Dak Reads Les Misérables / MARIUS: Book 2


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 not 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, that 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 it’s 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!

Dak Reads Les Misérables / MARIUS: Book 1


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 1; In which Paris is the Hub of the Universe and homeless children roam the streets
So, in this chapter we have moved on from nuns to gamins. Google tells me gamin means ‘kid’ or more specifically a small boy. Apparently there is more to it than that though, because I just read thousands and thousands of words about them.

They are in this context the young boys that populate the streets of Paris.  They don’t really have any homes or parents or anything. The street is their home.

They’ve got their own little society going on, with its own rules, money, and hierarchies depending on where the kid’s been and what he’s seen. The kid that saw a dude fall off Notre Dame gets some mad respect. One important thing to note: They know all the police officers. Maybe not by name, but definitely by appearance: The tall one, the short one, the mean one, the one with a fierce mustache etc…. This might come into play later on. By might, I mean definitely.

So, these homeless children running around everywhere were convenient when the King wanted to build up a navy. The police would just grab a kid whenever they needed someone, and nobody missed them when they disappeared. Sometimes, though, if supply was running short, a kid that did have a father would get nabbed. There were nasty rumors about the King’s “Crimson Bath”: a cursory web search to see if this was an actual rumor of the time only nets me pictures of red tiled bathrooms, but since it’s described as a “Monstrous Conjecture” I’m going to go ahead and assume it’s some sort of Elizabeth Báthory type situation they’re imagining. Monstrous indeed.

And what of these fathers whose sons were stolen away? Well, they’d go after the policemen who grabbed the boys and end up having to face the law themselves. Apparently this usually ended in a hanging sentence for the fathers.

Moving on to the city itself, this is another one of those intro chapters that name-drops about a hundred million things in order to describe Paris that I’m going to have to look up. Just imagine a tidal wave of text filled with names and places and allusions to ancient Greeks and Romans and — well — everything and anything, and you will have this chapter. Someone in two hundred years is going to need to upload some encyclopedias into their brains to catch all the nuances and references. I am afraid I have no such encyclopedic knowledge, and the only ones I caught without a Google were the refs about Boston in the 1770s and Harper’s Ferry, the latter of which hadn’t even happened at the point in which this book is taking place right now. To be fair it’s in a paragraph about Paris influencing future as well as past events, specifically revolutions.

You can sort of get the idea though: Paris is a happen’ town in not just the Earth, but the whole dang Universe with a wide influence in a vast array of areas, a hub for sure.

Even its street dwelling orphans are a special breed. Even my website is named after it.*** Look at that! It’ll build you up. It’ll let you down. It will laugh right in your face:

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.

We are going to meet one very specific little boy here.  His name is Gavroche, a child of around ten or twelve, something like that.  Whatever.

His family goes by the name Jondrette, and four of them live in one room in Gorbeau House, because of course they do. Of all the run down tenements in all the towns…

Sometimes Gavroche drops by for a visit where the entire family lives in a single room… Mom, Dad, and two older girls, but he doesn’t get anything out of it as far as I can tell. He comes from the streets and returns to the streets at the end of the day. Needless to say these parents don’t really care for him. There’s not a spark of warmth from his mother, though she does love the two sisters.

Well, if this isn’t a familiar scenario, don’t you think? I will let you ponder about where you’ve heard this one before and give you a friendly reminder about all the times people keep coincidentally running into each other in what I think is a pretty big country to keep running into the same people all the time!

There are other tenants in the Gorbeau house now. The old landlady has since passed away and been replaced by a new one exactly like her, so we don’t have to bother describing her. There’s no mention of the giant creepy spiders, but I’m going to assume they’re still spinning around, and there is a dirt poor fellow that lives there in the room next to these Jondrettes. Guess who it is?
I’ll give you a hint: this entire volume is named after him.

He is is called Monsieur Marius.

*** I guess I can mention here, that this website is named after the city in which I grew up: Cincinnati. It was one of the Queen City’s many nicknames at one point. It is merely a happy accident that it coincides so nicely with what I’m reading right now!

Dak Reads Les Misérables / COSETTE: Book 8


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

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 they 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 Thénardiers 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 they 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 Tholomyès 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.

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Dak Reads Les Misérables / COSETTE: Book 6 & 7


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

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!

Dak Reads Les Misérables / COSETTE: Book 5


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.

 

Book Five:  Return of the Wolf Puppy

Alright, people! Are you prepared for Hugo to drop some real realness in your eyes? Well, here it goes. He does that thing that I usually despise by interjecting author notes directly into the story. He wants to let us know that this Paris he’s about to describe is the Paris of the past. It has changed through the years and this is how Hugo remembers it. Have some of his thoughts about it:

While we come and go in our native land, we imagine that we are indifferent t these streets, that these windows, roofs and doors mean nothing to us, that these walls are strangers to us, that these trees are like any other trees, that these houses we never enter are of no use to us, that the pavement where we walk is no more than stone blocks. Later, when we are no longer there, we find that those streets are very dear to us, that we miss the roofs, windows and doors, that the walls are essential to us, that the trees are beloved, that every day we did enter those houses we never entered, and that we have left something of our affections, our life, and our heart on those paving stones. All those places that we no longer see, which perhaps we shall never see again, but whose image we have preserved, assume a painful charm, return to us with the sadness of a ghost, make the holy land visible to us, and are so to speak, the true shape of France; and we love them and call them up such as they are, such as they were, and hold onto them, unwilling to change a thing, for one clings to the form of the fatherland as to the face of the mother. (Now that we’re all thinking about where we grew up and how it’s all changed…)

Oh, by the way, in case you didn’t know…Hugo was in exile for fifteen years after speaking out against Napoleon III (This novel was published while he was away). So, there’s that. I think I don’t mind the interjections and digressions, because it may not be relevant, but it’s definitely interesting information that I don’t mind being in my brain.

Back to Jean Valjean, who is now traversing these streets of Paris, and I suppose that disclaimer up there is sort of relevant, because he lists off the many streets Valjean is traveling down, even down to a sign advertising a sale outside a shop as he passes by. He doesn’t really have any destination in particular. He’s letting God lead the way, and as for Cosette? She trusts Valjean, and goes with him without any fuss.

He comes to the realization that Javert is indeed on his tail. He thinks he shakes him several times, but Javert and his men are never too far behind. Valjean crosses a bridge and becomes trapped at Petit Picpus when he notices a sentry is posted at the outlet of the street. He knows he can’t go back the other way, because Javert is back there.

What’s a guy to do?

There is an old decrepit door there, but Valjean soon realizes that the thing isn’t actually a door. When is a door not a door? When it’s just hanging there on the wall for no apparent reason. He knows it’s a waste of time to break it down if there’s not going to be an opening behind it. He eventually formulates a plan to go over one of the walls.

