Tag Archives: Gavroche’s Brothers

Gavroche and his Family

The youngest two Thénardier children luck out by being raised by someone else and supported by someone with money…until their adoptive mother is arrested while they’re out playing. The five– and seven-year-old come home to find a neighbor telling them their family’s gone, and they need to go to the address of the man who’s been providing for them (well, his representative, anyway)…and then they lose the address.

It’s ironic: Marius spent years searching for the man as looking for the man who saved his father, hoping to repay him. His grandfather, who hated George Pontmercy, was already providing for two of Thénardier’s children. None of them ever find out, though. Gavroche doesn’t even know when they run into him and he takes them under his wing, showing them the ropes and taking them to the home he’s built in a disintegrating unfinished monument.

As for Gavroche, he’s no worse off on the street than his sisters are at home. And growing up without their parents has allowed him to turn out kind-hearted. Mischievous, sure. Irreverent, yes. A pest to those more fortunate than him, absolutely! Still, he instinctively helps those who need it the most, giving the coins to Mabeuf, his shawl to a homeless girl, the biggest piece of bread to one of the two lost kids he picks up, and so on. The Thénardiers would have jealously kept everything, and they taught their daughters to do the same.

Thénardier’s jailbreak is a page-turner. And then there’s the moment at the end, after Gavroche has climbed up a three-story wall with a rope to get him safely down.

Gavroche pauses, hoping for some sort of acknowledgement from his father. When he realizes it’s not coming — Thénardier is already planning his next “job” — Gavroche saunters off, casually remarking that he’s going to take care of “his” kids. It’s a rebuke that also passes unremarked. And the fact that those kids he’s taken in are also Thénardier’s abandoned children just adds another layer.

Montparnasse, who asked for Gavroche’s help in the first place, is already gone. Babet thinks the kid looked familiar. But Thénardier couldn’t even be bothered to look closely enough to recognize his own son.

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Recurring Background Characters

There are a few background characters in Les Misérables who never quite leave. Not just the ones who are associated with another character, like Valejan’s maid Toussaint, or the shopkeeper whom Gavroche bothers on several occasions, but characters who seem like one-offs, but come back anyway.

M. Bamatabois, the “gentleman” who attacked Fantine and precipitated her arrest, turns up on the jury of not-Valjean.

Boulatruelle, a local ne’r-do-well in Montfermeil, spends years trying to find Valjean’s secret cache of buried bank notes, taking breaks in between to help Thénardier out in his Parisian life of crime.

Village women on their way through the wood at first mistook him for Beelzebub and then saw that he was Boulatruelle, which was scarcely more reassuring.

Then there’s La Magnon, whom we never actually meet, but hear about on several occasions. She was once a servant of M. Gillenormand, Marius’ grandfather. A year or so after she left, she claimed M. Gillenormand was the father of her child. He took the boy in (arguing that he wasn’t the father, but that he’s perfectly capable of having been even at his age) until she blamed him for another baby, at which point he sent them both back, but continued to pay a stipend.

She turns out to be a friend of Mme. Thénardier, and one of the contacts on the outside after everyone is arrested following the botched extortion attempt against Jean Valjean.

Even stranger: Her own two children died at a young age, but in order to keep getting her allowance from M. Gillenormand, she got the Thénardiers to give her their two youngest children, Gavroche’s younger brothers. A second round of arrests after the extortion leaves the two boys alone on the streets, where they run into the ultimate Paris urchin: Gavroche.

She disappears at that point, but it’s a long thread for someone who initially seemed to serve only as part of the background for another character.

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Passing Peak Ammunition

We take a break from the barricade for a brief interlude at dawn: Cosette wakens, unaware of what’s happening in the rest of the city, and wonders why people are slamming doors so early in the morning. Like Marius, she knows she cannot live without him. Unlike Marius, she takes that to be proof that he’ll arrive soon.

“The reader may at a pinch be introduced into a marital bedchamber, but not into a young girl’s bedroom.” Hugo then goes on to hint at this, that and the other thing about her pajamas and morning routine for another page before saying that “Even to have hinted at them is too much.” Uh, sure…


When a well-equipped army faces a street barricade, they’ll often just keep up steady fire, hoping to trick the insurgents into using up their ammunition and then launch an assault when they run out. Enjolras is too smart to fall for it.

The scale of the forces available really points up the silliness of musical-Javert’s fake intelligence report: when they can fill the street with soldiers, why would they choose to “concentrate their force” on one side?

Jean Valjean shows his marksmanship again when look-outs appear on the roofs. He shoots two helmets in a row, and they back off. He won’t answer when Bossuet asks why he aimed for the helmets instead of kill shots. Combeferre remarks, “He’s a man who does kindness with bullets.”

The commander of the guard at the Rue de la Chanvrerie is a hothead, and attacks too early. Not only do the rebels fight them off, but they get caught by their own cannon too. Enjolras is infuriated. “‘The idiots!’ he exclaimed. ‘They’re getting themselves killed and wasting our ammunition for no reason.’”

