Les Misérables: A Populist Hagiography

I recently scanned the text of this dissertation, The Populist Romance: A Study of Michelet's Le Peuple and Selected Novels of Hugo, James, Zola, and Galdós (University of Texas at Austin, 1980), and have not finished proofing. (Move your mouse pointer over French or Spanish text to see translations.) —David McMurrey

If Les Misérables has been called the great epic of the people, it is not because Victor Hugo takes his readers on a thorough and detailed guided tour of the world of the heroic and revolutionary workers suffering in their faubourgs and struggling for a new world at the barricades. There is a lack of the detailed, extensive portrayal of life in the plebian quartiers of the kind Emile Zola would achieve in his L'Assommoir; there is a surprising, though historically accurate, lack of working-class representation at the barricade in the novel. Hugo's grand novel is less an exercise in extensive social realism than one in moral or spiritual intensity: through the exemplary life of Jean Valjean—martyr, saint, a Prometheus figure containing both Christ and Satan, one who comes to represent the existence, the character, the struggle, and the potential of the common people—we are taken on a journey down into the spiritual and moral being of the "peuple," as Hugo saw it, and not merely through plebian suburbs, streets, houses, or bedrooms.1 No doubt its central character, Jean Valjean, is symbolic of the people, but he spends almost the entire novel in monastic seclusion from them in such places as the masure Gorbeau and the convent of the Petit-Picpus. Judging from his activities at the barricade in the rue de la Chanvrerie, one would think that Valjean disassociates himself from the cause of the common people, except for the fact of his tenure as Monsieur Madeleine in Montreuil-sur-mer and his acts of kindness toward, individual plebians such as Fantine and Cosette.2 Thus, Hugo's novel oddly conflicts with the reputation it has among those unfamiliar with it.3

Les Misérables is one of the grand expressions of the populist romance nonetheless; the scarcity of "the people" is made up by the symbolic nature of Hugolian characterization. The few plebians—Fantine or Valjean, for example—are not simply representative, in the sense of a panoramic realistic novel, of the people; rather they are symbolic concentrations of the plebian experience and character: Valjean's experience summarizes that of the peuple in general—his life mirrors the plebian experience as a whole.

A number of moments like that one in which Javert and Valjean argue over the fate of Fantine, arrested as a prostitute, illustrate the concentrated, symbolic nature of Hugo's characterizations in general:

Cependant elle aussi était en proie à un bouleversement étrange. Elle venait de se voir en quelque sorte disputée par deux puissances oposées...l'un de ces hommes la tirait du côté de l'ombre, l'autre la ramenait vers la lumière. Dans cette lutte, entrevue à travers les grossissements de l'épouvante, ces deux hommes lui étaient apparus comme deux géants... (I, p. 245)4

Practically every character and every scene undergo this sort of "grossissement," and characters must indeed become "géants" in this novel which narrows the focus of vision for the sake of moral and spiritual intensity.5

Every aspect of Valjean's story—the characters associated with it and the poetic language employed—gives vast symbolic and historical depth to that story and embodies the populist romance in Les Misérables.6 Valjean's experience becomes the model, pattern, or the symbol for the experience of every other plebian character in the novel, and thus he becomes the true image of the peuple—to coin a term, an imago populi—as Hugo had intended that he be: as Robert and Journet have discovered in Hugo's papers, the novelist had written, "J'ai tâché de raconter l'histoire d'une de ces fourmis que la loi sociale écrase sans le vouloir et sans le savoir...souvent le peuple tout entier se personnifie dans ces êtres imperceptibles et augustes sur lesquels on marche. Souvent ce qui est fourmi dans le monde matériel est géant dans le monde moral."7 Valjean's effort to clear his name is that of the people and moreover that of humanity.8 His name, as Hugo had devised it, was meant to suggest that he epitomized the latter: Jean is perhaps one of the most common of names, and his original name, Jean Tréjean, that is, "very Jean," only emphasizes that idea. The final name Hugo settled on, Valjean, embodies two ideas: "val" suggests that he is a man of descents into a whole sequence of valleys, symbolic valleys of suffering; and, as shortened form of "Voilà Jean," Valjean the name suggests that he embodies the whole of mankind—that is, "Voilà l'humanité."9 The two ideas embedded in the name are by no means separate: in the populist romance, as Michelet had written, the common people retain more of their birthright as humanity, uncorrupted by the refinements of civilization; and in the populist romance, the true essence of humanity, man's identity as man, is not so inherently corrupt, as held by traditional Christian doctrine, that it cannot partake of full democratic rights.

On the surface, the populist romance found in Les Misérables and embodied in the career of Jean Valjean is much like that of Michelet: the peuple include both the middle and lower classes, although the "essence" or "spirit" of the people is more concentrated in the lower classes; the peuple has an identity as much spiritual, transcendental, or in the process of becoming as social; the peuple is, more by virtue of its harsh existence than by heredity, morally superior to other groups in society and is blessed ultimately with higher and more humane wisdom; history is simply the progressive movement toward the triumph of this collective hero; the descent into the plebian world is good for the soul, redemptive or regenerative; the peuple in general is a force to regenerate the dry wasteland of a world dominated by the bourgeoisie and by egoistic values. Though these and other elements are common to Michelet and Hugo, the former's Le Peuple cannot, as Robert and Joumet have argued, be considered an immediate source or influence upon Les Misérables; rather both translate and preserve that remarkable climate of ideas of the revolutionary period of the late 1840's.10

Both Michelet and Hugo convert the messianic hopes of Christianity into revolutionary ones: they see revolution as the apocalyptic event that will bring about the kingdom of heaven on earth. Also, both writers, deeply concerned about the materialism and the atheism of their times, are anxious to re-spiritualize the consciousness of their period. Moreover, since both writers have little confidence in established religion, they must seek the sacred and the ideal from some other source.11 Michelet and Hugo reflect the nineteenth century's attempts at relocating the sacred. For Michelet, it is relocated in the peuple itself, and Michelet gradually develops it into a religion toward the end of his life. Hugo, on the other hand, retains the elements of the same sense of the sacred, but as he wrote in a letter to a friend, "Il faut détruire toutes les religions afin de reconstruire Dieu."12

There are, however, some crucial differences in the vision of the peuple that Michelet and Hugo create, and these differences are most clearly discernible when Michelet's history and Hugo's fiction are compared as romance. The romance mode structures both writers' ideas of the people, but Hugo allots a somewhat different role in history for the peuple than Michelet does. For the latter, the peuple is simply the hero of history; the heroine of this romance written out upon history is France, or in a larger sense all of mankind; the evil forces which block the movement toward, a new Golden Age are such things as "machinisme," egotism, selfishness, and in certain respects the bourgeoisie. Though he considers this movement toward perfection as relentless and inevitable, Michelet in Le Peuple depicts the common people as momentarily enchanted, spellbound, and unable to fulfill its grand historical function. As a romance hero, the peuple of course possesses the appropriate qualities of virtue, nobility, and innocence; it is also, like the Tannhausers and the Parsifals, youthful, naive and immature in its quest to free itself and France, which, appropriately for a romance heroine, is in great distress at the writing of Le Peuple. Though Michelet's message is one of fraternity and harmonious fusion of the social classes of France, that harmony and fusion is to be brought about by the members of other classes going to the people and joining their struggle: going to the people is recommended, for the moral and spiritual anemia suffered by the bourgeoisie.

In Hugo's version of the populist romance, the peuple occupies a different place in the romance story: stated as simply as possible, the peuple becomes the heroine to be rescued from its particular peril, that is, suffering, poverty, oppression, in Hugo's terms, "misère." The hero of this version of the populist romance becomes an individual who does not seem to be peuple at all but rather the romantic or "bourgeois" revolutionary. One of the essential elements of Les Misérables is the romantic dream adventure story of the non-plebian, or bourgeois, revolutionary who turns his back on his own class and rushes to the aid of the suffering people. This narrative structure is suggested by many elements in the novel, particularly, the bourgeois class origins of the revolutionaries at the barricade in the rue de la Chanvrerie, Marius's destiny as leader of the people, and the prize he receives near the end of the novel—the beautiful plebian virgin Cosette.

Of course a number of factors in Les Misérables complicate this neat formula. Though the suffering people is an entity to be saved, it becomes a savior in its own right as the example of Valjean shows. Though the people embodies the purity, virtue, innocence and passive helplessness of the romance heroine, it is also marked by the evil, satanic, criminal, barbarous characteristics of the standard villain, as is found in the chapters, "Patron Minette" and "L'Argot."

Les Misérables is a long, complex novel in which there is enough room for a double, interlocking romance story, both parts of which reflect that larger romance vision of human history and which act out Hugo's ideas about the nature and destiny of the peuple.14 The first and most important of these two romance patterns is intertwined in the novel is Valjean's story: at the heart of the story of this character, who symbolizes the peuple and its predicament, is Hugo's doctrine of "misère." Valjean's story undergoes all the phases of plebian existence in response to the central fact of plebian existence—misère; after plunging to satanic depths of degradation in response to misère, a phase in which he symbolizes the "mauvais peuple,"15 he is redeemed and goes on to become practically a saint and symbol of the highest that is potential in the peuple.16

Symbol of the satanic as well as the saintly potential in the peuple, Valjean's hagiographic story is performed before an internal audience: Marius and Cosette. Valjean plays both helping and blocking roles in relation to the love affair between these two characters. Marius and Cosette act out a more standard or traditional form of the romance story in which two lovers meet, are separated, and undergo perilous adventures before finally being reunited and married. Like any romance hero, Marius is a novice whose quest teaches him important things and prepares him for his future role as leader. Marius never saves Cosette in any real sense: rather as a leader, for which the novel records his preparation, he will save the peuple, envisioned by Hugo as a collective Andromeda (II, p. 204), in the future that lies beyond the last page of the book. Part of that preparation or education as well as his reward as romance hero is his marriage to Cosette: this union symbolizes the perfect, reciprocal, loving relationship between leader (Marius) and people (Cosette); their own Edenic love that prefigures the Eden the human world will become once the romance of history, known as "Progrès," which they will be a part of, is complete. Thus this couple lives "happily ever after" in the additional sense that the world will increasingly come to embody the perfection, the joy, justice and peace of his own union with Cosette. Put another way, their marriage is a microcosmic view or a prefiguration of a world in which leaders are married to the people, to their interests and needs, and are possessed by that sense of visionary idealism, cosmic progress, duty, mercy; such a bond then will ultimately overcome "misère" in all its forms and reinstate a golden age, a new Eden.

