Dak Reads Les Misérables / FANTINE: Book 1 and 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.


Fantine: Book 1:
In Which the Bishop of Digne is Awesome!!!

In which M. Myriel goes to Italy in his youth comes back a priest, and basically proceeds to be the best guy to ever walk the planet. We learn about all of his good works — All of the them. He lives with his sister, Mademoiselle Baptistine, and her maid, Madame Magloire. Also, he only has 11 movable chairs…and the only luxury item he owns is some silverware. I have a feeling this might be of some importance later on.

 

Fantine: Book 2: Jean Valjean is Redeemed

 

In which Jean Valjean can’t catch a break. As soon as he steps into town everybody knows he’s a dangerous convict. Seriously. I guess gossip has had a way of travelling like wildfire since the dawn of time. As soon as he attempts to grab a bite to eat with legit money, he’s turned out on the street and everybody and their brother knows he’s a con. (Valjean can’t even get a job without being cheated out of half his due pay. He should have applied at the Wendy’s I used to work at.)

Finally, after wandering in, out, and around town for a while and getting pelted by rocks, some lady who has somehow managed to not hear the news happens upon him. She directs him to the Bishop’s house, and ValJean accepts some ₣₣₣₣₣₣s from her before he goes.

Meanwhile, the Bishop’s sister and maid are making a case for putting locks back on the doors, because even they have heard the news that there’s some dangerous dude lurking around town. The Bishop, of course, is unconcerned, because God will take care of everything. I mean, I can’t really blame the guy…he travels through bandit infested mountains and the bandits actually return some of their ill gotten gains to him. He’s that good. Seriously, though, where do I sign up to go to this guy’s church?

In any case, this important conversation about security is interrupted by Jean ValJean himself, looking scary and famished. He blurts out his entire post-parol tribulations in one big long stream, having given up on trying to get by without mentioning it since everybody already seems to know. It’s almost funny in a “Here’s a laundry list of shit I’ve been through, go ahead and do your worst!” kind of way. Y’know, if it wasn’t such a downer.

The Bishop surprises him by welcoming him and treating him as any other guest anyway and instructs the ladies to set the table for company, full silver and all.

Later, as it turns out, they have set ValJean up to sleep in a room that can only be accessed through the Bishop’s room.  The ladies are duly worried that this arrangement can only lead to tears somehow, but the Bishop is again unconcerned.  ValJean manages to peep where all that silverware is kept in a cupboard next to the Bishop’s bed. We can see where this is going, right?

We learn a little bit about how ValJean came to be in this situation in the first place. He once made a legitimate living by pruning hedges, a job his father before him held. He had to take care of his sister who had lost a husband and had seven children to take care of, so he basically had no time for anything except working. One hard winter, when there was no work, he stole that infamous loaf of bread.

He was caught, literally red handed after cutting up his hand on the window pane that he broke with his fist. It was the desperate act of a desperate man at a desperate time, and he pretty much acknowledges that all of this could have been avoided if he’d A. asked for the bread, or B. just waited things out. He knows he just made things worse, and all the time he spent in jail only heard about the fate of his sister once. So, he only got five years for breaking and entering an occupied house, and had subsequent years tacked on for trying to escape (four times in all). Which he also knew was only making things worse, but at that point it was reflexive. When it was his turn to make a break for freedom, he was going to take it.

And this is how Jean ValJean spent nineteen years in prison for stealing some bread. (We also learn that he spent his time there being super strong, scaling walls, and getting a bit of an education.) In summary, he was not quite an innocent basket of puppies, but definitely felt unjustly persecuted for his crimes. Prison hardened him and instilled a hatred for man in him that was honed to a sharp point by the time he came to the Bishop’s house. So, in the middle of the night he absconds with the silver, which was worth twice as much as all the money he had earned in prison over all those years. I’m not quite sure if we’re meant to believe he actually contemplated doing the Bishop in at that point, because there’s a long passage about how benevolent and glowing with the light of God the Bishop looks when the clouds part and the moonlight crosses over his face as he sleeps while ValJean stands over him with some kind of heavy tool that sounds like it could easily be a weapon. (Which he then uses to pry open the Silver cupboard.)

In any case, the ladies are in a flutter over the stolen silverware the next morning. The Bishop remains unconcerned and makes inquiries about what other forms of cutlery they have. He is possibly the chillest dude ever, and does a little contemplation of his own.  Does the silver really belong to them and not the poor in the first place? Either way, ValJean is caught in short order and returned to the Bishop’s doorstep in the clutches of some gendarmes so they can get the real story.

I think what we can take away from this chapter is that ValJean is the worst at escaping. He should really rethink that strategy.

The Bishop welcomes his return by claiming that ValJean had forgotten the last, and most expensive, of the silver — the candlesticks. He hands them over and manages to confuse and astound everybody with this gesture.

With his story that the Bishop had given him the silver confirmed, the gendarmes have no reason to hold ValJean. He is released, and the Bishop sends him on his way having purchased his soul for God.

So, Jean ValJean wanders on his way down the road extremely conflicted about this massive influx of kindness toward him after nineteen+ years of terribleness from all corners of life. As he’s sitting there thinking about all this shit, in a sort of ‘too much good all at once’ shock, a boy comes down the road tossing some coins up in the air. He drops one near ValJean and once again the reflexes of a hardened man kick in and he steps on the coin, so the kid can’t get it. He doesn’t respond even when the kid begs for it back, and the boy eventually runs away crying.

Later, ValJean lifts his foot, spies the coin, and realizes what he’s done. He goes down the road shouting the boy’s name, Petit Gervais, but doesn’t find him anywhere. When he comes to a fork in the path (Nope, no symbolism here. None.) he has a total emotional breakdown right there in the middle of the road. It’s the first time he’s shed a tear in nineteen years.

 

 

Dak Reads Les Misérables / FANTINE: 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:
In Which We Are Introduced to Fantine and her Posse

So, let’s leave Jean ValJean behind for a while and learn all about the names and places and fashions and events/political climate of the time. The time is 1817. Seriously, the names and events come flying at you fast and furiously in the beginning of this chapter as the scene is set.

We meet Fantine near Paris, a rather mysterious young lady whose origins are unclear. She only bears one name, having no known family. She works as a seamstress and is having an affair with a thirty year old student named Felix Tholomyès who seems to be crumbling apart at the seams, decrepit before his time, but at least he has good humour about it. She is young and beautiful *Let me stress that Fantine is beautiful here* and in love with him though.

And he’s just having fun. Yep. It’s that old story.

One day, Felix comes up with a brilliant idea. He and his friends are going to surprise the ladies! Oh, how nice — Is what I would be saying if I did not know the main plot points of this story already. In any case, he and his friends take Fantine and her friends for a Sunday outing. It’s a scene that I’d like to imagine looks something like a Renoir painting…y’know if Renoir had been painting stuff at the time. (I am aware that this takes place 20 some years prior to his birth, before someone is kind enough to point that out for me.)

Well, they are having a jolly good time, and the men are in especially fine spirits. Felix talks and talks and talks (He even talks about how the girls probably shouldn’t want to get married, which is a gigantic red flag if I ever saw one. They are pretty much clueless, and everybody thinks Felix is charming and wonderful.) Basically, only a horse dying in the street gets him to finally shut-up. The girls request their surprise, and they’re really excited about it, which makes me rather sad.

The guys wander off, and Fantine makes note of a coach stopping along the road. She thinks it odd, and her pals think she’s just not worldly enough to know that is a regular thing. They laugh it off. It’s a tiny detail, but I’m going to assume that this coach contained their guys who are totally ditching them where they stand. They are probably laughing it up and patting Felix on the back for this brilliance.

The girls only find out that they’ve been dumped an hour later when a kid comes out and hands them a letter of explanation.

Yes, my friends, they have been broken up with by text. Group text.

The men, it seems, have gone back to their families to be proper gentlemen or something, and the ladies should be grateful for them having spent time together at all. What a packet of assholes!

Fantine goes home heartbroken, because this guy was her first love.

Oh, and by the way? She’s got a kid with him.

Dak Reads Les Misérables / FANTINE: 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: The Sergeant of Waterloo

In which we meet the Thénardiers. They own an inn outside of Paris in Montfermeil. It is called the Sergeant of Waterloo for reasons. We will get to the reasons later on, I’m told, so hold that thought! There’s some sort of broken down vehicle in front of the place. It is described in great detail, but I think the main point is that it is huge and rusty. So, what better to do with a huge hunk of rusty machinery than to play on it?

