Cosette: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2143

The Ship Orion - Summary
Two newspaper articles record the recapture of Jean Valjean. The first, from Drapeau Blanc, July 25, 1823, notes the arrest of an individual known as Monsieur Madeleine who revitalized the jet and black glass industry with the invention of a new manufacturing process. Prior to his arrest, Valjean withdrew more than half a million francs, money which was honestly earned through his business, from Laffitte’s Bank. Police were unable to determine where he had hidden the money. The second article appeared in the Journal de Paris on the same date. It reports that Jean Valjean had been appointed mayor and had established a profitable business under an assumed identity. After his arrest, he used his “Herculean strength” to escape. According to this account, during the three or four days before he was retaken, he withdrew “six or seven hundred francs” which were never recovered.

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At his trial, Jean was found guilty of assault and robbery and condemned to death. Though he did not appeal to a higher court, the king “in his inexhaustible clemency, deigned to commute his sentence.” Returned to the galleys at Toulon with a sentence of hard labor for life, Jean Valjean changes his number to 9430.

At the end of October 1823, the ship Orion sails into the harbor at Toulon. While the crew is furling the sail, the topman loses his balance. Grabbing the ropes as he plunges toward the sea, he hangs, helpless, swaying in the wind. No one dares to attempt to rescue him until a man clothed in the red garb of a convict scales the rigging and carries the sailor up to safety. Then the rescuer slides down the rigging to return to his work. Bystanders, unsure whether he loses his balance or is simply fatigued, watch in horror as the convict plunges into the sea between two ships. Though a search is mounted, the body is never recovered. The following morning, the Toulon Journal reports that the convict Jean Valjean has fallen into the sea and drowned.

Fulfilment of the Promise to the Departed - Summary
After throwing himself into the sea, Jean hides in a boat until evening and then swims to safety. He purchases new clothing and follows a circuitous route to Paris where he purchases a child’s dress and finds lodging. He then goes to Montfermeil to rescue Cosette from the Thénardiers.

The Old Gorbeau House Summary
New Character:
The Old Landlady: runs Gorbeau House

At the extreme edge of Paris there is a quarter known as the Horse Market. Within the crumbling walls of the quarter, far from the bustling neighborhoods of society, there is a small gabled cottage nearly hidden from view. The postal service refers to the house as No. 50-52, but it is known in the neighborhood as the Gorbeau House.

Jean Valjean carries the sleeping Cosette to the deserted Gorbeau House. It has been nine months since the death of her mother and Jean is ecstatic to have her with him. The noise of a wagon passing on the cobblestone street awakens the child. Slightly disoriented, she asks Jean for her broom and asks if she must sweep. He tells her she must play. Unquestioning, she spends a happy day with Jean and her doll.

Jean Valjean has been alone for 25 years. His sister and her children had disappeared, and in spite of a lengthy search, he has been unable to find them. He rescues the eight-year-old Cosette and feels the “grand emotion of a heart in its first love.” His life takes another dramatic turn when, for the second time in his life, he sees a “white vision.” “The bishop had caused the dawn of virtue on his horizon; Cosette evoked the dawn of love.”

It is also Cosette’s first experience with love. Separated early from her mother, she does not remember her. Since then, she has been neglected and abused. She loves Jean from the moment he rescues her and considers him handsome in spite of his 55 years.

Their hiding place is well-chosen. Only one window faces the boulevard. The upper floor is occupied by an old woman who works as their maid. Sometimes referred to as the landlady, she rented the garret to Jean on Christmas Day. Jean pretends to be a wealthy gentleman who has lost most of his money. He tells her Cosette is his granddaughter.

In these poor surroundings, they live happily. Jean, who learned to read in the galleys for the purpose of evil, now teaches Cosette to read and to spell and to pray. She loves him and calls him Father. He grows stronger while protecting and nurturing her.

Jean never went out during the day, but in the early hours of the evening he strolled along the side streets, often with Cosette. His shabby clothes make others think he is a beggar. Because he sometimes gives money to beggars, people in the quarter refer to him as “the beggar who gives alms.”

The old landlady, a “crabbed creature,” is suspicious. She questions Cosette who knows nothing. One day, through a chink in the door, she observes Jean as he rips open the lining of his lapel and removes a 1000-franc bill. When he later asks her to get it changed for him, he tells her that it is from the interest on his property.

Jean never passes the beggar in Saint Medard without giving him money. One evening as he and Cosette pass, Jean stops to put money in his hand. Their eyes meet. Though the beggar looks no different, Jean recoils in terror. He thinks he has seen Javert.

Days later, as he is giving Cosette a spelling lesson, he sees a ray of light through the keyhole in his room. Someone is listening through the door; but when the light disappears, there is no sound of footsteps. The following morning, awakened by a creaking door in the hall, he looks through the keyhole and observes a tall man passing his room. The light from the window illuminates a man wearing a long frock-coat and carrying a short club. It is Javert.

