Towards the middle of the night Jean Valjean woke.
Valjean came from a poor peasant family of Brie.
He had not learned to read in
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
whole, however, there was
something decidedly sluggish and insignificant about Jean Valjean in
appearance, at least.
Jean Valjean had lost his father and mother at a
very early age.
His mother had died of a milk fever, which had not been
properly attended to.
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 brother.
The eldest of the seven children was eight years old. The
Jean Valjean had just attained his twenty-fifth year.
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 ill-paid toil.
Jean Valjean had never known a "compassionate woman friend" in his native
Jean Valjean had not had the time to fall in
returned at night weary, and ate his broth without uttering a word.
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.
Valjean gruffly and grumblingly paid Marie-Claude for the pint of milk behind
their mother's back, and the children were not punished.
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.
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.
A very hard
Jean Valjean had no work.
family had no 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
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.
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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