The French Revolution

The Students of the ABC
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


Hugo calls the friends of the ABC as "A group which almost became historic" (Marius, Book Fourth, Chapter I). The word abaissé means the abased, thus these friends of the abased had as their aim the elevation of the common man. These students draw heavily on the revolutionary tradition of France, particularly the years between 1789-1799. The principal students (Enjorlas, Combeferre, and Corfeyrac) ressemble famous figures of the French Revolution. The reference to famed revolutionaries is intentional on Hugo's part; he connects those who "almost became historic" to those who actually are historic.



Portrait of Robespierre from Dowd.
Enjorlas, Robespierre, and Saint-Just


Drawing of Sanit-Just from Dowd

Enjorlas is the leader of the Students of the ABC. Hugo's description:
He was officiating and militant; from the immediate point of view, a solider of democracy; above the movement of the time, a priest of the ideal. He was now a man, but he seemed a child still. His twenty-two years of age appeared seventeen; he was serious, he did not seem to know that there was on the earth a being called woman. He had but one passion, the right; but one thought, to remove all obstacles. Before everything but the republic he chastely dropped his eyes. He was the marble lover of liberty. (Marius, Book Fourth, Chapter 1)

In Les Miserables, Hugo explicitly reveals that the character of Enjorlas is modeled on Saint-Just, a radical disciple of Robespierre's who died at a young age when he went to the guillotine with Robespierre. Dowd describes Saint-Just as "a pitiless and terrifying young man who earned the title Angel of Death from his collaegues" (122). Saint-Just was a member of the Committee of Public Safety, and was a key player in the arrest of Danton (he told the Convention that Danton was preparing a revolt of prisoners, and the Convention forbid Danton to speak in his own defense at his trial). Enjorlas definitely resembles Saint-Just in some ways: both were young and handsome, both were strongly committed to their causes. However, Saint-Just was a follower of Robespierre, while Enjorlas was the leader of the Students of the ABC. In this respect, and in a few others, Enjorlas also resembles Robespierre.

In his description of Combeferre, Hugo writes that Enjorlas "went as far as Robespierre." Hugo here is referring to Robespierre's fanatical commitment to the Terror, which lasted longer than it needed to because of Robespierre's desire to purge the new French Republic of undesirables (Spielvogel, 695). There is an episode in Les Miserables when Enjorlas goes "as far as Robespierre-he kills one of the men at the barricade because the man senselessly killed a civilian who is not involved in the drama at the barricade (Saint Denis, Book Twelfth, Chapter VII). Aside from the fanatical commitment to the purity of their movements, Enjorlas and Robespierre also shared and antipathy towards women. Hugo says that Enjorlas "did not seem to know that there was on the earth a thing called a woman." Robespierre was also conspicuously alone during the height of his revolutionary fame.
Enjorlas has characteristics of both Robespierre and Saint-Just. Hugo associates Enjorlas with these two eminent figures to illustrate Enjorlas's fanaticism and vices as well as virtues.


 Combeferre and Desmoulins

Combeferre, in Hugo's description, represents the philosophy of the Students of the ABC. Hugo writes:

His desire was to instill in all minds the broad principles of general ideas. Enjorlas was more manly, Combeferre more humane. Combeferre was gentle, as Enjorlas was severe, from natural putiry. Enjorlas was a chief, Combeferre was a guide. You would have preferred to fight with one and march with the other. While his tumultuous friends, chivalrously devoted to the absolute, adored and asked for splendid revolutionary adventures, Combeferre inclined to let progress do her work. (Marius, Book Fourth, Chapter I)

Hugo subtly connects Combeferre to Camille Desmoulins in this quote. The connection between the historical figure and the fictional character would have been clear to contemporaries of Hugo. Although Desmoulins was not officially labeled the "philosophy of the Revolution" he did demonstrate a desire to "instill in all minds the broad principles of general ideas." Desmoulins was an old friend of Robespierre and a political ally of Danton. Although Desmoulins was credited with inspiring the taking of the Bastille, he was in the public eye less than his friends Danton and Robespierre. He was small in stature and had a stutter, and his gentle nature was better suited to writing than whipping crowds into a revolutionary frenzy (Mantle, Book1). Desmoulins founded the journal "The Old Cordelier" in the early months of 1794 and criticized the Revolutionary government openly in it; this led to his death. Desmoulins was dedicated to the Revolution in a humane way, just as Combeferre was dedicated to the Students of the ABC.

 Corfeyrac and Danton


Portrait of Danton from Schama
Courfeyrac is the center of the revolutionary activity within the Students of the ABC. Hugo reveals both Courfeyrac's past and purpose in Marius, Book Fourth:

Courfeyrac had a father whose name was M. de Courfeyrac. The particle, we know, has no significance. But the bourgeois of the time considered this poor de so highly that men thought themselves obliged to renounce it. Courfeyrac did not wish to be behind, so he called himself briefly Courfeyrac. Enjorlas was the chief, Combeferre was the guide, Courfeyrac was the centre. The others gave more light, he gave more heat; the truth is that he had all the qualities of a centre, roundness and radiance.

In this brief quote, Hugo draws many parallels between Courfeyrac and Danton, who was the center of the revolutionary movement form 1789 until his death in 1794. Danton was born d'Anton, but combined the particle with his surname after the Tennis Court Oath during the meeting of the Estates General in June of 1789. In 1789, the particle meant a close tie to the aristocracy and Danton rejected this as he plunged into revolutionary life in Paris (Mantle, Book 1).

Danton, like Courfeyrac, was recognizable as the center of his movement. Danton was one of the founders of the Cordeliers club, a forum that gave the sans-culottes of Paris a place to meet and discuss their political ideas (Dowd). It can be said that Danton gave more heat than light-although Danton switched political affiliations throughout the turbulent early 1790s he remained a dedicated patriot and had the ability to mobilize masses of people with his commanding presence. People reading Les Miserables in the late nineteenth century would have immediately made the connection between Courfeyrac and Danton. The association of Courfeyrac with Danton makes Courfeyrac heroic and connects him with the tradition of French Revolutionary fortitude.