The French Revolution

People of Paris
Revolutionary Tradition and Les Mis
Revolution 1789
--The Monarchy
--Tennis Court Oath
--Fall of the Bastille
--October Days
--Declaration of War
--Palace Invaded
--Louis XVI
--Reign of Terror
-- Fall of Robespierre
--At war
1789 in Les Miserables
--The Terror
--The People
--The Students
--The Monarchy
--Place de Concord
--Notre Dame
Daily Sites
--Street Names
--Children's Names and Games
Works Consulted


The Parisian is among Frenchman what the Athenian was among the Greeks. Nobody sleeps better than he, nobody is more frankly frivolous and idle than he, nobody seems to forget things more easily than he; but do not trust him, notwithstanding; he is apt at all sorts of nonchalance, but when there is glory to be gained he is wonderful in every species of fury. Give him a pike and he will play the tenth of August; give him a musket, and you shall have an Austerlitz. He is the support of Napoleon, and the resource of Danton. Is France in question? he enlists; is liberty in question? he tears up the pavement. Beware!

Les Miserables, Fantine, Book Third, Chapter V


This quote is rich with allusions to the French Revolution. Hugo captures the duplicity of the Parisian characater succinctly and makes reference to some of the pivitol events of the revolutionary period. This quote foreshadows the radical attitudes of the students of the ABC, who "tear up the pavement" to build barricades later in the novel. Hugo also reveals his political beliefs in this quote. He clearly sees the people of Paris as dynamic and powerful force.



 The Fall of the Monarchy, 10 August 1792

  • When Hugo writes "give him a pike and he will play the tenth of August," he is referring to the date in 1792 when the monarchy of France was overthrown. The crowds of Paris were pivitol in the overthrow--they stormed the royal residence and massacred the royal guards while the royal family fled. After the overthrow was secure, they dismembered the bodies of the guards and carried their heads through the city on pikes. This event gave Parisians a reputation as blood thirsty savages throughout Europe.
  • For more information on this event click here.



 Photograph of the Battlefield at Austerlitz, 1998


  •  Immediately after mentioning the tenth of August, Hugo drops the name "Austerlitz" into this quote. Austerlitz was one of Napoleon's great triumphs as a general. This battle took place in Austria in 1805. It confirmed that Naopoleon was a brilliant tactician, as he was able to defeat both Russian and Austrian armies. Ordinary citizens were critical to French military success. In August of 1793, the revolutionary government declared universal mobilization of the nation, and by 1794, they had raised an army of over 1 million men (Spielvogel, p. 690). By 1805, France had been at war for more than 10 years, but the people of France continued to support Napoleon's military campaigns.
  • For more information on Austerlitz click here.



Napoleon at the Bridge of Arcola, Baron Gros, 1796

  • The common people of Paris were the "support of Napoleon" because they fought for him loyally. They were also his support when he overthrew the Directory in 1799, and they continued to support him as he crowned himself the emporer of France. Without popular support, Napoleon would not have been a successful general or a successful dictator.
  • For more information on Napoleon's overthrow of the Directory click here.
  • For more on information on Napoleon click here.
  • For differing views of Napoleon click here.



  • Hugo describes the people of Paris as "the resource of Danton." Danton was a popular figure during the first years of the French Revolution (1789-1794), and one of the most admirable (Dowd, 91). He was a large man with an intimidating physical presence and was known as a persuasive public speaker. He was not allowed to speak at his own trial for fear that he would incite the people of Paris to riot. Dowd says,

   "Danton was a popular man, and a man of the people. He had founded the Cordeliers to give the sans-culottes of Paris a voice, and the people of Paris idolised him for it. Although he antagonized many of his fellow politicians, many more respected him for his quick intelligence, his conviction and his fiery eloquence." (Dowd, 90).

  • Danton often called on the people to act against the monarchy. He believed in the people and they were fiercly devoted to him.
  • For more information on Danton click here.
  • For information on the Fall of Daton click here.
  • For more information on the sans-coulottes click here.