Review: Les misérables V – Jean Valjean

When you take me back, monsieur Pontmercy, will that make me not who I am? No, God thought as you and me, and He did not change His opinion; it is good that I will go. Death is a good arangement. God knows better than us what must be done – that you be happy,  that monsieur Pontmercy have Cosette, that youth marry the morning, that surrounding you, my children, would be lilacs and nightingales, that your life be a beautiful garden with the sun, that all the enchantments of the heavens fill your soul, and now, I who am no good for anything, that I die, surely all that is well.
(Quand vous me reprendriez, monsieur Pontmercy, cela ferait-il que je ne sois pas ce que je suis? Non, Dieu a pensé comme vous et moi, et il ne change pas d’avis; il est utile que je m’en aille. La mort est un bon arrangement. Dieu sait mieux que nous ce qu’il nous faut. Que vous soyez heureux, que monsieur Pontmercy ait Cosette, que la jeunesse épouse le matin, qu’il y ait autour de vous, mes enfants, des lilas et des rossignols, que votre vie soit une belle pelouse avec du soleil, que tous les enchantements du ciel vous remplissent l’âme, et maintenant, moi qui ne suis bon à rien, que je meure, il est sûr que tout cela est bien.)

Rating: 5/ 5
Author: Victor Hugo (1862)

Readers of Hugo’s works would no doubt be aware that he does not hesitate to kill off his characters in  large numbers. Eponine dies shortly before Volume IV ends and it is early in Volume V that her younger brother, the urchin Gavroche, follows amidst gunshots in the “no man’s land” before the barricade while collecting cartridges. By the time the novel ends, only two (well three, but the third is a villain) of the more important characters survive and true to the Hugo genius, all the deaths end with a bang – Gavroche taunts his agressors until he is shot, Javert throws himself into the Seine after realizing the inferiority of his deified law of man to the law of God, the Amis de l’ABC romantically die one by one for their ideals concluding with Grantaire and Enjolras, the former at the feet of his idol and the latter after revealing, again, in line with the romanticism of the age, that his heart belongs to France.

As I had written in my last Les Mis review, Les misérables is first and foremost, one great love story and that very love story culminates in this volume. Jean Valjean saves little, unloved Cosette from her miserable existence in Volume II and in raising the helpless little girl as his own daughter, his own heart which has been dormant for so long, learns to love and as he welcomes her into an existence that knows love, he teaches little Cosette to love. Hence, Cosette grows up in an environment of love and upon falling in love in her maidenhood, this is what allows her to love so completely and selflessly that upon her union with Marius, Hugo describes this love as a culmination, no greater pearl can be found in life. Only, this culmination becomes the driving force behind another tragedy – Cosette is now the center of Marius’ world and Marius the center of her own. Valjean, great martyr that he is, confesses his true identity to Marius who then drives him away from Cosette, considering himself her new protector and horrified by the ex-convict’s past. Cosette of course, is hurt by Valjean’s distant behaviour, who she still loves as a father despite learning that he is not, but eventually resigns herself to it and at length, more preoccupied with her and Marius’ wedded bliss and her love for her husband overshadowing that for her father, she (ungratefully) neglects him and it is ultimately this distance, neglect and longing by and for Cosette that slowly kills Jean Valjean, ultimately the most driving and tragic death in the volume.

I have mixed feelings over Marius and Cosette in this volume. They are good people and I have rooted for their happiness, but one can’t help but condemn the fact that happiness on the part of one and misjudgement on the other has caused the suffering to the man who has done so much for them. They redeem themselves, of course, arriving just before Jean Valjean dies to make amends and cast the former convict into the mold of a saint and I do believe that both Marius and Cosette will grieve his death and feel his loss, only I feel that their lovers’ selfishness may have prevented his death. Yet, for all that, I see the logic in Valjean’s death. His task is done. He has fulfilled the promise to the Bishop – he has redeemed himself and more than that he has fulfilled his life’s goal – Cosette’s happiness; he dies leaving his beloved child in the care of a man who will put her at the center of his world just as he has done. Despite the suffering it has caused Valjean, it makes sense that Cosette and Marius’ union is the culmination of this great love story, an end to the cycle of orphans and poverty and misery and lack of love. Jean Valjean is the last misérable and Marius and Cosette are Fortune, risen out of misery, the hope for a future of love.

Again, I have to give this five stars otherwise, that would be blasphemy. Five reads later, it still broke my heart, yet I keep coming back to it nevertheless – that should be mark enough of a masterpiece. There’s a hole in my heart yet it has left wanting nothing.

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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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