It’s an easy job for himself. He used to scale walls like a spiderman back in prison, but he’s got Cosette now, and he can tell that the police are moving in on him. They are taking their good sweet time about it though, methodically checking out every crevasse as they inch slowly toward him.

He finds a rope attached to a street lamp that he can use to hoist her up after him and thus begins his ascent. Cosette’s getting a little bit worried at this point and wants to know who these people are that are after them. Valjean gets her to be quiet by telling her it’s the Thénardiess. This is an effective bogeyman, and we won’t be hearing a peep out of Cosette now. They make it over the wall and into what is apparently the creepiest garden to ever creep. It’s super gloomy and weird things are afoot there.

Valjean finds a shed to hide in and they remain silent as they listen to Javert and his buddies searching around out in the street. It feels like they’re sitting there for quite a while. Valjean peeps inside a nearby building and sees what looks like a dead body, but isn’t a dead body? Whatever the case, it’s really weird, and then there’s the singing, and the sound of a bell coming from what appears to be a guy tending garden. Is Valjean trippin’ ? Because this is just strange. Maybe there’s a reasonable explanation?

As he sits there, he reflects about Cosette and how she’s everything to him now. He’s going to live his life for the little girl and do everything for her, and it is at this point that he notices she has gone cold as she’d fallen asleep in the freezing night air. He has only one recourse and picks Cosette up, rushing to the guy with the bell. He has to warm her up fast and this is the only option, even if it means being caught.

The old man is extremely excited to see Valjean there. He’s surprised and delighted to find Monsieur Madeline has apparently fallen from the sky straight into his garden. Wait a minute…

Who is this old man who seems to know Valjean from another life? It’s Fauchelevent! You remember Fauchelevent, right? He’ll refresh everybody’s memory now, because Valjean doesn’t even remember him.

 

Fauchelevent was the guy that was trapped under a cart once upon a time and Valjean saved his life that day despite Javert and his suspicious eyes being all over him. What Valjean has stumbled into is the Convent at Petit-Picpus, the very same place he procured work for old Fauchelevent. The guy is only out in the cold night to put jackets on his melons so they don’t get frosty. The reason he has to wear a bell on his bum knee so the nuns stay away from him, and he has no idea about Valjean and his post mayoral trials and tribulations. As far as he knows, Valjean is still Madeline. He’s also a bit put out that Valjean had no idea who he was and calls him an ingrate, but is still willing to help him out in any way he can. To be fair though, Valjean’s got a hell of a lot on his mind right now.

And he’s totally going to take advantage of Fauchelevent’s cluelessness right now. He only has a couple things to ask for and that’s a warm place for Cosette and that he doesn’t utter a word about this to anybody. Fauchelevant is happy to provide and soon Cosette is sleeping warm and cozy in a bed by the fire and very much not dead.

That is how Valjean evaded the clutches of Inspector Javert and found a safe haven, but how about we take a look at it from a different angle? It’s time for Javert’s point of view now!

So, after he played a crucial role in bringing Valjean in after he escaped in Montreuil Sur Mer, he was given a position in Paris. Seems as if his zesty zeal in catching Valjean did not go unnoticed. This is a perfectly reasonable explanation for why Javert is in Paris, and, as it turns out, he has not been ceaselessly chasing after Valjean every waking second of the day and also in his dreams (okay, maybe in his dreams). These two have a history now.

In fact, Javert probably would have gone on about his business of terrifying the rest of the Paris citizenry, content with the knowledge that Valjean, the dangerous criminal, is back in Toulon serving his time where he belongs, had he not happened to open up the paper for the purposes of catching up on Monarchy news. It’s the only reason he was even looking at it; he usually doesn’t read the paper. This is where he saw Valjean’s death notice.

Again, Javert is was totally taking this at face value and was on the road to forgetting about Valjean, since he was dead and everything.  The wolf has new things to sniff out, so there’s no reason for the old stuff to stick around, right?  This is when he gets word through police networks of a girl kidnapped from Montfermeil. This piques his interest greatly, because that was the area in which Valjean was last captured, and Javert knew exactly why he was there. He still thinks it’s hilarious that Valjean had the audacity to ask him for three days grace to go fetch Fantine’s little girl right in the middle of being arrested. It just so happens this little girl is the same girl that had been reported missing.

I’m telling you, were Javert the star in his own crime procedural, we’d all be rooting for him and the exemplary sleuthing skillz he’s putting on display here. He would have his own show on USA and nobody would call him the villain. He would still be the annoyingly uptight, straight-laced, absolutely frustrating by the book 100% detective, and they would team him up with the loose cannon, rule breaking newbie with a heart of gold though.

In any case, Javert wants to be really sure that he’s right about this. He doesn’t want the press to have a field day should he wrongfully arrest an innocent man. So, he puts in the requisite work rather than going off half-cocked on some wild goose chase.

He goes to speak with Thénardier, who filed the report and regrets it now that he’s got a wolf on his doorstep. He attempts to recant and says that Cosette wasn’t stolen away. She merely went to go live with her grandfather. Lol. Those townspeople, you know how they talk? Javert doesn’t really believe this, but he does have doubt seeds growing. He really doesn’t want to get this wrong.

He hears about the beggar who gives alms, and this gets his gears working too. He goes undercover as one of his police informants. Who is his police informant? It’s the beggar that Valjean regularly funds, and this is the point at which Valjean first peeped spy!Javert, and Javert first laid eyes on Valjean again.

They are both still not sure though. Javert gets the aid of the landlady in his spying, so Valjean was correct in assuming they were in cahoots when he decided to make a run for it. He dropped some coins on the floor which gave him away though, and the Landlady ratted him out to Javert.

It really isn’t until they catch sight of each other at various points during the chase that they are really surely sure that what they are seeing is what they had believed to be true. I guess neither one of them had been able to wrap their mind around it until everything unfolded right in front of them.  Javert had honestly had doubts up until this point, and he couldn’t in good conscience make that arrest.  On top of that, he followed instead of arresting Valjean right away, because he was slightly worried that if this man were not Valjean, then he might be some sort of criminal underworld mastermind.  In this case, Javert would want to follow him and see what he was up to.  A premature arrest wouldn’t be wise if that were so.

 He had asked for resources from the higher ups though, without telling them exactly what he’s been up to for a couple of reasons:   He doesn’t want anybody to think he’s insane or be eviscerated in the press. Remember, he already got accused of the crazies when he thought Mayor Madeline was Jean Valjean while a different man was in custody, and wrongful arrests were starting to be a problem.  Valjean’s not even supposed to be alive, remember?  On top of that, Javert knows, being a relative newcomer to the Paris police, those higher ups are going to take credit for his great feats of detectiving.

No. He wants this great masterpiece of police work to be a surprise (He loves surprises!), only to be revealed when everything falls neatly into place and he can ride into work the next day on the stallion of triumph, having been the one dude smart enough and sly enough to capture a man everybody else thought was dead.

