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.
— Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862)
Les Misérables is a sprawling epic by Victor Hugo, the seeds of which can be found in some of his earlier, shorter works, such as his novel(la) Le dernier jour d'un condamné, which also treats upon the subject of the penal system in France and includes a character that resembles what could later be called an AU-style Valjean. It was made into a very well-known musical play that has run for nearly thirty years.The story opens with a recently paroled man named Jean Valjean arriving on foot in Digne, France, come from the shore-prison at Toulon where he's spent the past nineteen years. He was a desperately poor peasant from Brie who constantly worked — constantly, no matter how hard the labor or menial the task — to support his sister and her seven children. One especially bad winter, as the eighteenth century was drawing to a close, when he was 26, Valjean could not find work and, in an act of real need as much for his family as himself, he broke into a bakery and stole a loaf of bread.For that, he was condemned to five years hard labor in a brutal, dehumanizing penal system that was par for the course at the time. Before his imprisonment, he was kind, of an even personality, and, in his own words, dull like a block of wood. Nineteen years in the galleys — nineteen instead of five, for all of his escape attempts — changed him completely, making him bitter, harsh, and incapable of relating to other human beings as friendly agents. The system at the time made it virtually impossible to be re-integrated into society; the only real way out was death, and the provisions of the law facilitated that: on one's third offense, the death penalty was automatically imposed. However, it was impossible for convicts to make an honest living, because no one would give them work. It was a dreadful double bind. This is the situation Valjean finds himself in when he is finally released. He is set on the fastlane to being sent back again when a meeting with an unconditionally kind man, who happens to be a bishop, changes him forever, for a second time, just as profoundly as his experiences in the bagne changed him.And that's just the beginning.He breaks his parole and commits a minor theft out of habit, beginning the book-long chase with Inspector Javert as the pursuer. Over the course of the book, with the inspector always right behind him, Valjean: becomes mayor of a small seaside town due to the penchant for altruism he developed after his redemption; makes a fortune from his own ingenuity and innovation; does many philanthropic works, among them caring for a dying woman, one of his factory workers, and promising her to ensure the well-being of her daughter Cosette; reveals his identity in court to prevent the wrongful incarceration of another man who was mistaken for him; is captured and sent to the galleys, but escapes to keep his promise; adopts the waifish Cosette, and moves from town to town with his final stop as Paris, where he uses his superhuman powers of transcendental niceness to see to his adopted daughter's happiness and save everyone who needs saving.You probably know the rest.
The book provides examples of:
Accidental Hero: Thénardier. First, when he accidentally saves Georges Pontmercy’s life, and then again, in his attempt to blackmail Marius.
Adorkable: Marius. He's so shy that he can't muster up the courage to even speak to a pretty girl.
All Crimes Are Equal: The French penal code was milder than England's Bloody Code by a hair. Whereas stealing in England under the BC would get you hanged, in France, it would get you the galleys for upwards of three years. Offend again (from stealing to murder to sedition) and you'd get life (what Valjean knows will happen to him – despite the fact that the full value of everything he stole (and that’s known to the police) does not even reach a week’s wages). Escape and offend again and you'd get death — even if it was only theft all three times. This was doubly bogus when you add the convict passport, which effectively made it impossible for the paroled convict to get honest work. This was the reason that English juries routinely refused to declare petty thieves and first time criminals guilty of any felony at all. People actually were considerably worse off in France, where you didn't get trial by jury.
Animal Stereotypes: The narrator states that each person's soul corresponds to a particular animal.
The peasants of Asturias are convinced that in every litter of wolves there is one dog, which is killed by the mother because, otherwise, as he grew up, he would devour the other little ones.
Give to this dog-son of a wolf a human face, and the result will be Javert.
Anonymous Benefactor: One of M Madeleine’s pastimes apparently involves breaking into other people’s houses – and leaving some money there. At some point, the citizens catch on, and it’s no longer anonymous.
Javert is found on the overlap between a Well-Intentioned Anti-Villain and a Pragmatic Hero. He's frequently nasty but he desperately believes that utter inflexibility is the only way to maintain order.
