About: Dak reads Les Misérables and recaps it here, so that she may better retain the information. Things not to expect: deep literary analysis. Things to expect: Spoilers. All the spoilers
Marius: Book 3; Marius Does a Spectacular One-Eighty
So, now it is time to learn all about this brigand of a son-in-law that is such a disgrace to M. Gillenormand. Seems, he's been all over the place as a career military man, gathering accolades and rank left and right. He suffered a gash across his face at Waterloo, barely survived falling in the sunken road... If you haven't sussed it out by now, this son-in-law is the Pontmercy that Thénardier accidentally saved by pulling him out from under a pile of dudes so that he might loot the body. He even gets a first name! Georges "The 'S' is silent, why do you even have letters at the end of things if you're not going to use them, French language?" Pontmercy.
He was forced out of active duty and lives off a meager pay now after a change in regime, and moved to a place down by the river in Vernon in the smallest house available. He lived there with his lovely wife Mlle. Gillenormand the younger, that he loved, despite her father's very grudging approval of their marriage.
Seems like a cozy little life until she died in childbirth. No! At least he has his son... Wait, what is this you're telling me, book? Gillenormand swooped in and took the baby away from his father?
Yes, he did. The grandfather absconded with the child under threat of disinheritance. Georges knew that he had to let go to do what was best for his kid, so that he could have a better life growing up. This really bums me out majorly, single parents getting taken advantage of all over, I have to say. Not only that, but being a Napoleon fan and such, now that the Bourbons are back in charge, the powers that be have got an eye on him. His rank is no longer recognized, and neither is his title of Baron nor his position in the Legion of Honour. That isn't to say Pontmercy abides by any of this. He still wears his Legion of Honour Rosette out, despite receiving repeated letters that he would be prosecuted for it since it is illegal, and gosh-darn, he is going to sign his name Colonel Baron Pontmercy every chance he gets regardless. He even runs into the prosecutor on the road one day and goes up to him on his own accord to rather sarcastically ask if he's still allowed to wear his scars. Stick it to the man, Georges!
Now, getting back to Georges's home life. He is the old scarred up man in the loneliest little house. He spends his days tending his postage stamp of a garden, because that is all he has left. His flowers. He spends time thinking about his salad days on the battlefield and about how he spends his time now, innocently pruning his hedges and hanging out with his friend Abbé Mabeuf ← Name to remember alert.
Why is it that the good guys in this book are all really awesome at cultivating and taking care of gardens? Valjean and Champmatheiu were pruners at Faveroles, Fauchelevent has his nun garden, and now Pontmercy. Not that we know too terribly much about Georges, but he doesn't seem like a bad guy so far. This imagery recurs too often. My symbolism detector is going off, and here I thought it was totally broken to everything except anvils falling on my head. (The Internet says: yes it is. This explains everything, but we are not here for deep literary analysis! *runs away from symbolism*)
So, what is Gillenormand up to when he's not extorting good men into giving up their parental rights? Well, he's just hanging out at Madame de T's Salon. A Salon is basically just a place where a bunch of wealthy/society people gather to gab about things, not a place to get your hair cut (it is that too, but that's not what we're talking about that). Apparently when he's not waving his anger-cane at his grandson, Old G. cuts quite the clever and charming figure.
Here at these Salons they discuss current events and art and politics in the form of punnery, poetry, and clever songs, because I guess this is what idle rich people do when they're being idle and rich. WORD PLAY!
He attends these gatherings often with his daughter and the little boy. If it wasn't completely obvious to you by now, this kid's name is Marius. The only thing he knows of his father is that he has one, since M. Gillenormand refuses to talk about the guy unless it's to poke fun at his Baronry with his Salon friends. Possibly in rhyming couplets with piano accompaniment.
As baby Maris gets older, he starts to absorb the whisperings of these people about his dad. As we know, they don't think much of him and regard him as a brigand and a disgrace, therefore Marius's little heart has been poisoned against his dad before Georges even got a chance. This is totally not okay. Especially since the only thing Georges ever did as far as Gillenormand is concerned was standing on the "wrong" side of politics.
Now, little Marius is allowed to write a letter to his dad only twice a year as dictated by his aunt, who...by the way, is the one with all the money Marius stands to inherit, not Old G. C'mon, Mlle! Why are you complicit in your dad's curmudgeonly doings? Maybe she agrees with him? Maybe Old G. is someone she just can't say no to.
As for the letters they are basically a rather cold affair more out of obligation than anything, but Georges always replies with tender letters of his own.
Which Old G. does not read or open or give to Marius. He disposes of them.
