middle of the night Jean Valjean woke.
Jean Valjean came from a poor
peasant family of Brie.
had not learned to read in childhood.
When he reached man's estate, be became a
tree pruner at Faverolles.
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 affectionate
On the whole, however, there was something
decidedly sluggish and insignificant about Jean Valjean in appearance, at
Jean Valjean had lost his father and mother at a very early
His mother had died of a milk fever, which had not been properly
His father, a tree pruner, like himself, had been killed by
a fall from a tree.
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
The husband died.
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.
Thus his youth had been spent in rude and
Jean Valjean had never known a "compassionate woman friend" in his native
Jean Valjean had not had the time to fall in
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
perceiving nothing and allowing it.
There was at Faverolles, not far
from the Valjean thatched cottage, on
the other side of the lane, 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, which was being gradually annihilated.
very hard winter came.
Jean Valjean had no
family had no bread.
bread literally. Seven children!
One Sunday evening, Maubert Isabeau, the baker on
the Church Square at Faverolles, was preparing to go to bed, when he heard a
violent blow on the grated front of his shop.
He arrived in time to see
an arm passed through a hole made by a blow from a fist, through the grating
and the glass.
seized a loaf of bread and carried it off.
Isabeau ran out in
haste; the robber fled at the full speed of his legs.
Isabeau ran after
him and stopped him.
The thief had flung away the loaf, but his arm was
It was Jean Valjean. This took place in 1795.
Jean Valjean was taken before
the tribunals of the time for theft and 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.
The poacher, like the smuggler, smacks too strongly of the
Nevertheless, we will remark cursorily, there is still an
abyss between these races of men
and the hideous assassin of the towns.
The poacher lives in the
forest, the smuggler lives in the
mountains or on the sea.
cities make ferocious men because they make corrupt men.
mountain, the sea, the
forest, make savage men; they develop the
fierce side, but often without destroying the humane side.
Jean 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.
What an ominous
minute is that in which society draws back and consummates the irreparable
abandonment of a sentient being!
Jean Valjean was condemned to five
years in the galleys.
the 22d of April, 1796, the victory of Montenotte, won by the general-in-chief
of the army of Italy, whom the message of the Directory to the Five Hundred, of
the 2d of Floreal, year IV., calls Buona-Parte, was announced in Paris; on
that same day a great gang of galley-slaves was put in chains at
Jean Valjean formed a part of that gang.
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 others.
Jean Valjean did not seem to
comprehend his position,
except that it was horrible.
It is probable that he, also, was
disentangling from amid the vague ideas of a
poor man, ignorant of everything,
While the bolt of his iron collar was being
riveted behind his head with heavy blows from the hammer, he wept, his
tears stifled him, they impeded
his speech; he only managed to say from time to time, "I was a
tree pruner at Faverolles."
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
Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
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