The Artful Dodger: Gavroche. Hugo even mentions that once kids like Gavroche grow up, the world beats them down, but he assures us that as long as he's young, Gavroche is thriving.
Montparnasse was one of these until he grew up to be a stylish and ruthless teenage thug.
A Taste of the Lash: More a taste of the stick, but when Valjean thinks or talks about prison, stick blows will come up sooner or later as inevitable as the tides.
Author Filibuster: Almost half of the book is Hugo exposing directly his thoughts about the ills of society, history (mostly the first half of the 19th century), the struggle for democracy, and many other subjects. Sometimes, there are no mentions of the main characters of the novel for a hundred pages. It is fortunate for the reader that Victor Hugo's thoughts are extremely interesting, well-written, and ahead of their time. "The Intestine of the Leviathan" = "HEY KIDS, ISN'T THE SEWER SYSTEM OF PARIS INTERESTING?" To which the answer is, of course, "Yes. Yes it is." It's far beyond Writer on Board.
Even more obvious towards the end of the book, when he spends multiple chapters justifying the use of "argot", ie popular or vulgar speech. Hugo's previous works had been criticized precisely for relying on this type of language, which was deemed too vulgar for "real" literature.
Hugo admitted that Marius is basically a portrait of the author as a young man.
Valjean's rescue of Fantine was loosely inspired by something that Hugo did shortly after the success of Notre-Dame de Paris.
Valjean not shooting anyone at the barricade, but always tending to the wounded reflects Hugo's behaviour in the riots against Napoléon III.
Author Tract: This is Victor Hugo, who probably never wrote a single book which doesn’t fit this. All Hugo’s opinions on social justice, the French justice system, death penalty, politics, and many more are found in Les Misérables.
Badass Boast: Javert when arresting the Thénardier gang: “Shoot! Your gun will misfire!” It does.
Barefoot Poverty: Several illustrations, including the most famous one centering on Cosette (see above). Justified, considering that a lot of it (aptly titled "The Miserable Ones") focuses on 19th century France, which wasn't doing all that hot.
Little Cosette's bare feet are specifically mentioned many times in the descriptions of her time with the Thénardiers.
Big Screwed-Up Family: The Thénardiers. The giant Mme Thénardier behaves like a dog to M Thénardier; they idolise their daughters, mistreat their foster child, abandon their oldest son in the streets, and give away their two younger sons for money to a woman who has lost hers.
All of Marius' friends are dead, and Cosette grew up so sheltered that she doesn't really have any friends. Sure, they've got each other, but they really don't have much beyond that.
Black and White Insanity: Javert. Such an extreme case that when he's finally forced to challenge it, he's driven to suicide.
Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Contrary to the beliefs of many due to more recent portrayals of the characters in the musical post 2010 and the 2012 movie, Fantine has blonde hair, Cosette has brown, and Éponine's hair is described as auburn.
Bodybag Trick: Valjean gets out of the convent in a coffin in which one of the nuns was supposed to be buried.
Boomerang Bigot: Javert, at least a little. His parents were crooks, and this is why he's so hard on criminals now (in fact, why he joined the police in the first place): he wants to prove that it's not In the Blood, as relentlessly as he can.
Valjean himself, due to the different names he has throughout the novel.
The Jondrettes are the Thénardiers.
The "young (working) man" who wears a grey blouse and cotton-velvet pantaloons is Éponine dressed as a boy. Her true identity is revealed after her Taking the Bullet for Marius at the barricades.note Hugo does hint once that "he" sounded like Éponine, but doesn't confirm it yet.
Early in the novel, Valjean rescues a man named Fauchelevent from under a cart. Much later, when Valjean and Cosette are avoiding Javert, Valjean would unexpectedly meet Fauchelevent once again at a convent. Fauchelevent, who is still grateful to Valjean for everything he had done for him, would return the favour and let Valjean and Cosette stay at the convent.
Cliff Hanger: Attempted. Many work better in the original edition, where the book was published in five separate parts with a few weeks between the publications.
Part one ends with Fantine dead and Valjean on the run.
At the end of Part three, Marius has managed to save Valjean from Thénardier, but gotten Thénardier arrested (Marius’ father owes his life to Thénardier — or at least he thought so) and is no nearer finding Cosette.
