My thoughts on the rest of the book:
You've got two things going on here: a tense chase scene that advances the plot, and a climb through purgatory to reach paradise. (And I should probably admit that I had just finished Simon Schama's Landscape and Memory
, which includes sections on depictions of Mount Eden and Purgatory as well as sacri monti, when he turns to discuss mountains, having covered forests and rivers, before moving on to Arcadia.)
The chase is well structured to provide suspense to the reader, to illuminate Hugo's reconstruction of Paris, and to give character development to both Valjean and Javert. Hugo adores Paris, he says it straight out, but he acknowledges he is working from memories and old maps. This gives him an out for any inaccuracies, as he is deliberately indulging in, but it also is a way of citing his sources (as he did in Waterloo). The map of 1727 that he cites is certainly something he owned, and in claiming that his description of the neighbourhood of the Petit Picpus would be recognisable to anyone who knew it well, he is citing the memories of one who knew it well - of course, that someone being Juliette, he's not going to cite her publicly.
But we've also got a very detailed journey through Purgatory. Schama summarises Dante's Purgatorio thus: "Dante has Virgil take him to a mountainous island where the daunting cliffs rise sheer from the seashore. The labour of atonement is then characterised as an arduous climb, the angle of ascent often steep enough to require scrambling up the stone face on hands and knees. And in keeping with the tradition of spiritual mountaineering, the going gets easier as it gets higher, until, at the very summit of purgatory, when 'I felt the force within my wings growing for the flight,' the terrestrial paradise is discovered. Though it is washed by cool brooks and is brilliant with pasture and flowers, this is not, of course, the true Paradiso, but merely the place of self-purification that completes the work of heavenly eligibility. There is even a dragon lurking amidst the fountain and trees."
He also summarises a 12th century description of "Mount Eden": "'It is hard to climb and amazingly high and in natural form like a high tower with the steep part as if it had been cut by hand. . . . the mountain itself would seem without plants or moisture, and is far from any living growth in the desert.' One day two pilgrims decided to climb this wilderness mount. . . . [One was simply too weak and had to stop.] This was his misfortune since, on the peak itself, the first climber beheld an astonishing miracle in the midst of the desert: a place alive with fragrant flowers, gushing fountains, heavily laden fruit trees, and brilliant pebbles spied on the bed of crystalline brooks. . . . It is the archetypal parable of the Christian holy mount, repeated in images and narratives of ascent all the way through to the High Renaissance . . ."
So Valjean is enacting much of these same climbs, with trials. He must scale a sheer wall, and after his climb, he finds himself in a garden that seems almost heavenly. He hears the nuns at song, and he feels them the voice of angels. But there are still dragons lurking in this walled garden that has come so providently to his rescue and is fecund even in late winter (for Fauchelevent is out protecting his melons), ordinarily definite signs of Eden or Paradise - the place seems as dead as it is alive, and the corpse (of what we will later learn is a deceased sister) is a terrifying apparition. Moreover, to stay within the walls of the garden, more tests will be needed. But the garden will prove an Eden or a Paradise - secured from the misery outside its walls, it will provide everything Valjean and Cosette need, and they will be welcome to stay for the rest of their lives.
Start with the false door: what could be a door is not, the entrance is not an entrance for Valjean. The first trial is how to get in when the door is not a door, the way is barred, perhaps metaphorically by Valjean's previous transgressions.
But he uses his intellect as well as his brute strength - he make the arduous climb up the sheer rock face, and is able to bring Cosette with him because he has, through using his brain as well as his muscles, his care for her as well as for himself, earned the right of entrance.
Then we get the nuns singing, their voices seeming to come from angels, in direct contrast to the demons - Javert and his men - lurking outside the wall. Valjean feels himself "spread his wings" - he has arrived atop the mountain into the calm of the terrestrial paradise.
But he isn't really there yet. Atop the wall, the dry grass shows the barrenness of the "mountain" and how unlikely permanent succor is on the other side. The deathly look of the bare trees reinforces this idea. The image of the dead figure, where a snake makes the image of a rope around its neck, directly recalls Judas - is there another hanged figure that would be so out of place, so hellish, in a garden of Paradise where angels sing? We veer between paradise and hell, because the tests are not complete and we are still in the shadow of the demons outside the wall.
Then we get Fauchelevent, who gives succor to the possibly dying Cosette - a resurrection of sorts - and we learn from his melons that there is life in this late-winter garden, protected and well-cared for life, which suggests that it may be Paradise or Eden after all. (Eden was often depicted as a walled garden; "Mount Eden" transposes the garden to a mountaintop.) Later, we'll see that Valjean has not yet earned the right to stay in the terrestrial paradise and must undergo an additional test, one that takes on all the images of death - he has found paradise, but he earns his right to stay there through death.