The rebellion actually gains a little momentum that morning in several places around the city, but the army crushes it swiftly before it can spread. “When we get the old women emptying chamber-pots on our heads we’re done for.”

Bossuet admires Enjolras’ ability to be brave without a mistress to rob him of his wits like the rest of them. Enjolras is basically asexual, his whole being focused on social change, but in a sense, he does have a mistress: Patria, he whispers: the homeland.

When the army brings up a second cannon, things start getting serious. They repel the attack just barely, but it takes most of their ammunition.

Death and Rise of an Urchin

Gavroche at the BarricadeCue Gavroche, who sneaks around under the smoke collecting bullets, singing rude songs about Voltaire and Rousseau, and thumbing his nose at death. I checked the original French against the concept album: Schönberg and Boublil set the actual words to music in the first version of what later became “Little People.” The scene in the book is even tenser than it is in the play (well, the original version, where you can actually see him, as opposed to the 25th anniversary version where they can’t turn the barricade around). “A Paris urchin touching the pavement is a giant drawing strength from his mother earth.”

Let me just say: Watching or reading Les Misérables is really different before and after you have kids.

Interlude: Gavroche’s anonymous brothers, roughly five and seven, are still alive, still on the streets, though they’ve somehow managed to get into the Luxembourg Gardens. I wasn’t expecting to see them again. A middle-class gentleman is there, with his son, who has decided not to finish his cake. The father advises him to throw it to the ducks — not to the two ragamuffins who clearly need it more than the ducks do. “We must always be kind to animals.” But apparently, not to one’s fellow man. The boy reluctantly tosses it, and they leave, but the older boy retrieves it, offering the larger part to his brother. The implication is that they’ll be okay…or at least as okay as any Paris urchin is.

Back at the barricade, Marius retrieves Gavroche’s body, seeing an echo of their fathers’ encounter at Waterloo — only Col. Pontmercy had still been alive. Gavroche is laid on the table with M. Mabeuf: the oldest and youngest of the defenders.


Hugo briefly discusses the sense of unreality that pervades both the experience and memory of street warfare.

At midday, Enjolras decides it’s time to reinforce the tavern with paving-stones, forming a fortress with the tavern as keep and the barricade as its outer wall. He also finally allows them to bring out the wine bottles that he confiscated at the beginning of the whole thing. The wounded are locked into the kitchen.

By this time Marius has recovered somewhat and is able to actually help run things again. A good thing too, since they’re down to twenty-six from the original fifty. And that presumably includes Valjean, who refuses to shoot anyone.

Enjolras “felt that since men such as these were about to die, their death must be a masterpiece.”

Removing Javert

Enjolras: “The last man to leave this place will blow out this spy’s brains.” Random rebel: “Here?” He suggests taking him over the lower barricade to the alleyway.

Valjean asks that he “may be allowed to blow that man’s brains out.” Javert looks up, nods slightly, and says, “That’s fair.” Everyone else rushes out to deal with an attack, and Javert calls after them, “It won’t be long!”

It’s interesting how calm Javert is in the book. In the musical, he’s seething with contempt and frustration. Here it’s only contempt.

Javert is the first person at the barricade to actually recognize Éponine, or the fact that she’s a woman, without prompting.

“A knife-thrust! You’re quite right. That suits you better.”

Valjean does indeed give Javert his address (and his current alias). Javert repeats it back to him to make sure he got it right.

“I find this embarrassing. I’d rather you killed me.” He doesn’t even notice switching from familiar tu to formal vous. That’s something that doesn’t really come through in translation, since English has long since dropped the formal/familiar you/thou split, so it has to be conveyed in footnotes, or in titles, or in narration. In this case, Hugo remarked on it himself to drive the point home.

You know, Javert doesn’t call Valjean by his prison number even once. “24601” is such a powerful hook for identity in the musical, and with Javert I think it serves as a replacement for tu, but it’s merely an incidental detail in the novel, mentioned only twice: once in Valjean’s backstory, and once in a chapter title when he’s recaptured.

Back in the stronghold, Marius has just put two and two together and recognized the inspector who gave him those two guns way back when. And as near as he can tell, Valjean has just executed him in cold blood. This will be important later.

Next: The last stand.

Pages covered: 1015-1041, the middle third of “War Within Four Walls.” Image by Flameng from an unidentified edition of Les Misérables, via the Pont-au-Change illustration gallery.

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A Revolting Development

June 5 has come, and Paris does indeed rise up, with insurgents taking control of a third of the city by the end of the day. Gavroche has a great time playing at war as he runs off to join the unrest, and even Enjolras and his followers are exhilarated at this stage.

The band increased at every moment.At last, the day of the barricade — or rather barricades — arrives, and Victor Hugo spends a great deal of time discussing the difference between an insurrection and a mere revolt. A lot of it retreads the opening section of part four which established the political climate in 1832, but he makes his philosophical points a bit clearer here: an insurrection moves society forward (or tries to). “Insurrection is a thing of the spirit, revolt is a thing of the stomach.” He considers revolution to be a valid form of societal change, then compares historical revolts to state which ones were justified and which were not.

