Tag Archives: Courfeyrac

Commandeering the Tavern

Grantaire skips out on the insurgency to get drunk. Joly and Laigle are with him. Joly has a cold, but is drinking anyway. (Grantaire feels slighted that Enjolras didn’t invite him to the revolution, and declares he won’t go to his funeral. Truer words…)

Have I mentioned lately how much I like Donougher’s translation?

‘Sbeaking of revolution,’ said Joly, ‘abbarently Barius is badly in love.’
‘Do we know who with?’ asked Laigle.
‘Doh, I said.’

Enjolras and the rest walk by on their way to find a spot to build a barricade, stop to chat, and figure, hey, it’s a nice defensible spot, why not make our stand here? Much to the consternation of the tavern owner, the widow Hucheloup.

I find myself wondering whether they would have been quite so casual in commandeering the tavern if the owner and staff weren’t all women. I’m sure they would have still done it, but I suspect they would have gone about it differently.

Admittedly they seize a passing cart and a horse-drawn bus for building the actual barricade. But there’s no description of how they treat the carter or the bus driver (though they’re at least polite to the passengers and let the horses loose). Grantaire and Joly harass the widow and the waitresses until Courfeyrac and Enjolras step in and tell them to knock it off.

Only Courfeyrac even attempts to console Mme. Hucheloup as they tear apart her home and business, and he’s extremely bad at it, suggesting it’s her chance to get back at the city for fining her over minor code violations. She’s not convinced.

(Incidentally, Grantaire has moved on from wine and is drinking a mixture of stout, brandy and absinthe. No wonder he sleeps through the entire siege.)

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Getting Schooled

I’ve mentioned that Donougher’s translation preserves a lot more of Hugo’s wordplay than Denny’s. Here’s a pun that Denny couldn’t get rid of: the Friends of the ABC (abaissé). It’s literally the whole point of the name.

Just as each main character or group represents a part of society, each of the major students represents a part of revolution: Enjolras is purpose, Combeferre wisdom, Jean Prouvere the artist, Feuilly the world perspective (well, the broader European perspective anyway), Courfeyrac the center of the group, Bahorel the fighter, and so on.

There’s a lot of humor and, again, wordplay. Grantaire is nicknamed “Grand R” (capital R). Bossuet’s bad luck is described in great detail, as is Joly’s hypochondria, Feuilly’s obsession with the first Partition of Poland as the root of all the world’s ills, and the story of Lesgle/L’Aigle/Lègle/Lesguelles/Bossuet’s many names. (I don’t think “legal eagle” is a thing in French, which is a pity, because it would add another layer of puns to the law student’s name.)

I’ve said it before, but Grantaire is totally a hipster, before hipsters were uncool.

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Last Stand at the Barricade

The barricade, and the wider insurrection it’s a part of, is doomed. We get another philosophical chapter, as Hugo contrasts the revolt which has the support of the populace with the revolt that doesn’t. Even if the revolution is noble in purpose, “One cannot goad people into moving faster than they are prepared to go.”

“Victory, if it is in accord with progress, deserves the applause of mankind; but an heroic defeat deserves one’s heartfelt sympathy.”

Nice: “We say to them: ‘You are robbing Hell of its pavements!’ To which they might reply: ‘That is why our barricade is built of good intentions.’”

Every once in a while, Hugo reminds the reader that, however socially progressive he might be, he still has his own blind spots. He wants society to stop exploiting women, but doesn’t want to fully enfranchise them. Here he comments on the need for civilization, and revolution, to have artists…but that “a civilizing race must be a masculine race.” It’s a bit jarring, even when you consider how imbalanced the cast is in both size and agency.

“The modern ideal finds its prototype in art and its method in science.”

“…in this play which centres upon a social outcast, and of which the real title is, Progress.” Well, it’s certainly easier to spell.

Page 1048: Hugo lays out the main theme of the whole book in a single paragraph.

The book which the reader now holds in his hands, from one end to the other, as a whole and in its details, whatever gaps, exceptions, or weaknesses it may contain, treats of the advance from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsity to truth, from darkness to daylight, from blind appetite to conscience, from decay to life, from bestiality to duty, from Hell to Heaven, from limbo to God. Matter itself is the starting-point, and the point of arrival is the soul. Hydra at the beginning, an angel at the end.

Fall of the Barricade

It’s still broad daylight when the army makes its full attack. Waves of soldiers attack, are repulsed, attack again. The army has a huge advantage in numbers, weaponry, and having actually eaten in the last day, but the barricade has the advantage of position…and being manned by idealists.

Enjolras is keeping himself out of sight while trying to keep track of the entire battle, while Marius “I want to die” Pontmercy sets himself up as a target.

“The defenders’ ammunition was running low, but not their sarcasm.” Bossuet asks what Courfeyrac did with his hat. “It was taken off by a cannon-ball.” Combeferre remarks of those who said they would join but didn’t, “There are people who observe the rules of honour as we do the stars, from a very long way off.”

After several waves of attacks, most of the defenders are killed, and the barricade is breached. Marius and Enjolras are the last of the students/leaders to survive, Marius drenched in blood from head and shoulder wounds, Enjolras remarkably unscathed because someone’s always there to hand him a new weapon when he needs one.

The last few rebels fall back to the tavern, Enjolras covering them alone while Marius collapses from loss of blood. They’re so focused on breaking into the tavern that no one notices Valjean carrying Marius off.

By the time the soldiers breach the door, the rebels have all retreated to the upper floor and cut down the staircase. Paving stones, the last few bullets, and finally those wine bottles serve as weapons.

Last Stand

Enjolras and Grantaire at the Firing SquadThe soldiers climb up to the second floor, where they find Enjolras standing there, alone, surrounded by his dead comrades, saying, “Shoot me!” Come at me, bro!

One of the soldiers lowers his musket, remarking that he’s too pretty to kill. “I feel as though I’d be shooting a flower.”

Grantaire has slept through the whole battle in a drunken stupor, and awakens in the silence. Realizing what’s happened, he interrupts the firing squad, walks over to Enjolras, and says, “Might as well kill two birds with one stone.” Then he turns to Enjolras: “If you don’t mind.”

The man dedicated to the ideals of the movement, and the man who rejected them all but idolized their leader, die together. While I think Hugo was going more for rebuffed hero worship here, I can definitely see a parallel between Marius/Éponine and Enjolras/Grantaire.

A few minutes later, the soldiers take the last few holdouts in the attic and cellar, and it’s all over.


Valjean has spent his time tending to the wounded, shoring up the barricade, and other support jobs, not willing to take part in the fighting. This makes his request to be the one to execute Javert stand out even more than it would otherwise.

We start to see into his head again as he tries to figure out how to escape with the unconscious Marius, calling back to the chase through Paris years before, but we still have no sense of why he’s there, except that it involves Marius. The epiphany portrayed in “Bring Him Home” takes place entirely off the page, and it’s not clear when he reached the decision to rescue him, or even whether it was made deliberately or on the spur of the moment.

It’s strange that, because of the staging of the show, I can’t help but picture this as happening at night, when it’s actually early in the afternoon.

As the battle rages inside the tavern, offering a few minutes of cover, Valjean desperately looks for a way out, finally spotting an iron grate in the street. Into the sewers!

Pages 1041-1060, concluding the epic “War Within Four Walls” chapter. Image by Jeanniot from an unidentified edition of Les Misérables, via the Pont-au-Change illustration gallery.

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Hey Barricade, Who’s in Charge Here?

Initial skirmishes on the barricade, the first deaths, Marius’ suicide mission, Gavroche pushing things a bit too far, and Valjean reaching another crisis point.

Back to the barricade. Night falls, and the defenders are gearing up for an attack. There’s a wonderfully creepy description of the glimpses they see of the soldiers at the far end of the darkened street, a “multitude of metallic gleams, needle-thin, scarcely perceptible and constantly in motion.”

The soldiers really do ask “Who’s there” and Enjolras really does respond, “The French Revolution!” Now I feel like an idiot for thinking it shouldn’t be in the movie. Of course, now that I’ve read up to this point, it’s clear that the ABC Society feels like they’re the heirs to the original revolution, keeping its spirit alive.

The First to Fall

80-year-old Pere Mabeuf has been sort of lost in his own little world since he arrived, talking silently to himself and not noticing events around him. But when the first hail of bullets hits the barricade, stunning the rebels and knocking down the flag, he stands up, walks over to Enjolras, picks up the flag, and climbs the barricade. “Long live the Revolution! Long live the Republic! Fraternity, Equality – and Death!”…with predictable results.

Enjolras does what he does best, which is to quickly spin it into motivation: He’s set an example for the rest of us, and we’ll fight with his bloodstained coat as our new flag. Basically what he does with Éponine’s death in the musical. I remember thinking that ability and focus was impressive the first few times I saw the show, but these days I want to shake him and shout, “Give them a moment, for pity’s sake!”

Marius to the Rescue. No, Really!

Marius shoots the guardsmanThe next attack almost takes the barricade. Bahorel is killed (the first of the students to die), Courfeyrac is shot, Gavroche faces a bayonet thrust…

And then Marius rushes in, guns blazing. The fact that he has two is important, because he doesn’t have to stop and reload. One shot saves Courfeyrac, the other Gavroche. Who the hell knew the “little nincompoop of a lawyer” could aim?

Irony: Gavroche was armed with the pistol Javert had been carrying, which hadn’t been loaded, while Marius was armed with the pistols Javert gave him four months earlier, which have been loaded since February. (But not as loaded as Grantaire.)

It’s only a few seconds, but it’s enough of a reprieve to rally the group, and they hold out long enough for Marius to grab a full powder-keg and threaten to blow the whole place sky-high — rebels, soldiers and all — if they don’t retreat. Since he actually wants to die, they take him seriously and run like hell.

Marius asks who’s in charge. Enjolras says you are now. It’s not exactly what he had in mind. I find myself thinking of the missing comma in The Prisoner: “Who is Number One? You are, Number Six.”

Jean Prouvaire dies next, captured in the melee. They’re just about to trade Javert for him, when they hear him shout, as the chapter title puts it, his last poem: “Long live France! Long live the future!” — then a gunshot. It’s reminiscent of how Javert doesn’t get executed later on.

One of the things that I always wondered about is why the army didn’t just go around and come at them from the other side. Hugo actually addresses this as “a peculiarity of this type of warfare” and the risk of getting trapped in narrow, winding streets. I guess it depends on where you build it. There’s something to be said for making your own battleground.

A Breath Away

Marius is trying to absorb what’s happened, when he hears his name and sees a shape crawling along the street toward him. It’s Éponine, who, as it turns out, had just saved his life by thrusting her hand in front of a gun that was aimed at him, deflecting the bullet. I can’t help but picture her dragging herself along the ground like the Terminator skeleton at the end of the first film.

“What are you doing?” “I’m dying.” Eh, give him a break. He’s not very observant.

Éponine confesses her role in sending him here, and the fact that she had a letter from Cosette (with their alternate address) that she couldn’t bear to deliver to him. She also identifies Gavroche as her brother. Her life has basically sucked, so she doesn’t mind dying…as long as she dies with him, and first. Her last words are an understated confession: “You know, Monsieur Marius, I think I was a little bit in love with you.”

I don’t think it’s raining at this point, but it has been off and on all day.

“Éponine was responsible for everything.” Everything? Wow! Busy girl. Seriously, though, she has been playing puppet master the last few days in her efforts to separate Marius and Cosette from each other: Keeping her father and Patron-Minette out of the picture, convincing Valjean to leave the Rue Plumet, holding onto Cosette’s letter so Marius can’t find them, telling Marius to go to the barricade…

Any hope Marius had of focusing on the rebellion is now gone, just minutes after being appointed leader. Ashamed by his failure to protect Thénardier’s daughter, he sets upon a scheme to save her brother and bid a proper farewell to Cosette at the same time by sending him as a messenger. Gavroche only agrees because he figures he’ll have time to get there and back before the fighting starts. So much for that idea.

Valjean Finally Catches On

“Man the individual is a deeper being than man in the mass.” In mass they’re dumb, panicky animals and you know it.

Ah, that makes sense: the “inseparable” box contains the child’s clothing that Valjean bought for Cosette way back when he rescued her from the Thénardiers.

At the point Gavroche reaches the remote house in the Rue de l’Homme Arme, Valjean has just spotted the blotting paper which Cosette had used when writing her note to Marius the day before. He goes into full papa bear mode…but he’s also deathly afraid of losing the one thing that’s made his life have meaning, as he hasn’t been able to love anyone other than Cosette.

“For the first time in their life together her wishes and those of Jean Valjean had shown themselves to be separate matters.” Not the first time they’d been separate, but the first time he’d noticed.

And since Valjean is sitting out on the curb, Gavroche is happy to just leave the note with him and leave. Especially since Valjean has already handed him a coin. (Still trying to make up for that autopilot theft, perhaps?) “He had heard of five-franc pieces, he knew them by reputation, and he was delighted to see one at close quarters.”

We cannot be said to read when in a state of violent emotion. Rather, we twist the paper in our hands, mutilating it as though it were an enemy, scoring it with the finger-nails of our anger or delight. Our eyes skip the beginning, hurrying on to the end. With a feverish acuteness we grasp the general sense, seize upon the main point and ignore the rest.

True. And yet it contradicts the statement made during Marius’ dilemma about reasoning calmly and detached even under great stress.

Valjean is relieved to realize that the boy threatening to take Cosette away from him will soon be dead. Yaaay!

Strangely, we step out of Jean Valjean’s head just before he decides to leave for the barricade. It might be that he wants to be there to make certain, or it might be like Spike deciding “I’d better help her out” after convincing himself he should let Buffy die in “Once More With Feeling.” After such a detailed account of his thought processes up to the moment of the decision, it’s odd to lose that perspective…and we don’t get it back until after the flight through the sewers. The thought process in “Bring Him Home” is entirely hidden from the reader. Update: I have some more thoughts on this after reading it a third time.

Gavroche, meanwhile, has an adventure on the way back to the barricade: breaking street lamps, stealing a cart (yes, he leaves a receipt), and singing at the top of his lungs until he almost gets shot by a patrol. The adventure of one small boy running amok has since entered the folklore of the neighborhood, remembered as a horrific nighttime attack.

And that brings us to the end of Part Four! I may be able to finish this by the end of the year after all! Next: future revolt and overnight at the barricade.

Pages covered: 953-984. Image by Jeanniot from an unidentified edition of Les Misérables, via the Pont-au-Change illustration gallery.

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(From) Drinking to Revolution

Grantaire holds court in a tavern, the barricade goes up, Javert is discovered (and is not alone!) and Marius has a very different experience making his way into the combat zone than his friends did.

CorintheEveryone’s marching off to build a barricade…and now it’s time to describe the neighborhood in detail, including the entire history of the tavern Corinth next to where they end up building it. Because Victor Hugo, that’s why.

It’s a different tavern than the students’ usual meeting place as revolutionaries, but it is one of their regular hangouts. The proprietor until recently, Pere Hucheloup, had been an excellent cook (who “may have been born to be a chemist”), though since his death, the place has gone downhill — especially the food. Courfeyrac had once written on the door: “Revel if you can and eat if you dare.” In short, it’s the 19th century Barth’s Burgers.

Grantaire’s One-Pub Pub Crawl

On the morning of the revolt, Laigle and Joly are hanging out at Corinth. “The two friends lived, ate, and slept together, sharing everything, even the girl Musichetta from time to time.” Oh, myyy….

Grantaire shows up, so of course they spend the day drinking. He spends all his time rambling about drink, and reality, and revolution, and somewhere along the line it seems like he’s actually thinking about what he’s saying. Then he comes up with the idea that revolutions are God’s patches for continuity glitches. Hey, it makes more sense than Superboy punching the walls of time.

None of them want to leave. Grantaire’s pissed that Enjolras didn’t show up himself to ask, and Joly doesn’t want to go out in the rain. “I swore to go through fire, but not water. I don’t want to make my cold worse.” So of course when the rest of the group shows up, they figure, hey, why not set up right here? *headdesk*

Enjolras: Go home, Grantaire, you’re drunk!
Graintaire: I will not be moved!

Enjolras goes on to accuse Grantaire of being “incapable of believing or thinking or willing or living or dying.” Grantaire merely replies “You’ll see,” then proceeds to sleep through the entire siege.

It actually is a good spot: Narrow, winding streets, the two-story tavern providing a staging area. They set up a huge barricade on the widest street, the Rue de la Chanvrerie, a lower one on the side street, the Rue Mondétour (literally “my detour”), and leave a tiny alleyway open for messengers.

Just as this barricade is only a small part of the rebellion, the students are only a small part of the defenders. They’re in charge, but there are about fifty men at this point, workmen of all sorts and ages, armed with whatever weapons they could scrounge up. They’re expecting to face thousands of soldiers — yes, Thermopylae is mentioned.


Javert doesn’t actually have a chance to do anything. Gavroche recognizes him as soon as he walks in the door. His ID lists him as “Javert, Inspector of Police, aged 52.” Does he even have a first name? Enjolras explains they’ll shoot him “two minutes before the barricade falls” because they can’t spare the ammunition. “You could use a knife,” Javert suggests. I don’t think this is the time for problem-solving, Inspector. Enjolras is offended by the suggestion.

Javert also isn’t the only infiltrator. Hugo cites the fact that crowds, however high-minded their purpose, tend to attract violent men (this bit made me think of the Occupy protests), and a man called Le Cabuc shows up, tries to start a fight and shoots one of the townspeople who lives on the street. At this point, Enjolras steps in, declares that “Murder is an even greater crime here than elsewhere,” and executes him on the spot. Yes, with a gun, mere moments after telling Javert he can’t waste the ammo — because he has to make the point to maintain discipline.

Interestingly enough, Le Cabuc turns out to have been an undercover police agent and probably Claquesous. This would explain why he always wears a mask and mysteriously escapes from custody. Knowledge of his identity must be above Javert’s pay grade. (I still like my vampire theory, though.)

Marius’ Death Wish

I spend a lot of time rolling my eyes at Marius. But then so do his friends, so I suppose it’s okay. After Éponine’s message, he decides he might as well go to the barricade. He told Cosette he’d die without her, and dammit, he’s going to keep his word!

And hey, he’s still got Javert’s pistols from four months ago (not sure why he’s carrying them today), so he’s already armed. You’d think the police would keep track of them better.

To the Rue Saint Denis

Marius’ journey to the barricade is really interesting. He starts in areas with ordinary Parisian activity, then walks through restless crowds, then through army staging areas, and finally deserted streets. Streetlamps have been put out. People are hiding in their homes. No one is out and about. “Marius enters the Darkness” isn’t just metaphorical, but literal.

It’s downright creepy, and gives you a very different impression than the focus on the barricade allows. You get a little of the same sense later, in the flight through the sewers, but the anticipation here gives you a real appreciation of the state of the city.

It’s also a far cry from his friends’ cheerful off-to-war march earlier in the day.

An interesting point: They all know that the next day will settle the matter one way or another: Either the revolution will take hold and grow, or it’ll be quenched immediately.

Marius comes to the barricade by way of the alley, and a step before he would be spotted by sentries, he stops, sits down, and starts thinking about his father, honor, and the nature of war. It’s his turn to die for his country…only he’s going to be fighting against his own country. Oops. But then isn’t all war civil war, of brother against brother? And yet isn’t war needed to stir up the crowd when it lapses into compliance? And of course it’s even more important to overthrow tyrants in France. Because France.

Hugo states that humans have “the strange gift of being able to reason almost coldly in the most desperate extremity, so that in desolation and utmost despair, in the travail of our darkest meditation, we may still view our situation with detachment and weigh arguments.” Modern research suggests otherwise, that in periods of extreme or prolonged stress, we lose detachment and our reason is impaired. But if Hugo believes it, it certainly explains why so many of his characters get to monologuing.

Pages covered: 915-952. Images by Brion and Lynd Ward from unidentified editions of Les Misérables, via the Pont-au-Change illustration gallery.

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