7 Rue de
Place in the narrative
This is the location where Jean Valjean and Cosette go to when, after several warnings of unrest in the city and Valjean’s personal issues, Valjean is driven to think that they should leave Paris for England. It is the last of the houses he took when he arrived in Paris and where they spend the period of the insurrection.
It is here that Jean Valjean’s worst nightmares are realised when he discovers that Cosette is in love with Marius. Cosette leaves her blotting book open on the mantle-piece, on the page where she wrote a note to Marius, and Valjean sees the note reflected in the mirror. This shocks him to the core and old feelings reoccur to him as ‘With the exception of Cosette… Jean Valjean had never, in the whole of his long life, anything of that which may be loved.’ Valjean is overwhelmed by the idea that he is losing Cosette, so when he meets Gavroche in the street, with a letter for Cosette from Marius, he decides fix his problems by joining the fight on the barricade for the same reason as Marius – that if he can’t have Cosette he can’t live.
After the final attack on the barricade, Valjean saves Marius, who has injured in the fighting, by carrying him through the warren of sewers under Paris. Javert meets Valjean at the exit to the sewers, meaning to arrest him then and there, but Valjean has two last favours to ask of him before he is arrested. The first is to take Marius back to his grandfather, at 6 Rue de Filles-Calvaire, and second, is to go home to the Rue l’Homme Arme. Javert lets him go to his home and waits outside while Valjean goes upstairs but Javert leaves without arresting him, allowing him his freedom.
After Marius and Cosette’s marriage, Jean Valjean refuses to live with them in the Rue de Filles-Calvaire as he feels he isn’t worthy of happiness, his past of being ex-convict in the galleys. He distances himself from Cosette as he doesn’t think he is worthy of living a normal life. He lives here his body slowly declining and becoming weaker with his secret of saving Marius, which he has kept hidden since the event. Before he dies, Marius and Cosette visit him and discover the truth of Valjean saving his life. They forgive him and he dies having made peace with the world and the only love of his life.
The name of this street translated means ‘the Street of the Man Weapon’ which is rather telling, as after Javert leaves this street, he commits suicide in the Seine because Valjean has destroyed all his life’s beliefs.
‘Jean Valjean, either for the sake of getting air, or mechanically thrust his head out of the window, He leaned out over the street. It is short, and the lantern lighted it from end to end. Jean Valjean was overwhelmed with amazement; there was no longer any one there. Javert had taken his departure.’
‘The lodgings in the Rue de l’Homme Arme were situated on a back court, on the second floor, and were composed of two sleeping rooms, a dining room and a kitchen adjoining the dining room, with a garret where there was a folding bed….An obscure street, peaceable inhabitants.’
‘Jean Valjean experienced an indescribable contagion of tranquillity in that alley of ancient Paris, which is so narrow that it is barred against carriages by a transverse beam placed on two posts, which is deaf and dumb in the midst of the clamorous city, dimly lighted at mid-day, and is, so to speak, incapable of emotions between two rows of lofty houses centuries old, which hold their peace like ancients as they are. There was a touch of stagnant oblivion in that street.’
‘The street deserted. A few uneasy bourgeois, who were rapidly returning home, hardly saw him. Each one for himself in times of peril. The lamp-lighter came as usual to light the lantern which was situated precisely opposite the door of No. 7, and then went away. Jean Valjean would not have appeared like a living man to anyone who had examined him in that shadow. He sat there on the post of the door, motionless a form of ice. There is congealment in despair.’
What I wrote in Paris
It was a difficult point to pin point here as the road he wrote about is long since gone and maybe never existed! The useful ‘Reformed Blogspot’ source came to the conclusion that it was off the Rue des Archives, now the home of the National Archives of France with beautiful garden that have been here since 1808. There were several roads off the main Rue des Archives but the one opposite the garden, Rue de Braque, was very close to what Hugo describes. It has a lamp opposite it, a gate down from the flat and gives the impression that it is quite secluded and hidden compared to other streets in the same area. I could imagine Valjean hiding here in one of his many (3) addresses
This location is very difficult to pin point as the road Hugo wrote about was destroyed many years ago and maybe even never existed like the convent! One of my internet sources, ‘Reformed Blogspot’, came to the conclusion that it was off the Rue des Archives, which when Hugo was alive would have been the Rue Blancs Manteux. Today the Rue des Archives is the home of the National Archives of France and is built around a beautiful garden which was founded in 1808 by Napoleon I – within Hugo’s lifetime. There were plaques along the walls of one of buildings citing famous authors and historians from the period and to my irritation Hugo didn’t feature. However on a metal barrier opposite, someone had graphitised his name which gives you an insight into how Hugo wanted to be remembered as one of the people rather than a higher figure. ‘Reformed Blogspot’ explains that there are several small roads off the Rue des Archives, all of which could be the Rue l’Homme Arme. I explored the small roads off the Rue des Archives and came to my own conclusion that the road that looks most like the road Hugo describes is the Rue Braque. It is the characteristic narrow street with old street lamps, one of which is opposite number 7 as Hugo describes. Number seven has a gate (which could have been a carriage gate once) which now leads to a rather primped block of flats very unlike what Valjean was described to live in. The street itself feels more secluded than many of the other streets in the area and it is less populated so I could imagine Valjean spending his last days here in this hidden spot. Even though we don’t know exactly where the Rue l’Homme-Arme was, this street conjures up the atmosphere I expected from this location.