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Hugo's "Intestine of Leviathan"

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6.1 Photograph of Paris Sewer

. . . the great prodigality of Paris, her marvelous fête, her Beaujon folly, her orgy, her full-handed outpouring of gold, her pageant, her luxury, her magnificence, is her sewer. (Les Miserables; Jean Valjean, Book II, ch1)

Hugo's View of the Sewers of Paris

Victor Hugo saw the sewers of Paris as the "conscience of the city"; a place where there were no secrets, where class distinctions became insignificant and society could be observed in a clear light.

Here, no more false appearance, no possible plastering, the filth takes off its shirt, absolute nakedness, rout of illusions and of mirages, nothing more but what it is . . . The last veil is rent. A sewer is a cynic. It tells all. (Les Miserables; Jean Valjean, Book II, ch 2)

Hugo also lamented what he saw as a waste of valuable resources in the sewers; he advocated the use of sewage as fertilizer.

6.2 Victor Hugo

Paris throws five millions a year into the sea. And this without metaphor. How, and in what manner? day and night. With what object? without any object. With what thought? without thinking of it. For what return? for nothing. By means of what organ? by means of its intestine. What is its intestine? its sewer . . . Science, after long experiment, now knows that the most fertilizing and the most effective of manures is that of man . . . A sewer is a mistake. (Les Miserables; Jean Valjean, Book II, ch 1)

The Sewers of Paris in Les Miserables

Jean Valjean thought that that grating, noticed by him under the paving-stones, might also be noticed by the soldiers, and that all depended upon chance. They also could descend into the well and explore it. There was not a minute to be lost. He had laid Marius upon the ground, he gathered him up, this again being the right word, replaced him upon his shoulders, and began his journey. He resolutely entered that obscurity. (Les Miserables; Jean Valjean, Book III, ch.1)


Thus begins Jean Valjean's journey into the sewers of Paris.

6.3 Jean ValJean carrying Marius

When Jean Valjean descends to the sewers, he is following what Hugo thought to be a great tradition: "Crime, intelligence, social protest, liberty of conscience, thought, theft, all that human laws pursue or have pursued, have hidden in this hole..." (Les Miserables; Jean Valjean, Book II, ch 2). Javert recognizes the sewers as a possible means of escape for the revolutionaries, and lies in wait for Valjean where it empties into the Seine. Thénardier, who represents the criminal element in the novel, runs into Valjean in the sewer, and provides him with the key to the gates out of the sewer.

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