Five years later he has made the town prosperous, and gained
a reputaion for kind and fair treatment of his workers.
Because of his reputation, the King appoints him Mayor of
Montreuil in 1820.
The Mayor arouses the suspicion of a new police inspector,
Javert, when he saves the life of a poor carter trapped
under his cart. Javert suspects that a man so strong as to
lift a loaded cart could be the missing convict.
The Mayor risks further suspicion by
helping Fantine, one of his poor workers, to find her lost
daughter Cosette. Fantine was dying with TB, and had to
board her daughter with an inn-keeper, the crooked
Thénardier had been a sergeant in the Napoleonic
army. While looting the corpses after the battle of Waterloo
in 1815, he had happened to save the life of an officer who
lay badly injured amongst the corpses. The officer's son,
Marius, appears later in the story.
Fantinee turns to prostitution and
begging to pay for her daughter's keep, but is arrested for
causing a disturbance. The Mayor helps her see her daughter
before she dies, then adopts the young girl - unusual
concern for one of the lower orders in those days.
Hugo then presents the Mayor with another moral dilemna - a
young man arrested for stealing apples is "identified" as
the escaped convict "Jean Valjean". What should he do? Save
the thief from being sent to the galleys, or carry on being
the respected Mayor who feeds the poor and givers work to
the town. The mayor decides to go to the court in Arras and
The plot leaves Montreuil
He is sent back to the galleys in 1823, and again escapes,
by falling overboard and is presumed drowned. He tries to
find his adopted daughter Cosette, and they end up hiding in
a convent amid the underworld of the Paris slums, on the eve
of the 1830 revolution. By then, the suspicious police
inspector Javert has been promoted to Paris.
Love in Paris
Meanwhile Marius is in Paris looking for the sergeant who
saved his father. Thénardier's daughter, Eponine,
falls in love with Marius, but Marius meets and falls in
love with Cosette. Learning from Thénardier that the
wanted convict is in Paris, Marius informs the police.
Javert renews his obsessive stalking of Jean Valjean.
In 1830 revolution breaks out in Paris, the mobs build
barricades in the streets. All the main characters meet in
one climactic scene: Javert is taken prisoner by the rebels;
soldiers firing on the mob kill Eponine, while she tries to
save Marius. Jean Valjean releases the policeman, who has
been his persecutor for so long. Badly injured himself, Jean
Valjean carries the wounded Marius (who unwittingly betrayed
him) to safety through the Paris sewers. Jean Valjean dies,
but Marius lives to marry Cosette.
The novel is a mixture of detective story
and historical romance, with larger-than-life characters and
a plot that explores the theme of man's ceaseless combat