When Jean Valjean, the hero of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, evades captivity by disappearing into the Paris sewers, the author relaxes the narrative tension for nearly twenty pages in order to reflect on the harm caused by that city's waste-disposal methods. In doing so, he identifies what were to become, several decades later, central issues of concern for the British organic husbandry movement. With an artist's insight Hugo recognised that the Parisian sewage system was doubly wasteful: ‘the land impoverished and the water infected’ (Hugo, 1909: 532). A ‘restitution of the mire to the land’ (Hugo, 1909: 548) was required, and he suggested the creation of a tubular arrangement, ‘a system of elementary drainage, as simple as the lungs of man’, which would ‘bring into our cities the pure water of the fields and send back into our fields the rich water of the cities’ (Hugo, 1909: 532). The alternative – the road being taken – was to squander potentially precious fertility and emaciate the population.