. In all questions which spring from the collective sovereignty, the war of the whole against the fraction is insurrection; the attack of the fraction against the whole is an émeute; according as the Tuileries contain the King or contain the Convention, they are justly or unjustly attacked. [...] What universal suffrage has done in its freedom and its sovereignty cannot be undone by the street. So, in the affairs of pure civilisation; the instinct of the masses, yesterday clear-sighted, may tomorrow be clouded.

III: A Burial: Opportunity for Re-birth

Here and there in this multitude, a prey to so many violent, but noble, emotions, could also be seen some genuine faces of malefactors and ignoble mouths, which said “pillage!” There are certain agitations which stir up the bottom of the marsh, and which make clouds of mud rise in the water. A phenomenon to which “well-regulated” police are not strangers.

IV: The Ebullitions of Former Times

Nothing is more extraordinary than the first swarming of an émeute. Everything bursts out everywhere at once. Was it foreseen? yes. Was it prepared? no. Whence does it spring? from the pavements. Whence does it fall? from the clouds. Here the insurrection has the character of a a plot; there of an improvisation. The first comer takes possession of a current of the multitude and leads it whither he will. A beginning full of terror with which is mingled a sort of frightful gaiety.

These old sailors, accustomed to correct manœuvring, and having no resource or guide, save tactics, that compass of battles, are completely lost in presence of that immense foam which is called the wrath of the people. The wind of revolutions is not tractable.

V: Originality of Paris

There is firing at the street corners, in an arcade, in a cul-de-sac; barricades are taken, lost, and retaken; blood flows, the fronts of the houses are riddled with grape, balls kill people in their beds, corpses encumber the pavement. A few streets off, you hear the clicking of billiard balls in the cafés.

The theatres open their doors and play comedies; the curious chat and laugh two steps from these streets full of war. The fiacres jog along; passers are going to dine in the city. Sometimes in the very quartier where there is fighting. In 1831 a fusilade was suspended to let a wedding party pass by.

Nothing is more strange; and this is the peculiar characteristic of the émeutes of Paris, which is not found in any other capital. Two things are requisite for it, the greatness of Paris and its gaiety. It requires the city of Voltaire and of Napoleon.

Book Eleventh: The Atom Fraternises with the Hurricane

II: Gavroche on the March

Four gossips were chatting upon a doorstep. Scotland has her trios of witches, but Paris has her quartettes of gossips; and the “thou shalt be king,” would be quite as ominously cast at Bonapart in the Baudoyer Square as at Macbeth in the heath of Armuyr. It would be almost the same croaking.
Book Thirteenth: Marius Enters the Shadow

III: The Extreme Limit

Civil war? What does this mean? Is there any foreign war? Is not every war between men, war between brothers? War is modified only by its aim. There is neither foreign war, nor civil war; there is only unjust war and just war. Until the day when the great human concordat shall be concluded, war, that at least which is the struggle of the hurrying future against the lingering past, may be necessary. What reproach can be brought against such war! War becomes shame, the sword becomes a dagger, only when it assassinates right, progress, reason, civilisation, truth. Then, civil war or foreign war, it is iniquitous; its name is crime.



text checked (see note) Sep 2023

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