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BOOK FOURTH: The Old Gorbeau House
Valjean and Cosette take up residence in an old dilapidated house near the old quarter of the horse market in Paris. There the two become happily content and attached to each other, having contact with none other than the landlady who does their cooking, cleaning and marketing. Valjean goes out walking sometimes in the evening and is occasionally handed a coin by some passerby who takes him for a beggar. When this happens, he finds someone else who actually is a beggar and gives the money away; thus he becomes known as “the beggar who gives alms.”
The landlady discovers that there is much more to Valjean than she had thought when he asks her to change a thousand franc bill for him. Later in the day when Valjean is out sawing wood in his shirt-sleeves, the woman has opportunity to examine his yellow coat. She finds that the linking is padded with money and that the pockets are filled with a variety of things that could be called survival tools. Apparently she betrays Valjean, for a few days later another person takes up residence in the Gorbeau house-a person who seems to be watching Valjean. Valjean becomes suspicious, waits until nightfall and leaves the building with Cosette.
Unwittingly, Valjean’s own generous nature has aroused the suspicions of those around him. He is so bent on giving a handout to those in need wherever he finds them, and yet he has the appearance of a beggar himself. The association with Cosette also awakens feelings of fatherly love within him. We are told that he had never loved anything and that for 25 years, he had been alone in the world. Valjean is 55 at this point while Cosette is 8. We are told that the vision of her was a “second white vision.” The bishop had provided the first and had been responsible for the awakening of virtue, but Cosette “evoked the dawn of love.” He teaches her to read and talks to her of her mother. She calls him “Father” and knows him by no other name.
It is interesting and perhaps a little irritating that the narrator seems to “buy into” the legal opinion of the day in referring to Valjean as having had “evil ways.” He speculates that the entry of Cosette into his life was “necessary” to keep him from reverting “back” to evil ways. Valjean had been able to see the social miseries from a different perspective; we are told the new waves of bitterness, once he had returned to the galleys, had overwhelmed him, and that he might have fallen back onto evil. Yet it is not truly clear that he had ever done anything that was actually evil. Indeed, he had returned to prison for doing something good.