In Book I, Part V of Les Miserables, we are reintroduced to Valjean as Mssr. Madeleine, who, in between committing a series of agricultural good deeds, pauses to spend a near full page amiably lecturing the local farmers about the beneficial uses of nettles, with a less amiable aside on the failings of society. As a character moment, I’ve always been fond of this quote in its gentle ridiculousness, but it also quietly captures not only Valjean’s worldview but also the broad theme of the book, the vast potential that is snuffed out by the failures of an oppressive society that doesn’t just neglect the powerless and unfortunate, but actively rips them out by the roots.



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