Review: Les misérables IV: L’idylle rue Plumet et l’épopée rue St-Denis

L’amour n’a point de moyen terme; ou il perd, ou il sauve. Toute la destinée humaine est ce dilemme-là. Ce dilemme, perte ou salut, aucune fatalité ne le pose plus inexorablement que l’amour. L’amour est la vie, s’il n’est pas la mort. Berceau; cercueil aussi. Le même sentiment dit oui ou non dans le coeur humain. De toute les choses que Dieu a faites, le coeur humain est celle qui dégage le plus de lumière, hélas! et le plus de nuit.
Dieu voulut que l’amour que Cosette rencontra fut un de ces amours qui sauvent.
(Love has no middle ground; either it loses, or it saves. All human destiny is in this dilemma. This dilemma, lose or save, there is no fatality that poses this more inexorably than love. Love is life, if it is not death. A cradle, yet likewise a coffin. The same sentiment says yes and no in the human heart. Of all things that God had made, the human heart is that which gives the most light, alas! and the most night.
God wanted the love that met Cosette to be one of those loves that saves.)
Rating: 5/ 5
Author: Victor Hugo (1862)
While Les misérables II: Cosette ends in a Parisian setting in what is now the 12me arrondissement, it is Volume III: Marius which puts the capital as the novel’s primary setting, making the city a character in its own right. Temporarily living in Paris last spring, it felt only right for me to re-read this volume in all the glory of its original text in the city of its setting and since then I have made it a point of re-reading the remaining two volumes during my prolonged breaks in preparation for the film to be released on Christmas Day (January here in the Philippines).
That which I find most amazing about Hugo’s masterpiece is that the novel is a love story in its entirety – a story of a one’s love for God, for a parent, for a child, for one’s country, for all humanity, all forms of love are ever-present and constitute a driving theme. Among these, only the love between Marius and Cosette is presented in its romantic form and this drives half the volume’s climax which is summarized in its title – the idyll of the rue Plumet. Volume IV presents the “conjunction of two stars” from Cosette’s perspective just as Volume III has done for Marius. The Cosette of the present is a jeune fille who in her solitude had a heart all ready for a love that had but to come. In the beautiful gardens of the Palais du Luxembourg, her and Marius’ gazes meet after months of indifference and the consequent feelings of this rattles this convent girl who knew only of love in the spiritual sense to her core, but behind this rattling, she falls in love. She loses this love but regains it in her little garden in the rue Plumet (a reference to Hugo himself, recalling the Feuillatines garden in which he played as a child with his first love and later wife, Adèle Foucher) where the lovers enter into their own virginal paradise forgetting everything in the world but themselves.
“Vous avez été le prince de mon enfance. Un autre doit venir dans mon adolescence.” (You were the prince of my childhood. Another must come in my adolescene) from the Original French Concept Album best explains where Jean Valjean is in all this. From Cosette’s saviour in her childhood, Valjean has become a sort of villain and jailer in her romance. Valjean loves her only as his own daughter, yet she is the one person in the world he has been given to love and his reluctance to give her up is perfectly human, coupled with the persistence of Javert’s chase, this leads him to plan a permanent move to England separating the lovers. His selflessness and humanity eventually wins in his inner battle yet saintly as Valjean becomes, he remains among Hugo’s catalogue of very complex characters. Another is Luc-Esprit Gillenormand, Marius’ royalist grandfather, present only in the Original French in the musical adaptations. Gillenormand, we learn in the previous volume, is the mastermind behind the separation of the child Marius from his Bonapartist father. In the present, he witholds his consent to Marius and Cosette’s marriage and suggests the unforgivable insult that Marius instead makes Cosette his mistress, yet for all this, Gillenormand is more pitiful than hateful. He loves his grandson more than anything in the world and before this sad reunion, his one fear was of not seeing him once more before he dies. His inability to show affection and a large generation gap has kept grandson and grandfather apart and I was driven to tears reading about the pathetic old man screaming for the grandson who would probably never return after that last, awful mistake.
This volume reveals a far less heroic side of the sainted characters of the musical. Apart from Valjean, there are Marius and Eponine. The latter intercepts Cosette’s urgent last letter to Marius in the hopes of driving him to the hopeless barricade so that they may die together and this is exactly what drives the former, under the delusion of Cosette’s abandonment, rather than patriotic fervor to anticipate death with open arms in the  epic and revolutionary half of the volume’s climax. Eponine confesses her crime while dying in Marius’ arms, but only so that he won’t hate her when they see each other again very soon. Meanwhile, Marius’ more radical friends continue to hold the small barricade after the death of  one among their number knowing that their own end is near and still not believing that their deaths will be for naught. Again, as with Gillenormand, Eponine is not worthy of hate as Marius and his friends are not worthy of belittling, rather all are worthy of pity and empathy. Even the antagonist Javert, with his excessive obsession with the law is pitiful for his inability to undertand the greatness of the human spirit. Eponine and Gavroche’s parents, the Thénardier spouses are the only characters so twisted, evil and despicable beyond redemption. In the rest, Hugo so perfectly portrays human suffering and the complexity of humanity that only a heart of stone won’t be touched.
This constitutes my fifth re-reading of this volume (not counting the skimming) and yet, my heart continues to be wrung endlessly, even more so in reading the original text where nothing is lost in translation. Cheesy as it sounds, each read restores my faith in humanity and progress no matter how twisted and hopeless the world seems. There is no doubt that this is among the best if not the best itself of the French Romantic Age of which Hugo was a chief. As with its predecessors and its sequel, it would be sacrilege to give this work anything less than 5/ 5. I’ll be re-reading the last volume, Jean Valjean over the holidays and that will be another review coming up.
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A 21 years old Filipina who loves books, games, languages, and most especially, food. Secretly wishes to be an astronaut so she can explore the stars. Has a love-hate relationship with Philippine politics. To get in her good graces, offer her Foie Gras, Or shrimp. Or a JRPG. A YA sci-fi book works, too. You can follow her on twitter here: @kawaiileena

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