Friends of ABC - Cafe Musain
Place in the narrative
This is where the Friends of ABC meet and plan an uprising against the Royalists. The Friends represent many different political views but all members believe in equality for the ordinary man. The A B C made up of two groups of people – workmen and students. They have two meetings places. The first is a wine shop called Corinthe, where the barricade is built and where the workmen meet. The second is the back room of the Café Musain in the Rue St Michel, where students meet and the plans are made.
Marius is introduced to the Friends of the ABC by Courfeyrac, who he meets on the day he leaves his grandfather’s house. He offers him accommodation and they become good friends.
‘A society which had for its object apparently the education of children, in reality the elevation of men. They declared themselves the Friends of the A B C, - the Abase, - the debased, - that is to say the people. They wished to elevate the people…The Friends of the AB C were not numerous, it was a secret society in the state of embryo, we might also say a coterie, if coteries end in heroes.’
‘They assembled in Paris in two localities, near the fish market, in a wine shop called Corinthe of which more will be heard of later on, and near the Pantheon in a little café in the Rue Saint-Michel called the Café Musain, now torn down; the first of these meeting places was close to the workingman, the second to the students. The assemblies of the Friends of the A B C were usually held in the back room of the Café Musain.’
‘There they smoked and drank, and gambled and laughed. There they conversed in very loud tones about everything, and in whispers of other things. An old map of France under the Republic was nailed to the wall, - a sign quite sufficient to excite the suspicion of a police agent.’
‘These young men formed a sort of family, through the bond of friendship…This was a remarkable group. It vanished in the invisible depths which lie behind us.’
What I wrote in Paris
This location was more difficult to pin point as there seemed to be lots of different cafes that could be it. The Place itself is a busy car interchange with a pretty fountain (depicting St Micheal and All Angels) but just off it is a muddle of winding streets that seem to evoke more of the atmosphere I might expect. There are road that are ‘labyrinthine’ which seems to suggest to me that they placed here. Also lots of different people still seem to meet here and plan so it was easy to imagine the Friends of the ABC drinking and possibly eating crepes and planning the revolution.
This was another location that was tricky to find the exact location as lots of internet sources have clashing views on where it should be. This is exacerbated by the fact that Paris has obviously been changed by its history since Hugo was writing. Many sources, however, think it is in the Place St Michel so there is where we went. Today Place St Michel is a busy car interchange crowded with tourists admiring the Seine and Notre Dame from the Pont St Michel. Two intersecting roads culminate into this square and an amazing fountain depicting St Michel and All Angels is in the centre of the two roads. I was slightly disappointed with the modern feel until we discovered the ‘labyrinthine’ streets away from the main square. This bustling area is a muddle of winding streets that evokes the atmosphere of Old Paris and is more similar Hugo describes. The narrow alleys away from the main square are packed with authentic cafés and shops. Many Parisians sit outside in the street and drink coffee or eat lunch watching the world go by. It wasn’t difficult imagining the Friends of the ABC meeting in a back room of a café to discuss the uprising. Particularly as many people still meet here and plan. Maybe not the same plans as Marius and his comrades were making but still continuing the tradition of this area. The café that I thought looked the part of the Café Musain was on the corner of two small alleys. I don’t know if this was because it looked like what they used in the film but I think it was big enough to accommodate a back room for the planning to happen. I had a real feel here for what Hugo envisaged and felt surrounded by Paris, its people and its history.