Javert? You are familiar with the saying about what pride precedes, right?

He keeps his eyes on Valjean the entire time he’s trying to escape down all those streets. Even while Valjean thought he was safe in the shadows, Javert’s suspicious eyes were there. He follows along with his goon squad at a safe distance, picking up backup and random patrolling soldiers along the way to aid him, until he finally traps Valjean in Petit Picpus.

Having caught Valjean, and thinking there’s no way the man is getting away now, he takes his good old time searching every single nook and cranny from both ends of the street in for the express purpose of messing with Valjean’s mind like a tiger playing with a mouse before eating it. As we know now, Valjean was totally sweating this. Unfortunately for Javert,Valjean isn’t a mouse. This dilly-dallying gave him enough time to formulate an escape plan that we have seen.

By the time Javert and his wolfpack meet in the middle, Valjean is gone.

You say you like surprises, Javert? Well… SURPRISE!!!

They can’t figure out where the hell Valjean went, though they assume somewhere over the wall because they spot the rope, but where it’s lying is a misdirect. They still can’t find him, searching gardens in the opposite direction from the one he’d actually gone in. There are a few paragraphs devoted to what an egregious fuckup this is for Javert. Apparently his failure to arrest Valjean straight away is right up there with the greatest tactical blunders of all time. Ouch!

He returns to work riding on the donkey of shame instead.  This was not how he thought things were going to go.

What’s going to happen now? Is Javert going to try and get himself fired again? I don’t know, we’ll have to wait and see until next time!

Dak Reads Les Misérables / COSETTE: Book 4


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.

BOOK 4:  Valjean and Cosette

So, now we are learning all about an area of the city (Paris, in case you forgot where in France we are right now!) which is pretty shady sounding area. It’s boring in the daytime and terrifying at night. Y’know, due to all the murderin’ that’s gone on in the area. Let’s learn about a particular house at 50-52 Boulevard de l’Hôpital, . Here’s another anecdote for you!:

The Gorbeau House is a run down looking place that appears smaller on the outside than it actually is. It’s a TARDIS! There used to be two guys that lived there. They were lawyers and their lawyer bros made fun of them by creating cute poems in reference to their names: Corbeau (Raven) and Renard (Fox). Eventually they got fed up with this little rhyme dedicated to them and applied for a name change. Probably not a bad idea. I don’t know that I’d want to employ the Raven and Fox law firm. That sounds a little TOO crafty. So, they went before the King. And the King decided that Corbeau would get a fancy flourish added to his name to make it Gorbeau. As for Renard he got to add a P, making his name Prenard, which this text is telling me means “grasping fellow”. It’s not much of an improvement.

Wait, so what I’m getting here is that in order for your name to be changed, you have to petition for an audience with the King, and the King just gets to name you whatever the hell he wants? I don’t know that I’d want to roll that dice!

Anyway, that’s why the Gorbeau house is called what it is called, and there are spiders there. Gigantic spiders. This quiet creepy corner of the city is where Jean Valjean has made his home. Before we go any further, let me issue a correction: Jean Valjean is fifty five according to this chapter, because it’s right there in black and white. He just looked like he was in his sixties before I guess. This is what I get for letting things marinate in my brain for too long. I forget. That’s why I’m writing this in the first place!

Well, the only things Valjean has in his living space are a mattress on the floor and a cot. He places Cosette on the cot and the next morning watches her until she wakes up. She’s really disoriented at first and still thinks she’s at the Thénardier’s, but she’s safe for now. Catherine is there, and her buddy Valjean is there and there are no more floors to be swept.

While he’s watching her, Valjean has this strange feeling come over him. It’s nothing he’s never felt before. Could it be… love?

But wait! You might be saying.  What about Valjean’s family? We learned about them. He clearly loved them because he took care of them and stole bread for them. That’s what got him here in the first place. Had things turned out differently would he still be pruning hedges? Well, all of that was before prison messed him up and hardened his heart. It’s been so long that he doesn’t really remember them. Though he has tried to search for them and hasn’t turned up neither hide nor hair. We didn’t get to hear about any of that though, because we were off learning about history, and vulture eyes, and giant Gorbeauian spiders.

Cosette is here now, and she is successfully melting Valjean’s heart, and he’s feeling real love for another person for the first time twenty five years. They spend their days in each other’s company, only going out at night. Valjean’s trying really hard to stay under the radar now. No more being on the lam while simultaneously rebuilding an entire industry and rising to a prominent position in a political office. Nope. He’s going to find the darkest corner in the biggest city and hide this time.

We get to learn that Valjean has been teetering on the edge for a while now, and Cosette bringing love back into his life has pulled him back over to the side of virtue again. See, in all this time, even the bishop’s influence has been waning on and off. It’s been a while since his kindness had touched Valjean’s heart, and he was starting to get disillusioned once again. What with Fantine’s sad story, and him being imprisoned again despite everything good he’d done and despite doing the right thing by turning himself in so Champmathieu didn’t have to go to jail who can blame him?. Yeah, so Valjean was close to falling off the wagon after all apparently.

As for Cosette, for the first time she has someone that cares about and someone to call father. He tells her all about her mother, and teaches her to read…something he learned in prison for the express purpose of doing bad things. He feels happy about using his powers of literacy for good. They go on walks together, but sometimes Cosette stays behind with the nosy landlady to watch. This woman is the only other person to live in the house and functions as a sort of concierge. It turns out that, though she still has her quiet moments, Cosette loves to play. She’s an actual kid underneath all that sadness. Wouldn’t you know it?

Of course the nosy landlady has speculation about Valjean, and she snoops around, one day following him to a deserted room in the house where she spies him removing a thousand Franc note from the lining of his old yellow jacket. He still dresses as a poor man despite all his money, so much so that people mistake him for a beggar as he’s walking in the street and they give him money. He in turn discreetly gives even more money to the actual beggars. They call him the beggar that gives alms.

Anyway, later on the lady snoops some more and feels around in his jacket while he is otherwise occupied. It has everything in there: Needles, thread, wigs. Wigs? I know, I know, they’re probably in there for clever disguising should he need it, but how big is this coat? How many pockets does it have? Is it some kind of bag of holding? In the lining she thinks she can feel other paper notes hiding.

There is a certain beggar that Valjean always gives money to, and one night as he hands over the cash, he looks down and thinks that instead of the usual guy, it’s Javert! That can’t be, but he doesn’t ask. He just goes on about his biz and frets over it until the next time. When he looks the man in the eye it actually is the beggar he remembers. Valjean convinces himself that he was just imagining things. He wonders why he would be imagining Javert after all this time. Maybe it’s some kind of post traumatic flashback?