Jean inquires about the stranger in the house and the landlady tells him that the gentleman, M. Daumont, is a new tenant. When the old woman leaves, he gathers 100 francs. Jean drops a five-franc piece and it rolls across the floor. At dusk, when the street appears to be deserted, Jean and Cosette leave Gorbeau House. The author notes that “there might have been someone hidden behind a tree.”

A Dark Chase Needs A Silent Hound - Summary
The street called Rue Droit Mur is lined with poor houses on one side and several buildings of one or two stories on the other. At the corner, the wall on one side of the street is very low. A lime-tree grows above it. The wall seems to surround a garden, so Jean tries to open one of the doors. Unable to budge it, he tries to open another and discovers that it merely appears to be a door. When he tears off a board, there is a wall behind it.

Hearing noises, he looks around the corner and sees seven or eight soldiers, led by Javert, coming towards him. His greatest fear of returning to the galleys is the fear of losing Cosette. He knows he can scale the 18-foot wall to get into the garden, but he needs a rope to lift Cosette.

Remembering that the street lamps in Paris are raised and lowered for lighting by a rope, an idea comes to Jean. He cuts a rope from the nearest lamp, ties it around Cosette, scales the wall, and then hoists her up. No sooner do they reach the top than they hear Javert and his soldiers on the street below. Carrying Cosette, he climbs down the lime-tree into the garden.

Though the building is in ruins, Jean finds a room which is used as a shed and takes Cosette into it. He hears the voice of Javert and the sounds of the patrol searching for them and puts his hand on Cosette’s mouth. He does not breathe. When the noise fades, he is calmed by the celestial sound of the voices of women and children coming from a dilapidated building overlooking the garden. It is like a choir of angels that makes both of them feel they should be on their knees. After a while, the chant ceases and it is silent.

Between one and two o’clock in the morning, Cosette awakes. The shed is open on all sides, and the cold wind and damp ground make her tremble. Jean wraps her in his coat.

Cosette falls asleep and Jean contemplates the situation. He decides that as long as he has her, he needs nothing else. Hearing the sound of a tinkling bell, he turns to see someone else in the garden. The person appears to walk with a limp as he goes from one patch of melons to the next. Terrified, Jean picks up Cosette and moves to the farthest corner of the shed where he continues to watch the man whose every movement, makes the bell tinkle. Jean feels Cosette’s cold hands. When he is unable to awaken her, he realizes he must find a warm place for her immediately.

Jean approaches the man in the garden and offers him a hundred francs for shelter for the night. The full moon illuminates Jean’s face, allowing the man to recognize him. The old man is astonished to see Father Madeleine in such mean circumstances. He tells Jean that he is Fauchelevent whose life Jean once saved. Jean has inadvertently stumbled into the garden of the Convent of Petit Picpus where the old man works as a gardener. He is covering his melons to protect them from frost. Since no men are allowed in the convent, he must wear a bell to warn the young girls in the convent that he is coming so they can avoid him. Fauchelevant has three rooms in a shanty in a corner of the convent where he takes Cosette and Jean to warm by the fire.

Cemeteries Take What Is Given Them - Summary
New Characters:
The Prioress and The Reverend Mother: nuns at the Convent of the Petit Picpus

The convent is a safe place for them to hide because no one would think to look for them there. It is a also a dangerous place because no men are allowed, and it is a crime for Jean to be there. Fauchelevant resolves to devote himself to Jean.

Fauchelevent, Jean Valjean, and Cosette visit the prioress and the reverend mother. They tell the reverend mother that Jean is Ultimus, the brother of Fauchelevent, and that Cosette is his granddaughter. The prioress remarks, “She will be homely.” Perhaps because of her comment, the reverend mother agrees to admit Cosette to the convent school as a charity case and allow Ultimus to stay as an assistant gardener. The following day, two bells are heard tinkling in the garden.

Cosette adjusts to life in the convent school, and Jean uses the skills he learned as a pruner to improve the orchard. He is content living in the convent because Cosette visits him for an hour every day, and he can watch her while she plays. Several years pass.

Cosette - Analysis
The time is 1823. The setting changes to Paris, where the rest of the novel takes place. Readers should note that the city of Paris is divided into four parts known as quarters. The Seine River flows through the city, splitting it into two parts, the left bank and the right bank.

Twice in this part of the novel Jean uses his great strength to escape. He uses it to fake his own death, and later depends on it again when he is on the run with Cosette from Javert and his men. Throughout the novel the author parallels the physical strength Jean needs to survive with the spiritual strength he requires to follow his conscience.

The use of the color white comes into play as an image when Cosette is referred to as a “white vision.” Like the bishop, she illuminates his life by offering him something good. For the first time in his life he has someone to love and is no longer alone. She becomes the central focus of his entire life.

Bird imagery is used once again when Jean and Cosette are compared to the owl and the wren, images suggesting his wisdom and her helplessness. The “nest” they create at Gorbeau House symbolizes safety and comfort for both of them. When they are forced to flee, they find refuge in a convent as if they are being sheltered by the arms of God.

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