Some interesting observations: Any revolt that fails “strengthens the government it fails to overthrow.” Hugo really disapproves of political philosophy that analyses only effects and not causes (he applies the term “moderate” here, or rather the translator does, which I imagine is a case of changing terminology). The battle of students vs. soldiers was a battle of age: Young men ready to die for their ideals vs. older men ready to die for their families.

He naively believes that giving everyone the vote will prevent future insurrections.

“The riots threw a garish but splendid light on what is most particular to the character of Paris” — Yes, Paris has the best riots, too.

Rather than trying to show the whole insurrection of June 5-6, 1832, he explains that he’s chosen just one incident, “certainly the least known,” so that he can show us a detailed picture.

Funeral Spark

One of the things that bothered me when watching the recent movie was the way the students essentially hijacked General Lamarque’s funeral. At the time I figured it was a moviemaking choice to be more dramatic. It turns out it was another case of returning to the book. Speeches were made, the hearse was dragged around, and people actually started shooting.

Barricades were apparently very popular. One quarter had 27 spring up within an hour. Rioters “recruited” the populace, requisitioned weapons (sometimes leaving receipts!) seized garrison-posts, and held a third of Paris! The ABC group isn’t a tiny revolution — they’re a tiny part of a bigger one.

Meanwhile, outside the rebellious districts, it’s business as usual.

Some odd occurrences amid Parisian uprisings: “in 1831, the firing stopped to allow a wedding to pass.” In 1839, an old man with a beverage cart went back and forth between lines, selling drinks to both sides. In this particular insurrection, Victor Hugo himself (excuse me, “the marveling author of these lines”) walked out of a calm street into a war zone and was pinned behind a pillar for half an hour.

We’re off to Build a Barricade!

Gavroche is having a blast as he wanders around town, singing (“with the voice of Nature and the voice of Paris”), playing pranks, insulting passers-by, waving a broken gun that he’s found, shouting revolutionary slogans…and then helping a national guardsman to his feet when he falls from his horse. At one point he’s bitterly disappointed that he doesn’t have any money to buy one last apple-puff before his next adventure. Gavroche has got his priorities, after all!

He’s lost track of his brothers since that one night, though he offered to put them up again if they came back. He’s wondered about them, but (as mentioned previously regarding Valjean’s sister and her family) disappearances are common enough that he hasn’t put too much thought into it.

Scanning error: A veteran is reciting his wounds, “nothing to speak of,” and goes into a long list, in the middle of which is a bullet “in the left thing.” It’s supposed to say “thigh,” but it reminds me of one of Liam Neeson’s lines in Kingdom of Heaven.

Gavroche just sort of happens to run into Enjolras’ group by accident. They’ve got a rag-tag collection of weapons, and Feuilly is shouting “Long live Poland!” Bahorel wins Gavroche’s admiration by tearing down a public notice about eggs and Lent.

The group also picks up two old men who catch the eyes of the leaders: M. Mabeuf, whom Courfeyrac recognizes as Marius’ friend, and a bold, vigorous man whom no one recognizes as Javert (because Gavroche isn’t paying attention).

Courfeyrac realizes that they’re walking past his house, so he pops in to grab his wallet and his hat. A good thing too (maybe), because he runs into someone who’s looking for Marius. He thinks the boy looks like a little like a girl dressed as a boy, but hey, if he was a girl, he wouldn’t be dressed as a boy, right? I’m reminded of the Hob Gadling story in Sandman: World’s End, and his comment about seeing what you’re actually seeing instead of what you expect to see.

There’s a sort of casual exuberance about it all. Some of it is because we’re seeing it from Gavroche’s point of view, but it’s also in the early, intoxicating stage where they’re being driven entirely by idealism, before the harshness of war sets in. Next up: Building the barricade.

Pages covered: 883-914. Image by Mead Schaeffer from an unidentified edition of Les Misérables, via the Pont-au-Change illustration gallery. I don’t know if I’m going to make my goal of finishing commentary by the end of the year, but I’ve already got three more sections later on mostly written.

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Gavroche and the Adventure of the Incognito Family

Gavroche and the Elephant of the Bastille

I thought I had remembered all of the Thénardier children. Éponine, of course. Azelma, who doesn’t appear in the musical but doesn’t really have much of a role in the book anyway. And finally (I thought), Gavroche, the lovable street urchin who’s treated as an orphan in the show but is a runaway (who occasionally goes back to visit) in the book.

There are actually two younger brothers, whom Hugo doesn’t name, making five in all. Mme Thénardier only has enough love for her daughters. Not Cosette, not her sons, not anyone else in the world.

Now get this: Remember Magnon, Gillenormand’s ex-servant who gets him to pay for her two children by claiming they’re his? Her children die in an epidemic of croup, and the Thénardiers agree to let her have their small boys so that she’ll keep getting her stipend. M. Gillenormand doesn’t notice when he visits, whether because he’s not paying attention or because he’s just old. Continue reading

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