He becomes even more worried when he hears someone come into the house one night and he knows it isn’t the landlady, because she’s usually in bed by that time. He rationalizes that maybe she’s ill and had gone out for some medicine. He blows out the candles, and tells Cosette to go to bed quietly anyway. He sits there nervously in the dark listening to the unknown footsteps in the hallway. He can see a light through the keyhole as if this stranger is just standing there in front of his door with a candle. Eventually the stranger moves on since there isn’t a peep coming out of Valjean’s room.

The next time Valjean hears the man go by he peeps through his extra large keyhole to see what he can see. What does he see?

I’ll give you a hint: He’s tall, terrifying, and carries a cudgel

It IS Javert!

What is happening? I don’t know, but this simply cannot be coincidence.

Valjean questions the landlady the next day, and she informs him that Javert is the new tenant. She thinks his name is Dumont, and he is just a guy living on his income just like Valjean is.

She could have meant nothing by that, but Valjean has in his brain that there’s something behind those words. He packs up some money, and gets Cosette and they head off down a seemingly deserted street.

Dak Reads Les Misérables / COSETTE: Book 3


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.

BOOK 3: Simply having a Terrible Christmas Time

So, I don’t know why I got so bogged down in the details of this chapter.  Perhaps I was having trouble describing just how despicable the Thénardiers are, because they are.  They are not hilarious or funny in any way here. They are truly, truly awful people.  But, enough with the intro, you will see in short order.

Right now it’s time to discuss the water situation on Montfermeil. This place sits upon a plateau and the water is in either end some distance away. There is a dude that will bring it to you during the day for a fee, but if you need it after hours then you’re out of luck and have to go get it yourself.

This night is a Christmas Eve and there have been some traveling booths set up around the city to showcase wares of which we will note two particular things:

First is the Brazilian (King) Vulture on display, bound for the King’s menagerie. It’s exciting, and amazing because the bird’s eye is a tri-coloured cockade! I actually looked this up, because I was having trouble picturing what this would look like and if it was actually true. It’s true. Soldier’s have come from all around to see it, because of this patriotic eyeball and declare it destiny that the creature is headed for the menagerie. And we know that nothing says destiny like taking a creature from its natural habitat and caging them in entirely different areas of the world.

As far as I know this has nothing to do with anything. I just thought it was interesting.

The other booth of note is the one straight across from the Sergeant of Waterloo. It is a toy booth and there is one particular beautiful doll that all the girls in the village covet. It is the most beautiful doll in all of dolldom.

This is where we meet Cosette again, a young girl of around eight, and her situation has not improved at all. If anything it has probably worsened since her mother passed away. She has to work, and she can only look at the beautiful doll from afar. Her days are spent slaving away and attempting to not rouse the ire of Mme. Thénardier, which is pretty much impossible because her ire always seems to be roused. The Thénardiers also have a baby boy at this point who nobody seems to give a toss about to bother with him at all. (jot that down under things to remember.) Mme. doesn’t even remember why she had another kid, except for that she got bored one day.

Almost everybody here is described in some animal analogy: Cosette is a mouse (and also a lark), Thénardiess is an Elephant (and also an Ogre…I am now imagining that she looks like Fiona from Shrek. Thanks for that mental image, Dreamworks.) She’s basically described as a giant, intimidating beast, and you really should read it, because I’m not doing anybody justice here! M. Thénardier is a Weasely Weasel who Weasels (and also looks like Abbé Delille)

As for Thénardier, he spends his days palling around with the customers, drinking but never appearing drunk and swindling everybody. He likes to regale people with stories of his grand heroics on the battlefield of Waterloo. Much exaggerated, as we already learned. Fearsome as Mme. Thénardier is, she is still afraid of this husband. They make quite the pair.

He’s fifteen hundred in debt since acquiring the inn and makes extra cash by charging his customers for everything down to how much a man’s reflection wears down a mirror. (someone write a story about what would happen if mirrors actually did that.) He’s pleasant to his customers, of course. How else would you convince someone to hand over their hard earned cash if not with a friendly smile?

Cosette is still getting beaten often, she’s even sporting a black eye that Mme. Thénardier gave her. She is a quiet child and has the countenance of someone much older, you know, since she’s basically living in hell right now. At present, she is working her little fingers away, while keeping out of sight under the table, on knitting stockings for the other girls. She becomes wary when Mme. Thénardier goes for the water bucket and only comes out with half a cup while she’s cooking.

Thankfully, she declares this amount enough, and no more water will be needed for the night. The patrons there aren’t going to be drinking any. They have other things they’re more interested in drinking. (I mean booze, in case that wasn’t clear.)

Just as Cosette was beginning to relax, as much as she can in this awful, terrible, no good, very bad place, one of the patron speaks up.

He says his horse hasn’t been watered yet.

Cosette says something too, because she’s desperate not to go out at night. It’s really dark and the well is out of town and in the woods. She insists that the horse had been watered, but the man is just as adamant. He knows what his horse is like when it hasn’t had its drink. I don’t want Cosette to go out in the inky black night either, but somebody get this horse some water!

Cosette attempts to hide, but it’s no use.  Mme finds her, tells her to get the water, and calls her “nameless”, “the worst”, and a “toad” just in case Cosette has accumulated some shred of self esteem.

Cosette is handed this gigantic bucket that is almost as big as she is and some money for bread while she’s out wandering the cold night. She stops at the toy booth to gaze upon the doll until Mme. Thénardier notices and shouts at her. Travelling through town isn’t so bad. At first there’s the lights of the booths to illuminate the way, then there’s the light from the townspeople’s houses, but there comes a point where she reaches the beginning of the woods. This is terrifying, but she ultimately decides that Mme. Thénardier’s wrath is even more terrifying. What we are saying is that this woman is scarier than the night. Yup. And this is what Cosette has been dealing with for five years.

She runs until she makes it the water and manages to fill it, but it’s slow going back to the inn. As was pointed out, this bucket is already much too large for her to be carrying, and now it’s full of water. Even I have been known to fill up a bucket of water far past my abilities to carry it effectively, and I’m a grown up person. Little Cosette can only travel for a very short distance before stopping to rest, and it’s dark, and it’s cold, and her clothes are rags, her hands are freezing from the bucket handle and the water splashing all over because it’s awkward as hell. She’s miserable and trying not to cry, because that will earn her another beating. She realizes it’s going to take over an hour to get back to the inn, and that is also good for a beating. Cosette can’t win either way.

This is when she feels her burden being lifted from her, and suddenly there is a gigantic stranger man hauling the bucket instead. Somehow, this stranger in the woods is the least terrifying thing going down right now, because Cosette’s instinct is not to fear him at all.

We’re going to take a break from Cosette and this stranger man whose identity is a mysterious mystery. *wink* Let’s find out what this mysterious stranger has been up to.