The Sociology of Misère

Valjean's experience in the novel summarizes this cosmological process as he develops out of a seemingly less than human peasant into a satanic, criminal figure, and finally into a redeemed Christ or Prometheus figure.17 Hugo poses a certain model or cycle of human existence in Les Misérables which all men, particularly and most clearly the poor, go through: man is tempted by the misère of life to become criminal or cynical; indeed he may fall, but given the appropriate inspiration, he can be redeemed and, at that point, his suffering becomes a via dolorosa, a road to perfection.

Jean Valjean is the symbol of the people because in him is concentrated the plebian experience, misère, that is, poverty and the physical and spiritual suffering associated with it. In him we see Hugo's doctrine of misière; Valjean goes through the cycle of the response to it, from the most Satanic to the most saintly. In his evolution we see how misère can produce the most evil and demonic as well as the most saint-like.18

Stained and guilt-ridden reputations, crime, and a general aura of criminality mark in some way practically every other lower class character in Les Misérables besides Valjean and were apparently modes by which Hugo became concerned for and continued to imagine the peuple.19 Indeed "the people" appealed to the Romantics in that it was a social group that appeared to them alternately as martyrs, outcasts, criminals, and of course as rebels, not to mention the more traditional image of the people as uncultured, uncivilized naifs.20

For Victor Hugo, le peuple is by definition "les misérables," those for whom misery, or poverty, is a continuing fact of life, an existential situation which challenges them and even threatens them with moral as well as physical extinction, but which is at the same time a means to a certain superiority compared to the rest of society.21 Criminality is thus an ever present invitation, temptation, and expedient in the world of the poor and the starving; in addition, it defines the way the rest of society looks upon the people and becomes, for Hugo, the most important problem to be dealt with on the road to democracy. The life of practically every plebian character is touched with crime, either by suspicion or by fact: Champmathieu, who has been caught in another seemingly minor theft like that of Valjean, is brought to trial as Valjean in disguise; Fantine is forced into prostitution to buy medicine for her child Cosette, who the Thénardiers claim is ill; the Thénardiers raise a whole legion of petty criminals in Paris to aid them, in their various shady dealings; the Patron-Minette gang, joined eventually by Monsieur Thénardier, is as Hugo describes them the very epitome of the "mauvais peuple" and as rough a crew as Zola would ever create in L'Assommoir.

The response of the "misérables" to their plight is not, however, necessarily one of moral degradation and crime—a headlong plunge into lawlessness in order to survive—nor is the plebian criminal irretrievable as the case of Valjean is designed to illustrate; Hugo's novel holds out against an iron-clad determinism, a brutal psychology with which Zola was allegedly to have operated with in Les Rougon-Macquarts. Looking within Valjean's soul, Hugo asks a series of questions, all of which concern the problem of how permanently criminal and perverse an individual can become:

L'homme crée bon par Dieu peut-il être fait méchant par l'homme? L'âme peut-elle être refaite tout d'une pièce par la destinée, et devenir mauvaise, la destinée etant mauvaise? (I, p. 114)

To such questions the "physiologiste," who generally denies free will and notions of the spirit, would answer yes. To Hugo's assertion that in human beings is a spiritual strength or resiliency that can resist such pressures from the "environment," the physiologiste would answer no:

N'y a-t-il pas dans toute âme humaine, n'y avait-il pas dans l'âme de Jean Valjean en particulier, une première étincelle, un élément divin, incorruptible dans ce monde, immortel dans l'autre, que le bien peut développer, attiser, allumer, enflammer et faire rayonner splendidement, et que le mal ne peut jamais entièrement éteindre. (I, p. 114)

The miracle of the peuple is that it, above all other social groups, can somehow keep alive that spark of moral strength despite the degradations into which the world submerges it. Fantine, Eponine, Gavroche, and of course Valjean retain an essential goodness, which in this novel is often measured by sacrifice, as Robert and Journet have pointed out.22

Others like the elder Thénardiers and the members of the Patron-Minette gang seem irredeemable as Valjean's encounter with one of their members, Montparnasse, shows. His musings on the "haquets" and Champmathieu bear this problem out as well. Hugo describes the hideous misery of the prisoners, the "haquets," as they make their way past the house of Valjean and Cosette, as if they were together "les sept cercles de 1'enfer en marche" (II, p. 108). Described as "ces tas d'ordure humaine" and as "loups enchaînés", the prison gang hardly seems a group of men at all to Cosette: "Père, est-ce que ce sont encore des hommes?" Valjean's answer is simply, "Quelquefois," meaning that a few do remain human beings despite such degradation. Champmathieu represents one of the more grotesquely comic faces of the peuple as a class mistrusted: at his trial the courtroom audience laughs at him after he has attempted to defend himself in "une voix haute, rapide, rauque, dure et enrouée, avec une sorte de naïveté irritée et sauvage" (I, p. 330). As Valjean watches him at the trial, he realizes that prison life will turn this ignorant peasant into an evil, malicious criminal.

More importantly, the peuple is also that segment of social world not necessarily criminal but awaiting some form of spiritual, intellectual awakening: as an "émondeur" in Faverolles, Valjean is somehow asleep or unconscious: "C'était quelque chose d'assez endormi ...que Jean Valjean" (I, p. 106). Comparisons to various sorts of animals, descriptions of his eyes as hidden in his obstructing net-like hair as if unseeing, his usual speechlessness, all suggest a stunted, undeveloped, unawakened intelligence.23

Such characters as the elder Thénardier, Montpamasse, Champmathieu, and the prison gang all set forth a problem to the imagination of Valjean: who can tell what the outcome of the test of plebian life will be? It is a mystery; many do survive that descent into hell or that submersion into troubled waters, and they are for Hugo truly the peuple. The soul of the common worker or the poor is transformed, like Valjean's, into a battleground where victory and defeat are not predetermined nor predictable by any human measurement: called upon by Myriel to become a good man, Valjean feels that "cette fois il fallait vaincre, et que la lutte, une lutte colossale et décisive, était engagée entre sa méchanceté à lui et la bonté de cet homme" (I, p. 139).

Thus, Hugo willingly acknowledges, particularly in the chapters on the Patron-Minette gang (I, pp. 854-864), the existence of a "mauvais peuple," which had been a stumbling block to democratic movements the entire 19th century; certainly few people even today would want to give the vote to the likes of Champmathieu or Montpamasse. Hugo creates characters of this type in Les Misérables, representatives of the "populace," that evil satanic shadow of the populist romance, but it is with the understanding that "society," the crushing and miserable circumstances of plebian life, have made them so. So corrupted is this segment of the peuple that it becomes "l'ennemi de toutes...la haine sans exception" (I, p. 858). Hugo sees it as a cave, "la grande caverne du mal," existing below civilization and growing larger as ignorance and misery continue:

Elle ne mine pas seulement, dans son fourmillement hideux, l'ordre social actuel; elle mine la philosophie, elle mine la science, elle mine le droit, elle mine la pensée humaine, elle mine la civilisation, elle mine la révolution, elle mine le progrès. Elle s'appelle tout simplement vol, prostitution, meurtre et assassinat. Elle est ténèbres, et elle veut le chaos. 8a voute est faite d'ignorance (I, p. 858).

As Marius figures out the Thénardiers' game, when they are masquerading at the "masure Gorbeau" as the Jondrettes, he realizes that the whole family, specimens of the authentic "mauvais peuple," is simply "espèces de monstres impurs et innocents produits par la misère" (I, p. 877). Marius, who is educated through the process of the novel to sympathize with and lead the peuple, views the life of the Jondrettes through the hole in the wall and is introduced to the worst aspects of the peuple; concerning this side, he is certain:

Il avail la bienveillance d'un brahme et la severité d'un juge; il avait pitié d'un crapaud, mais il écrasait une vipère. Or, c'était dans un trou de vipères que son regard venait de plonger; c'était un nid de monstres qu'il avail sous les yeux. —Il faut mettre le pied sur ces misérables, dit-il (I, pp. 912-13).

As a model and pattern of the peuple, as one who subsumes the whole of plebian experience and character in himself, Valjean is not alien to this monstruous element in the peuple. Faced with misery, he commits a crime, rather pathetically and innocently at first; twisted and degraded by the harshness of prison life, he becomes such a hardened criminal he is described as Satanic. What happens to him in prison is a pattern for what happens to others. Although Hugo insists he does not have a "nature mauvaise" and although he is still basically good when he arrives at prison, "Il y condamna la société et sentit qu'il devenait méchant, il y condamna la providence et sentit qu'il devenait impie" (I, p. 114). It is the action of cursing and hating society and God that so transforms his soul and not simply the physical suffering in prison: taken altogether:

Le propre des peines de cette nature, dans lesquelles domine ce qui est impitoyable, c'est-à-dire ce qui est abrutissant, c'est de transformer peu à peu, par une sorte de transfiguration stupide, un homme en une bête féroce (I, p. 116).

Given the opportunity to reclaim his humanity by the kindness and example of Myriel, he does so because the spark has not been extinguished within him; as a result of his descents into misery, he becomes all the stronger, more virtuous, ready for the greater tasks and sacrifices he will face at the end of the novel. This pattern, or parts of it, can be applied to every member of the prison gang, "les haquets," that troops by his house in the rue Plumet.

Thus, some kind of inspiring, enlightening, even spiritual as well as political and economic leadership of the people is required in Les Misérables; the peuple cannot save itself, carry out the revolution, or perform the role of hero in history-as-romance as it does in Michelet's view. For this reason, leadership is crucial in the novel: we have images of both good and bad.

The Romantic Populist as Promethean Hero

In Les Misérables, Hugo wanted to shift much, though not all, of the blame for plebian misery and its consequence—crime—to society; as the character of Montparnasse shows, however, Hugo always retained a healthy respect for the irretrievable, inexplicably perverse character of some criminals.24 Much more specifically, Hugo focuses the blame for crime upon society's leaders, its ruling class in the broadest sense, many of which appear in Les Misérables in varying shades of irresponsibility, egoism, cruel and needless severity and ignorance. Ultimately the novel is as much about leadership of the people—political, economic and spiritual—as it is about the people.