But, around all of this imagery, there's mundane humanity that prevents the whole thing from looking directly like the trials of a saint. Valjean labours his way in, but it's through a different breaking - he can't break in the door or the false door, but he can prise open the cabinet that protects the lamp rope from molestation. He uses his convict knowledge rather than his heavenly knowledge, and the convict knowledge is what gets him into Paradise. But he's scared half to death, and Cosette is cold and scared, and he gets utterly creeped out by the corpse in the moonlight. It terrifies the reader and plunges him/her fully into the human aspect of the story. And when Fauchelevent is taken aback that M. Madeleine doesn't remember him, it completely humanises them both. Valjean isn't the pilgrim saved by an angel; he's a man who is presented with an old acquaintance in a context so out of place that he can't decide from which part of his life he should wrack his brain to identify the guy. Madeleine in the convent isn't so out of place to Fauchelevent, as he knows Madeleine got him the job; moreover, he has probably seen fewer additional people in the intervening years than Madeleine has; Fauchelevent in some unknown corner of Paris is completely out of place for Madeleine, who has to wonder about the entire region of M-sur-M because he traveled in wider circles there than did Fauchelevent. Doesn't help that Fauchelevent's face is hidden in the dark at first, of course, but context is everything.
The final chapter is really fantastic as character development for Javert (and exonerating the landlady to some extent). "They go to Paris to drown; these are drownings that save." To me, that's the whole book, in a sense. Everyone comes to Paris (or, in the case of Marius, descends into a v. different part of Paris) to escape something, and they (even Thénardier) come out better in the end than if they had stayed in their spheres. Even Fantine, because of Cosette. Even Javert, because his enlightenment was his heavenly salvation.
But this final chapter really adds to the portrait of Javert (and argues directly against musical-driven fanon). For this hunter, "today's wolf banishes the memory of yesterday's". Of course, now that Valjean has been found again, he becomes today's wolf until the moment he is recaptured. But Javert spend so much time talking himself out of it. We have his first encounter with Thénardier, in which Javert, as the honest man, gets totally played. "In case of doubt, Javert, a scrupulous man, never collared any man." I suspect this plays itself out in the Patron-Minette/Valjean scheme - it's not just for certainty of his capture of Valjean that Javert sets the trap, but to eliminate all doubt about just what is the offense for which the rest are arrested. This is a statement of his soul as the avatar of public authority.
But we also get the human portrait of Javert. He never reads newspapers, except he's such a monarchist he must read all about the return of the Prince Generalissimo
after the successful prosecution of the Spanish intervention. The phrasing here is important: "royalist" would imply a political orientation, but Javert has no political orientation - he supports monarchy in any form, as the people need a firm hand above them and a hierarchy in the world. This may well save him in 1830, when the royalists were often kicked out off their offices in order to award said offices to men who would be loyal to the new regime. Javert is also highly competent and a quick study - he has been in Paris less than a year at this point, but he knows the geography well enough to anticipate Valjean's moves in a sector across the river from where he was first discovered. One can therefore infer that Javert has made an intent study of all of Paris, not only during his search for Valjean the first time but in all his subsequent duties. It is a very small street that we are told about here, that he knows so intimately.
We also have a direct emotional linkage between Valjean and Javert - the "mother finding her child and tiger finding its prey". Valjean could easily have been the tiger, too, but he is here the mother, having the same reaction as Javert, the tiger.
And we get the landlady's full story, which mostly exonerates her, but raises additional questions. Is she a traitor? What loyalty could Valjean have expected from a servant? Does the rate of pay or the social position of the employer demand greater loyalty than what Valjean got? She only ratted him out really when he was about to leave, when she was about to see no more of him. Everything else she told to Javert as she would have told to anyone else who rented a room. For that's what she does, rents rooms. Javert went to her after the beggar came to the police - she, unlike her predecessor in collapse, Mme Victurnien, did not directly seek Valjean's ruin or even his clarification. The landlady was a curious, gossipy busybody who did not actively wish Valjean ill - but does this exonerate her of wrongdoing if Valjean ends up in prison? I think these questions are meant to be considered, because it would have been so easy to either not involve the landlady or to paint her with the same brush as Mme Victurnien. Instead, we have someone who does not do evil, but does not do good, either.
As for the reference to newspapers and public opinion, it's not entirely true that there was a free press that the police had to consider. At the time, censorship had been lifted during times Parliament was in session in order to foment a freer political discourse, but the content laws remained in effect. The government could suspend or suppress any paper whose general tendency seemed injurious to the public peace or to the respect due to the king, religion, and constitution. At the beginning of 1824, the government had decided on a policy of buying up all the small opposition papers to shut them up because the courts weren't playing ball and convicting everyone arrested for press offenses. This is a period of the Restoration with relative press freedom, and "general tendency" probably nearly always meant "doesn't like the way politics are trending in favour of this government", but continual attacks on the police could be an excuse for a paper to get shut down, if the police were considered a proxy for the government. I think it's important to emphasise this: there was a loud press and public opinion was important, but it was not the free press, even in this period, that Hugo claims. It was freer than it had been in 1821 (the revised press law is from 1822), it was freer than it would be in August 1824, but the press in Paris was by no means free in March 1824.
And that's my extremely nerdy response to this book
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard