Les Misérables: The Paris of the Misérables

Volumes 3-5 of Les Misérables are heavily set in Paris and before my flight has landed in CDG-Roissy, I promised myself that with my one-and-a-half month, I would visit every, single setting of Les Misérables in Paris. My biggest problem was how great Paris has changed from Paris of the 1830s to Paris of today. The Paris of Les misérables was still the medieval city of narrow, cobbled and zig-zaging streets, foul-smelling sewers and ineffective city planning. The Paris of today is the post-Haussman cosmopolitan city of wide, tree-lined avenues, white-washed, mansard-roofed, grilled appartments, closer to Phantom than Les Miz. Larger and more established locations were easy enough to find but residential settings were harder to find given the dissolution and re-naming of streets. I looked through the blogs of other hard-core Les Miz fans who have undertaken the quest before me and I’m returning the favor by posting this for those fans who will undertake the quest after me. Good luck and enjoy!

Gorbeau Tènement (Metro: Place d’Italie)
Valjean and Cosette’s first Paris residence and later Marius and the Thénardiers’ is described to be in a shady and deserted area in the Place d’Italie near the outskirts of Paris. It still is in the outskirts of Paris but it looks neither shady nor deserted. Alas, moderate traffic and a shopping mall!
Convent of the Petit-Picpus (Metro: Picpus)
The fictional convent where Valjean and Cosette take refuge in and where Cosette is educated is found in this area. Honestly, it’s a very unlikely location for a convent but the Boulevard de Picpus does continue into the Place de la Nation where André Chenier, the poet spoken of by Grand-père Gillenormand was guillotined.
Marais (Metro: Saint-Paul for access to the heart of the Marais; Bastille, Chemin Vert, Hotel de Ville, Filles-du-Calvaire, etc. for other locations)
Described to be the remnant of the medieval Paris, the Marais is a maze of crooked and narrow streets, indeed reminiscent of a time gone by despite a number of Haussmann buildings. All the falling action of Les Miz takes place here – Marius and Cosette’s wedding, their home in the rue des Filles-du-Calvaire, Valjean’s death, and many scenes before that. The Pletzl in the rue de Rosiers serves the best Falafel and Chez Bourgogne (a favorite of Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir) in the Place des Vosges serves the best escargot à la bourguignonne. The best time to wander is at night, when the Place des Vosges and the Colonne de Juillet are lighted up and the Marais plays its own part in giving Paris the name of “City of Lights” and becomes reminiscent of its aristocratic roots.
6 rue des Filles-du-Calvaire (Metro: Filles-du-Calvaire)
In the eastern side of the Marais, Marius lived in the rue des Filles-du-Calvaire with his grandfather and aunt and returns here after the barricade. He and Cosette settle in here after their marriage. Note: Don’t confuse the rue des Filles-du-Calvaire with the boulevard des Filles-du-Calvaire which I initially did.
rue Servandoni (Metro: Saint-Sulpice, Odéon; RER: Luxembourg)
Luc-Esprit Gillenormand’s residence before “retiring from society” does reflect the glamour of 18th century since the area is filled by luxury shops such as YSL and Annick Goutal, and connected to even more moderate to expensive shopping streets along rue Bonaparte (Pierre Hermé, Ladurée  and more expensive shopping in front of Saint-Germain-des-Pres), rue de Vieux Colombier (Longchamp and other bag stores) and rue de Rennes (one of my favorite shopping areas; more moderately priced) in addition to being part of the already ritzy Faubourg Saint-Germain. The location has not changed since it still opens into the Eglise Saint-Sulpice.

Eglise Saint-Sulpice (Metro: Odéon, Saint-Sulpice; RER: Luxembourg)
When Marius was a little boy, his aunt brought him to mass in this church while his father watched him grow, hidden behind a pillar, terrified of being seen by his sister-in-law lest his son be disinherited. Similarly, the young Victor Hugo would secretly watch his beloved Adèle from behind a pillar during mass time and it is here years later that they eventually marry. It is also here that Marius, after attending mass as an adolescent, discovers the truth about his father which catalyzes his change of political ideas. The church is the second largest in Paris after Notre-Dame and is known for its mismatched towers. The best time to visit is in the late afternoon, just before closing time since this is the time typically used for classical concerto rehersals. I walked in one for Mozart and got to watch tidbits of a Mozart concerto for free before the tourists were chased out for the actual, charged concert.

