We finished last week with Jean Valjean and Marius stuck in the sewers of Paris, with the latter unconscious from being shot at the barricade. It should come as no surprise that the sewers were disgusting and that Hugo feels no shame in sharing the complete extent of that with the reader. It becomes something of a final test for Valjean, who is carrying a man he doesn't even really like back to safety, just for Cosette. But of course it's not that simple. Thenardier is being followed by Javert, who was saved by Valjean earlier on, and hides in the sewers, tricking Valjean into going outside where Javert is waiting for him.
Javert and Valjean have something of a stare-down before Javert allows Valjean to bring Marius home to his grandfather. He then allows Valjean a visit to his own house as well and mysteriously leaves him there, walking away from his prisoner. Hugo then flits back to Marius at his grandfather's house who has an emotional awakening towards his grandson when he sees him so close to death. But the real emotional depth falls at the end of this section, which is Javert's suicide. Torn between wanting to arrest Valjean and wanting to honour the fact Valjean saved his life, his view of the world basically breaks down. It's extremely sad.
Feel of the Chapters:
There is a real darkness to the chapters set in the sewers, not only because the sewers themselves are dark but also because being stuck in such a small place forms a real challenge for Valjean. He is questioning his strength, his willingness to save Marius, etc. Hugo doesn't share all of this but he makes it clear. The chapter about Marius' grandfather is lovely in how much he changes his behaviour. He is the kind of character that's always been a little bit sketchy but is now actually revealed to have an incredibly emotional core. And then there is Javert, to whom Hugo dedicates a very long chapter. His mind is absolutely torn because his whole world-view turns out to no longer be accurate. It's something that I think most people can recognize and Hugo manages to write it in such a way it hits the reader.
- The portrayal of Javert's mindset is absolutely amazing and was exactly what I was hoping for after seeing the musical! He is so torn between doing what's right and what's right and that's not a typo. He knows what is right legally, but he also knows what is right emotionally and morally. It's beautiful!
- Marius is largely unconscious for most of this section so you don't really know how he feels post-barricade. Hopefully we'll find out more about him in the next few chapters.
- I wonder what's going to happen to the Thenardiers! I mean, do they even know that two of their children died at the barricade and that another two are currently wandering around Paris cold and hungry? They are like an example of Bad Parenting 101!
- The cast of characters has significantly shrunk now, so much so that at a certain point Hugo asked us to remember a character he wrote about in Vol. 1! It took me about a page and a half to actually remember him, but hopefully these last few chapters will focus on potentially creating happy endings for some of the characters!
'They were both caught in the immense and gloomy web of death, and Jean Valjean felt the terrible spider running along those black strands and quivering in the shadows.' p.2184
This is how Hugo was describing Valjean's time in the sewers. As you can see it was quite a dark time in his life and the description of the spider didn't help. It's a great image but it's also slightly terrifying and I had to fight off shivers after reading it!
'He beheld before him two paths, both equally straight, but he beheld two; and that terrified him; him, who had never in all his life known more than one straight line.' p.2217
I think we all know that feeling when you feel like you could always be sure of this one thing, but then it turns out that is actually not true and that there's multiple options, each of which is equally dreadful. Poor Javert!