Part four finishes with all main characters minus Cosette in the barricade or on their way there.
Valjean’s faked death at the end of part 2, book 2, chapter 3. He reappears fairly quickly, but his name is not revealed. Should be easy for the reader to catch on quickly, though.
Gavroche seems to have a habit of watching public executions.
The crowd in the scene where the convict chain passes.
When Valjean is trying to decide whether to keep silent or denounce himself, he imagines life in prison. Since his past (being a town’s mayor under a false identity for three years) makes for a good story, he dreads being pointed out to tourists (who were indeed frequent in the shore prison of Toulon).
Contrived Coincidence: Too many to count; a good one is the minor thread involving Marius' grandfather's illegitimate children. Or the fact that all important characters always happen to be in the same place at the same time.
Conveniently Cellmates: When Thénardier and the Patron-Minette gang get arrested, only Thénardier is put into a different cell from the others, who of course quickly devise a plan together and even manage to communicate the plan to Thénardier.
Consummate Liar: Valjean manages to become the most respected person in a town and even that town’s mayor under a false identity, which holds up for eight years. And then he lives with Cosette for nine years without her ever even suspecting something might be up.
Thénardier is a frequent example of this, speaking and writing in a flowery manner that gives him the air of a philosopher/intellectual, but his writing is filled with misspellings, and Hugo comments to the effect that his obsession with Big Words shows a stupid person's understanding of what a smart person sounds like. Thénardier also frequently defends arguments by fraudulent citations of famous people, but has no actual knowledge of those authorities, except that they are famous (e.g. he will cite to the novels of someone who only wrote poetry). His wife also demonstrates this through the odd names she gave to her daughters, taken from romantic novels and popular history. This choice is very similar to the idea underlying a Ghetto Name.
Count *** cites a number of philosophers while clearly not understanding what they were talking about.
Determinator: Valjean definitely shows shades of this, especially in the sewer escape and the journey to Arras, even though he knows that it would be better for him if he just gave up.
Deus ex Machina: Ironically provided by Thénardier, although he does so unwittingly and for purely greedy reasons. Near the end of the novel, he reveals to Marius that Jean Valjean is innocent of the more serious crimes he was suspected of. He also brings proof that Valjean was the mysterious man who risked his life to save Marius. All this just in time for Cosette to see her adoptive father one last time before his death.
Dirty Old Man: Marius' grandfather, Monsieur Gillenormand, was a rake in his youth many decades ago, and still maintains an interest in skirt-chasing. He's no longer an active rake, due to lack of finances, not (supposedly) because of lack of physical capability.
Disco Dan: Monsieur Gillenormand is close to 90, and was a young man during the end of the Ancient Regime, and hasn't changed his attitudes, dress, etc., even though the world has changed around him. The result is that without changing anything, he's gone from a well-dressed man of the Enlightenment to a ridiculously unfashionable reactionary.
Disappeared Dad: Cosette's father left her mother when Cosette was little. She doesn't remember him, and for most of the book, she thinks that Jean Valjean is her father.
"I desire to forget life. Life is a hideous invention by somebody I don't know. It doesn't last, and it's good for nothing. You break your neck simply living."
Embarrassing Rescue: Valjean sees Javert is slated for execution and requests that he have the privilege of killing the spy. Being killed by Valjean squares with Javert's rigid view of the world and he accepts it, feeling like a martyr. When Valjean unties him, fires into the air, and urges him to flee — after telling Javert his address so Javert can find him after the fighting is over — Javert at first thinks it's a trick, and is so shocked that he later self-terminates due to the ensuing cognitive dissonance. His entire view of the world is crumbling, and furthermore, as long as he is alive he must pursue Valjean, but at the same time he feels he should not pursue a man who saved his life.
The Everyman: Jean Valjean, who was a simple tree pruner before his imprisonment. His name means, literally, "John, here’s John." (as “Voilà Jean” became “Valjean”)
Felony Misdemeanor: 5 years for a loaf of bread, definitely not something the author agrees with. Inspector Javert seems to approve of these. He is perfectly willing to throw Fantine, a penniless prostitute who is on her knees begging for the life of her child, into jail for six months on account of assaulting a bourgeois who had deliberately provoked her, and who is unavailable to testify.