I’ll just make it short: He got himself a room in Paris, tramped around the woods as if he were searching for something. Gee. I wonder what it could be? This mysterious white haired stranger is in his sixties or thereabouts. Since we can all make an educated guess as to who this dude is, just let that info soak into your brain and think about what happened down in Toulon on the Orion not so long ago. Seriously. What are they feeding this dude in prison?

I guess it’s important to note a certain event that happens to this guy while he is in Paris going on about his business, whatever that is. Every day, around two o’clock, the King comes riding in his carriage down a certain road. Everybody in Paris knows this is the daily routine, but this guy, being new in town, does not.

He sees this official procession along with the guard and ducks around a corner. This makes him something of a suspicious person with his yellow jacket that he’s wearing and everything. Thus the order is given for him to be followed.

He loses the tail and immediately books passage some distance out of town. He pays for the entire ride, but gets off the carriage early. I guess this could work as an getaway tactic, but let’s hope nobody questions the driver.

And now he is carrying Cosette’s bucket and making conversation with her.

She explains her whole sordid life to him. She lives with these terrible people.   She has to work and rarely, if ever gets to play. All that fun stuff is reserved for ‘Ponine and ‘Zelma.

She explains that her only toy is a little lead knife. It is only good for cutting lettuce and cutting the heads off flies, and this whole walk and conversation with this mysterious stranger man is totally endearing her to me right now. Seriously, she has to put up with so much crap. Her guardians are abusive, her ‘sisters’ are also terrible to her, she lives off scraps, goes barefoot if M. Thénardier has anything to say about it, her bff is the cat, the knife is her plaything, not that they give her a chance to play, and she survives.

She also tells him that she has no mother that she knows of. Hey, remember all those letters Fantine paid to have written to Cosette? I guess she never got them.

Cosette steals one last longing glance at the beautiful doll in the booth, and before heading on in she takes the bucket from the man, because she will get a beating if they know she didn’t carry it the entire way. The Thénardiess immediately starts giving shit to Cosette anyway for taking so damn long. That is, until she notices stranger man there. She turns on the charm for him as he requests a room as a paying customer.

Her first instinct is to assume that he’s poor because of his state of dress and his threadbare yellow coat. They call him ‘yellow man’. She charges him double the price of a room. The other patrons manage to notice this discrepancy despite their varying states of inebriation. Apparently, it’s double for poor people. Okay, then.

Mme. Thénardier asks after the bread that Cosette was supposed to purchase, and Cosette, has not only forgotten to stop at the bakery, but she’s lost the money that she’d been given. She lies and says the bakery was closed, but then cannot provide the missing coin. Of course the Ogress is not going to believe the poor child and assumes that she’d just taken the money. Just as she’s about to completely lose it on Cosette, the Yellowman speaks up and gives her one of his own coins, pretending that he’d just found it on the floor. The coin this stranger provides is worth more than what Cosette had been given for the bread, but Mme. Thénardier takes it anyway.

Cosette meanwhile, has resumed her knitting work underneath the table and Jea… I mean the stranger in the yellow coat observes quietly while the Thénardiers speculate about the state of his finances. They try to get him to buy dinner, but he just sits there watching out for Cosette, and they wonder if he’s going to get a room or not.

Eponine and Azelma make their grand appearance then. They come in looking every inch the opposite of poor Cosette. These girls are well fed, and well clothed, and apparently well loved by the Thénardiess, who has so far only been observed to be a heinous beast where Cosette is concerned. Cosette, who is clothed in rags, often barefoot, and threatened with a whipping if she even thinks about doing something out of line. She spends most of her time miserably cowering in the grip of fear, because pretty much everything she does is considered out of line.

For instance, Cosette is sitting quietly watching the other girls play with their doll. This is wrong because she should be working her fingers raw right now instead of dreaming about pretty dolls, and the Thénardiess is about to get the whip down again, when the stranger steps in again. He asks about Cosette and what the problem is, and the Thénardiess proceeds to badmouth a little girl and her mother in front of him. It’s sort of like that awkward moment when someone makes conversation thinking you’re going to agree with them and they’re really proud of their terrible opinions…but you don’t and you really think they’re awful.

He thinks Cosette should be allowed to play, so what of it? Mme. Thénardier has to come up with a new excuse — Cosette needs to work on those socks because she needs to pay her way and Èponine and Azelma might soon have to go sockless. (Meanwhile Cosette’s feet are raw in her wooden shoes.) Either way, they haven’t heard from the mother or received payment in six months. They think the woman might be dead; and they’re not into charity, so Cosette works.

Cosette catches bits of this conversation and is now murmuring a chant about her mother being dead while she hides under the table.

Yellowman asks how much the time Cosette is spending knitting these socks is worth.

The Thénardiess comes up with a number, the stranger shells out more cash than she asked for and now, having purchased Cosette’s time, instructs her to play, because that is what children of eight are supposed to be doing. Everybody’s kind of stunned that he would do this, and Cosette goes, a bit reluctantly after she asks permission from Mme. Thénardier, to retrieve her knife, which she treats like a little pointy doll…because gender roles. Meanwhile, the Thénardiers are reconsidering the amount of money this guy might have on him. They have to figure out just how much money they can get out of him, right?

Èponine and Azelma are playing with their doll by the fire though, happy and healthy, but they are soon distracted by the cat. They have decided it would be much more fun to dress up the poor creature and the doll is abandoned.

Probably against her better judgement, Cosette decides that it might be okay if she played with the doll. Nobody else is. It’s just laying on the floor, right? She gets fifteen whole minutes of happiness as she plays. Eventually Èponine notices the doll’s foot sticking out from under the table and runs tattling to her mother. As far as the Thénardier girls are concerned Cosette is on the same level as the family dog. They barely notice her existence, and how dare she play with their toy?

The Thénardiess goes into a rage again, and again the stranger intervenes. Descriptions of how Cosette’s dirty hands shouldn’t be sullying her own daughter’s playthings don’t impress him, and he challenges the woman. So what if the kid plays with the doll? He walks right on out of the inn at that moment (a moment in which Mme. Thénardier takes to kick Cosette.) and he returns with the doll from the booth across the street. That precious doll that the entire town has been admiring. He gifts it to Cosette. She names the doll Catherine.

The Thénardiers are shocked at this, of course, but they let him do it, since paying customers get to do what they want. This leaves Cosette asking permission of the Thénardiess every time she makes a move with the doll, and Mme. Thénardier has to reassure the kid that it’s okay.  It is probably killing the woman to be somewhat nice to Cosette here.

The stranger sits at his table well past midnight. Everybody has gone to bed except for Thénardier, who has stayed and eventually just asks this guy in the yellow coat if he’s ready to rest. The stranger, now broken out of whatever thoughtful reverie he has been sitting in, asks to be shown to the stables. Instead, Thénardier leads him to the bridal suite.

The stranger bluntly informs Thénardier that he’d have preferred the stables.