As for Georges, if there is any doubt that his motivations for giving up his son were pure, let us dispel that now. Be it the right or wrong decision in the long run, Georges truly believed he was sacrificing his own happiness so that the boy would be well taken care of and have a better life than he could provide for him in his little garden down by the river with the French government peeping on his every move to the point of actively trying to dictate what he wears. He dared not violate the agreement set forth by Old G that he not see his son, lest the boy be disinherited.
Except for those times when he sneaked down to Paris on the days he knew Mlle. Gillenormand the Elder brought Marius to mass. That was where he watched Marius grow up and shed tears that he could never meet him as he hid behind a pillar so no Gillenormands would catch sight of him, and that was where he caught the eye of Abbé Mabeuf.
Mabeuf was there visiting his curé brother, when he noticed this big old soldier with a handsome sabre scar down his face over in the corner weeping like a little girl. Naturally, this juxtaposition piqued his interest, and he conspired with his brother to meet this guy. I'm not sure why meeting Georges required a plan. They meet later on down the road and Georges invites him over to his shack in Vernon, where he spills his guts out about the whole sordid affair. And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, because, like the PB&J of 19th century France, nothing goes together like an old soldier and an old priest.
As for Marius, he grows up hanging around in salons none the wiser. Madame de T's is his home, which is pretty unfortunate, because hanging out with these old people who look upon young people as strange and foreign entities, and spend all their time being Ultra Royalists has made him a very serious and morose little child.
These guys are unapologetically aligned with the monarchy, as opposed to the new kind of Royalists who kind of feel bad about it. We get to learn all about all the oldies that spend their days at Madame de T's and the kind of stories they tell, like the one an old priest tells about the time when he was a soldier down in Toulon and his job was to go up the scaffolding at the end of the day and gather up all the guillotined heads from the day's executions. I don't even no what to say about that.
Right, so, a bunch of older people hanging around talking about politics and dismissing anybody who disagrees with them while making fun of them with clever slogans. Sounds like Thanksgiving dinner to me. Unfortunately Marius has no cousins to go hang out with in the basement, so he absorbs all this like a sponge as children are wont to do.
Meanwhile, M. Gillenormand has assured that the kid gets an education. We'll just skip over his adolescence and go straight to young adulthood and him being in law school now. He has gone from a serious child to a serious young adult. His cool demeanor leads to a complete inability to make friends since this makes him a pretty unapproachable character.
Now, Marius wasn't fond of his grandfather. This explains who adored who in the previous chapter. It wasn't the kid who adored the grandpa. That is clear now. He feels even less charitable toward his father. There's a void where the man should be, and Marius has spent eighteen years thinking that his dad abandoned him and never loved him. Nobody sees fit to correct this impression of course, so when he's called in to Old G. one day and told he is to travel to Vernon to see his long lost father who is now dying, he isn't exactly excited about the idea. What's the opposite of excited? He is that.
He's feeling so ambivalent about the whole thing that he doesn't book immediate passage to Vernon. He could have taken the overnight coach, but he was in no hurry. This means that by the time Marius manages to make his way over to his dad's place, Georges has already died. He died right before Marius got there. The Curé was too late, the Doctor was too late, and Marius was too late.
In fact, Georges was so distraught that his son had not come right away that he was roused from his deathbed in the middle of the night and collapsed there in the hallway where he perished. I don't know, this seems to somewhat parallel Fantine's death in a way...both of them on their deathbeds awaiting their dearly beloved children that would never come.
If you're thinking Marius is going to be moved at all by finding his dead dad on the floor, you would be wrong. He feels nothing. This isn't to say Marius doesn't feel bad for not feeling anything. He totally does, but even though we know Georges isn't a horrible child abandoning beast-monster, this man is a stranger to Marius and stands for everything that he hates. This is how Marius grew up, and this is what Grandpa G. has drilled into his brain.
He leaves with nothing more than a note his father left for him passing on his title of baron even though it is not officially recognized and instructions to find and be of service to the man who saved him: Thénardier, who owns an inn in Montfermeil. Marius doesn't stay for the funeral. He leaves right away, gives away Georges's possessions, and after he's gone the town loots Georges's precious garden of all the rare and beautiful flowers and the plot becomes wild and overgrown.
As for Marius, he wears the requisite mourning band on his hat and would probably not have given much more thought to Georges if he hadn't gone to his old church one day and sat in a certain church warden's seat. He was just kind of wandering around in a dreamy state as Marius does when he kneels down at this chair behind a pillar. There he is approached by Abbé Mabeuf who points out that it is his seat and yes, indeed, his name is on it. Literally.
Marius gives up his spot, and again, would have gone on about his merry way if Mabeuf hadn't felt the need to explain himself. You see, this spot is sort of sacred to him, for that is where he spied Georges and got to know him. He explains the whole story about this man who was a colonel at Waterloo under Napoleon, who came every week to tearfully hide behind a pillar and watch his son that he was torn apart from due to familial disagreements. Mabeuf thinks this is a shame.