Forgotten Trope: The penal system in 19th-century France; the Bourbon Restoration.
Freudian Excuse: The reason for Javert's extremely harsh black and white world view and his complete inability to relate to other people. The trope is very interestingly used in Javert's situation, as he was born in prison the child of a prostitute and a thief, but completely rejects the idea that circumstances rather than evil nature can explain crime.
The Great Escape: When Thénardier and his gang escape from La Force prison, it fills many parts of that trope. Apart from maybe the fact that it’s far from being central to the plot.
Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook: Jean Valjean. He’s just a really poor guy who steals bread to survive and ends up serving nineteen years in prison. When he came there, he’s afraid and crying, when he leaves, he’s hardened and considered dangerous. And the narrator agrees! He does undergo a heel face turn later, though.
Heel-Face Turn: The biggest one from Valjean after the bishop pardons him for stealing his silver. One from Fantine after realising that M Madeleine did not fire her and really is a good man. Another one from Javert after Valjean refuses to kill him. At least three from Marius; one after learning the truth about his father, a second one after meeting Cosette, a third after learning the truth about Valjean’s past. Oh, who are we kidding? There’s hardly any character that doesn’t get one at some point, except the Thénardiers.
Heroic BSOD: Javert has a huge one after Valjean spares his life,
Hero with Bad Publicity: Valjean may have saved the lives of everyone and their dog, but to those who know his identity, he is still an ex-convict/convict on the run and more often than not treated accordingly.
Hidden Supplies: When the Thénardiers and their gang take him hostage and attempt to blackmail him, Valjean attempts to escape by sawing through his bonds with a tool—a watch spring, hidden inside a coin — which Hugo informs us is an item invented by convicts. This means that Valjean has had this tool on him all day, every day, for God knows how long — just in case he were ever arrested. This also makes him Properly Paranoid.
Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Played mostly straight with Fantine, who resorts to prostitution as her only available way to provide for herself and her daughter. Throughout, she still retains her love for Cosette, but her general attitude and comportment become a lot less outwardly sad and sweet than the trope usually entails.
Hypochondria: Joly is described as a malade imaginaire and often worries about his health throughout the novel.
Icon of Rebellion: Two of them — the flag Mabeuf dies waving, and Mabeuf's bullet-ridden coat afterwards.
If I Can't Have You: Éponine to Marius. She gives him a false message that his friends are expecting him at the barricade. Distraught due to the belief that Cosette had left for England, he goes there. Éponine goes back there herself, hoping that they will both die there together.
Ill Girl: Fantine is reduced to a "ghost of herself," suffering from a never-exactly-named disease, and acts as a motivator for Valjean to go and retrieve her daughter — only fair, seeing as how his policies reduced her to her aforesaid state. In Valjean's defense, he didn't know about it.
Important Haircut: The first thing, in the book, that Fantine sells for Cosette's sake.
Institutional Apparel: Red jackets and colour-coded caps get mentioned. History says it was yellow trousers, white shirt, red vest and jacket and a green cap for lifers or a red cap (like the Phrygian cap) for non-lifers.
Ironic Nickname: Fantine names her baby Euphrasie in a moment of romantic inspiration, but soon calls her "Cosette" all the time (which means, basically, "Pampered" or "Indulged"). Then she leaves her child with the Thénardiers, who verbally and physically abuse the child, starve her, and force her to work for her keep — all the while still calling her "Cosette," little Indulged.
Ironic Nursery Tune: When Fantine is in the hospital and close to dying, she sings "an old cradle romance with which she had, in earlier days, lulled her little Cosette to sleep, and which had never recurred to her mind in all the five years during which she had been parted from her child."
She sang it in so sad a voice, and with so sweet an air, that it was enough to make anyone, even a nun, weep.
I Have Many Names: Jean Valjean. To take directly from Wikipedia's page, "Jean Valjean: a.k.a. Monsieur Madeleine, a.k.a. Ultime Fauchelevent, a.k.a. Monsieur Leblanc, a.k.a. Urbain Fabre, a.k.a. 24601, a.k.a. 9430."
It's All My Fault: Valjean has a tendency to accept blame even when his involvement was minor at best. Goes hand in hand with his refusal to defend himself at his trial or in front of Marius.
Thénardier is never made accountable for his various crimes (which include graverobbing, attempted murder, child abuse, kidnapping, torture, theft, and more child abuse) during the book, and in the epilogue, he takes the money Marius had given to him to travel to America and become a successful slave trader.
Tholomyès, who abandons Fantine, becomes a successful lawyer. (Though he does get a come-uppance in a deleted scene to the original novel, where his wedding gets called off because a young Cosette (who just happens to be in the audience) calls out 'Papa!') It's suggested that he eventually matures into an honorable man, but that certainly doesn't save Fantine.
Kill Him Already: Justified, because much as the rebels would like to kill Javert, they have a reason for holding him prisoner for an extended length of time: they are conserving their powder and bullets, and consider killing him any way other than shooting him to be reprehensible and beneath them.
Last Minute Reprieve: We don’t know if it was last minute, but Valjean gets a royal pardon before his death sentence can be executed. Since he did not appeal, only a few days would have passed between his trial and the execution date, giving the King not much time to pardon him.
Literary Agent Hypothesis: Hugo frequently refers to the characters as real people and the research he did in assembling their stories. Some of the characters also know of Hugo: At one point, M. Gillenormand criticizes Hernani, a play written by him.
Locked into Strangeness: Valjean's hair turns completely white the night after he makes the difficult decision to turn himself in so that Champmathieu doesn't get sent to the galleys in his place; it stays white for the rest of the book.
Long Hair Is Feminine: But when Fantine sells hers, she hides her shorn head under a cap so she still looks pretty.
Lost in Translation: Hugo makes use of untranslatable puns and argot/slang. An example of a pun is the name of a bagnard named Chenildieu, who's nicknamed je-nie-Dieu, "I deny God"; another is a character admiring the "glaces" (mirrors) in a restaurant, and another replying that she'd rather have "glacés" (ice cream) on her plate.
The title is generally left in French, as it means "The Downtrodden", "Those Unfortunates", and "The Children", and there is no single English equivalent.
The student revolutionary group, Les Amis de l'ABC, literally translates as "the friends of the ABC." However, ABC in French would be pronounced ah-beh-sey, sounding like abaissé — the French word for "abased," also translated as "wretched" or "oppressed." So the name of the group actually means Friends of the Oppressed, since they are all about helping the poor.
Love at First Sight: Inverted with Marius and Cosette. The narrator emphasises several times that the only reason Marius even noticed Cosette is the contrast of her black dress to the incredibly white hair of the man accompanying her. Then he doesn't see her for a couple of months, and suddenly she's turned from a relatively ugly little girl into a beautiful young woman. And Marius still doesn't care.
Valjean is an abbreviation of “Voilà Jean” (Here’s Jean). It doesn’t help that it’s the single most common French first name.
Marius after Victor Hugo’s own middle name, Marie.
Bishop Charles-François Bienvenu Myriel becomes known only as Monseigneur Bienvenu (Bienvenu means welcome).
Montparnasse is named after the quarter of Paris he operates in.
Euphrasie (Joy), known only as Cosette (Probably as a diminutive of “chose”, thing, or from the word "cosset"- to cherish and indulge.)
Valjean’s alias of M Madeleine, chosen after Mary of Magdala (Marie-Madeleine in French), the repentant sinner.
Cosette names the doll Valjean gives her “Catherine”. Catherine was among the first names of Hugo’s eldest daughter – nicknamed “Doll” by the family.
Éponine is the French version of Epponina, the name of the wife of the anti-Roman Gaulish resistor Julius Sabinus. The historical Epponina did everything she could for the man she loved, and while Éponine falters between selfishness and selflessness in her love for Marius, she ultimately takes a bullet for him and dies in his arms. It's also ironic, as it's a highly romantic and aristocratic name for a street waif.
Enjolras can be read as "il enjôlera", meaning he is the one who "will seduce/coax" which makes sense since he's one of the leaders of the riot. Meanwhile, Grantaire ("grand air") means "self aggrandizement".
Merciful Minion: Reversed (heroes intending to kill villain) with Jean Valjean asking to personally execute the spy Javert. He takes him out of sight, fires a pistol into the ground and tells him to run.
Bishop Myriel specifically endeavors to emulate Christ. He's admittedly as close as a human being could be to being perfect. The author seems to consider his political opinion (he’s a royalist) his biggest flaw. Then Myriel meets with a former Revolutionary and even that changes.
Morality Kitchen Sink: Maybe slightly deficient towards the black side, as there is no real Always Chaotic Evil. Even the worst characters have some justification or at least believe to have done the right thing. But from there on, you’ve got pretty much every shade is represented.
Narrator: Switches forth between speaking of himself in first person singular, third person singular (then usually calling himself “the author”) and first person plural and does not stop at telling stories that happened to himself.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Although he eventually decided it was the only option to take, from a more utilitarian point of view Valjean giving up his identity resulted only in catastrophes: It hastened Fantine’s death (although she might not have lived much longer anyway), got Valjean nearly executed (he got pardoned… to life imprisonment), meant that Cosette had to stay nine months longer with the Thénardiers, and completely ruined the town of Montreuil-sur-Mer. Keeping that in mind, sacrificing Champmathieu doesn’t seem quite as terrible anymore.
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Thénardier goes to Marius to blackmail him with his knowledge about Valjean, but ends up telling Marius that Valjean a) did not rob M Madeleine (as he WAS M Madeleine), b) did not kill Javert (as Javert killed himself), and c) saved Marius from the barricade (although Thénardier believed him to have killed Marius to rob him). Although Marius and Cosette arrive too late to save Valjean, he dies with Cosette at his side and the knowledge that the two know that he was not a bad man.
Nightmare Dreams: Valjean has a particularly crazy one in the night before going to Arras.
No Name Given: Inspector Javert (fans like to joke about Javert’s first name actually being “Inspector”), Fantine (rare case of first name only), both Thénardiers, all of the students except Je(h)an Prouvaire and Marius Pontmercy, and many more.
Not What It Looks Like: Happens to Marius twice, firstly when his visits to his father's grave are mistaken for illicit rendezvous with "some petticoat". The second time he is following Thenardier in order to find out more about the planned Gorbeau robbery when he is seen by some of his friends, who assume he is stalking a girl.
Valjean loses his parents “at a very young age” and is brought up by his sister.
In a way, Valjean’s nieces and nephews: Their father is dead and their uncle in prison.
Javert’s father is a galley-slave and he apparently severed ties with his mother very early.
Fantine’s parents are entirely unknown.
Fantine gets dumped by her lover with a two-year-old child and has to abandon Cosette a year later.
Gavroche is the unloved oldest son of the Thénardiers, who lives in the streets
The Thénardiers sell their two youngest sons to Manon, after Manon’s own children (whom she claims were fathered by Gillenormand, who pays her for their keep) die from illness.
After the death of Marius’ mother, his father gets forced to abandon Marius to his grandfather. Marius thinks his father has abandoned him and learns the truth only aged 17.
Parental Favoritism: Mme Thénardier clearly favours her own daughters over Cosette. Averted, in that this doesn’t extend to her sons, though.
Passing the Torch: Several torches are passed, not all of them heroic. Cosette and Marius resolve to follow Valjean's lead, but on the other hand Azelma Thénardier takes over smoothly from her dead mother and Gavroche's younger brothers pick up where he left off.
Patronymic: Jean Valjean is named after his father who, also being named Jean, got the fake-surname Valjean as a contraction of Voilà Jean, a surname that used to also be called "Vlajean."
Point of View: Mainly omniscient narrator, but switches to subjective third person sometimes, usually when a character has a moral dilemma to go through. Needless to say that while many protagonists are a viewpoint character at some point, Valjean’s POV is the most common.
Pretty Boy: Enjolras. It is stated that he has girlish, pretty features. Also, Montparnasse.
Pride: According to the narrator, Valjean is on the way of becoming a proud man before getting to spend four years in a convent. Not that the reader ever noticed anything different about Valjean’s behaviour.
Primal Fear: Little Cosette is afraid of the dark forest.
Prisoner Exchange: When Jehan Prouvaire is captured by the national guard, the revolutionaries plan to exchange Javert for his return, but before they can even raise the flag for a temporary truce, the national guard executes their prisoner.
Prisons Are Gymnasiums: In two meanings: Valjean learns how to climb walls in prison (it helps that he’s already super-strong) and he also learns to read and write.
Prison Ship: Gets mentioned. Historically accurate, as old ships no longer fit for use were moored in the Toulon harbour as prison ships.
Readers Are Morons: After making more or less subtle hints about the identity of M Madeleine for 17 chapters, after having Javert flat-out say who he thinks Madeleine is, Hugo seems to think it necessary to start the next chapter with a big reveal: “The reader has undoubtedly already guessed that M Madeleine is none other than Jean Valjean.”
M. Madeleine revealing himself as Jean Valjean in the middle of a trial. However, subverted in the reader's case. Madeleine is introduced to the reader as a completely separate character to Valjean, though it is completely obvious that they are one and the same. It looks like Hugo is setting the whole thing up for a big reveal, but after a while he simply remarks that the reader will have guessed by now that they are the same person.
The Anticlimax happens again when Thénardier, having fallen in to ruin, is scamming money off some people he heard were generous. He comes across Valjean again, and soon after the meeting reveals this. A passing line is made about a hundred pages later about how the reader probably guessed this before him.
The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: The Friends of the ABC are portrayed as heroic defenders of the common man, right down to the token drunkard. To balance the scale, however, the sympathetic Bishop Myriel is described as a once-noble victim of the Revolution of 1789, and early in the book has a debate with a dying revolutionary regarding who deserves more pity, the poor, or the nobles who are murdered for a crime that is not their fault.
While he wasn't blind to the crimes committed in its name, Hugo greatly admired the French Revolution. His last novel, 93, is focused on it.
Ripped from the Headlines: Quite a few real life criminals get mentioned. Two articles are even reproduced – unfortunately, those two are entirely fictional.
Rouge Angles of Satin: Thénardier writes with such creative spelling that it makes his letters recognisable.
Sadistic Choice: Marius has to choose whether to get Thénardier arrested (to save his love interest's father), even though it was his father's Last Request for Marius to repay Thénardier for saving his life. See Take a Third Option below.
Scare 'Em Straight: Valjean attempts this on the foppish young criminal Montparnasse, by telling him of the horrors of prison life after Montparnasse dismissively says he'd rather be a lazy crook than an honest worker. It's a surprisingly thorough account, contrasting the relatively easy life of a poor but honest laborer with the endless toil of a galley slave. When that doesn't work, he mentions the damage it would do to Montparnasse's looks before he got out again — and this ends up startling him into a state of shocked pensiveness.
She Is All Grown Up: Marius noticing that the girl he's regularly encountered in the park for years, but in whom he has taken no interest, has suddenly developed a mysterious new nubile charm.
Shipped in Shackles: Convicts were transported to the prison Toulon (among others) chained by the neck in groups of twenty-odd people. This scene is described twice in the book; once when Valjean goes through the process of getting his iron collar riveted and again years later, when he and Cosette see the passing chain gang.
Take a Third Option: Rather than getting Thénardier arrested (against his father's Last Request) or leaving Valjean tied up at Thénardier's mercy, he throws Éponine's note ("The bobbies are coming") into the room, causing the criminals to flee.
Taking the Bullet: Éponine for Marius. A soldier makes it in the barricade and aims his musket at Marius, but Éponine steps between them and takes the fatal shot herself.
Technical Pacifist: Valjean made a point of aiming for enemy soldiers' helmets. (Turning over an execution to this guy might not have been Enjolras's brightest idea.)
Besides, there is a point when the unfortunate and the infamous are associated and confused in a word, a mortal word, les misérables; whose fault is it? And then, when the fall is furthest, is that not when charity should be greatest?
Together in Death: What Éponine hopes will happen to her and Marius. Sadly (for her), he survives.
Averted with Grantaire and Enjolras. Though they die side by side holding hands, in deathEnjolras dies standing up while Grantaire falls at his feet.
