Towards the middle of the
night Jean Valjean woke.
Jean Valjean came from a poor peasant family
He had not learned
to read in childhood.
reached man's estate, be became a tree pruner..
His mother was
named Jeanne Mathieu; his father was called Jean Valjean or Vlajean, probably a
sobriquet, and a contraction of viola Jean, "here's Jean."
Jean Valjean was of that
thoughtful but not gloomy disposition which constitutes the peculiarity of
On the whole there was something decidedly
sluggish and insignificant about Jean Valjean in
Valjean had lost his father and mother early.
His mother died of
a milk fever, not properly
His father, a tree pruner, had been killed by a
All that remained to Jean Valjean was a sister older than himself,
a widow with seven
children, boys and girls.
This sister had brought up Jean Valjean, and
so long as she had a husband she lodged and fed her young brother.
The eldest of the seven children was eight years old.
The youngest, one.
Jean Valjean had just attained his
He took the father's place, and, in his turn,
supported the sister who had brought him up.
This was done simply as a
duty and even a little churlishly on the part of Jean Valjean.
youth had been spent in rude and ill-paid toil.
|About 200 people died in
this small Tollense valley.
Based on the forensic evidence, these
people were murdered.
A battle was fought with wooden knobsticks,
arrows with flint arrowheads and bronze arrowheads, spears with bronze spear
tips, axes with bronze axe heads, bronze swords and knives.
This was an
attack by an armed gang on a caravan.
Bronze is an alloy consisting
primarily of copper, commonly with about 12% tin and often with the addition of
other metals (such as aluminium, manganese, nickel or zinc) and sometimes
non-metals or metalloids such as arsenic, phosphorus or silicon.
The most important element in this mixture is
No tin - no bronze, no
bronze - no bronze weapons.
Copper itself is too soft and mixed with
other elements too brittle.
During the Bronze Age
tin was more valuable than
Valjean had never known a "passionate
Jean Valjean had not had
time for romance.
Jean Valjean returned at
night weary, and ate his broth without
uttering a word.
His sister, Jeanne, often took the best part of his
repast from his bowl while he was eating, a bit of meat, a slice of bacon, the
heart of the cabbage, to give to one of her children.
As he went on
eating, with his head bent over the table and almost into his soup, his long
hair falling about his bowl and concealing his eyes, he had the air of
Not far from the Valjean
thatched cottage, on the other side of the
lane, was a farmer's cow named Marie-Claude.
The Valjean children,
habitually famished, sometimes went to borrow from Marie-Claude a pint of milk,
in their mother's name, which they drank behind a hedge or in some alley
corner, snatching the jug from each other so hastily that the little girls
spilled it on their aprons and down their necks.
If their mother had
known of this marauding, she would have punished the delinquents severely.
Jean Valjean gruffly and grumblingly paid Marie-Claude for the pint of
milk behind their mother's back, and the children were not punished.
pruning season Jean Valjean earned eighteen sous a day; then he hired out as a
hay maker, as laborer, as neat herd on a farm, as a drudge.
Valjean did whatever he could.
His sister worked also but what could
she do with seven little children?
It was a sad group enveloped in
misery, slowly starving.
A very hard winter came.
Jean Valjean had no work.
The family had no bread.
No bread literally. Seven children!
One Sunday evening, Maubert
Isabeau, the Baker on the Church Square, was preparing to go to bed, when he
heard a violent blow on the grated front of his shop.
He arrived to see
an arm pass through a hole made by a blow from a fist, through the grating and
seized a loaf of bread and carried it off.
Isabeau ran out in
haste; the robber fled at the full speed.
Isabeau ran after him and
The thief flung away the
loaf, but his arm was still bleeding.
It was Jean Valjean. This took
place in 1795.
Jean Valjean was taken before the
tribunals for theft,
breaking and entering an inhabited house at night.
He had a gun which he used better than
any one else on Earth, he was a bit of a poacher, and this injured his
There exists a legitimate
prejudice against poachers.
A poacher, as a smuggler, smacks
strongly of a brigand.
Nevertheless, we will remark cursorily, there is
still an abyss between this race of
men and the hideous assassin.
The poacher lives in the
forest, the smuggler lives in the mountains or on the sea.
Cities make ferocious men as they
make corrupt them.
The mountain, the sea, the
forest, make savage
men; they develop a
fierce side without destroying the humane side.
Valjean was pronounced guilty.
The terms of the Code were explicit.
There occur formidable hours in our
civilization; there are
moments when the penal laws
decree a shipwreck.
In ominous minute society draws
back and consummates the irreparable abandonment of a sentient being!
Jean Valjean was condemned to five years in the galleys.
22d of April, 1796, the victory of Montenotte, won by
General of the French army
Napoleon Bonaparte was announced in Paris; on that same day a great gang of
galley-slaves was put in
chains at Bicetre.
Jean Valjean formed a part of that gang.
old turnkey of the prison, who is now nearly eighty years old,
still recalls perfectly that
unfortunate wretch who was chained to the end of the fourth line, in the
north angle of the courtyard.
He was seated on the ground like the
Jean Valjean did not seem to
comprehend his position,
except that it was horrible.
probable the vague ideas of
an ignorant man concerning his plight created
a dissociated state.
While the bolt of his iron collar was being riveted
behind his head with heavy blows from the hammer, his
tears stifled impeded his
speech; he only managed to say from time to time, "I was a tree pruner at
Then still sobbing, he raised his
right hand and lowered
it gradually seven times, as though he were touching in succession seven heads
of unequal heights, and from this gesture it was divined that the thing which
he had done, whatever it was, he had done for the sake of clothing and
nourishing seven little children.
Victor Hugo, Les
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