Café Musain (RER: St-Michel-Notre-Dame)
Contrary to what is apparently popular belief, the Café Musain is not the McDonald’s in the rue Soufflot. It is clearly stated that Café Musain was in the Place St-Michel, which is the image on the right, near the Panthéon, not in the Place du Panthéon, which has crêperies near it, McDonald’s being on the other end of the street, facing the Jardin du Luxembourg. It is easy to imagine student revolutionaries in a café in the Place St-Michel since it is in the general area of the Quartier Latin, stereotyped as the student district and generally overflowing with young people. It’s easy to see the Pantheon from this area which may account for the mistake. If you take the shortcut from Place St-Michel to the Panthéon, stop for a crêpe  the area serves the second-best crêpes in Paris (the first being Montmartre).
Quartier Latin (Metro: Cluny-La Sorbonne, Odéon, Gare d’Austerlitz, etc; RER: Luxembourg, Saint-Michel-Notre-Dame)
Another remnant of Paris of another day with crooked streets and mazes and one of my favorite quartiers. The first university was established here and most of the subsequent educational institutions. Because of this, Latin was the only language allowed in the area, hence, giving way to the term “Latin Quarter”. Tourists may be flocking the area but it is still the Paris of the students – the food is cheaper, the aura of people more dynamic and since it is in the area of  many universities and lycées, it is a bookworm haven with at least one librairie in literally every other street corner. The Faculty of Law is here as well, most probably the very same one that Marius and Bossuet have attended. It is also very close to two massive gardens, the Jardin du Luxembourg and the Jardin des Plantes for small escapades from stress, the former seems to be the students’ preferred though.
 

Jardin du Luxembourg (Metro: Odéon; RER: Luxembourg, Porte-Royale)
It is impossible to imagine not falling in love in this garden. The place where Marius and Cosette meet and fall in love is really the most beautiful garden I have ever seen with flowers blooming everywhere, a pond for children to sail their boats in during the summer, the Medici fountain and its ducks. The best part of it all? Peace and quiet. I always came here after work to just finish a book, stroll or feed the ducks, which seems to be what everyone does here anyway. Here it’s easy to forget one is in a big city. I’ve seen comments about how crowded it can get sometimes, well I found a solution for that: come either before ten in the morning or after six in the evening. The garden is almost all yours and the sunset which turns everything orange is one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen in Paris. The better question here would be, how can Marius and Cosette not fall in love here?
Odéon (Metro: Odéon; RER: Luxembourg)
Love-struck Marius encounters his friend Courfeyrac in the Odeon’s arcades and a couple more encounters among the other students take place here. Known also as Odeon Theatre de l’Europe, this is where Hugo’s famous play Hernani was first staged. It’s triumph marked the triumph of Romanticism in France.
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Eglise Saint-Jacques-du-Haut-Pas (RER: Luxembourg)
In Thénardier’s letters, it is revealed that Jean Valjean is the gentleman who goes to church at Saint-Jacques-du-Haut-Pas near the Jardin du Luxembourg with his daughter.
rue Mouffetard (RER: Luxembourg)
After witnessing the plans of the Thénardiers to rob Valjean, Marius runs down this street on his way to alert the police. Mouffetard is a very lively street in the Quartier Latin with cheap food and is the best and longest market street in Paris. If you go here, make sure to grab a Nutelle-Banane crêpe  It’s massive – and cheap! The saucisses secs in the boucherie are also a must – and the fromagerie right in front of it. On Sundays after the mass, the church area near the fruit market becomes very lively with the quartier’s elderly couples dancing along to an acordion – a lovely sight you cannot miss! The street is one of my absolute favorites in Paris, only, I wonder at Marius’ choice of route, seeing as this street is at least fourty-five minutes away from the Place d’Italie (I know because it took me more than an hour, walking at a leisurely pace to walk from the much closer Jardin des Plantes.to here).
16 rue de la Verrerie (Metro: Hotel de Ville)
In Volume IV, Marius’ bestfriend, Courfeyrac, moves to the rue de la Verrerie in the Marais for “political reasons” and Marius later joins him at the address after he leaves the Gorbeau Tènement. The location in the Marais is indeed, much closer to the barricades and Valjean’s house at the rue de l’Homme Armé. It’s funny to think that if Valjean and Cosette moved here from the rue de l’Ouest instead of the rue Plumet, Marius would probably go home earlier than one in the morning – or later.
La Force (Metro: Hotel de Ville)
After the attempted robbery of Valjean, Thénardier and Patron-Minette are all put into the La Force prison in the Marais which is now, simply an appartment building.

