Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Les Misérables book cover
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What is a savoyard?

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A Savoyard is the name for a person from the mountainous Savoy region of France.  Savoyards were typically migrant workers because farming was not possible in the rocky, mountain soil.

Many Savoyard parents would "rent" their children out as chimney-sweeps or for other labor which amounted to near slavery.  Some of these children would beg and/or steal while others banded together in types of communities to watch out for each other.  

In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean comes across a savoyard called Petite Gervais. The boy drops a silver coin and Jean Valjean covers it with his foot.  After a struggle, the boy leaves, crying, without his coin.  Later, this action makes Jean Valjean feel extremely guilty, and he even attempts to find Petite Gervais to return his coin.  He fails, but spends many years giving money to other savoyard to make up for his wicked deed.

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