Obviously "le sénateur" and Felix Tholomyès are two primary examples of this poor leadership. To the "sénateur" and his Epicurean, materialist, egoist philosophy, Myriel ironically retorts: "Ceux qui ont réussi à se procurer ce matérialisme admirable ont la joie de se sentir irresponsables, et de penser qu'ils peuvent dévorer tout, sans inquiétude..." (I, p. 43). Later, concerned with the uprisings of the "canaille," which are rapacious, destructive and wrong, Hugo points out: "et ces mots, qui veulent être des injures, gueux, canaille, ochlocratie, populace, constatent hélas! plutôt la faute de ceux qui règnent que la faute de ceux qui souffrent; plutôt la faute des privilégiés que la faute des déshérités" (II, pp. 407-408). In the senator's philosophy, the world is dominated by wolves and a general amoral hunt behavior; a mixture of egoism, vulgar epicureanism, a concerted indifference toward others, and an ironic, materialist attitude to all transcendental, idealist, visionary matters mark his thinking. Both he and Felix agree that the purpose of life is to "jouir" and not to "souffrir": "il faut être mangeant ou mangé" (I, p. 42). Religion for them is simply a means of keeping the people quiet. Tholomyès in many ways is a mirror of Marius and increases our understanding of Marius: they both become involved with plebian women; both are starving students for a time; both have parentage in the ruling class; like Tholomyès, Marius is destined, indeed prepared for a leadership role—but with a major difference.25

With such poor leadership or lack of leadership that representatives of the ruling class like Tholomyès and the "sénateur" provide, the peuple is cast into "misère," often envisioned as a turbulent, stormy sea. The suffering of the peuple is at the same time seen as a furnace, "fournaise." But whether stormy sea or fiery oven, one plunges into this misère:

La mer, c'est l'inexorable nuit sociale ou la pénalité jette ses damnés. La mer, c'est l'immense mère.
L'âme, à vau-l'eau dans ce gouffre peut devenir un cadavre.
(I, p. 121)

The Thénardier family is described more than once as "naufragés" (II, p. 211) of the Medusa; Gavoroche is described as "un de ces enfants autour desquels il semble qu'on voie flotter les fils de la famille brisée" (I, p. 693). Also, "Cet enfant du bourbier est aussi l'enfant de l'idéal" (I, p. 699). For Valjean, an "excès du malheur ...L'avait fait en quelque sorti visionnaire" (I, p. 141). This imagery which pervades Les Misérables is established in two crucial chapters, "L'Onde et l'ombre" and "Le Fontis." Drowning becomes a metaphor for the destruction of one's moral being that the experience of misère threatens.26 The existence of the peuple is a continual bobbing up and down on stormy seas; or else, it is an existence caught in a muddy, stagnant swamp that threatens to asphyxiate them. Thus, Valjean's ability to survive his plunge from L'Orion and his survival of the trek through the fontis with Marius on his back suggest a certain ability to overcome misère and furthermore to transform it into via dolorosa for one's moral perfection.27 In this respect, water in Les Misérables comes to symbolize redemption or regeneration and becomes doubly symbolic—just as baptismal water is doubly symbolic of suffering and redemption. The tears that the redeemed Valjean can shed,28 the suggestive name of the city Montreuil, the imagery of the people as a mighty river—all indicate water as a symbol of redemption.29 Revolution is of course imagined as an ocean, but here the symbolism is once again dual: revolution is a destructive, tumultuous affair just as misère is, but at the same time it is regenerative of society as a whole.

The principle that connects these two uses of water symbolism in Les Misérables and generally the principle that converts the fall into suffering into a redemptive experience is Hugo's idea that salvation is gained through suffering: thus, in the "boue" there is found the "perle"—the "âme," in the "ténèbres," a certain "lueur" of the ideal.31 "La grande douleur est un rayon divin et terrible qui transfigure les misérables" (I, p. 239). This principle is stated, clearly in Marius's sojourn at the "masure Gorbeau."32 But just as poverty can elevate one to a spiritual excellence, it can drown or destroy one's soul, as illustrated by the case of Marius's neighbors, the Jondrettes, at the "masure Gorbeau." The Jondrettes, described often as "naufragés de la radeau Méduse," are in need of a "pilote"—the kind that Napoléon had been,33 the kind that Valjean serves as for a while, and the kind Marius will become.

Although the image of the pilot is an important one for portions of Les Misérables, another group of associations is much more so. The peuple need not just competent, responsible leadership but more importantly spiritual enlightenment or redemption that will lift them above the demoralizing effects of their miserable lives. Thus, the plebian leader must possess something of the missionary. Moreover, that leader must necessarily be something of a revolutionary inasmuch as his efforts in behalf of the people are counter to the interests of established society. After all, "society", Les Misérables argues, is in large part responsible for the plight of the people and most likely benefits from the injustices that the people suffer. In Les Misérables, the characters that combine these necessary elements for the leadership of the people resemble many aspects of Prometheus, the Greek mythological figure who steals the divine fire from Zeus, gives it to man, and is eternally punished for his act. In him is the necessary combination of heroic leadership, enlightenment, and rebellion.

Promethean elements in the leader-enlightener figure are particularly crucial to the earlier portions of Les Misérables. Essential to the Greek mythic hero of mankind is his theft of the divine fire from Zeus in order to give it to mankind, just when Zeus had been ready to destroy his troublesome creation of mortals. In this mythic story, benevolence on one level is tied to rebellion on another; no wonder Christian culture since early times has viewed Prometheus as a curious prefiguration of both Christ and Satan. Essential to our image of Prometheus is also the eternal punishment he receives from Zeus for his theft of the fire and for his kindness to man; he is chained to a rock high in the Caucasus mountains and vultures feed upon his open wounds daily. His eternal damnation in this lower, mortal world is linked to martyrdom for the sake of mankind. Prometheus's gift of divine fire to man has been broadly interpreted as the civilized arts, domestic science, imagination, and even spirit or consciousness; he is often viewed as a civilization-bringer. His suffering at once resembles that of Christ, for having benefited man, and that of Satan, for having rebelled against God. An obvious contrast between these two stories is that Zeus seems an unjust god, whereas God is just and good. The one is indifferent and even hostile to man; the other out of his great love for man seeks to help him. Prometheus is a thief and a rebel thrown out of heaven by the Greek god; Christ is an emissary sent by the Christian god to man.

Prometheus was an attractive mythological figure to such Romantics as Hugo, Shelley, Byron, and others, particularly because of this unusual blend of benevolence, rebellion, and martyrdom—all of which corresponded to the Romantics' vision of themselves. They saw themselves as rebelling against the established powers of their times and attempting to aid mankind with their prophetic visions. They saw themselves somehow as being in touch with the divine and as possessing divine gifts (symbolized by the fire) like the Greek hero. They could view themselves as having descended from some higher realm. And again like the Prometheus of some versions of the myth, they often saw themselves as punished or martyred for their efforts—even by those whom they had come to help. Romantics, however, cannot be described as rebellious against God but rather against secular powers such as the state, the church, society, or dominant artistic conventions. The god against which they rebel has been secularized; they still seek a transcendent force or deity, from which earthly institutions and leaders have strayed. The Promethean analogy thus remains a powerful one for the Romantic's concept of himself, his mission in the world, and his relationship to the powers and the people in the world.

One Romantic in particular, Jules Michelet, regularly thought of himself and more importantly the people in Promethean terms. In the 1869 preface to the Histoire de France, he writes, "dans le progrès humain, la part essentielle est à la force vive, qu'on appelle homme. L'homme est son propre Prométhée."34 The analogy makes a certain amount of sense: in chains and eternally suffering, the people possess a certain fire, "chaleur," the benefits of which Michelet calls upon the rest of society to seek. While it is difficult to know how Michelet would have carried out the terms of this analogy, particularly the theft of the divine fire, the people are justly rebellious against secular gods. At the same time, in their misery they are benevolent to the rest of man because of the basic material goods and services—food, shelter, and clothing—which they supply by their hard, unending labor. As a progressivist, Michelet saw the peuple as slowly freeing itself from its seemingly eternal chains—a turn of events that appears nowhere in the ancient versions of the myth. Again, as it is for the Romantics, the target of plebian rebellion is a secular power and not a transcendent one; in Michelet's view, the people are nearer to God, if not in fact God Himself.

In Victor Hugo's sense of the peuple as it is conveyed in Les Misérables, the peuple cannot perform these Promethean functions for the rest of humanity; rather, the people must be the recipient of the divine fire. They cannot, of their own accord, combine within themselves the rebel, the liberator, the civilization-bringer, the benefactor, the enlightener, and the martyr because of the facts of misère—social and moral degradation—discussed earlier. Quite unlike Michelet, Hugo is much more disturbed by the "mauvais peuple," the "canaille," the rabble, or the mob, which he views as the result in great part of miserable social conditions. Michelet of course sees misère as strengthening the people rather than tearing down their moral integrity. Hugo does not however become a "naturalist," who views the milieu as all-determining. For Hugo, there always remains a divine spark within man that makes possible his redemption. For this to occur, a spiritual enlightener is necessary; the common people, in the depths of their poverty and ignorance, need such a force. Society and its established centers of power, however, are indifferent or even hostile to the lower classes. A Prometheus among the peuple would naturally appear to a society's ruling class as threatening, conspiratorial, and rebellious. Once the people have been saved from social degradation, they are then ready to band together with their Promethean leader and to attack the root causes of their poverty and social misery. They can become a revolutionary, regenerative, or progressive force only in this way—as an army that has finally found its true leadership.

Promethean leadership, which rebels against an indifferent secular power in the interests of the people, is necessary, in Hugo's view, in the additional sense that the people can be false to itself and fight against its own ideals, as Hugo believes it did in the fighting in Paris in June 1848. At these moments, Hugo firmly believes that they must be repressed despite their understandable frustrations: "L'homme probe s'y dévoue, et, par amour même pour cette foule, il la combat. Mais comme il la sent excusable tout en lui tenant tête! comme il la vénère tout en lui résistant" (II, p. 408).