"Certainly I approve of political opinions, but there are people who do not know where to stop!" Mabeuf drops a Manhattan Project size truth bomb that is still applicable over a hundred years later and will probably continue to be relevant for hundreds of years to come, because the human race never ever learns.
This whole time Marius is listening to this story and you can sort of tell that alarm bells are going off all over his brain. When Mabeuf tries to remember the old soldier's last name and fumbles it, Marius supplies it for him:
Marius is the little boy, now adult, and he has just learned that everything he thought he knew about his dad is wrong.
As a result of learning that his father was not in fact a child abandoning beast-monster, Marius throws himself into learning everything he can about him. He goes to the library and reads up on the Revolution and the Republic and the Empire and Napoleon. This doesn't feel like a gradual thing at all. It's like he's completely flipped around in a matter of days. He has totally ripped his Long Live the King sticker from his trapper keeper and replaced it with Bonaparte 5-Ever! He wholeheartedly embraces everything his dad believed in instead. He's just really kind of obsessive about it to the point of totally ignoring all the bad parts. Georges he worships, and Napoleon is now his idol, and as for Grandpa, well, they never got along to begin with and Marius just drifts further and further away until he gets stranded on the island of hatred. This was the man that kept him separated from the father he now adores for his entire life after all.
Having shed the Royalist skin his grandpa had thrust upon him from birth almost to the point of being one of those Republican's that Old G. so despises -- Marius, in what is apparently the next logical step in his Pontmercy brain, rushes out to the printer to get calling cards printed up with his new title of Baron on them. He's so damn excited about it. However, Marius having grown up in a salon hanging out with old Ultras and having no social skills to speak of, has nobody to call on. The kid has no friends, so he just stuffs his fancy cards in his pocket and goes on about his day.
This is simultaneously really sad, and unintentionally hilarious. What are we going to do with you, Pontmercy?
As time goes by, Marius spends less and less time at home, between reading up on his new found interests and trying to find the Thénardiers. They are not longer in Montfermeil, since the inn has failed. Marius tells everybody that he's just really busy studying the law at lawyer school, but nobody believes any of his excuses. That leads me to believe that Marius has never "studied" this hard in his life, and he's a terrible liar. Old G and Auntie G are convinced that he has a lady friend that he's spending all his time with. They have no way to tell until a certain cousin we have heard of before comes for a visit on his way through town.
Now, I call Théodule a cousin because we learn here that, even though Hugo says so, there is no actual way he is Mlle. Gillenormand the Elder's Great Nephew. It is literally impossible for him to be that relation, unless he is Marius's own son traveling through time from the future (SOMEONE WRITE THE FANFIC!). See, in order to be a great nephew, he would have to be the grandson of Mlle. Gillenormand's sibling, of which we know there to be only her half-sister: Marius's Mom. Since Théodule is related on M. Gillenormand's side and carries the Gillenormand name, that makes him some sort of cousin.
Unless I missed a brother, or he's one of Magnon's boys' kids, but I doubt Old G. would let his illegitimate non-children run around with the family name attached to them. That age gap would probably make Théodule impossible anyway, since he's clearly older than Marius. I am not sure why I am so concerned about Théodule's lineage, but I am.
Back to the story at hand! Théodule has come to visit his "Auntie", and she is delighted to see him. He is her favourite after all, precisely because he doesn't come around all that often. He can remain idealized in her mind since she doesn't get to ever know all his bad habits or disagreeable opinions should he have them. Sorry about your luck, Marius. The dude that isn't even her actual nephew is still her favorite nephew over you.
She wants him to stay for a while, but he's only passing through Paris on his way to Vernon on his way to somewhere else as per his orders. This gives Mlle. Gillenormand an idea! Marius is also on his way out, and he doesn't really know Théodule and his perfectly curled mustache well enough to recognize him. This is the ideal opportunity to spy on the kid and see who his secret girlfriend is!
Théodule agrees to this. It's just a bit of fun after all even though I think all of these elderly relatives are way too invested in what is going on in Marius's pants. In any case, Théodule catches the coach with Marius, who is riding on the outside while he rides on the inside, so there's even less of a chance of being caught at spying.
Théodule is not that great of a spy though since he falls asleep and almost loses Marius, but he wakes up just in time to see him get off the coach. He follows and watches as the kid buys the biggest bouquet from a flower girl, all the while, the wheels of his mind are spinning about this girl Marius is going to see.
Marius heads to the church.
Intrigue! What kind of illicit love affair is this that they are meeting at the church?
Marius goes behind the church.
