Place in the narrative
This is one the apartments Valjean lets after he and Cosette leave the Petit Picpus Convent. He lets three residences in Paris – one in the Rue l’Ouest, one in the Rue de l’ Homme Arme and the last in the Rue Plumet. His reason for taking this amount of property is to be less conspicuous to the police - as he has escaped from the grasp of Javert when they enter the convent. Having the several residences in completely different parts of the city makes it easier to avoid the police, as they can move away at a moment’s notice. Valjean spends a month or six weeks in different residences to detract interest away from himself.
Whilst living here, Valjean and Cosette attend mass at St Jaques du Haut Pas and walk in the Luxembourg, Marius first takes an interest in where she lives here as he follows her home numerous times and enquires of the porter whether they live there ‘…She lives there, on the third floor, in the Rue l’Ouest’ comments Marius to himself at an early stage of his investigation. Marius asking after the inhabitants of the building alarms Valjean, as he could be part of a plot to imprison him, so they move to one of their other houses, Rue Plumet.
The road was called Rue l’Ouest till it was named after a chevalier called Louis d’Assas who was captain of the Auvergne under Louis XV.
The building is described as ‘in the Rue l’Ouest, in the most unfrequented spot… a new, three-story house, of modest appearance.’
‘…he hired two other apartments in Paris, in order that he might attract less attention than if he were to remain always in the same quarter, and so that he could, at need, take himself off at the slightest disquietude which could assail him, and in short, so that he might not again be caught unprovided as on the night when he had so miraculously escaped from Javert. These two apartments were very pitiable, poor in appearance, and in two quarters which were far remote from each other, the one in the Rue de l’Ouest, the other in the Rue de l’Homme Arme…This lofty virtue had three domiciles in Paris for the sake of escaping from the police.’
What I wrote in Paris
The Rue de l’Ouest, current d’Assas, is a busier road than I imagined but still in a ‘less frequented’ area than other bits of the area. It seems long, so I’m not sure where they were, but there are lots of flats that suggest they were easy to come by then. The gate which comes out of the gardens was locked so we couldn’t get through which was slightly displeasing but it was rather quiet compared to the middle of the gardens. The benches were quite a way from the gate but I tried to imagine Cosette and Marius sitting side by side enjoying the weather and each other’s company.
The Rue de l’Ouest, the current Rue d’Assas, is a busier road than I had imagined but is still what Hugo refers to as a ‘less frequented’ area than other streets in the same vicinity. It is a very long street with various styles of buildings; all mainly blocks of flats which I don’t think would have been there when Hugo was. The gate from the Luxembourg, the Porte d’Assas, was locked when we visited but we managed to get out into the street through the gate before and walk to the outside to look in through the gate to the Luxembourg. The corner of the Luxembourg gardens on the Rue de l’Ouest side is less heavily populated than the centre of the gardens and is well shaded by the bows of trees providing a perfect place for Valjean to have stayed hidden from view. There are wide expanses of grass and it evokes the feeling of a common or park in London in comparison to the symmetry and splendour of the centre of the gardens. There weren’t any benches on the Rue de l’Ouest side which was slightly disappointing but around the corner, there were several couples on benches which recalled to my memory the beautifully written scenes in the book about the first stages of Marius and Cosette’s romance. The Rue d’Assas doesn’t seem to have changed as drastically as it is still a secluded road overlooking the gardens and I think Hugo would still think it had the same atmosphere it had when he was there.