Thus, Hugo calls on individuals outside of the plebian milieu to go to the people for quite different reasons compared to those of Michelet; he calls on philosophes, social thinkers, those like Marius, to descend among the people despite the degradation of that lower world:

Les abandonnerez-vous pour cela?...la lumière ne peut-elle pénétrer ces masses? Revenons à ce cri: Lumière! et obstinons-nous-y! Lumière! lumière!—Qui sail si ces opacités ne deviendront pas transparentes? les révolutions ne sont-elles pas des transfigurations?. Allez, philosophes, enseignez, éclairez, allumez, pensez haut...fraternisez avec les places publiques ...Cette foule peut être sublimée. (I, p. 708)

It is the revolutionary, the enlightened hero who will bring the sacred fire to the common people; once enlightened, they will become the main force, though not the directing force as Michelet thought, in humanity's conquest of the ideal through history:35

Ces pieds nus, ces bras nus, ces haillons, ces ignorances, ces abjections, ces ténèbres, peuvent être employes à la conquête de l'idéal. Regardez à travers le peuple et vous apercevrez la vérité. Ce vil sable que vous foulez aux pieds, qu'on le jette dans la fournaise, qu'il y fonde et qu'il y bouillonne, il deviendra cristal spendide, et c'est grâce à lui que Galilée et Newton décourviront les astres. (I, p. 708)

Without this perspective, one might get the impression that the Promethean act in Les Misérables is Valjean's theft from Myriel early in the novel. After all, he goes on to benefit humanity at Montreuil-sur-mer and seems eternally damned, for all practical purposes, throughout the novel because of his criminal past. The chief problem is that when Valjean arrives in Digue—branded as a criminal, exhausted, cold, hungry, and rejected everywhere—he is in no mood to help mankind; in fact, he is full of hate for both man and God.36 Moreover, what he has stolen from Myriel does not symbolize divine fire; looking back to the beginning of this long and complex novel, one assumes, understandably, that Valjean has stolen the bishop's silver candlesticks, which can be associated with fire and enlightenment. However, Valjean does not steal these—he steals the couverts, the silver place settings. Only when he is brought back to Myriel by some suspicious gendarmes does the priest give him the flambeaux. When they ask Valjean about the couverts (I, p. 132), Myriel eagerly aids in covering up Valjean's theft: "Eh bien mais! je vous avais donné les chandeliers aussi, qui sont en argent comme le reste...Pourquoi ne les avez-vous pas emportés avec vos converts?" (I, p. 132). Thus, the grand symbols of Promethean divine fire, "les deux flambeaux d'argent," are passed on to Valjean (I, p. 133) until the end of his life when he gives them to Cosette: "C'est à elle que je lègue les deux chandeliers.. .Ils sont en argent; mais pour moi ils sont en or, ils sont en diamant" (II, p. 734). Upon closer inspection then, Myriel becomes the Promethean figure bestowing the divine fire upon mankind, Valjean, and thus a heroic savior of this one representative of the common people.37

Of course, more than this gift suggests the Promethean act here: Myriel's name suggests a certain aereal, soaring, ethereal quality, and. he is, as Valjean will be in Montreuil-sur-mer, unknown and slightly mysterious (I, p. 9). As Myriel's benevolence becomes known, he is given the nickname "Bienvenu," or "welcome"; no doubt, Prometheus was welcomed also by mankind when he brought the divine fire.

Myriel is consistently associated with light, warmth and divinity: when Valjean enters his house for the first time, one of the first things Myriel says to him is "Monsieur, asseyez-vous et chauffez-vous" (I, p. 96). Myriel tells his servant, "Mettez ce convert le plus près possible du feu" (I, p. 98). Though there are no chains and the action does not take place in Caucasus, the action at Digne does occur on a particularly cold night in the "Basses- Alpes" (I, p. 128). When Valjean looks at the sleeping Myriel, indeed he looks divine: "Toute sa face s'illuminait d'une vague expression de satisfaction, d'espérance et de béatitude. C'était plus qu'un sourire et presque un rayonnement. Il y avail sur son front l'inexprimable réverbération d'une lumière qu'on ne voyait pas...Il y avait presque de la divinité dans cet homme" (I, p. 128).

Of course the question can be raised whether Myriel is not as much a Christ-figure here in these descriptions as a Promethean one. In many respects he is, but the Greek mythic elements, which are quite carefully worked into the narrative, capture more of the spirit of rebellion coupled with benevolence. Myriel is a strangely rebellious sort of bishop: he refuses to wear the rich, sumptuous garb of his office or to enjoy the elegance of the bishop's palace or carriage; he prefers the company of the common peasants, constantly attempting to do them good—all of which scandalizes the elite of the province. He even goes about on a donkey in plain and simple robes. Rebelling against the standard expectations of an "évêque," he has little interest in the political power or material benefits that come with his position.

Once this Promethean priest has sparked Valjean's spiritual transformation, symbolized in the gift of the silver candlesticks, Valjean is then ready to become his own version of the mythological hero—but with a difference. Myriel's efforts to help mankind are limited to the spiritual; the material aid he gives to needy peasants is charitable and is not expected to change the conditions which give rise to poverty. His generous acts change nothing and have no effect on the social causes of poverty; he is resigned to suffering in the world as an inescapable fact of human existence:

L'univers lui [Myriel] apparaissait comme une immense maladie; il sentait partout de la fièvre, il auscultait partout de la souffrance, et, sans chercher à deviner l'énigme, il tâchait de panser la plaie... il n'était occupé qu'à trouver pour lui même et à inspirer aux autres la meilleure manière de plaindre et de soulager. Ce qui existe était pour ce bon et rare prêtre un sujet permanent de tristesse cherchant à consoler...il travaillait à l'extraction de la pitié. L'universelle misère était sa mine. (I, p. 75)

The redeemed Valjean's efforts in Montreuil-sur-mer to relieve the suffering of mankind are, on the other hand, more economic or industrial in nature. He seeks to help the people by giving them good work and good living conditions. Hugo speaks of Valjean's approach to "l'universelle misère" as typical of a group in the early 19th century:

Ces hommes laissaient aux partis politiques la question des droits; ils s'occupaient de la question du bonheur.
Le bien-être de l'homme, voilà ce qu'ils voulaient extraire de la société.
Ils élevaient les questions matérielles, les questions d'agriculture, d'industrie, de commerce, presque à la dignité d'une religion...
(I, p. 25)

Valjean's attempt to solve man's problems is material or economic as opposed to spiritual.

A number of elements in the Montreuil-sur-mer episodes of Les Misérables explicitly link Valjean to Prometheus. His entry into Montreuil-sur-mer and his success with his factory are portrayed in a part of the novel entitled "La Descente," suggesting Prometheus's own descent from Olympus to the mortal realm. Like the mythological figure too, and also like Myriel, he is a strange "inconnu": "Il était étranger au département. De son origine, on ne savait rien" (I, p. 200). Valjean's innovations are indeed much like those practical and domestic arts Prometheus brings to mankind. His arrival in Montreuil-sur-mer revolutionizes life there just as the demi-god's arrival among mankind revolutionizes the life of the species. Valjean is as much a man of gifts and "bénéfices" as is his mythological counterpart: "...il avail toutes sortes de secrets utiles qu'il enseignait aux paysans" (I, p. 205). Conspicuously Promethean is Valjean's arrival:

Il paraît que, le jour même où il faisait obscurément son entrée dans la petite ville de Montreuil-sur-mer, à la tombée d'un soir de décembre, le sac au dos et le baton d'épine à la main, un gros incendie venait d'éclater à la maison commune. Cet homme s'était jeté dans le feu, et avait sauvé, au peril de sa vie, deux enfants qui se trouvaient être ceux du capitaine de gendarmerie; ce qui fait qu'on n'avait pas songé à lui demander son passeport. (I, p. 200)

He arrives in a burst of fire; he can save the children almost as if fire had no effect upon him. Subsequently "sa venue avait été un bienfait, et sa présence était une providence" (I, p. 201). Under his alias, Madeleine, he continues to live in Montreuil-sur-mer in seclusion and isolation, obviously hiding his criminal past. To the inhabitants of the town, he is a mysterious man (I, p. 207) whose eyes are always turned toward the heavans as if that is where he has come from and longs to return.

One other element links Valjean to Prometheus: he is eternally damned—not in this case by God but by the state, the secular god. Late in the novel Valjean wonders, "Est-ce que les chaînes sans fin ne sont pas au-dessus de la force humaine? Qui donc blâmerait Sisyphe et Jean Valjean de dire: c'est assez!" (II, p. 654). Equally suggestive of the myth is the description of Javert as a vulture, the very creature that visits Prometheus daily to gnaw upon his flesh. Although Javert is compared to many evil things in the course of the novel, the chapter in which he is captured by the revolutionaries and turned over to Valjean is entitled "Le Vautour devenu proie" (II, p. 473).

Viewed in this way, Les Misérables contains a kind of interlocking Prometheanism: Myriel passes on the divine flame, symbolized by the flambeaux, to Valjean; both act out their own versions of the Greek myth. The spiritual help offered by Myriel is not enough to solve the socio-economic problems of the people; however, Valjean fails in precisely the opposite way: the material benefits he provides the people are lacking in the spiritual. In the beginning he actually intends to outdo Myriel in good works for mankind, but he will only provide one half of the solution. In the critical moment when Valjean is wrestling with himself internally, struggling to choose between his evil self and the good one shown to him by Myriel, he thinks

qu'il n'y avail plus de milieu pour lui, que si désormais il n'était pas le meilleur des hommes il en serait le pire, qu'il fallait pour ainsi dire que maintenant il montat plus haut que l'évêque ou retombât plus bas que le galérien, que s'il voulait devenir bon il fallait qu'il devint ange... (I, p. 139, emphasis added)

His efforts fail for a number of reasons: after he is forced to leave, the factory community lapses into egoism and falls apart, implying that it had been held together only by the force of Valjean's moral character rather than by any permanent structural improvement of society. He fails to transform the people spiritually; all the economic betterment in the world, cannot make up for that lack:

la prospérité de Montreuil-sur-mer disparut...Les rivalités envieuses surgirent. Les vastes ateliers de M. Madeleine furent fermés; les bâtiments tombèrent en ruine, les ouvriers se dispèrerent...Plus de centre; la concurrence partout, et l'acharnement. M. Madeleine dominait tout, et dirigeait. Lui tombé, chacun tire à soi... (I, 437)

He fails also because he has become distant from the townspeople; his isolation is particularly evident in his ignorance of Fantine's problems. Unlike his usual omnipresence among the people, Valjean has completely missed how poverty has forced Fantine, the mother of Cosette, to sell everything including her body to pay for the care of her daughter.