Later on, he goes creeping around the inn after everybody is asleep. He finds that Cosette’s room is the nook beneath the stairs, and she sleeps on a straw mattress that can’t even hold in all the straw. From there he wanders into another room where Èponine and Azelma and the unnamed baby boy are sleeping. He almost leaves when he notices their shoes by the fireplace. There is one empty wooden clog there that clearly belongs to Cosette. He drops in a gold Louis and heads off to bed.

The next morning, the Thénardiers confer on what inflated charges they are going to make the stranger pay for. He decides that the bill should be twenty three Francs. She’s a little surprised at this, but they both agree that he deserves it after all the business he caused with Cosette the previous night. In fact, just the sight of Cosette having something as nice as her new doll has upset Mme. Thénardier so much that she’s going to kick the girl out.

It’s Christmas day too, just in case you were forgetting that. Happy Christmas, Cosette!

Thénardier gives the wife the bill to hand over to the stranger. She even seems a little embarrassed to do it with that huge price tag. The stranger asks if they do good business there at the inn when he receives it and she complains that it isn’t great, and they can’t afford much much, especially charity cases like Cosette when they have their own children to feed.

He offers to take Cosette off their hands. The Thénardiess is more than happy to have him just take her away, but…

Thénardier stands up in the middle and declares the bill a mistake. It’s not 23 Francs, but 23 Sous! He does this, because he’s about to sell Cosette for the 1,500 Francs he needs to settle his debt. After Thénardier puts on a show of actually caring about Cosette, the stranger pulls out his huge wad of cash and just peels off the bills like it ain’t no thing.

The Thénardiess fetches Cosette, and the stranger gives her a mourning outfit to wear. It’s a real outfit, not rags or hand-me-downs or anything. Nobody recognizes the girl as they leave.

As soon as they have gone the Thénardiers come to the conclusion that they could have gotten so much more money out of that guy. He was throwing Francs around like they were going out of style, and Thénardier only asked for enough to cover his debt? He grabs his coat and hat and actually runs off after them.

Thénardier manages to catch up on the road out of town when the stranger and Cosette stop to rest. There he tries to get Cosette back so he can extract more money, but the stranger has had enough of his shit. He shows Thénardier a letter from Fantine that gives him custody of Cosette, and when Thénardier tries to explain that she still owes, the stranger busts out the maths.  It seems he knows exactly how much Fantine owed and how much has been paid.  Her debt is more than settled.  He then stands up with Cosette in his arms and his big old walking stick in his hand and tells Thénardier in no uncertain terms that they are finished. His walking stick and stature is intimidating enough to get the innkeeper to back off.

Thénardier does follow them though. He wants to see who this stranger is and where he’s going. The stranger eventually catches sight of him, and gives him a look that makes makes Thénardier decide that it isn’t really worth the trouble to follow the guy. He turns to go back home and wishes he would have brought his gun.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this stranger is Jean Valjean, who is confirmed to not be dead in the last part of this chapter. (but let’s face it, we already knew that.) He had escaped by swimming to a boat that was attached to a ship that was moored in the harbor after he fell into the water in Toulon. He hid in that boat until he could swim back to shore. There he got some clothes and wandered all around France until he came to his destination in Paris. Once there he procured lodgings and mourning clothes for a child. Then he retrieved Cosette and took her on a round about path in carriages and on foot back to where he was staying.

This way of travelling made the poor girl tired, and she eventually fell asleep holding her doll, cradled in his arms with her head on his shoulder. All together now: Awwwwwwwww!

 

Dak Reads Les Misérables / COSETTE: Book 2


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.


BOOK 2
:
The Devil Came to Montfermeil 

 

You guys are not going to believe what just happened while we were over in Belgium pontificating about Waterloo for sixty pages!

If you guessed that Valjean got recaptured, then you would be right. Seriously, Valjean. What are you doing, bro?

In any case we aren’t going to get any details about how that happened at all, which is a first for this novel. Suffice it to say that our dear Valjean has a new number that nobody is going to remember, since 24601 has been fully imprinted onto all our brains with the power of song now.

The shiny new number of record is 9430 though. Let’s have a quick look at what happened post escaping Javert in Montrieul sur Mer by piecing together bits of information from some newspaper articles:

Jean Valjean had withdrawn about half a mil of his legitimately earned money from his bank account and stashed it somewhere during his time of escape. Nobody knows where. He was recaptured near Montfermeil in Paris. He mounted no defense, even when they found him guilty of being part of a band of thieves that have been thieving around the area. Which is suspect at best. I mean, we’re pretty short on details about what he’s been doing during this escape, but I doubt Valjean would be hooking up with a bunch of criminals at this point in his life.

At first he was sentenced to death. Oh, no! But if that happened the this book would be really…okay, it would still be really long. Luckily the sentence that was commuted to life of hard labour. Just how lucky that is depends on your opinion about working on a chain gang for the rest of your live long days.

In order to advance the story, we must have a few words regarding superstitions about the devil in Montfermeil. It has been told that sometimes, under the cover of darkness, a strange being can be seen lurking around the forests. It appears to have horns and is said to be the devil burying his treasure.

If you were to go up to this devil and have a chat with him you will see that it is just a guy toting a pitchfork on his back. Guess nothing irks the Devil more than having to chat with people while he’s trying to bury his treasure incognito, because if you talk to him, you will die within the week.

If you see him and don’t talk to him, but instead dig up his treasure then you will die in a month.

If you ignore the devil and run away then you will live for a whole year… then you die.

Most opt for option two, because at least they get some treasure out of the deal and they are going to perish no matter what.

I don’t know why, because the devil’s treasure is pretty crappy. Sometime’s there’s a bit of money, but mostly it consists of things like bloody skeletons and pennies or maybe gunpowder that will make your gun explode in your face. I’m not seeing the upside to this “treasure”

Back to the real world we go, where a old convict and drunkard named Boulatruelle has been lurking in and about the woods. Nobody trusts him because he is just too darn nice (He even smiles at gendarmes! The nerve of that guy!) The gossip is that he is part of a band of thieves. Is this band of thieves going to come in play later, because this is shout out number two for these guys? I’m not sure of anything any more. That’s why I’ll mention Boulatruelle by name. Everybody’s paths keep intertwining, even characters I thought we would never see again.

The townsfolk of Montfermeil are wondering what Boulatruelle is up to anyway, and maybe he’s seen that Devil of legend. It’s the logical explanation considering his recent creeping in and out of the woods.

A certain innkeeper (it’s Thénardier, you guys!) decides the best way to get to the bottom of this mystery is to ply the drunk with drinks. Of course, this takes a whole lot of drinks, and he’s still pretty tight lipped.

Boulatruelle reveals eventually, through bits and pieces, that he saw a man he recognized go into the woods with a little chest, a pick axe, and a spade. This strange man comes out without the chest so Boulatruelle has been searching the woods for the treasure it must have contained, because what would be kept in a small chest besides piles money?