rue Plumet (Metro: Sèvres-Babylone, Invalides)
The street where Marius and Cosette confess their love to one another and meet every night has been renamed rue Oudinot. It is indeed very near the Invalides and it is easy to see its dome from the end of the street. I haven’t found any house with a garden in rue Oudinot nor in rue Babylone, the parallel street where the other side of the rue Plumet house is supposed to be. I did find of plenty possible locations of the garden when I was strolling down the boulevard des Invalides and boulevard de Montparnasse. Considering this location, I have realized something about Marius’ character not emphasized in the novel – he likes taking very, very, very long walks. To get to the Quartier des Invalides from his place in the Marais, one has to walk the length of the rue de Rivoli until the Place de la Concorde (where you will pass the entire length of the very large Musée du Louvre and Paris’ largest garden, the Tuileries) then continue on to the Champs-Elysée and turn left into the Pont Alexandre III then walk past the Invalides and down the boulevard des Invalides until one reaches rue Oudinot. No wonder Marius always came home at one in the morning!
Bastille (Metro: Bastille)
The location of the prison whose fall marks the beginning of the French Revolution and the elephant sculpture where Gavroche and his brothers have taken refuge now holds instead the Colonne de Juillet which commemorates the monarchy of Louis-Philippe and the Opéra de la Bastille. It can be found at the eastern end of the Marais and its metro station depicts the fall of the Bastille. On Sundays it plays hosts to a lively street market and it is here that the Socialist Party partied after François Hollande’s presidential victory May of last year.
Barricades!!! (Metro/ RER: Châtelet-Les Halles)
Now on to the real tragic setting. The barricades where Eponine and the Amis de l’ABC fought and fell is located in the Les Halles area of Paris, the former market place. Well, Les Halles, is still a market but a very different Market. The actual Market has been moved to the banlieue and in its stead is the Forum des Halles, an underground shopping mall. Somehow it’s harder to imagine screaming Vive la République! from the top of a barricade built on a shopping mall. It is near a pretty square with interesting artwork, however, near the Centre Pompidou, the museum of modern art. Extra caution must be taken in this area at night though where it is known for its crime rate.
40 rue de l’Homme armée (Metro: Hotel de Ville)
Valjean’s final residence and the place where he died is now a school. The street has been absorbed into the rue des Archives, so named because of the presence of the Archives Nationale of France. While it was a small street, just like any other street in the Marais, I didn’t find it run-down or impossible as they kept insisting it was in the novel.
Pont-au-Change (Metro: Cité, Hotel de Ville, Pont Neuf; RER: Saint-Michel-Notre-Dame)
After freeing Jean Valjean, Javert strolls Paris, contemplating his decision and ultimately throws himself off the Pont-au-Change into a deadly whirlpool unable to reconcile himself to the superiority of the law of God to that of man. An interesting fact about the bridge is, as I had read someone observe before, in between Notre-Dame de Paris and the Palais de Justice, that is the law of God and of man. It also looks out into the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris whoch translates to “new bridge”. What a location, huh?

Eglise Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis (Metro: Saint-Paul)
Marius and Cosette got married in a church at the very heart of the Marais (Seriously. The metro station’s sub-heading is “Le Marais” and this is the typical starting point for wandering the quarter). This was also the church in which Victor Hugo’s favorite child, Léopoldine, married Charles Vacquerie at the age of nineteen in 1843 after which her father gave a sizable donation to the church. The church is also very near the Hugo residence in the Place des Vosges. The front façade of the church was under renovation but access is still open for inside the church. It is not as grand as the Notre-Dame or the Saint-Sulpice but this Jesuit church is still very pretty and it becomes very beautiful during the daytime when sunlight streams in. Its small size also makes a wedding much, much more intimate. I visited here after a second trip to the Maison de Victor Hugo and I swear, with the sunlight streaming in, Marius and Cosette’s wedding flashed before my eyes. The area surrounding the church hosts a number of cheap Asian dining.
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Faye

Faye

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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