80 pages 2 hours read

Victor Hugo

Les Miserables

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1862

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Part 1, Books 5-8Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 1, Book 5 Summary: "The Descent"

Fantine returns to her hometown, Montreuil-sur-mer, for the first time in 12 years. By this time, the town has transformed due to "those industrial developments that have a great impact on small places" (137). The arrival of a mysterious man named Madeleine in 1815 changed the fortunes of the small town. He introduced a new way to manufacture the town's famous jewelry and glass products, vastly reducing the cost and lifting the wages and profits of every resident. After donating over a million francs to the local poor, Madeline became beloved in the town, and in 1820 he was made mayor with the unanimous support of the local people. In 1821, news reaches Montreuil-sur-mer about Myriel’s death. Mayor Madeline goes into mourning and dresses "entirely in black" (143); his real identity is Jean Valjean.

Valjean arrived in Montreuil-sur-mer in 1815. He saved two children from a burning building, and because of this act of heroism, no one checked his identity papers. By 1821, Valjean is the recipient of so much "unanimous and cordial" (143) respect that the local people never think to question his identity as Madeline. Only one person—Javert, a stern police inspector—harbors any suspicion toward the mayor.