Now that the tale of Boulatruelle has been covered we’re going to go back to Toulon, where the ship Orion has come to port.  It’s in for repairs and so we can get another history lesson about French wars and revolutions.

Well, the ship is being repaired when one of the men gets caught up in some line and is left dangling far above the decks. Nobody dares to go up there and save him, because it’s a really dangerous job and nobody is up for the task.  There is a mass of spectators watching this unfold, because they came to see the great warship.  It was a big deal back then.

 

These spectators become witnesses to this terrible accident when suddenly! They spot a convict climbing up the rigging on his way to rescue the dangling man, who is getting weaker by the second as he tries to hang on. They can tell this savior is a convict by his clothes and they can tell he’s a lifer by his hat, and they are surprised to see his white hair when the hat blows away. This man of incredible strength is no spring chicken.

The crowd calls out for his pardon once the man is saved. Yes! Pardons all around! I agree, crowd. But soon, this now unchained convict is falling into the water, in between ships. He doesn’t come back up for air, and they can’t find the body despite dredging near the docks. He is declared dead.

This convict? We keep his big reveal to the end of the chapter, even though we all knew damn well who it was as soon as the word convict was mentioned. If not, then the white hair and the fact that Jean Valjean can simply not help himself from helping others in mortal peril probably did. You see, when nobody stepped up to help the poor man, Valjean asked to be freed so that he might take the chance.

Since the guy in charge of this particular chain gang at the time was not a Javert, he released Valjean from the chain.

   Oops.

his is jailbreak #6 for those of you keeping score at home, and on top of that, everybody is now convinced that he’s dead. I take it all back. Jean Valjean is still the worst at hiding, but he has got to be some kind of escaping mastermind!

Dak Reads Les Misérables / COSETTE: Book 1


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.

BOOK 1: A Little History

We are now on Part 2 of the story, called “Cosette”. I thought we were starting out with Jean Valjean coming across Hougoumont, because I just assume any unknown person wandering around is Jean Valjean at this point, but no, it’s the author of this story, who is now going to tell us all about a certain battle.

Hougoumont, If you are unfamiliar, is a farm in Waterloo. You’ve probably heard of it. If you don’t know how that all went down, aside from the fact that Napoleon lost a battle there once in such spectacular fashion that it is still, nearly 200 years later, synonymous with crushing defeat… I am now going to suggest you go either: A. Read up on the battle in your History books or B. Read Hugo’s prose yourself or C. Do Both, because this battle is exactly what the first part of this chapter is about, and I think me filtering that information is probably as useless as me making a laundry list of all the Bishop’s good works that were mentioned in the opening of the book. Just for a little perspective though, Waterloo took place around the time Fantine first hooked up with Felix if he was dumping her in 1817.

A couple of random notes:

Every time Blücher’s name makes an appearance my brain’s Pavlovian response is to hear horses whinnying.

I did not think I was going to have to use the dead horse tag this many times.

Anyway, the author finally gets back to details of the actual story he’s telling in the very last part of this chapter.

There are men who follow along behind these armies for the purpose of looting the corpses after the battles have taken their tolls. This particular night Wellington (the English General) has ordered these thieves executed.

One if them is skulking around near the sunken road when something in the moonlight catches his eye. It is a gold ring. He lifts the ring from the corpse and turns away, but finds he is held in place by a hand grabbing onto his cape.

He ends up clearing everything away from the hand and there is an unconscious man underneath.  He has a gash from a sabre across his face and the way he had fallen happened to keep him from getting trampled as many others had.

The thief proceeds to rob him of all his money and his Legion of Honour medal while he is passed out. All this rifling around on his person does eventually wake him up though.

He thanks this man who has stolen all his stuff, and asks who won the battle. He gets the news that it was the English, and then proceeds to attempt to offer the thief all the money that was just stolen.  The wounded man assumes he has already been robbed by somebody else and is not in the process of being robbed at this very moment.

Meanwhile, there are men on watch, looking out for these crooks and one is approaching, so the thief lies to the wounded man and tells him, although he is a fellow soldier, he must go lest he be shot.

The fallen soldier asks after his rank and his name. He gives the rank sergeant, and as for his name?

It’s Thénardier!

Now you know why the Thénardier’s inn is named what it is named. That was an awful lot of words to get to that payoff.

And the wounded Soldier? Well, he’s going to remember Thénardier as the man who saved his life. This soldier’s name is Pontmercy.

You should probably hang onto that piece of information too. Just sayin’.

Dak Reads Les Misérables / FANTINE: Book 8


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.

BOOK 8: Javert Gets His Man…for a second

Somehow I forgot to mention that this whole ordeal in the last chapter has turned Valjean’s hair completely white. Yep, that is a thing that has happened. He hitches a ride on the mail cart after he evades authorities by…continuing on about his business as planned, because they’re too busy trying to figure out what the hell just happened to arrest him. (The Mayor has gone mad is still a popular opinion) They’re still attempting to finish the trial anyway, and we’re going to recap that even though we learned what happened to Champmathieu in the last chapter already.

The prosecution still tries to go get Champmathieu convicted, but the defense has been handed a massive gift horse that the judge and jury just can’t ignore. Champmathieu is acquitted, and a warrant is sent out for Jean Valjean aka M. Madeline.

They have to send it by special courier so it will make it to Montrieul Sur Mer and Javert before Valjean can get away. So, I guess he could have avoided all of what happens next if he’d just not gone back there, but he still has some things to take care of. Also, I don’t think he’s actually trying to avoid anything anyway. He did really try his best to get arrested back in Arras.

In any case, Valjean makes it there slightly ahead of the order for his arrest. He goes home where he learns of Fantine’s poor state the night before, and that Sister Simplice let her believe that Cosette was on the way and how it made her feel better. He thinks it’s for the best. She’s surprised to find that his hair has turned completely white.

He asks to see Fantine, and Sister Simplice doesn’t think this is the best idea, since Cosette isn’t with him after all. She thinks maybe if he takes a few days to go and get her that it would be for the best. Fantine won’t know the difference, and it will make her happy. That way she won’t have to lie again.

Lie or not, Sister is getting adept at this deception thing.

And it would be a fine enough plan, if Valjean wasn’t about to get arrested at any moment. This is what he’s worried about, and he wants to see Fantine before he goes. Sister Simplice acquiesces to his request, and he finds Fantine. She’s happy to see him and is already in quite a state, thinking that Cosette is there. She’s happy that she’s going to get to see her daughter, and the sound of a different child playing outside has her convinced that the happy reunion is moments away. Valjean is talking to her, trying to stall the best he can when she sits straight up in bed, terrified, staring at a spot beyond him like she’s seen a ghost. Or a monster. Or a monster ghost.

What is so frightful that could make Fantine react like this?

It’s Javert standing in the doorway. Hand in coat, he seems outwardly chill about this whole thing, but if you’re a close personal friend of Javert (I would like to know who these close personal friends of Javert’s are) you can tell that he’s super keyed up right now and not quite as cool as he’s acting. How can you tell?

The buckle on his collar is on the side by his ear and not in the back where it should be. Just taking this moment to profess my love for Javert and how he expresses emotion through buckle location here. (Also, I’ve attempted to look up what exactly a collar buckle is, and I think it’s referring to a stock buckle, because that actually makes sense in this context.) He is just really pleased with himself for being vindicated after all those years of suspicions and trying to catch the Mayor at being Valjean. Not even the fact that he testified about the wrong man’s identity in front of God and everybody can put a damper on the fact that he’s finally got his guy. He’s gone so far to the left of being pleased with his rightness that he’s dancing on the wrong side of it and is getting a bit scary in the process.

He’s left some soldiers out in the courtyard and hasn’t come in guns blazing or anything. He just grabs Valjean by the collar, tells him to hurry up, without showing a warrant or anything. Javert don’t need no warrants when he’s this right, I guess.

Valjean, much to Fantine’s extreme distress, hangs his head and doesn’t attempt to break Javert’s hold on him. She doesn’t know how this could be; as far as she’s concerned the Mayor is her savior, and Javert can’t hurt her as long as he’s there. Javert, on the other hand is the monster that tried to put her away for defending herself. She’s really confused, because up until that point, she’d thought the Inspector had come for her.

Valjean would be ready to go, resigned to his fate, but there’s one thing he wants to take care of first. He asks Javert for a moment to speak to him alone.

Javert is having none of this. Whatever Valjean has to say, he can say it in front of everybody. So, he has no choice but to ask, out loud, in front of Fantine, for those three days to go fetch Cosette and bring her back. Then he’ll turn himself in. He even offers to let Javert accompany him.

Now, I know we all want to see Fantine and Cosette reunited, and we’re rooting for Valjean, because he’s turned his life around after prison messed him all up, but… Javert isn’t doing anything wrong here, and this is a totally insane request from his point of view or any policeman’s point of view, really. At least if they’re not terrible at their job. There’s absolutely no reason to think that Valjean isn’t just going to take off, never to be seen again. He’s escaped before, several times. The fact that he’s repeatedly been caught at it doesn’t seem to be a deterrent. Javert is absolutely not going to grant this request. I can’t really blame him.

Well if you weren’t able to tell Javert’s current state of agitation by the location of his buckle before, then you will be able to now because he’s not being very subtle about it anymore. He’s pretty much howling in disbelief that a convict would ask such a thing of him. He denounces this town were convicts can be mayor, and calls Fantine a whore for good measure. Way harsh, Javert.

Javert is just getting increasingly excited this whole time. When Fantine cries out for the mayor, Javert silences her, grabs Valjean by the collars again and goes off on this rant about Valjean and convicts and there is no mayor. I have this mental picture of Javert bouncing around the room, arms flailing in triumph shouting something like: I got him! Valjean, that dastardly criminal is mine at last! Woohoo! Javert, for the win!

As for poor Fantine, she has now been alerted to the truth. The mayor is a former convict, Cosette is not there, and nobody’s going to get her. Thanks a bunch, Inspector. She sits up in bed again; a spectre of herself. With all this terrible news hitting her all at once, she finally gives in, and with one last breath, she is gone.

This tragic turn of events causes Valjean to lose patience. He easily pries Javert’s hand from his collar, because the only reason Javert held onto him at all was because he was allowing it. Valjean walks over to the the fire place to grab some kind of big ole metal rod thing and warns Javert that he’d better not try anything. Javert does not, which is probably a wise choice.

He returns to Fantine’s bedside and arranges her on the pillow. she looks at peace for the first time in a very long time. He whispers something in her ear that later Sister Simplice swears caused a smile to cross the dead woman’s lips.

When Valjean is finished at Fantine’s bedside he gives himself over to Javert’s custody.

As we well know by now, gossip travels here and in the wink of an eye the entire town has turned against the former mayor despite all the awesome things he’s done for everybody. Its like a game of telephone when they talk of his real identity: “Béjean”, “Bojean”, “Bonjean”…(Bonjovi?) There are only three people who are still on Valjean’s side. Any guesses?

If you guessed the sisters and his concierge/servant (who, as it turns out, is a woman. I don’t know how that escaped me before.) you would be right.

Later as the concierge is getting ready for the night, she finds a key removed from its peg. Where has it gone? Well, Jean Valjean has escaped from prison again and has sneaked back into his former residence for unfinished biz. Can I just say that I quite enjoy that Valjean did not, in fact, escape from Javert right there at Fantine’s bedside. He actually broke out of jail AGAIN. (Fifth time’s a charm??? Countdown to recapture starts now.) Of course, if they put the many awesome things that happen in this book into the film/stage adaptations we’d be sitting there for a month. The first chapter alone would take a week, although I would look forward to the song about the bandits returning their stolen goods to the Bishop, and the one about his thirteen chairs. Somebody make it happen.

Here Valjean actually prefers not to visit Fantine, because he doesn’t want to disturb her just in case he gets arrested in her presence again. Instead he asks for the concierge to fetch Sister Simplice, who is holding vigil over Fantine with Sister Perpétua and to meet him in his room.

Since they’re all still friends there, she only questions how he’s not in jail right now. He tells her the story which involves removing a metal bar and dropping off a roof. Ain’t no big thing. Once Sister Simplice arrives, he hands over a note. It’s instructions for his money to be given to the Curé to be divided up to pay for his trial, Fantine’s funeral, and the poor. No sooner does he do this than there are some noises out in the hallway. Valjean goes to hide in a corner.

It’s Javert and some henchmen coming around like a herd of elephants. He demands entrance despite the concierge’s protestations, because he saw a light in the window.

Javert is chastened when he barges in and finds Sister Simplice praying instead of the Valjean he is expecting. Now, Javert is a man who believes in authority, and the clergy and the nuns, etc…etc… are right on up there.  As far as he is concerned these men and women of God are above reproach.  Particularly Sister Simplice, because it is well known that she just never ever ever ever lies.

So, when he asks if Jean Valjean is there (he is) and she says without hesitation that he’s not, Javert believes her.

And when he asks if Valjean had been there at all that night and she says “no”, he believes her.

Dang, Sister Simplice! Look at you, aiding and abetting!

Javert leaves empty handed, and Valjean heads off into the night in the direction of Paris.

Later, the Curé decides that he’s going to allocate most of Valjean’s money to the poor, and gives Fantine the cheapest burial available…in a common grave. If you don’t know what that is: Here. And join me in feeling extremely horrible and sad about this final turn of events in Fantine’s story.