The Tooth Hurts: Fantine — whose smile and hair are described as her two great beauties — sells first her hair to a wigmaker, and then her teeth to a denture-maker. And there is no suggestion that the removal of her teeth was performed with any anesthetic.
Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Despite being only eleven or twelve years old, Gavroche eventually steals a gun and joins the revolutionaries at the barricade. When the gun he stole doesn't work, he badgers Enjolras for a new one. Somewhat lampshaded when Enjolras replies that the guns are for men first.
Cosette as a child shows signs of this, thanks to living in constant fear because of how badly she's been abused. When she overhears Valjean telling Thénardier that Fantine has passed away, she picks up the little knife she uses as a doll and rocks it while singing "My mother is dead! My mother is dead!" She also mentions using her knife to cut the heads off of flies. The narration says that at age eight, an observer might think she's growing up to be "an idiot or a demon". Fortunately, Valjean's love and care for her helps her psychologically heal, and she matures into a happy, well-adjusted young woman.
Turn In Your Badge: Inverted when Javert attempts to present, of his own volition, his own resignation to Madeleine/Valjean as mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer for the egregious sin of suspecting him of being Jean Valjean; despite Javert's zealous plea for dismissal, Valjean persuades him that he may keep his post.
He beheld before him two paths, both equally straight, but he beheld two; and that terrified him; him, who had never in all his life known more than one straight line. And, the poignant anguish lay in this, that the two paths were contrary to each other. One of these straight lines excluded the other. Which of the two was the true one?...
... There were only two ways of escaping from it. One was to go resolutely to Jean Valjean, and restore to his cell the convict from the galleys. The other . . .
What Are You in For?: Averted; the bishop makes a point of not asking Valjean for any kinds of details.
Where The Hell Is Springfield?: In the original edition, several towns were only identified by first letter (most prominently D and M-sur-M). Since it was rather clear what towns Hugo was talking about, modern editions don’t hold with this nonsense.
Wide-Eyed Idealist: Marius, but most of the Amis fit this a bit. Justified by the fact that most of them had already gone through all this before two years earlier, and come out triumphant. They have no reason to think they'll fail and/or die this time.
Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him?: What Javert asks after being unmasked and captured by the students on the barricade. Answer: They don’t want to waste ammunition… yet.
Would Hurt a Child: Rare female example, as M Thénardier's cruelty towards Cosette is more along the lines of making her walk barefoot in winter. Only Madame Thénardier (regularly) kicks and beats Cosette.
Wrongly Accused: Champmathieu when mistaken for Valjean. Later Valjean when the prosecutor manages to convince the jury that Valjean was part of a gang of highway robbers.
Fantine has finally been rescued from her misery and six months in jail by Madeleine, who promises to get her daughter. And then Thénardier refuses again and again to bring the child, and Javert arrests Madeleine right at her bedside, revealing that he’s a wanted criminal. The shock kills her.
Valjean believes himself safe in his new identity, only for Javert to make the whole thing crumble and put Valjean in front of the terrible choice of going back to prison or let an innocent go to prison in his place.
Cosette and Marius have managed to get to Valjean when he’s still alive – only for him to die ten minutes later.
Ye Olde Butchered English: One English translation is especially guilty of this, introducing “thou” whenever the difference between “tu” and “vous” (that is to say, informal and polite pronoun) becomes important in French. It’s especially ridiculous since the use of “thou” is not consistent throughout the text.
You Always Hear The Bullet: When Prouvaire is taken hostage by the National Guard, he is shot before the rebels can arrange a hostage exchange. Everyone hears the guns, despite it sounding like a "volley of gunfire," which is strange considering they are in the middle of a combat zone.
You Are Number Six: Although the book is not as crazy about this one as the musical, Valjean's two prison numbers even make it to chapter title, namely "Number 24601 becomes Number 9430." However, the only one ever to refer to Valjean by his prison number is the narrator.
"Number 9430 Reappears, and Cosette Wins It In the Lottery"
Younger than They Look: Played with with Éponine, who's still noticeably 16, but at the same time has rather badly aged skin already due to her life of deprivation and poverty. By her second appearance as a teen, however, she's much happier, and accordingly is described as looking considerably prettier.
By the time Fantine dies at 25, she's frail and white-haired.