Fortunately for mankind, Prometheanism does not end at this moment—the failure of the model factory community at Montreuil-sur-mer. Valjean continues to be "eternally damned" by the state and continues to possess the candlesticks. At the very end of the novel, he passes them on to Marius and Cosette. Leading up to this moment, Marius also requires his own version of enlightenment, supplied in this case by the great moral example of Valjean. Once this process is complete, the structure of the novel implies that Marius will be prepared to act out his own Promethean projects for mankind in the future that lies beyond the last pages of the novel. And, these projects, the novel suggests, will build upon, combine, and even go beyond those of Myriel and Valjean. Thus, in the interlocking Promethean relationships of Les Misérables, there is a gradually ascending efficacy or potency in the efforts to benefit mankind. Marius's future as a leader of the people will be a culmination and a synthesis; his attack upon the "universelle misère" will be at once economic and spiritual; his leadership will transform the world finally into an edenic place cleansed of misère.

The Edenization of the World

Although the references to Valjean as eternally enchained by his guilty past and references to Javert as the vulture reappear occasionally through the rest of the novel, the Prometheus elements of Les Misérables become less noticeable once Valjean has escaped with Cosette into Paris. In the latter portions of the novel, particularly in his relationship with Marius and Cosette, he begins to take on the appearance of a Christ-figure. He suffers and sacrifices himself for others; he remains, as far as we know, virginal and unmarried throughout his life; he is misunderstood, shunned, or neglected by those who should love him the most; he descends into his own forms of hell; he constantly saves others; he is the voice of mercy and pity against the harshness of the law; and at the end of the novel, before Marius's eyes, "le forçat se transfigurait en Christ" (II, p. 724). It is difficult to disentangle the figures of Prometheus and Christ as they are suggested by the novel: both descend to earth to help mankind and both suffer for their efforts. Valjean's functions as a Christ-like figure foreshadow the end of history, the return to Paradise, or, as it is called in Les Misérables, the "edenization" of the world.

Although there are a number of overt parallels drawn between Christ and Valjean, it is ultimately more fruitful to view him as developing from a rather satanic individual into a veritable saint—that is, a mortal—with human failings who through the power of his faith and his unrelenting struggles with his soul achieves moral and spiritual greatness in his lifetime and therefore must be admired. The fact that Valjean must continually grapple with the unregenerate elements of his soul—for example, his feelings toward Marius who eventually takes Cosette away from him—indicates how inappropriate it is to view Valjean's life as something other than a pilgrim's progress.38 Having discovered that the two youths are in love and realizing that he might lose Cosette to Marius,

Jean Valjean, l'homme régénéré, l'homme qui avait tant travaillé à son âme, l'homme qui avait fait tant d'efforts pour résoudre toute la vie, tout la misère et tout le malheur en amour, il regarda en lui-même et il y vit un spectre, la Haine. (II, p. 391)

Whether saint or Christ, Valjean's sanctification has an important historical basis as well as an important relationship to the populist romance. The revolutionary atmosphere of France in the years leading up to 1848 was full of a certain view of the peuple as a collective Christ. Romantic revolutionary rhetoric abounded in this analogy. Christ's suffering was compared with that of the peuple; Christ was seen as having brought forth a revolutionary doctrine into the world, one based essentially on fraternity; revolution was transformed into religion complete with catechisms, bibles, martyrs, and apostles—all with the deified peuple at the center.39

This idea of the common people as a sanctified force in history is captured in the Valjean of the latter portions of Les Misérables. His story becomes practically a saint's life, not only for the admiration and emulation of the novel's external audience but also for its internal, "bourgeois" audience, Marius. Shocked and disillusioned by his discovery of the "mauvais peuple" in the Thénardiers, Marius must overcome his disappointment and see the peuple as carrying within itself the divine potential which must be released. He rediscovers the ideal in them through his discovery of Valjean's moral and spiritual greatness, when once he had thought of him as a base criminal. Thus, Victor Hugo does not copy the simplistic notion of the l840's that the peuple is a divine force in its own right; rather, they must be transformed like Valjean. In them is a potential, which leaders like Marius must be strong enough and compassionate enough to recognize. For Hugo, the plebian is a composite of the satanic and the angelic mixed together: in the plebian voice is combined, the "rugissement de la brute de de la parole de Dieu" (II, p. 355). That element of the divine however is only a potential and must be liberated from the brutish, satanic, or criminal elements of the peuple.

With a transformed plebian class, the process of history as a movement toward a new Eden will be vastly reinforced. The functions of enlightening and leading that force remain however an essential requirement in Hugo's world. This progressive sweep of history can be likened, as it is in Michelet's historiography, to a vast historical, cosmological romance—in which humanity is engaged in its perilous quest for a new version of Eden, or as Hugo describes it, a process which culminates in the "édénisation du monde" (II, p. 41). This view of history as the road to a perfect society is nowhere better spelled out than in Enjolras's impassioned speech to his fellow revolutionaries at the barricades:

la loi du progrès, c'est que les monstres disparaissent devant les anges, et que la Fatalité s'évanouisse devant la fratenité. C'est un mauvais moment pour prononcer le mot amour. N'importe, je le prononce... Amour, tu as l'avenir...Citoyens, il n'y aura dans l'avenir ni ténèbres, ni coups de foudre, ni ignorance féroce, ni talion sanglant. Comme il n'y aura plus Satan, il n'y aura plus de Michel. Dans l'avenir personne ne tuera personne, la terre rayonnera, le genre humain aimera. Il viendra, citoyens, ce jour où tout sera concorde, harmonie, lumière, joie et vie, il viendra... (II, p. 347)

Later Hugo defines the nature of human life on earth as progress: "Le progrès est le mode de l'homme. La vie générale du genre humain s'appelle le Progrès...il fait le grand voyage humain et terrestre vers le céleste et le divin" (II, p. 482).

This grand romance written across the centuries is reflected in the microcosm of Valjean's and Marius' lives. Their lives enact the progressive, edenic potential that is within all of humanity. Valjean's hagiographical version of this romance pattern indicates that the peuple has an ideal potential within it and that it can he redeemed. Valjean's struggle, suffering, sacrifice to others, and his ultimate sainthood are also an important lesson to Marius in his preparation for leadership of the peuple. Although what he learns from Valjean's example is the last and most important step in that preparation, there are many other phases he must undergo. One of those is his recognition of his identity as it is bound up in his father: Colonel Pontmercy, a hero in Napoléon's army. Another involves the evolution of his political thought as it leads from an admiration of Napoleon through an understanding of the French Revolution of 1789 to his own form of republicanism. Important in his preparation too is his discovery of the dark side of the peuple, the "mauvais peuple," his marriage to Cosette, and recognition of the purpose of his life as duty to the people, "devoir," as opposed to a quest for happiness, "bonheur."

Marius's preparation to lead the people also involves recognizing an identity bound up in his first name, Marius, and the classical resonance that name holds.

Although there is more than one Marius in history, the Caius Marius described by Plutarch may well be one of the most famous.40 This connection is suggested by the name M. Mabeuf gives his servant—"mère Plutarque."41 It is through Mabeuf that Marius Pontmercy begins to learn about his father and about the periods of revolution and empire in French history and to view the actors in these periods with something other than abomination. Thus it is through Mabeuf that Marius begins to discover elements of his identity that have been concealed by his grandfather, and through the mere presence of Mabeuf's servant that Marius can begin to consider his destiny and relation to the people in comparison to those of the great Roman general, Caius Marius. Though he began as a plebian, was a great general, and was elected consul seven times, most noteworthy of Caius Marius is the fact that he was considered a "friend of the people" by the Roman plebs and an outright demagogue by Plutarch. Marius's rise from obscurity on his merit and accomplishment recalls Napoléon's; their mutual symbol was the eagle. But as Caius Marius's rapacious attempts to seize power were unsuccessful, Plutarch's portrait of him is generally that of a brilliant general but a bumbler and a demagogue in the political world of Rome. Living before Julius Caesar in Roman history, Caius Marius can, at least in his military activities, be considered one of the founders or builders of the Roman Empire; certainly Julius Caesar saw him as an important influence on his own career.

Obviously Marius Pontmercy is hardly the Marius portrayed by Plutarch; one senses at the end of Les Misérables that though he is indeed a "friend of the people" and destined for a leadership role, he will be neither tyrant, demagogue, or warrior who can function only in wartime. Rather, part of his education and preparation has been to confront the historical identity carried by his name and to redeem it of the demagogic, the tyrannical, and the bellicose. He can be free to build in a peaceful way a greater, edenic empire, that Golden Age at the end of historical progress that Hugo consistently envisions throughout the novel. With such a role implied by his name and his career, Marius takes on a relationship to Valjean similar to the relationship Kathryn Grossman describes between Valjean and Napoléon: Hugo "implies, in fact, that his hero will somehow take up where the emperor left off, that History and Progress will somehow work through him too."42 With his own similarities to Napoleon—suggested, above all by the Napoleonic elements in his namesake, Caius Marius—Marius Pontmercy can take up, symbolically, where Valjean left off and bring about a new Eden in the world, through his enlightened, leadership.

Critics have found much similarity between Marius's political education and Hugo's own evolving political and social ideas.43 Once Marius becomes "pleinement révolutionnaire, profondément democrate, et presque républicain," his evolution is still not complete. Still to come is a rather brusque disillusionment concerning Napoléon, whom he had considered "l'homme-peuple comme Jésus est l'homme-Dieu" (I, pp. 756-57); to Marius's exaltation of Napoléon's glory, to his question "qu'y a-t-il le plus sublime?" (I, p. 803), Combeferre's simple retort is "Etre libre." But Marius's social thought evolves beyond this point as well, though it cannot be labelled as simply as any of his preceding stages. This further evolution involves a deepening of his understanding and sympathy for the peuple. In the early stages of his thinking, "il vit sortir de la révolution la grande figure du peuple" (I, p. 753), obviously that uncomplicated, virtuous collective hero of a romance written upon history. Marius retains this naive vision of the peuple apparently until he encounters the Thénardier family, his next door neighbors masquerading as the Jondrette family. So horrified is he with this vision of perversity and degradation, Marius develops almost the same form of merciless, unsympathetic, punitive severity that marks Javert. In his descent to the peuple, in his own "misérable" period of poverty, Marius "connut les hontes injustes et les rongeurs poignantes de la misère. Admirable et terrible épreuve dont les faibles sortent infâmes, dont les forts sortent sublimes. Creuset ou la destinée jette un homme, toutes les fois qu'elle veut avoir un gredin ou un demi-dieu" (I, pp. 808-809).

The effect of his encounter with the Thénardiers seems to bring the full horror of that evil aspect of the peuple. His reaction is understandably one of severity, but a severity unredeemed by any larger awareness: "il avail la bienveillance d'un brahme et la sévérité d'un juge; il avait pitié d'un crapaud, mais il écrasait une vipère. Or, c'était dans un trou de vipères que son regard venait de plonger; c'était un nid de monstres qu'il avait sous les yeux. Il faut mettre le pied sur ces misérables, dit-il" (I, pp. 912-913). No doubt this same passage reveals that Marius has within him the merciful judge, but it will require his contemplation of Valjean's example to bring it forth. Having come away from his early intellectual transformations with a sense of the hidden divinity and the grandeur of the peuple, the experience of the Thénardiers introduces him to the problem of the "mauvais peuple." What he discovers is precisely what Javert discovers—"le possibilité d'une larme dans l'oeil de la loi" (I, p. 582); he is led through the same transformation as Javert, though for Marius it is a final stage of development rather than a disastrous end as it is to Javert; the medium for both these dramatic realizations of course is Valjean.44

What Marius discovers is that Valjean, and in him the peuple, is no criminal at all but the reservoir of wisdom, virtue, sustenance for the whole of society, and the way of the future. The process that leads him to this understanding can be traced back to the time of Cosette and Marius's marriage: it is shortly after that time that he discovers what he thinks is the truth of Valjean's past—that he had stolen from a priest and had murdered someone. Marius reacts in a manner like that of Javert:

Dans quelque cercle d'idées que tournat Marius, il en revenait toujours à certaine horreur de Jean Valjean...c'était un forçat; c'est-à-dire l'être qui, dans l'échelle social, n'a même pas de place, étant au-dessous du dernier échelon. Après le dernier des hommes vient le forçat. Le forçat n'est plus, pour ainsi dire, le semblable des vivants. (II, p. 680)

Marius at this late moment in the novel is still marked by that rigid, inhumane, pitiless attitude toward the criminal of which Javert has become a symbol:

Marius, sur les questions pénales, en était encore quoique démocrate, au systeme inexorable, et il avail, sur ceux que la foi frappe, toutes les idées de la loi. Il n'avait pas encore, disons-le, accompli tous les progrès. Il n'en était pas encore à distinguer autre ce qui est écrit par l'homme et ce qui est écrit par Dieu. (II, p. 680).

Thus Valjean is entirely "difforme et repoussant" (II, p. 681) to Marius. Of course Marius is not ultimately fixed in this attitude as the insistence of the "pas encore" shows. Once he learns of the true nature of Valjean, he realizes how "impitoyable," pitiless, he has been and asks for forgiveness: "C'est moi qui vous demande pardon, et à genoux encore!" (II, p. 730). Despite Marius's new-found wisdom, the dying Valjean nonetheless finds it necessary, as if to remind of this mortal lesson, to tell him that "Ces Thénardiers ont été méchants. Il faut leur pardonner" (II, p. 735).

Valjean's saintly example serves to instruct Marius and prepare him in one other way: through the novel Marius comes to recognize that his destiny is to serve the people as opposed to a quest for personal happiness; first given expression by the senator in his philosophical discussions with Myriel, it sounds more like sensual pleasure. Against such a way of life individual characters like Valjean and Myriel stand for sacrifice and duty to the people as the primary way of life. This opposition is emphatically stated and emerges as an important theme of the novel at the beginning of the final book of Les Misérables: "C'est une terrible chose d'être heureux! Comme on trouve que cela suffit! Comme, étant en possession du faux but de la vie, le bonheur, on oublie le vrai but, le devoir!" (II, p. 698). Although Hugo warns that it would be wrong to accuse Marius of this error, it is implied that this is indeed his tendency.45 The married couple has already been set upon this false course by Monsieur Gillenormand in his wedding speech:

Il est impossible de s'imaginer que Dieu nous ait faits pour autre chose que ceci; idolâtrer, roucouler, adoniser, être pigeon, être coq, béqueter ses amours du matin au soir, se mirer dans sa petite femme, être tier, être triomphant, faire jabot; voilà le but de la vie. (II, p. 646)

Living quite by this advice, the two, after some five or six months of married life, live in a quiet austerity and humility but have become distant from the people and social concerns as their ignorance of Valjean's decline indicates. No longer does Marius make use of that window upon the plebian world he once had. His and Cosette's life together has become narrow in two senses: financially and socially. The couple lives frugally, almost ascetically, practically in keeping with the demands of romantic populism; but they have, in their happiness, forgotten Valjean, the people, and their duty. When "Thénard" appears Marius is suddenly reminded of another world, that of the peuple, the misérables, which he has almost completely forgotten and to which he has a duty: "L'odorat, ce mystérieux aide-mémoire, venait de faire revivre en lui tout en monde" (II, p. 706).

Marius's preparation for leadership of the people is done not only by his miserable phase, which includes his discovery of the "mauvais peuple," by overcoming of his Javert-like punitive severity, and by his realization that "devoir" not "bonheur" is the purpose of life; it is also completed and forecast by his marriage to Cosette.

In the story of Marius and Cosette is a larger dimension: their romance mirrors or prefigures the romance of history.46 In their relationship is suggested the perfect, loving, reciprocal relationship of leader and people. Their marriage is a microcosm and a prefiguration of that Utopian, edenic society at the end of the romance of history in which misère has been vanquished. It has been suggested that the marriage of the two lovers represents a certain reconciliation of social classes.47 More specifically, it represents the reconiliation of the disparate parts of the French peuple in that Marius hails from the "haute bourgeoisie," the contented, part of the peuple, at least as his upbringing in the house of his grandfather M. Gillenormand is concerned. But their marriage also suggests a certain perfection of the relationship between the leader and the people which will foreshadow the progressive forward movement of history. Thus their own fictional romance is inscribed in the larger romance of history which Hugo continues to assert throughout Les Misérables.

In their love is figured the more democratic, loving reciprocity of the ruler and the ruled, the leader and the people.48 One can say for Marius as Hugo does for Valjean, "Cosette était sa nation" (II, p. 386). Gavroche of course underlines this other dimension in the relationship between Cosette and Marius when he says of Marius's letter written at the barricade to Cosette, "Elle vient du gouvernement provisoire" (II, p. 395) and further that "C'est là un "billet doux. C'est pour une femme, mais c'est pour le peuple" (II, p. 396).

Hugo's use of language emphasizes how Marius gains a symbolic sovereignty over Cosette. In the unkempt garden in the rue Plumet, Marius "peu à peu, lentement, par degrès, prenait chaque jour possession de Cosette" (II, p. 236). Although he looks upon everything about her as "des objets sacrés dont il était le maître," he is actually both her "seigneur" and her slave: "A côte de Cosette, il se sentait près de son bien, près de sa chose, près de son despote et de son esclave" (II, p. 237). Indeed she says to him, "Tu es mon maître" (II, p. 241); however, as a scene toward the end of the novel shows, theirs is a reciprocal relationship of command, obedience, and shared powers.

In the scene in which Marius has his discussion with Valjean about the latter's guilty past, a discussion which is broken off by Cosette's entrance, Cosette refuses at great length to obey her husband and leave the room (II, p. 669 ff).

In standard romance fashion Marius and Cosette fall in love practically at first sight; Marius thereafter suffers the expected love-sickness for the girl who becomes just as expectedly an ideal, an "étoile" (II, pp. 217; 219). Like the peuple she becomes idealized to Marius, and she become worthy of suffering for, as he tells her in his anonymous love letter: "Aimez. Une sombre transfiguration étoilée est mêlée à ce supplice. Il y a de l'extase dans l'agonie...Le coeur devient héroîque à force de passion" (II, p. 135).

A political dimension is constantly present in Marius and Cosette's love affair as the references to "despote," "esclave," and "maître" show. This relationship is reversed when Marius first begins his ideological changes: his grandfather assumes those absences in which he is reading about the French Revolution and Napoleon or visiting the grave of his father can be explained by some "amourette" or "fillette" he has found (I, pp. 751; 752). As their love idyll continues "Marius sentait Cosette vivre en lui" and Marius becomes "quelque chose qui faisait partie de Cosette et Cosette...quelque chose qui faisait partie de Marius" (II, p. 237). He comes to possess "tous les rêves de Cosette" (II, p. 236)—all of which suggests something beyond simple love between man and woman and more resembling that romantic idea of Michelet's that one can possess the "pensée du peuple," sometimes even better than the peuple itself.

The reunion and marriage of the two is several times called an Eden, and also Cosette becomes Marius's Eden (II, p. 598); reunited, "Cosette et Marius étaient passés brusquement du sépulcre au paradis" (II, p. 611). Gillenormand, who himself has been transformed politically by the recovery of Marius, puts the proper definition on the couple: "Ah! ah! voilà une toute-puissance, c'est la femme. Demandez à ce démagogue de Marius s'il n'est pas l'esclave de cette petite tyranne de Cosette...La femme! Il n'y a pas de Robespierre qui tienne, la femme règne.. .Qu'est-ce qu'Adam? C'est le royaume d'Eve. Pas de 89 pour Eve" (II, p. 644). No doubt Marius at this stage is still something of a demagogue, a style of plebian leadership recalling Plutarch's Caius Marius. More importantly, the two lovers are to be a new Adam and Eve; likewise their marriage represents a new perfect world, one not marred by dictatorial Robespierres who usurp the power of the people to themselves, one not requiring revolution at all, one in which the peuplela femme Cosette in this case—rule supreme.

Many aspects of Les Misérables make it a romance—even small details like Valjean's angered designation of Marius as "ce faineant de romance" (II, p. 391) and Marius's grandather's insistence upon calling his female servants Nicolette. The latter detail of course links the story of Marius and Cosette to one of the most famous of medieval romances, Aucassin et Nicolette, in which a young prince falls in love with and runs away with a servant girl. Les Misérables has its own stock of characters with mysterious origins, complicated multistranded plots, narrow escapes, brigands, death-like trances, imprisonment, lengthy digressions, and descents to the underworld.49 It is complicated too by the fact that it is a double romance: one involving the love between Marius and Cosette and another involving the path to sainthood of Valjean. Ordinarily the romance story pattern requires that a hero fall in love with the heroine, be separated, from her, undergo many trials, save the heroine, and at last he accepted as the new ruler of the kingdom. The entire pattern symbolizes the death and rebirth of the kingdom; the larger romance pattern written into Les Misérables involves a similar regeneration of the world but, in this case, one which is a return to an edenic existence.50

In Les Misérables, Valjean and not Marius is the hero who saves others; Marius is prepared for heroic activities in a time that lies beyond the last pages of the novel. The following passage foreshadows the role he will play:

Hélas! personne ne viendra-t-il au secours de l'âme humaine dans cette ombre? Sa destinée est-elle d'y attendre à jamais l'esprit, le libérateur, l'immense chévaucheur des pégases et des hippogriffes...le radieux chevalier de l'avenir? Appellera-t-elle toujours en vain à son secours la lance de lumière de l'idéal? Faut-il qu'elle reste là, sans une lueur...à jamais enchaînée au rocher de la nuit, sombre Andromède blanche et nue dans les ténèbres! (II, pp. 203-204)

Andromeda, like Prometheus, has been enchained in the mortal world, but for different reasons; she awaits Perseus, who will liberate her and slay the dragon that threatens her. The analogy as it is used in Les Misérables does not apply to Marius and Cosette but rather to that future relationship between Marius and the peuple. He will be the "radieux chevalier de l'avenir" and the peuple the heroine in distress. His act of enlightening and liberating the peuple will be the most crucial step in the larger world-historical romance, the "édénisation du monde."

Contents Next chapter


1Although, as Richard Grant in his The Perilous Quest: Image, Myth and Prophecy in the Narratives of Victor Hugo, (Duke University Press: Durham, N.C., 1968), has written, the novel has received "wide critical scorn, partly because of its inadequate sociology, which fails to capture a sense of lived reality," Les Misérables must be viewed more as a "blending of novel and theological epic" (p. 155), one in which the moral and mythic have priority over the sociological. Hugo himself described the novel in the Préface Philosophique as religious in nature: "Le livre qu'on va lire est un livre religieux ...L'auteur...est de ceux qui croient et qui prient." Cited in Pierre Albouy, "La 'Préface Philosophique' des 'Misérables,'" Hommage a Victor Hugo. Centenaire des 'Misérables' (Orphys: Strasbourg, 1962) p. 104.

2George Gusdorf, in his "Quel Horizon on voit du bout de la barricade," Hommage à Victor Hugo, argues that though the chief character of the novel, Valjean, is there only as a conscientious objector, without the barricade episodes, "Les Misérables ne seraient pas vraiment un roman social; ce serait le roman de quelques individus, non pas celui d'une société. Le peuple français demeureraient à l'arrière-plan; il fournirait quantité de figurants, mais ne deviendrait pas lui-même un personnage de grand format" (p. 176).

3Cited by George Gusdorf, Heinrich Heine confirms the general accuracy of Hugo's story: "C'est une erreur de croire que les héros de la rue Saint-Martin appartinssent tous aux basses classes du peuple ou, comme on dit, à la populace. Non, c'étaient pour la plupart des étudiants, de beaux jeunes gens, des artists, des journalistes et, dans le nombre, quelques ouvriers qui, sous leur veste grossière, portaient de nobles coeurs" (p. 176).

4All references are to Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, ed. M.-F. Guyard, 2 vols. (Garnier, 1963). The Roman numeral indicates the volume; the Arabic number indicates the page number.

5The same kind of characterization technique is implicit in the "sénateur's" comment to Myriel in the early pages of the book: "Nous sommes deux augures" (I, p. 40). Rénée Papin, in her "Un roman de la lumière," Europe, Nos. 394-395 (February-March, 1962), argues that Hugo's characters are "abstractions vivantes, comme l'a bien vu Baudelaire. Ce sont des figures 'idéales,' dont chacune est souvent un type; plus exactement chaque personnage est une incarnation qui prend place dans un type" (p. 37).

6Kathryn Grossman, "Jean Valjean and France: outlaws in search of integrity," Stanford French Review, 2 (1977), pp. 371-373: "Characterized by the continuing revolution of his conscience, his autonomy, and his devotion and sacrifice to a higher ideal, Jean Valjean represents far more than the common people moving toward Progress. He is the ideal citizen of a republic, a model for all of France...Jean Valjean also integrates, embodies, and illustrates all the major themes of Les Misérables, thereby serving as its coherent principle and underlying, guiding law."

7René Journet and Guy Robert, Le Mythe du peuple dans les 'Misérables' (Paris: Editions sociales, 1964), p. 73.

8These onomastic areas are explored by Richard B. Grant in his The Perilous Quest, p. 160, and by Michel Grimaud, "De Victor Hugo à Homère-Hogu: l'onomastique des Misérables" (Esprit Créateur, 16 [1976], pp. 220-230).

9Viewing Les Misérables as "vraiment un partie supplémentaire" of La Légende des siècles, H.-J. Hunt, in "Le Sens épique des 'Misérables,' Hommage à Victor Hugo, argues that Valjean, like the latter, is "le genre humaine, considéré, comme un grand, individu collectif" (p. 136).

10Pierre Albouy, "La 'Préface philosophique' des 'Misérables,'" Hommage à Victor Hugo, points out that in 1860 as he was rereading his manuscripts for Les Misères and writing the "Préface philosophique" which was to be a statement of his religious and political positions, he was in contact with Michelet by letter (p. 103).

11Gusdorf, Hommage à Victor Hugo, p. 179.

12Albouy, Hommage à Victor Hugo, p. 106. Also, Gusdorf argues that Hugo is one of those Romantics whose thought represents "une sorte de sacralisation de l'histoire profane," though the same can be said for Michelet. In the romantic revolutionary period, "l'histoire des sociétés humaines se trouve transfigurée par une nouvelle infusion d'eschatologie. L'eschatologie n'est pas autre chose que la présence ou l'imminence de l'absolu, l'exigence des fins extremes. Le ciel va visiter la terre: la condition humaine va connaître une sorte de promotion à la plénitude de l'infini" (Gusdorf, pp. 100, 185).

13Critics have often pointed to the similarity of Marius to Hugo's own early career. Hugo himself consistently saw the peuple in terms of a group to be saved from its suffering and misery. This equation appears frequently in his addresses to the Assembly during the Second Republic. See Paul Savey-Casard, "L'évolution démocratique de Hugo," Revue d'histoire littéraire de la France, 60 (1960), pp. 316-33.

14H.-J. Hunt, in his "Le sens épique des 'Misérables,'" Hommage à Victor Hugo, views Les Misérables as "une reprise de La Légende des siècles dans un cadre relativement restreint" (p. 137), and the following passage taken from the preface of La Legende, which outlines the romance or optimistic progressive view of history, is applicable to Les Misérables:

Les empreintes successives du profil humain...depuis Eve, mères de hommes, jusqu'à la Révolution, mères du peuple...; l'épanouissement du genre humain de siècle en siècle, l'homme montant des ténèbres à l'idéal, la transfiguration paradisiaque de l'enfer terrestre, l'éclosion lente et suprême de la liberté. (p. 135)

15One of the innkeepers Valjean appeals to for lodgings looks him over "comme on examine une vipère" (I, p. 86); as he enters Myriel's house, "C'était une sinistre apparition" (I, p. 95); like Satan he is a "paria des lois qui regardait l'homme avec colère, damné de la civilisation qui regardait le ciel avec sévérité" (I, p. 115).

16According to Jean-Bertrand Barrèrre, in his "Observations sur la conception religieuse des 'Misérables,'" Hommage à Victor Hugo, the novel "retrace l'itinéraire de J. Valjean vers la sainteté, qui le conduit par ses bonnes actions au détachement total, de lui-même d'abord, ensuite du monde" (p. 161).

17Albouy, in his "Des hommes, des bêtes et des anges" in Hommage à Victor Hugo, defines Les Misérables as "le roman de la rédemption" and "le mythe de Jean Valjean étant celui de la transfiguration de Satan en son frère rayonnant, le Christ, les personnages s'ordonnent par rapport à cette transfiguration centrale" (p. 54).

18In a discarded fragment of the novel, Hugo had developed this notion of misery itself as a force to divinize the peuple: "Misérable signifie vénérable...Souffrir, c'est mériter...Là où il y a un misérable, la survenue august d'un dieu est toujours possible." Cited in Albouy in Hommage à Victor Hugo, p. 58.

19Paul Savey-Casard argues this point, in his "L'évolution démocratique de Victor Hugo," tracing Hugo's literary interest in courtisans, "malfaiteurs," through Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamné, Marion Delorme, Marie Tudor, Ruy Bias: one can sense in these works "le chemin qui a mené l'écrivain de la defense des malfaiteurs à celle du peuple: les malfaiteurs ne sont qu'une catégorie des misérables" (p. 317).

20Savy-Casard, in his Le crime et la peine dans l'oeuvre de Victor Hugo (Paris: Presses Universitaires, 1956), alludes to this fact when he argues that "les questions qui se rattachement au crime et à la peine ont été à l'ordre du jour durant l'époque romantique" (p. 11) and that "cet engouement naît souvent d'une curiosité morbide, de l'attrait qu'on éprouve pour les sensations fortes, inconnues et perverses." In a letter to a friend George Sand wrote in l831, "Les monstres sont à la mode" (p. 11).

21As Renée Papin in her "Un roman de la lumière," Europe, Nos. 394-395 (February-March, 1962), argues, Hugo sets forth "une explication de la Misère" (p. 25) and that he was attracted to that "misère, selon l'idée évangélique que la misère et la pauvreté sont saintes" (p. 24-25); but in addition he wanted to "sonder jusque dans ses bas-fonds...pour que rien n'échappe des horreurs du gouffre des ténèbres" (p. 25).

22René Journet and Guy Robert, pp. 73-74.

23"...ses longs cheveux" are described as "tombant autour de son écuelle cachant ses yeux" giving him the appearance of seeing nothing (I, p. 107).

