Re-Reading Les Misérables

Thoughts and commentary on Victor Hugo’s masterpiece.

Paris has the best riots?

Victor Hugo really wants to explain the difference between a riot and an insurrection. Mostly it’s a matter of justification: Is it trying to move things forward, or backward?

The June 5 rebellion was actually quite effective at first: street layouts made for good positions for barricades, and on top of those who were already armed, they robbed gun shops and guard posts and went door to door stealing weapons from homes. The scale doesn’t come through in most of the adaptations I’ve seen. It seems like there’s maybe a couple of streets blocked off, and barely any mention of other groups…but it was a third of Paris!

Not surprisingly, Paris has better riots than any other city. (You may have noticed Victor Hugo really likes Paris.) He cites a peculiar mix of streets where people go about their business as normal, with fighting a block away. Some amusing images from other Paris riots include an old man going back and forth between a barricade and army with a cart, offering water to both sides like they were marathon runners…and a gun battle that paused to let a wedding party go by.