The Real History Behind 'Les Miserables' Episode 5: 1832

(Photo:  Courtesy of Robert Viglasky / Lookout Point)

The new Masterpiece adaptation of Les Miserables contextualizes the popular story in France's larger history. Our companion series runs down the history behind the gritty new version of Les Mis and asks how accurate each week's installment is. This week, we take a look at the series' fifth episode.

Who Was General Lamarque?

The kick off to the June uprising of 1832 was the death of General Lamarque. The musical merely mentions him in song, and to be honest the series doesn't explain things much better. But it is historically accurate that his funeral was the spark in the tinderbox that set off this particular three-day event. 

Like Marius' father, Lamarque was a military leader in Napoleon's army, who fought at Waterloo. Unlike Marius' father though he didn't spend his downtime after Waterloo skulking around trying to get a look at his kid. Instead, he went into exile, before returning in 1818, where he became a politically active leftist, championing agricultural reform. It was enough to get him elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1828. 

As I discussed in Episode 4, the July 1830 end of the Bourbon restoration came, and the more liberal Orleans Monarchy replaced it. Lamarque hated them, becoming an outspoken leader against them, and on the side of "finishing" the revolution.

What Was The Uprising Of June 1832?

So here's the situation: Lamarque dies, and all these passionate leftists come out into the streets for his funeral. Feelings are running high that the 1830 revolution failed. Joining them in this anger against the current state of the country are the Bonapartists, who have been pissed off since Waterloo. There are also the republicans, who have been plotting in secret societies to "take back" France. On top of that, there are also the Legitimists, who want to go back to the Bourbon restoration. In the end, there are somewhere on the order of 100,000 people in the streets. No one agrees on what they're fighting for, but they do agree what they are fighting against: The current monarch, Louis-Philippe.

Meanwhile, soldiers who are there to keep order and answer to the royalist in power are flooding the streets as well. All it took was for one shot to ring out, and the entire thing exploded. We should be very clear here: This uprising was not successful. It was a tragic waste of life, which is kind of what Eponine's death is supposed to represent.

Moreover, Hugo wasn't there. His wife was about to have a baby, and he was on deadline, so they skedaddled from Paris ahead of the funeral. His images of the fight are pulled from the 1848 revolution, where the rebels were victorious, and the monarchy fell. Hugo did participate in that uprising, but not on the side of the revolution. He was the captain of the soldiers trying to take down one of the barricades (and successfully did so), so he got to experience first hand, and from the side of the Royalists, what that looked like.

Would Jean Valjean Have Been On The Side Of Revolution?

Javert is convinced Valjean is on the side of the rebels, but the truth is, much like Hugo, chances are that without a push like he gets from Cossette eventually, Valjean would have probably been on the royalist side, had he been moved to fight. Valjean, after all, is all about the safety of himself and his daughter, and those on the side of the royalists were usually the much wealthier upper classes. It would have been in keeping with his attempts to look and act in such a way that police wouldn't look at him twice.

That being said, I suspect much like Hugo, had Valjean had his druthers, he'd have left town too.