And this is where all the fun speculation about Marius's non-existent love life ends, because Marius is visiting his father's grave. The pretty flowers are for his dad.
Théodule is totally nonplussed by this, and he feels the prickings of his conscience. This now seems like something way too personal for him to be intruding on, and being a military man himself, he has respect for the colonel. To his credit, Théodule does not report this back to the Gillenormands. It may have been because he didn't know what to say, but still. I'm glad he didn't tattle. Not that it does anything to stop the oncoming Hurricane Gillenormand.
Now, one early morning while Marius is passing through the house after one of his trips, he decides what he really needs is a swim. So he abandons his jacket and the black ribbon necklace thing he wears underneath his jacket and out of sight on his bed and leaves it there.
Old G. wakes up early that morning, because healthy old people are always up at the crack of dawn. Initially, he just wants to go say hi and welcome home to his grandson and maybe ask a few questions about his mystery lady. Marius has already departed for the baths though, and all Gillenormand finds are the things he left behind out in the open. In the perfect place for snooping. Old G finds the ribbon and attached to it is a small box; a sort of locket type thing. He's getting excited now, because what could be in it? A love note?
He opens the case. Inside he finds the bit of paper that Georges bequeathed his title to Marius on. Oh, my. That leads to a search of the jacket pockets, which reveal the packet of calling cards emblazoned with: Baron Marius Pontmercy.
Old G. throws Marius's things on the ground and has Nicolette take them away. When the grandson returns Grandpa is there waiting for him. I'd like to imagine he's sitting on a big ornate chair lurking in the dark, possibly stroking a white cat and muttering to himself about Georges and Napoleon as he waits. But that's just my imagination.
He confronts Marius with the cards as soon as he gets back demanding an explanation for what the meaning of this is!
Marius announces that this is who he is. His father's son. And so, the storm has begun.
Old G. is righteously indignant about this declaration and yells that he is Marius's is father.
Marius is having none of this and calls the old man out by telling him exactly who his father is; a heroic man that served the Republic and France whose only fault was loving a son and a country that didn't love him back.
The mention of the Republic in such a way causes Gillenormand to just fly off the handle into crazy old man town. He pretty much screams down an entire page that Georges Pontmercy doesn't exist, he doesn't know this man, he is nothing to him, he doesn't want to know him or hear about him. It's like if he shouts loudly enough it will wipe Georges's memory right off the face of the planet and Marius will go back to being an obedient little mini-Gillenormand and forget all about it.
Marius has other ideas. Namely to be torn for a moment between the man he grew up with and the father he never met, then to shout "Down with the Bourbons!" in his grandfather's face when he can't figure out what to do.
As you can probably guess, this tactic goes over like a lead balloon, and Marius is summarily ejected from the house. Old G. gives instructions to send him 60 Pistoles every six months and never speak of the child again.
Gillenormand takes out his residual anger on his daughter for the next few months, and Marius leaves in indignation further stoked by the fact that Nicolette had lost his father's note. He assumes M. Gillenormand (For no longer shall this man be known to him as grandfather) has thrown the paper in the fire.
Now, you might remember from earlier that Marius is friendless and has nobody to call on, so he hops a cabriolet to the Latin Quarter with absolutely no plans or any place to stay. And that is where we leave him: homeless and abandoned with nowhere to turn.
About: Dak reads Les Misérables and recaps it here, so that she may better retain the information. Things not to expect: deep literary analysis. Things to expect: Spoilers. All the spoilers
Marius: Book 2; Where's Marius? Who is this old dude?
Let us travel back to the past and learn about this ancient old guy named M. Gillenormand. I'm sure he has something to do with something somewhere.
So, this M. Gillenormand is not just your average crotchety old man. He's one of those old men that's still bouncing around like a spring chicken, all hale and hearty at 90 + and fearful of living for another 90 years, because...well, it's France in the 1800s. He's made it this far through some pretty tumultuous times and at this point he might very well be immortal or have the lifespan of a tortoise with the luck of a thousand four leaf clovers. Who knows? He doesn't intend to make it to 180, but he's penciled an even century in his day planner at least.
He doesn't even dress like a crotchety old guy in the fashions of his heyday. He likes to keep up with the latest trends and goes for a daily shave. Good on him for keeping those old man hairs in check. (You know what I'm talking about). And the only reason he's not swimming in mistresses right now is because he feels undesirable due to being rich enough. Don't get me wrong, he's not scrounging around in the streets like the rest of the rabble. He's got a house and everything. Still, he secretly hopes for some kind of windfall so that he could get in on that sweet lady action again.