At least that’s what the Thénardier girls are doing at the moment. They are on a makeshift swing that their mother is pulling them on as she sits nearby.

That is the scene when Fantine stumbles by. She has decided that she can’t stay in Paris any longer, and she’s on her way to her old hometown Montreuil Sur Mer to look for work. She lost all her friends in the aftermath of Tholomyès little joke, and then, having gotten used to the life she’d been living with him, she let her opportunities pass her by. I guess that means she could not / would not get work as a seamstress anymore. So, Fantine is jobless and friendless and the only thing she has in the world is her baby girl, having sold all her fine clothes to pay her debt.

(PS: In case you are wondering what happens to Felix before he is never spoken of again, he becomes a fat country lawyer.)

On her way to Montreuil sur Mer, Fantine sees Thénardier there with her kids, who are looking happy and well taken care of. Introductions are made and all three kids begin playing together. They look like they could be sisters, and this sparks an idea in Fantine.

She doesn’t think the child is going to make the journey, and offers to pay the Thénardiers to watch dear little Cosette for her. Cosette’s real name is Euphrasie. Fantine just calls her Cosette, and so shall we all for the rest of time. Nicknames, such weird things, incomprehensible even to Etymologists. Anyway, she pretty much thinks this will be a great arrangement, because in the two seconds she’s known Thénardier, the lady seems like a great mom, and Cosette is so happy playing around with the other kids.

Fantine is a terrible judge of character. The Thénardiers are actually the worst.

After  Thénardier and her husband haggle a bunch of money out of Fantine, they come to an agreement. A few Francs a week and all of Cosette’s fabulous clothes, of course. Fantine leaves her daughter in their care, but all is not candy and roses.

The Thénardier’s price keeps increasing steadily over the years, and their treatment of Cosette is downright abusive. (Actual bad guys alert) The poor kid is made to work, wear hand-me-down rags because they pawn off her clothes, and she eat scraps in the corner with the dog and the cat. I’ll point out now that Cosette is only between 2 and 5 years old during this time, and all of Thénardier’s negative attentions rain down on her in the forms of yelling or beating or whatever. The Mother pretty much hates the girl since any attention, even the negative attention she gets is something taken away from her own daughters, who she adores. And the Daughters, Azelma and Èponine? Well, they treat Cosette like crap too, because they’re just following the leader.

Eventually, Fantine falls behind in her payments to them as they extort more and more money out of her.

The people of the town think the Thénardiers are great people for taking the child in, and that Fantine had abandoned her. The people in town are also bad judges of character.

Dak Reads Les Misérables / FANTINE: 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 5
: BEAD BUSINESS

A little background on Montrieul sur Mer…apparently the main form of industry in this town at the time was bead making. The materials were expensive and the cost too high though. The bead business was slow until some guy, we’ll call him Madeline, breezed into town, bringing with him ideas to revolutionize the industry. He changed the materials to something cheaper than what they were using, and basically ran around town doing awesome things for everybody with the piles and piles of money he had made with his business. He owned a factory that would pretty much hire everybody, he built schools, he built shelters, he paid teachers out of his own pocket, and everybody pretty much thought he was the bees knees.

Except for this one guy. He was the chief Inspector of the town, and his name is Javert. Javert is basically described as a walking coat and hat with amazing facial hair, and his spirit animal is the wolf puppy voted most likely to kill all his siblings. He was born in a jail to a fortune teller and considered himself a permanent outsider, which in his mind only left him two career options: crime or law enforcement. He chose the latter. He detests all forms of revolution. He considers all law breaking a form of revolution. He’d even turn in his own mother for breaking parole, and believes that a criminal will never change his stripes. M. Madeline reminds him of somebody he used to know from back in the day, and he walks around with suspicious eyes. Being a wolf himself, he feels he knows a wolf in sheep’s clothing when he sees one.

This all culminates in an incident where a poor old guy named Fauchelevent, who only owns a cart and a horse to make his living carting stuff around, has somehow managed to get himself caught underneath a load when his horse breaks its legs there in the street. He is basically being crushed under the weight of it and there is not enough time to wait for a jack. M. Madeline keeps offering more and more money for anybody who is willing to go under the cart and lift it up off the guy, but there are no takers. He’s not doing it himself because there is somebody keeping an eye on him.

