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Free Study Guide-Les Miserables by Victor Hugo-Free Book Notes Summary
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BOOK SECOND: The Intestine of Leviathan

Summary

We receive a description of the subterranean labyrinth that forms the sewers for Paris. These sewers, in addition to carrying human waste down to the rivers, have also served as hiding places for all that would oppose the law, either by crime, protest or by sheer liberty of thought.

At one period-from 1805 to 1812, the ancient sewers were explored, refortified where needed, and enlarged by a man named Bruneseau and his son-in-law. In addition to the filth, the crumbling archways and bottomless quagmires, they found a wealth of precious objects, gold and silver coins, trinkets, and various sorts of medals. By the end of the 19 th century the sewers of Paris were rebuilt, straightened and made much more sanitary. However, the sewers in the Paris of 1832 knew only the beginnings of renovation resulting from Bruneseau’s research. It was essentially unchanged, except for its yearly additions, from the sewer of the Middle Ages. It was a fetid labyrinth with portions of its length open to the sky and sending reeking, disease laden fumes into the streets of Paris.

Notes

If Valjean has been cleansed by his trip through “hell,” Thenardier has completely merged with the dark side of Paris. He has lost all of his family but one daughter with whom he has occasional contact. He cannot live a normal life because he has a price on his head for failing to show in court over the Gorbeau affair. His life is one of deceit and thievery. He is, perhaps, what Valjean could have become if it were not for the influence of the priest, the convent, and Cosette.


Marius is completely helpless. He who would not accept a monthly stipend from his grandfather or a loan from a friend is now at the mercy of an “enemy” for his very life. He will thus incur the greatest of all debts and will not know how to pay it.

A not entirely unexpected characteristic of Javert is revealed. Valjean spared his life when no one else would have. In fact, the other insurgents fully intended to kill him as vengence for the execution of Prouvaire. It is not so much a matter of forgiveness; Valjean knows that Javert has done no wrong. He may be narrow-minded in his interpretation of the law, but he has been a faithful public servant. Valjean not only turns him loose, but also gives Javert his and Cosette’s current address. It’s as if he sees no further need to go on hiding.

As for Javert, he did not expect to be released, nor is he prepared for Valjean to emerge from the sewer with Marius on his back. As he is in control, he has no reason to deny Valjean a couple of requests, especially when those requests seem to be for the benefit of someone other than Valjean himself. Yet, he now owes Valjean for his life. In walking away, he has paid that debt.

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