24Montparnasse, a member of the Patron-Minette gang, seems to have chosen evil out of sheer delight in it rather than out of misery, poverty. Attempting to rob Valjean he is overcome by the latter and given a stern lecture on the error of his ways, and set free with the money he was attempting to steal—none of which has any effect on the perverse Monparnasse (II, p. 119).

25To the pregnant, destitute Fantine as he abandons her, Tholomyès claims with grotesque comedy: "Nous rentrons dans la société, dans le devoir et dans le devoir et dans l'ordre, au grand trot, à raison de trois lieues à l'heure. Il importe à la patrie que nous soyons, connue tout le monde, préfets, pères de famille, gardes champêtres et conseillers d'Etat. Vénérez-nous" (I, p. l82).

26This moral or spiritual devastation is described as a kind of drowning or as the life of a sea creature: the "L'homme à la mer," the "déséperé," eventually gives himself up to the "eau monstrueuse" the "populace des vagues" (I, p. 120), goes under, and spiritually becomes an "âmes écrevisses" (I, p. 194) a strange antideluvian creature, a collective "polype monstrueux du mal" (I, p. 862); of course Gavroche can somehow spiritually as well as physically survive this milieu—he is like a "grenouille," a frog (I, p. 699).

27Having made it through the fontis, "Il se redressa, frissonnant, glacé, infect, courbé sous ce mourant qu'il traînait, tout ruisselant de fange, l'âme pleine d'une étrange clarté" (II, p. 553), Existence in the "profondeurs" of "misère" does not necessarily make moral degradation inevitable as Gavroche proves: "C'est qu'il a dans l'âme une perle, l'innocence, et les perles ne se dissolvent pas dans la boue" (I, pp. 685-686). Also, "Cet enfant du bourbier est aussi l'enfant de l'idéal" (I, p. 699). For Valjean, it is an "excès du malheur...l'avait fait en quelque sorte visionnaire" (I, p. 141).

28Upon his departure from prison, Valjean's soul is "desséchée ...A coeur sec, oeil sec...il y avait dix-neuf ans qu'il n'avait versé une larme" (l, p. 119). However, Myriel's simple act of calling him "Monsieur" is like "un verre d'eau à un naufragé" (l, p. 98).

29Indeed, Valjean's ability to pierce that "véritable roche dure" of "les intérêts" and "d'en faire jaillir les eaux vives de la felicité humaine" (II, p. 25) corroborates this usage.

30Les Misérables, II, p. 2?6.

31"On ne troube les diamants que dans les ténèbres de la terre; on ne trouve les vérités que dans les profondeurs de la pensée" (I, p. 283).

32"De fermes et rares natures son ainsi crées; la misère, presque toujours marâtre, est quelquefois mère; le dénûment enfante la puissance d'âme et d'espirit; la détresse est nourrice de la fierté le malheur est un bon lait pour les magnanimes" (I, p. 809). Developing this idea, R.B. Grant has argued that in Hugo's work, "the direct ascent does not lead to the true light" (p. l66), that "to go up is the way of destruction" (p. 164) and rather that descent is the way of salvation (p. 170).

33Napoléon's old generals faced with the rebellion of 5 June 1832 are described as "ces vieux matelots-là" (II, p. 290). Concerning the defeat at Waterloo: "le naufrage est-il imputable au pilote?" (I, p. 375).

34Jules Michelet, Oeuvres complètes. 4O vols. (Paris: Flammarion, 1893-99), II, p. viii.

35Pointing to this plebian "incapacité à s'aider lui-même," its need to "recevoir une aide de l'extérieur, d'en haut" and Hugo's inability to understand that this revolutionary enlightenment ought to come more properly from the peuple, from the "mouvement des choses," Papin argues that "C'est l'image de toute une partie du XIXe siècle, qui, disciple encore de la tradition philosophique, attend la vérité de l'extérieur, la verité du génie qui peut apporter ou contribuer à apporter toute faite aux peuples l'organisation sociale idéale" (Papin, p. 35).

36Jean Gaudon also briefly considers this analogy between Valjean and Prometheus before rejecting it: "Prométhée aussi était un voleur, mais non un voleur de pain, et l'on comprend assez bien la répulsion instinctive de Lamartine devant ce petit scélérat porté au pinnacle." Jean Gaudon, "Je ne sais quel jour de soupirail" in Hommage à Victor Hugo, p. 159.

37According to Pierre Albouy, in his La Création mythologique chez Victor Hugo (Corti: Paris, 1968), the idea of Prometheus as the revolt of the individual against unjust laws of God or against a cosmic order indifferent to human suffering does not apply to Hugo: "Chez lui, le Titan figure le peuple et en répresente la révolte, mais cette révolte va contre les rois, jamais contre Dieu—l'allié suprême du peuple et du Titan" (p. 209). For Albouy, "le Titan représente le Peuple" during Hugo's exile (p. 217). Whether Titans or not, Andromeda and Sisyphus—alluded to in the pages of the novel—can be added to this list.

38Valjean's life can be defined as from one end to the other a constant struggle with his soul: "The violence of the struggles between his conscience and his self-interest, for instance in the "affaire Champmathieu" and on Cosette's wedding night, attests to the continuing nature of this spiritual revolution. It consists, not in making automatically good responses to moral situations, but in having such responses proceed from a dynamic, growing, vital self" (Grossman, pp. 364-365).

39George Gusdorf observes that the notion of the "mission rédemptrice du peuple est caractéristique du socialisme romantique des années 1830." In these years the peuple becomes "un nouveau Christ collectif. Le rédempteur de la société" (pp. 186-7). Frank Bowman in his study Le Christ romantique examines a great deal of literature, usually in the form of pamphlets, journal articles, and popular poetry, that contains this formula: the peuple is constantly viewed as a "Christ flagellé, outragé, crucifié par les grands sur la terre;" this literature commonly set up "un long parallèle entre les persécutés des premiers siècles de l'ère chrétienne et les ouvriers et révolutionnaires morts dans les journées de juin" (Frank Bowman, Le Christ romantique [Geneva: Droz, 1973], pp. 49, 112).

40Michel Grimaud, among others, has called attention to the importance Hugo placed on onomastics in his works: in a fragment from his Post-scripteur de ma vie, Hugo states that "On ne remarque pas assez que le poète de génie seul sait superposer à ses créations des noms qui leur ressemblent et qui les expriment. Un nom doit être une figure. Le poète qui ne sait pas cela ne sait rien" (p. 221). Though a name in Hugo's fiction is indeed suggestive of the character's "essence" and destiny ("nomen est omen"), it should be clear that Marius complicates this formula by overcoming as well as living up to the ready-made identity inherent in his name.

41Other critics of the novel have suggested the possibility of the name Marius as a deformation of one of Hugo's own names, Marie—certainly a possibility. But M.-F. Guyard's study of the earlier versions of Les Misérables indicates Hugo's insistence upon placing "la mère Plutarque" somewhere in the vicinity of Marius: in a note dated 1860 Hugo was considering naming Madame Burgon, "mère Plutarque" (p. 96).

42Grossman, p. 369.

43Bernard Leuilliot, for example, sees Marius as "bien la figure romanesque du jeune Victor-Marie," in his "Présentation de Jean Valjean" in Hommage à Victor Hugo. Centenaire du Misérables, 1862-1962 (Orphys: Strasbourg, 1962), p. 54.

44As Jean-Bertrand Barrère argues, in his "Observations sur la conception religieuse des 'Misérables'" in Hommage à Victor Hugo, Valjean is un instrument de Providence" (p. 161); indeed he plays this role for Marius in several ways. Both Cosette and Marius can be considered, as Barrère does the first of the two, the "instrument de sa rédemption totale," (p. 166), but Valjean plays a similar role toward the two lovers, particularly Marius.

45"Commentant la devise de notre république, le poète observe que l'égalité est un 'fait,' la liberté un 'doit,' mais la fraternité, 'un devoir.' Le riche doit se faire une âme compatissante à l'égard des déshérités" (Savey-Casard, "L'évolution démocratique de Victor Hugo,") p. 331.

46A similar reading of Notre-Dame de Paris has been done by Kathryn Wildgen in her "Romance and Myth in Notre-Dame de Paris," French Review, 49 (1976), p. 319. She is right that reading Notre Dame or Les Misérables as romance "will not necessarily prove anything, but will add to the comprehension of the depth and of the intricacy of the book."

47Among other passages in the novel this reconciliation is suggested by the description of the wild, untended, overly-luxurious garden at Valjean and Cosette's house on the rue Plumet: it represents a fraternal commingling of all plants:

Les arbres s'étaient baisses vers les ronces, les ronces étaient montées vers les arbres...troncs, rameaux, feuilles, fibres, touffes, vrilles, sarments, épines, s'etaient mêlés, traveres, mariés, confondus; la végétation, dans un embrassement étroit et profond, avait célèbre et accompli là...le saint mystère de sa fraternité, symbole de la fraternité humaine (II, p. 78).

Like Marius and Cosette's marriage it is also a symbol of great, regenerative force: "En floréal, cet enorme buisson, libre derrière sa grille et dans ses quatre murs, entrait en rut dans le sourd travail de la germination universelle" (II, p. 78).

48Both Paul Savey-Casard and H.-J. Hunt discuss Hugo's difficult, shifting ideas on the necessity of a powerful leader to make the perfect republic possible. Despite his disappointment with Louis-Phillippe and Napoleon III, Hugo continued to view strong, competent, idealist leadership as good in two respects: one, to bring about reforms, the end of "misère," all the more rapidly; and two, to guard against one of the dangers of plebian revolution—anarchy. (Savey-Casard, "L'évolution démocratique de Hugo," pp. 316-333, and Hunt, "L'impulsion socialist dans la pensée politique de Victor Hugo," Revue d'histoire littéraire de la France, 33 (1933), pp. 209-223).

49In The Secular Scripture, Frye points out that a romance hero is "analogous to the mythical Messiah or deliverer who comes from an upper world" (p. 187), and, after killing the dragon and marrying the dying old king's daughter, "succeeds to the kingdom" (p. 189). Furthermore these motifs of the descent quest and the marriage to the virgin heroine both symbolize regeneration and rebirth (pp. 120-21).

50This discussion of the characteristics of the romance is indebted to Carol Gesner's fine study Shakespeare and the Greek Romance (Kentucky University Press: Lexington, 1970), a work itself indebted to Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism.