Jean Valjean (zhah[n] vahl-ZHAH[N]), a convict of unusual strength, originally sentenced to five years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving family. Attempts to escape have kept him in the galleys for nineteen years before he is released in 1815. Police Inspector Javert is sure he will be back, for his passport, proclaiming him an ex-convict, keeps him from getting work. He stops at the home of the bishop of Digne, who treats him well despite Jean’s attempts to rob him of some silverware. Eventually, calling himself Father Madeleine, a man with no previous history, he appears in the town of M. sur M. His discovery of a method for making jet for jewelry brings prosperity to the whole village, and the people elect him mayor. Then his conscience forces him to confess his former identity to save a prisoner unjustly arrested. Again he escapes from the galleys and from Inspector Javert, until he is betrayed by a blackmailer. In the end, he dies peacefully, surrounded by those he loves and with his entangled past revealed. His final act is to bequeath to Cosette the bishop’s silver candlesticks, which he had kept for years while trying to deserve the bishop’s confidence.
Fantine (fahn-TEEN), a beautiful girl of Paris whose attempts to find a home for her illegitimate daughter Cosette have put her into the power of money-mad M. Thénardier. Unable to meet his demands for more money after the foreman of Father Madeleine’s factory fires her upon learning of her earlier history, she turns prostitute, only to have M. Javert arrest her. By this time, she is dying of tuberculosis. Father Madeleine promises to look after eight-year-old Cosette.
Cosette (koh-ZEHT), Fantine’s daughter, who grows up believing herself the daughter of Father Madeleine. She is seen and loved by a young lawyer, Marius Pontmercy; but Valjean, fearing he will be compelled to reveal her story and his own if she marries, plans to take her away. Cosette hears from Pontmercy again as she is about to leave for England with her supposed father. She sends him a note that brings his answer that he is going to seek death at the barricades.
Felix Tholomyes (fay-LEEKS toh-loh-MYEHS), a carefree, faithless student, Fantine’s lover and Cosette’s father.
M. Javert (zhah-VEHR), a police inspector with a strong sense of duty that impels him to track down the man whom he considers a depraved criminal. Finally, after Valjean saves his life at the barricades, where the crowd wants to kill him as a police spy, he struggles between his sense of duty and his reluctance to take back to prison a man who could have saved himself by letting the policeman die. His solution is to drown himself in the Seine.
Marius Pontmercy (mahr-YEWS poh[n]-mehr-SEE), a young lawyer of good blood, estranged from his aristocratic family because of his liberal views. His father, an army officer under Napoleon Bonaparte, had expressed a deathbed wish that his son try to repay his debt to Sergeant Thénardier, who had saved his life at Waterloo. Marius’ struggle between obligations to a rascal and his desire to protect the father of the girl he loves sets M. Javert on Jean Valjean’s tracks. A farewell letter from Cosette sends him to die at the barricade during a street revolt. After he has been wounded, Valjean saves him by carrying him underground through the sewers of Paris. Eventually, Marius marries Cosette and learns, when the old man is dying, the truth about Jean Valjean.
M. Thénardier (tay-nahr-DEEAY), an unscrupulous, avaricious innkeeper, a veteran of Waterloo, who bleeds Fantine of money to pay for the care of Cosette. Later, he changes his name to Jondrette and begins a career of begging and blackmail while living in the Gorbeau tenement in Paris. Jean Valjean becomes one of his victims. He even demands money to let Valjean out of the sewers beneath Paris while Valjean is carrying wounded Marius Pontmercy to a place of safety.
Mme Thénardier, a virago as cruel and ruthless as her husband.
Eponine Thénardier (ay-poh-NEEN), their older daughter, a good-hearted but pathetic girl. Marius Pontmercy first meets her when she delivers one of her father’s begging, whining letters. In love with Marius, she saves his life by interposing herself between him and a musket during the fighting at the barricade. Before she dies, she gives him a letter telling where Cosette can be found.
Azelma (ah-zehl-MAH), their younger daughter.
Little Gavroche (gah-VROHSH), the Thénardiers’ son, a street gamin. He is killed while assisting the insurgents in the fighting at the barricade.
Charles François Bienvenu Myriel
Charles François Bienvenu Myriel (frah[n]-SWAH byeh[n]-veh-NEW meer-YEHL), bishop of Digne, a good-hearted, devout churchman who gives hospitality to Jean Valjean after the ex-convict’s release from the galleys. When Valjean repays him by stealing some of the bishop’s silverware, the old man tells the police that he had given the valuables to his guest and gives him in addition a pair of silver candlesticks. His saintliness turns Valjean to a life of honesty and sacrifice.
Father Fauchelevent (foh-shehl-VAH[N]), a bankrupt notary turned carter, jealous of Father Madeleine’s success in M. sur M. One day his horse falls, and the old man is pinned beneath his cart. The accident might have proved fatal if Father Madeleine, a man of tremendous strength, had not lifted the vehicle to free the trapped carter. This feat of strength, witnessed by M. Javert, causes the policeman to comment significantly that he has known only one man, a galley slave, capable of doing such a deed. Father Madeleine’s act changes Father Fauchelevent from an enemy to an admiring friend. After his accident, the old man becomes a gardener at the convent of the Little Picpus in Paris. Jean Valjean and Cosette, fleeing from the police, take refuge in the convent garden. Old Fauchelevent gives them shelter and arranges to have Valjean smuggled out of the convent grounds in the coffin of a dead nun. Later, he helps Valjean to get work as a workman at the convent.
Little Gervaise (zhehr-VEHZ), a young Savoyard from whom Jean Valjean steals two francs. The deed arouses his conscience, and he weeps because he cannot find the boy to return his money. This is the crime of which Champmathieu is later accused.
Champmathieu (shah[n]-mah-TYEW), an old man arrested for stealing apples. When he is taken to the departmental prison at Arras, a convict there identifies him as Jean Valjean, a former convict, and he is put on trial for the theft of two francs stolen from a Savoyard lad eight years before. After a struggle with his conscience, Jean Valjean appears at the trial and confesses his identity. Champmathieu, convinced that all the world is mad if Father Madeleine is Jean Valjean, is acquitted. Javert arrests Valjean as the real culprit, but his prisoner escapes a few hours later after pulling out a bar of his cell window.
M. Gillenormand (zheel-nohr-MAH[N]), the stern grandfather of Marius Pontmercy. A royalist, the old man never became reconciled with his Bonapartist son-in-law. He and his grandson quarrel because of the young man’s political views and reverence for his dead father. Turned out of his grandfather’s house, Marius goes to live in the Gorbeau tenement.
Théodule Gillenormand (tay-oh-DEWL), M. Gillenormand’s great-grand-nephew, a lieutenant in the lancers. He spies on Marius Pontmercy and learns that his kinsman is a regular visitor at his father’s tomb.
Courfeyrac (kewr-fay-RAHK) and
Enjolas (ehn-zhoh-LAH), friends of Marius Pontmercy and members of the friends of the A.B.C., a society supposed to be interested in the education of children but in reality a revolutionary group. Both are killed in the uprising of the citizens in June, 1832, Courfeyrac at the barricades, Enjolas in the house where the insurgents make their last stand.
M. Maboef (mah-BEWF), an aged church warden who had known Marius Pontmercy’s father. A lover of humankind and a hater of tyranny, he marches unarmed to the barricades with the young friends of the A.B.C. He is killed during the fighting.