Re-Reading Les Misérables

Thoughts and commentary on Victor Hugo’s masterpiece.

Second Chances

The offering of a second chance, and acceptance/refusal of said chance, happens repeatedly in Les Misérables.

  • The Bishop’s pardoning of Jean Valjean’s theft, of course, works out quite well.
  • M. Madeleine releasing Fantine from custody elicits a reaction very much like Valjean’s response to being pardoned by the Bishop, and if she hadn’t been deathly ill, this probably would have been her chance to climb back out of poverty (options in 1823 for an ex-prostitute might be limited, but she might have left town for a fresh start, or joined a convent, or something).
  • Valjean offers Montparnasse some money and a chance to reform after he tries to mug the elderly gentlemen. Parnasse of course ignores it. The scare-em-straight approach with an attitude of utter contempt might have been a factor, but Montparnasse clearly wouldn’t have been receptive at this point anyway.
  • Marius offers Thénardier some money after the blackmail attempt fails, admonishing him to make an honest man of himself. Again, Thénardier isn’t receptive, and again, Marius is condescending.