He had a brother, a priest, once that he lost at a young age (In his seventies. To Gillenormand, the is a young age.) He was in love once with a ballet dancer when he was sixteen, and he's been married twice, makes a terrible husband but a great lover. His theory is that in order to keep the wives from getting upset about the straying is to give the wife control of the ₣₣₣₣₣s. He is quick to anger, especially when wrong. He raises his cane at people who disagree with him and calls his servants names. He has a fifty year old unmarried daughter who he thought acted more like an eighty year old person, and would gladly have horsewhipped. Geez, G. What a peach you are!
As for political leanings, this Gillenormand survived "the Terror" Here is the Wiki feel free to engage in further more in depth/accurate research, because History is very interesting and important, but I am not going to tell it all to you here. It is presumed that you know the highlights. In case you didn't click on the link and don't know, this was a particularly violent period that took place during that time known as the French Revolution. Let's just say here that there was a lot of guillotine action happening. Gillenormand likes to tell people that he escaped a good head chopping on his wit and charm alone. You will note that the French Revolution took place in the late 1700s. Valjean was still serving his original and comparatively short five year sentence. It would be around another fifteen years before we would find him wandering around Digne looking for a bite to eat.
Needless to say, as a member of the Bourgeois class and being a fan of the Bourbons, G is not here for Republicans.These Republicans. He will pretty much go into a blackout rage if you talk fondly of the Republic to him.
As for servants, he has two at a time. One man and one woman. The men he rechristens and calls them the name of the province from which they hail. For example, he calls one fellow Basque. As for the ladies, they are all called Nicolette. All of them. They are not called that because he only hires women with the same name. He just calls them that, because that is his whim; and crotchety old bourgeois men with servants can get away with doing that.
Back to the mistresses, our dear old man sometimes has illegitimate babies dropped on his doorstep. Gillenormand does not think its unreasonable that his little ancient swimmers can still be fathering babies. Be that as it may, these particular two basket babies that show up on his stoop from a former servant named Nicolette né Magnon, he doesn't believe are his. He ain't mad at the babies though.
He does provide Magnon with eighty Francs a month on the provision that she doesn't keep dropping her newborns on his doorstep. Still, he wants the two he did get to be well taken care of and he even goes to visit them on occasion. This seems quite charitable for a dude that's likes his Francs and appears to be constantly angry at all the things.
We have learned about the spinster daughter from his first wife. He also has a daughter with his second wife. She is a woman who married for love a man that served in the armies under the Republic and the Empire after that. He had a Legion of Honour medal and was made a colonel at Waterloo. (Where have we heard about a guy with a Legion of Honour medal who fought at Waterloo before? Hmmmm?) G. thought this guy was the disgrace of the family.
This younger daughter was bright and cheerful...the polar opposite of her half-sister. She had dreams of marrying a hero, and the older Sis had her own fantasies...to marry some old dumb guy who had money and power and connections. These dreams only came to partial fruition.
The younger married the boy of her dreams! Yay!
But she died. Boo.
The older, as we have seen, is now an old maid that lives with her old dad. She did consent to be kissed by her great-nephew once, a lancer named Théodule, though. The mystery of what circumstances led to this shall remain.
Mlle. Gillenormand has never been mean though. She's just sad now after living a life that never really went anywhere.
Now, Mlle. Gillenormand and her father aren't the only relations that live there in the house. There is one little boy. The old man has him silently quaking in his boots, for G. never has anything but harsh words for him, sometimes with a little theatrical cane waving.
"He Idolized him" <--directly quoted because I'm not sure if this means the kid idolized his grandpa or the other way around. Damn you, Pronouns! Maybe this is clearer in other translations/French? I mean,the kid seems terrified of the old man, and the old man doesn't seem all that fond of the kid, so I'm not even sure from the context clues!
If you're wondering why there is a child running around in the first place, this boy is M. Gillenormand's grandson. The words are telling me that we will see this kid again. Should I pretend like I don't know who this child is? Well, I have a feeling there are many loose strings in this plot line that are going to be pulled together in the next chapter. I will see you then!
About: Dak reads Les Misérables and recaps it here, so that she may better retain the information. Things not to expect: deep literary analysis. Things to expect: Spoilers. All the spoilers
Paris does more than lay down the law; it lays down the fashion; Paris does more than lay down the fashion; it lays down the routine. Paris can be stupid if it likes; sometimes it indulges in this luxury , and the whole universe is stupid along with it. Then Paris wakes up, rubs its eyes and says, "Am I ever stupid!" and burst out laughing in the face of mankind. Go Home, Paris. You're drunk.
Cosette: Book Eight: In which nuns violate public health and safety in the name of God, and Valjean is buried alive
Yes, these are things that are happening in this chapter. How did we arrive here, you may be asking, because I'm reading it and I'm wondering that too. Well, let us return to the night Valjean jumped into the garden. This is exactly where we left off on that wild tangent a couple sections ago, but it seems like it's been a thousand years since Valjean scaled that wall.
