Place in the narrative
This is Valjean and Cosette’s first proper house in Paris after they leave the Petit Picpus convent. Valjean decides that Cosette should have the chance to see the world, without being kept in a convent all her life so they leave the convent and move here. Valjean also feels a substantial amount of time has passed since he has been recognised as a criminal.
The seclusion of the house lulls Valjean into a false sense of security, of the contact Cosette can have with the outside world. Hugo says that the house is surrounded by an acre and half of land, with a gate at the bottom, so Valjean feels no immediate threat from on-lookers.
When Valjean takes a journey out of Paris for a couple of days, Marius, with the help of Eponine, Thenardier’s eldest daughter, discovers Cosette’s address. He leaves a letter under a stone in the garden containing the declaration of his love for her. When Cosette is strolling in the garden in the evening, Marius sneaks up behind her out of the shrubbery and again professes his love for her. They fall into each other’s arms and manage to meet in secrets without Valjean suspecting them.
The most memorable event that happens while they live at the Rue Plumet, is Patron Minette’s attempted robbery. Patron Minette is Thenardier’s gang who tried to imprison Valjean at the Gorbeau Hovel and are imprisoned at La Force. The gang escape from the prison, and try to rob Valjean of his money. Unfortunately for the gang, Eponine has followed Marius to the Rue Plumet, as she is in love with him, and encounters Patron Minette trying to break into Valjean’s house. She wants to protect Marius so she warns them that she will scream and blow their cover if they don’t back off. Her strong character is visible here even before the barricades, as she adopts an air of indifference as to whether she is killed or not. Patron Minette take council together, irritated that a girl will thwart their plans, but decide against it and disappear into the night.
Hugo dedicates a chapter to the history of this particular location called The House with a Secret. He describes the history telling the readers about the judge who built this house for his secret mistress in 1700. He talks them through the geography of the house explaining features such as a secret corridor that connected with the house and ended in another quarter at the ‘solitary extremity of the Rue du Babylone.’
‘The house was composed of a single-storied pavilion; two rooms on the ground floor, two chambers on the first floor, a kitchen down stairs, a boudoir up stairs, an attic under the roof, whole preceded by a garden with a large gate opening on the street.’
'On quitting the convent, Cosette could have found nothing more sweet and more dangerous than the house in the Rue Plumet. It was the continuation of solitude with the beginning of liberty; a garden that was closed, but a nature that was acrid, rich, voluptuous, and fragrant; the same dreams as in the convent, but with glimpses of young men; a grating but one that opened on to the street.’
‘….six men, who were marching separately and at some distance from each other, along the wall, and who might have been taken for a grey patrol entered the Rue Plumet….'
‘I have only to cry out and people will come, and then slap, bang! There are six of you; I represent the whole world.’ – Eponine to Patron Minette
‘The six rascals, speechless and gloomy at being held in check by a girl, retreated beneath the shadow cast by the lantern, and held counsel with furious and humiliated shrugs.’
What I wrote in Paris
Our last location we visited. From Francois –Xavier, you pass a house and garden enclosed with black gates that come about as close to where Valjean and Cosette lived after the convent. The Rue Plumet is another completely changed again place from when Hugo would have known it. However number 7 is an old building which nods to the fact that it as there around the same time. There are trees across the street which gives the illusion of a garden as well. The street opposite it, Rue Vaneu, has on its street sign that it is named after a boy killed on the barricade in 1830, a rare remembrance of the past. Another small secluded road for Vajean and Cosette to escape, changed beyond the ‘Hugo period’ of recognition!
This was the last location we needed to tick off on our list of twelve locations we had to visit on our trip to Paris. We walked from the Metro stop, Saint Francois Xavier, which was the nearest stop to the modern day Rue Plumet, Rue Oudinot. The Metro stop is named after St Francois Xavier who has a church dedicated to him on the opposite side of the road and is probably the only building that might have been here when Hugo was. On the way from the Metro, we passed a house surrounded huge fences and what looked like a big garden even though I couldn’t see over the top but made me imagine that that was where Valjean and Cosette might have lived. And happened to be the only place that reminded me of the location Hugo describes. The area is quite, dare I say, residential suburban with the same wide boulevards as the other locations out of town. The street itself is a medium size compared to the wide sweeping boulevards and windings alleys of Place St Michel. The current number seven, where Hugo lodged Valjean and Cosette, is a nod to the past as it is probably the oldest building in the street. However the street is so built up, I can’t imagine any houses having the slightest bit of garden of which Hugo says that it has more than an acre. I think when Hugo set it here it was another out of town suburb, such as the convent, that was far out from the busyness and bustle of the centre of the city. Interestingly, there was a plaque on the wall which said that Pierre de Coubertin, the founder on the modern Olympic Games lived in this street. The street that intersects the Rue Oudinot, Rue Vaneu, has on its street sign that it was named after a boy killed on the barricade in 1830, which is a remembrance in modern Paris of the history that took place here that has otherwise been hidden beneath the pavement. This location is another secluded road out of town for Valjean and Cosette to hide, that has changed quite substantially since Hugo was here.