80 pages 2 hours read

Victor Hugo

Les Miserables

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1862

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Part 2, Books 1-4Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 2, Book 1 Summary: "Waterloo"

Napoleon Bonaparte and his French army were defeated in June 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo. The narrator claims to have witnessed the battle firsthand. They criticize the dominant historical narrative of the battle, which is largely constructed from the British perspective of events. The narrator hopes to correct the record, praising the French army and the commander whom they revered with an almost-religious devotion. The brilliant French, the narrator adds, were the victim of bad weather and, as such, "a few drops of water more of less decided Napoleon's fate" (245). The French possessed more artillery, but the sudden outbreak of a storm delayed the battle and allowed Prussian reinforcements to aid the British. The battle was decided by these "immense quirks of fate" (262). The real winners of the Battle of Waterloo, according to the narrator, were the individuals such as Pierre Cambronne, a commander in Napoleon’s army who defiantly stood up for his beliefs. When prompted to surrender by the British, Cambronne replied, “Merde!”—which in that context translates to “Go to hell!” The narrator views Waterloo as "a lottery won by Europe at France's expense" (268), which countered the progress made by the French Revolution and returned the balance of power to the European monarchies.