He and Fauchelevent are hanging out eating cheese and wine and Valjean is watching Cosette sleep. He has come to the conclusion that he must stay in this convent. It is surely the most safest place to be, you know, besides a different city, or a different country, or any place other than the city in which Javert is currently employed. Be that as it may, Javert would never suspect him in this convent, since nobody gets in. That's a pretty reasonable assumption, but there are a couple of problems with this amazing plan.
A. Are the nuns really going to let another dude onto the premises?
B. If the do, they can't know that he's already broken into their convent. I'm pretty sure that would quickly get him on their bad side and they'd never allow him back in.
Valjean enlists Fauchelevent to help him scheme a way to accomplish his continued safety at Petit Picpus.
Fauchelevent is rightfully dubious that he can do anything about it. He only has contact with Mother Innocent, and all the other nuns run away from his knee-bell. He suggests Valjean just climb over the wall the way he came in, but apparently that cannot be done in the opposite direction. No. Really? Surely, it would be easier for Fauchelevent to say...acquire a ladder than what's about to go down? I guess that would too be simple and easy, and we can't have that.
Well, it just so happens there was a dying nun on the premises and Fauchelevent hears his own personal bell tone that means he's being summoned to a meeting with Mother Innocent. Once he's there, she goes into some long speech about the final wishes of the dead, particularly some of the sainted brothers and sisters that have lived their lives in service to God. Surely they deserve to have their final wishes honoured? She goes on to cite a couple of examples as precedent.
Meanwhile, Fauchelevent is explaining that he's old and decrepit and he could use a little help around the garden. He has just the guy! His "brother" and his "brother's" daughter should come to live among them and help out.
It seems as if Mother Innocent is down with this on one condition. Can Fauchelevent procure a lever to lift the stone covering vault underneath the altar in the chapel? Fauchelevent can. He wonders why she would want to do that though.
She wonders if he did not hear the bells earlier that announced one of the nun's deaths. He says he did not. He can't hear much in his own little corner of the convent, besides, his bell is the only tone he pays attention to anyway.
Well, Mother Innocent explains, this particular nun's final wish was to be laid to rest beneath the altar in the coffin that she has slept in during her life.
Wait. Is something lost in translation here again? Do nuns sleep in coffins for real? or was this woman secretly a vampire?
Fauchelevent is taken aback, because burying people under the floor is just not done. There are safety issues! What of the health inspectors? They would never let them just stick a body underneath the altar in the church where alive people congregate.
Mother Innocent is not going to let some silly government or the threat of disease get in the way of fulfilling this woman's final wishes though. As far as she's concerned, she's got a higher authority that she must obey, so what does Fauchelevent think of those apples?
Fauchelevent isn't going to argue about it any further. So, now to get down to the gritty details... It's easy enough to conclude they are going to have bury a coffin at the cemetery, so nobody catches on; but how is Fauchelevent going to sneak the empty box out of the convent without the pallbearers knowing it's empty?
Why is everybody leaving their scheming plans up to Fauchelevent here? He totally did not sign up for this when he fell under that cart.
Good thing Fauchelevents are smarter than they appear. You see, before he fell on hard times and had to turn to being a cart driver, he was a notary. He wasn't always a simple laborer. He easily concludes that they can just fill the coffin up with dirt and be done with it.
Mother Innocent approves. With the plan in place, she dismisses him to go about his work.
Back in Fauchelevent's shed of collusion, Valjean is still chillin', watching Cosette and eating cheese. He asks how the meeting went. Everything is set with to bring in Fauchelevent's "Brother", now to get Valjean out.
It's easy enough to sneak Cosette out, she's tiny and easy to carry and hide. Valjean threatens her with Thenardiers again to make extra sure she doesn't utter a peep, which is a tactic I don't entirely like, but hey...it's super effective.
And what of Valjean? Fachelevent can't just throw a blanket over him and carry him out under his arm. I would hate to bear the wrath of these nuns should they find an unauthorized dude on the premises.
He's just pondering this and how dirt in the coffin isn't going to feel exactly like a human person ... You know where this is heading now, right? You can practically see the lightbulbs appearing over their heads.
And this is why you should read the "brick". For every endless chapter about nuns or Waterloo, there are treasure chests full of gleaming gems of amazingness like this. I wish the sheer length of this novel wasn't such a deterrent, because it's so worth the read. It's just a thousand more pages to love. Seriously, Valjean just sneaked into a convent, so he could sneak out of a convent. IN A COFFIN. So, he can legitimately enter the convent and hide out there; an opportunity that presents itself just because he ran into a guy he used to know, and a nun happened to die that morning and wished to be buried on the premises rather than in an outside cemetery.
