Les Miserables

Author: Victor Hugo  | Date: 1862




JEAN VALJEAN has been retaken.

We shall be pardoned for passing rapidly over the painful details. We shall merely reproduce a couple of items published in the newspapers of that day, some few months after the remarkable events that occurred at M__ sur M__.

The articles referred to are somewhat laconic. It will be remembered that the "Gazette des Tribunaux" had not yet been established.

We copy the first from the "Drapeau Blanc." It is dated the 25th of July, 1823:

"A district of the Pas-de-Calais has just been the scene of an extraordinary occurrence. A stranger in that department, known as Monsieur Madeleine, had, within a few years past, restored, by means of certain new processes, the manufacture of jet and black glass ware- a former local branch of industry. He had made his own fortune by it, and, in fact, that of the entire district. In acknowledgment of his services he had been appointed mayor. The police has discovered that Monsieur Madeleine was none other than an escaped convict, condemned in 1796 for robbery, and named Jean Valjean. This Jean Valjean has been sent back to the galleys. It appears that previous to his arrest, he succeeded in withdrawing from Laffitte’s a sum amounting to more than half a million which he had deposited there, and which it is said, by the way, he had very legitimately realised in his business. Since his return to the galleys at Toulon, it has been impossible to discover where Jean Valjean concealed this money."

The second article, which enters a little more into detail, is taken from the "Journal de Paris" of the same date:

"An old convict, named Jean Valjean, has recently been brought before the Var Assizes, under circumstances calculated to attract attention. This villain had succeeded in eluding the vigilance of the, police; he had changed his name, and had even been adroit enough to procure the appointment of mayor in one of our small towns in the North. He had established in this town a very considerable business, but was, at length, unmasked and arrested, thanks to the indefatigable zeal of the public authorities. He kept, as his mistress, a prostitute, who died of the shock at the moment of his arrest. This wretch, who is endowed with herculean strength, managed to escape, but, three or four days afterwards, the police retook him, in Paris, just as he was getting into one of the small vehicles that ply between the capital and the village of Montfermeil (Seine-et-Oise). It is said that he had availed himself of the interval of these three or four days of freedom, to withdraw a considerable sum deposited by him with one of our principal bankers. The amount is estimated at six or seven hundred thousand francs. According to the minutes of the case, he has concealed it in some place known to himself alone, and it has been impossible to seize it; however that may be, the said Jean Valjean has been brought before the assizes of the Department of the Var under indictment for an assault and robbery on the high road committed vi et armis some eight years ago on the person of one of those honest lads who, as the patriarch of Ferney has written in immortal verse,

...De Savoie arrivent tous les ans,

Et dont la main legerement essuie

Ces longs canaux engorges par la suie. *

* ...Who come from Savoy every year,

And whose hand deftly wipes out

Those long channels choked up with soot.

This bandit attempted no defence. It was proven by the able and eloquent representative of the crown that the robbery was shared in by others, and that Jean Valjean formed one of a band of robbers in the South. Consequently, Jean Valjean, being found guilty, was condemned to death. The criminal refused to appeal to the higher courts, and the king, in his inexhaustible clemency, deigned to commute his sentence to that of hard labour in prison for life. Jean Valjean was immediately forwarded to the galleys at Toulon."

It will not be forgotten that Jean Valjean had at M__ sur M__ certain religious habits. Some of the newspapers and, among them, the "Constitutionnel," held up this commutation as a triumph of the clerical party.

Jean Valjean changed his number at the galleys. He became 9430.

While we are about it, let us remark, in dismissing the subject, that with M. Madeleine, the prosperity of M__ sur M__ disappeared; all that he had foreseen, in that night of fever and irresolution, was realised; he gone, the soul was gone. After his downfall, there was at M__ sur M__ that egotistic distribution of what is left when great men have fallen- that fatal carving up of prosperous enterprises which is daily going on, out of sight, in human society, and which history has noted but once, and then, because it took place after the death of Alexander. Generals crown themselves kings; the foremen, in this case, assumed the position of manufacturers. Jealous rivalries arose. The spacious workshops of M. Madeleine were closed; the building fell into ruin, the workmen dispersed. Some left the country, others abandoned the business. From that time forth, everything was done on a small, instead of on the large scale, and for gain rather than for good. No longer any centre; competition on all sides, and on all sides venom. M. Madeleine had ruled and directed everything. He fallen, every man strove for himself; the spirit of strife succeeded to the spirit of organisation, bitterness to cordiality, hatred of each against each instead of the good will of the founder towards all; the threads knitted by M. Madeleine became entangled and were broken; the workmanship was debased, the manufacturers were degraded, confidence was killed; customers diminished, there were fewer orders, wages decreased, the shops became idle, bankruptcy followed. And then, there was nothing left for the poor. All that was there disappeared.

Even the state noticed that some one had been crushed, in some direction. Less than four years after the decree of the court of assizes establishing the identity of M. Madeleine and Jean Valjean, for the benefit of the galleys, the expense of collecting the taxes was doubled in the district of M__ sur M__; and M. de Villele remarked the fact, on the floor of the Assembly, in the month of February, 1827.


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Chicago: Victor Hugo, "Book Second - The Ship Orion," Les Miserables, trans. Charles E. Wilbour Original Sources, accessed June 4, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=H1D7H9LWH3Z97I8.

MLA: Hugo, Victor. "Book Second - The Ship Orion." Les Miserables, translted by Charles E. Wilbour, Original Sources. 4 Jun. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=H1D7H9LWH3Z97I8.

Harvard: Hugo, V, 'Book Second - The Ship Orion' in Les Miserables, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 4 June 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=H1D7H9LWH3Z97I8.