You also won't know that Valjean is secretly hilarious. I don't know that he means to be, but he is to my wry funny bone.
"You can come and nail me up in the coffin at two o'clock."
Fauchelevent recoiled, and began to crack his finger joints.
"But it's impossible!"
"Not at all. To take a hammer and drive some nails into a board?"
Valjean does not understand why this could be a problem
All plans are in place now. The only thing that Valjean is worried about in this surely foolproof caper is what's going to happen when the get to the cemetery?
Fauchelevent has that covered though. He knows the ins and outs of the place and is a personal friend of the gravedigger, who is also a drunk and easily distracted in his drunkeness.
Fauchelevent plans to wait until the priest is done giving his blessings and then make sure the gravedigger is plastered then just send him home.
There is one important thing to note about the gravedigger's duties. This cemetery has a gatekeeper and the only way the gravedigger can come and go after hours is with his card, which he drops into a box and is permitted entry or exit in some sort of 19th century key card system. If the gravedigger forgets his card than the gatekeeper can let him through by sight, but that's a fifteen Franc fine. This is relevant information this time, I assure you.
So the day comes and everything is just going swimmingly. Cosette has been sneaked out and is hanging out with a flower shop lady for the time being. Poor little Cosette is worried about this of course. I don't blame her for having abandonment issues at this point. She knows something is afoot though and instinctively keeps her mouth shut about it.
Meanwhile, let us return to: The Great Convent Escape!
Everything has gone perfectly so far on all of Fauchelevent's flawless schemes. There's a nun under the altar, Cosette is away, and Valjean is squeezed into a coffin, ready to go.
Nothing could go wrong, I tell you! NOTHING!
I know we've been hit with the foreshadowing stick before in this book, but this is a particularly gratuitous beatdown.
As soon as Fauchelevent meets up with the gravedigger everything starts falling quickly apart.
This gravedigger is not Fauchelevent's drunken friend. This is some other guy who is all business, and no drinking. What happened to the drunk? Well, he up and died. How dare he!
Fauchelevent is having a meltdown over here in the meanwhile, and is desperately trying to convince this gravedigger that he really needs to come out and have a drink. He even goes so far as to offer to pay himself, which is definitely above and beyond the call of duty.
New guy sort of relents, but only after his job has been done will he go grab a cup of wine. Fauchelevent tries to convince him that the taverns will close soon, but this guy is really determined to bury this 'nun'.
Meanwhile, Valjean is chilling in the coffin, waiting for the priest to be done giving a blessing and for Fauchelevent to pry him out of this predicament. That's when he hears the first shovel full of dirt rain down on him. This causes Valjean to basically have a panic attack, and he just passes the hell right out.
Back above ground Fauchelevent is beside himself. He doesn't know what to do until he spots the gravedigger's key card, and he gets an idea. He picks the gravedigger's pocket and then asks him if he has his card.
The Gravedigger can't find it, and it's almost time for the graveyard to close. He must go home and find his missing card or have to pay fifteen francs. This dude is really very extremely opposed to having to pay a fine, so he rushes off home.
The gravedigger won't be finding that card anytime soon, since Fauchelevent stole it and everything so there's plenty of time to get Valjean.
Fauchelevent is totally my hero right now. He is not just some rando that fell under a cart once upon a time. Okay?
Soon enough, Valjean has been untombed and...well, he's still passed the hell out, and Fauchelevent assumes he suffocated in there. He has another meltdown, but soon Valjean wakes up, the night air having revived him. Fauchelevent admonishes him for nearly scaring him to death.
All is right in the world again. They escape the cemetery using the stolen card and Fauchelevent stops by the gravedigger's house (where he has turned everything over in the search for the missing card) to let him know the key is at the gatehouse. Fauchelevent "found" it on the "ground" and finished up the gravedigger's job for him.
The poor gravedigger is relieved and forever grateful to Fauchelevent. As is everybody apparently.
The nuns are grateful that he's helped them out with their scheme. They're so pleased that they even give a report when the archbishop comes for a visit. Everybody is apparently A-Okay with storing bodies under the altar, government be damned!
And Valjean and Cosette come to live with him in the Convent free and clear. Valjean's new alias is Ultimus Fauchelevent, which is Fauchelevent's actual brother's name, but who is dead now and can't use it. It is also a totally bitchin' name. ULTIMUS! The nuns just call him "Other Fauvent" though. He gets his own knee bell so they can avoid him forever.
As for Cosette, she goes to live in the school for girls where it is impressed upon her how incredibly homely she is. Which is mean, because she's Fantine's girl, there's no way that's actually true unless she inherited all of Tholomeyes features or something. Which she hasn't. It's just something the nuns tell girls, so they don't get ideas that they're good looking enough to score a guy or worry about superficial things like appearances.
She gets an hour a day to spend with Valjean and that is the best hour of the day for both of them. Though, Cosette does wish she would have brought Catherine along had she known she was going to be stuck in a nunnery for the rest of her life.
This convent is Valjean's new life. He dares not leave the convent for fear of being caught again, so that leads him to contemplation about his life in prison and this life here in which there are similarities. In fact, the nuns seem to live in even harsher conditions of their own volition than the convicts did.
And this is how Valjean now spends his days, putting his mad hedge pruning skillz to use and contemplating stuff, like how Godly institutions and/or love seem to enter his life every time he feels like he's falling back into the abyss to remind him to stay on the straight and narrow. He prays every night outside while the nuns are praying inside.
And as for Javert, he's spent a month keeping his eyes peeled. Only a month? I guess so, because that's the last we hear about this particular pursuit, but we all know it's not the last we'll be hearing of Javert.
Cosette: Books Six and Seven: Nuns, Nuns, Nuns, and did I mention Nuns?
Okay, so, stick with me, because...wow, these chapters are kind of tedious after all that exciting chase action in the last one! (By kind of, I mean extremely) Though, if there's one thing to be said about Hugo, it's that he usually gives you advance warning that something not entirely pertinent is comin' at'cha. In fact, one of these chapters is called "Parenthesis" (Y'know, because here's some tangential information hangin' out smack in the middle of everything.) But, hey, I'm all for background information, and we're at a convent now; so, gosh darn, we are going to learn all about some nuns!
So, we learn about some different varieties of nuns, and how some have more or less strict rules than others. These sisters at Petit Picpus are some some of the strictest there are. Outside people are not allowed into the convent, and should anybody come to visit they have sit in this area called the : Locutory, and there is a watch nun, who makes sure nothing/nobody untoward gets in.
Okay, we're going off my rusty old memory now, because I want to get on with things and I really don't want to go back and read these chapters again for all the details that probably won't ever come up again, so I may get things wrong, and maybe I'm rushing in anticipation of getting to the next volume. For reasons. But I'll point out a couple things here I remember.
A. The convent is really, really, cloistered. The only outside contact they get is the bishop, and they have to hide behind a curtain while attending mass anyway. Then there's Fauchelevent, who they call Fauvent. He has to wear a bell on his knee so the nuns don't accidentally catch sight of a dude.
I still think this is a really weird place for a bell to be located. Why his bum knee? I guess that makes it ring more often then bells on his belt maybe, or is something lost in translation here? Is it a French thing? Is it a nun thing? Is it a 19th century thing? Is it a Fauchelevent thing? I don't know!
B. The Convent is divided into three parts: The part where the nuns of this particular order live by their strictest of rules, the part where other nuns go to retire from all over from orders of varying strictness, and the part that is a school for girls. They are pretty much expected to follow the rules too, but they will climb up on roofs just to catch a glimpse of a person who has been playing a flute in the street next door. They'd built this guy up in their minds to be some kind of handsome, romantic, young man, so of course they had to risk life and limb to see this fine fellow. Who, as it turns out, is just an old blind guy back from exile whiling away the time in the alley.
The girls also manage to steal a rule book that nobody is allowed to read. This seems to defeat the entire purpose for having a rule book in the first place. They find the passages about the sins of boys to be of particular interest.
C. There is no C, just a bunch of anecdotes about different people who live at the convent. There's a nameless old lady who's a hundred years old and doesn't visit with anybody because the Locutory is too gloomy. She covets an item and doesn't let anybody see what it is. They only find out it is a Faience Plate when she dies and they bum rush her room to find it because it's been a topic of gossip for a while.
Then there's Madame Albertine, who isn't even a nun, but she lives there anyway. She never utters a word and walks around in a corpse-like state. She also knows a new priest by his first name, which she stands up and shouts out in the middle of everything one day: Auguste! Nobody knows why, and we never find out. Though there is naturally plenty of speculations. Somebody write the fanfic!
And those are the only ones remember. Hah! I promise, if any of this ever comes up again, I will totally revisit it.
And finally D. This particular order has been dwindling in numbers through the years and by the time Valjean manages to break into this impenetrable fortress of Nuns there isn't very many left.
After we learn about convents and everything, we go on to ruminate on the merits and demerits of living in a monastic setting for a while. It can be great, or it can be terrible. Feel free to read along with the actual "brick" and leave your thoughts in the comments, because I already started reading book eight and am supremely distracted by the forthcoming antics that seem to be in store for us!
Yes, that's right. Antics!