Javert is there to announce that nobody’s offering because nobody’s strong enough. Only one person he has ever known would be strong enough: this convict he used to know when he worked down in Toulon. It gets to the point where M. Madeline can no longer stand by and watch the man perish despite Javert heavily implying left and right that nobody on Earth could do the job except for that one guy. wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Madeline raises the cart himself along with Javert’s suspicions, and once everybody is safe and sound, he buys the broken cart and the dead horse and sets up Fauchelevent with a new job in Paris once he is healed.

Now, if you thought gossip traveled fast down in Digne, then you haven’t met Montreuil sur Mer. It kind of feels like the rumor capital of the world here. First of all, there is all kinds of talk about M. Madeline; where he came from, and what his motivation is for doing all the awesome things that he does. There has to be some kind of reason he’s so nice, right? At first they just think he’s in it for they money, but he can’t give that stuff away fast enough. Then they just think he’s an ambitious dude, but he keeps refusing every accolade offered to him. He refuses the Legion of Honor, and he continually refuses a position as mayor of the town until the people finally beg for him to just take the job already. He introduces himself to every traveling boy looking for chimney sweeping work who wanders into town so he can give them money. Word gets around. It’s a popular destination. (I wonder what that’s all about. Hmmm.) He’s pretty much a well loved enigma, and the fact that he very publicly mourns the passing of the Bishop of Digne just adds more grist to the rumor mill. (Let us take a moment to mourn with him. 🙁 ) All he will say is that he was a student of the guy once a long time ago.

Those aren’t the only rumors flying around town though. Let us return to Fantine, who had happily procured a job in the women’s side of the bead factory. (They are separate from the men so as to preserve their modesty of course.) Everything started out well enough for her.  She was so optimistic that she even took out some credit to purchase furniture for her apartment there. But well, as we all know, the Thénardiers kept jacking up their price for taking care of Cosette, and on top of that…

Well, M. Madeline had employed a certain overseer for the factory. Here she is an old lady who delights in malicious gossip for no other reason than keep herself entertained, and she’s got her sights set on Fantine. Fantine, who can neither read nor write and has to employ someone to pen her letters to Cosette, which she sends often. So, the rumor mill starts to turn, and they find out about Fantine’s illegitimate daughter. Scandal! Apparently this impropriety is reason enough for dismissal, and she’s sent packing. M. Madeline has no idea this is happening, and Fantine doesn’t go to him for help since she has him pegged as the source of this trouble anyway, so what good would that do?

So, begins Fantine’s descent into abject poverty. She tries to get odd jobs sewing with a friend that lives in her building, but it definitely isn’t pulling in enough cash. She definitely has some kind of ailment, because every so often it is pointed out that she has this lingering cough. It’s been around since she left Cosette at Montfermeil. She owes for her rent, she owes for her furniture, and the Thénardiers keep asking for more money or they’ll turn Cosette out on the street. She’s making it work at this point, and can still look in the mirror, and brushing her hair makes her feel okay… But then come the extra expenses.

First it’s only ten francs for wool skirt. Fantine heads straight off to sell her hair. Instead of sending the money, she sends the skirt. The Thénardiers give it to Èponine.

Then Cosette is ‘sick’ and needs ‘medicine’ by sick and medicine, the Thénardiers mean neither of those things. They just want some extra cash, and this time it’s forty.

Fantine’s beside herself, because how can she come up with that? Just so happens there’s some people in town buying teeth. They are interested in Fantine’s two front ones, which will just so happen to bring in the exact amount of money she needs. I know I failed to mention this before, but Fantine’s teeth are fabulous and pearly white. It’s mentioned more than once. She doesn’t go in for this idea right away and even talks it over with her neighbor, but in the end she decides to go through with it, because what’s she going to do? She gets rid of her mirror, and she can’t even brush her hair to feel better anymore.

The Thénardiers write again, and this time it’s for a hundred, because why they hell not? So, Fantine is still behind in credit (even though she’s returned all of the furniture) and rent and now has to pony up another extra hundred so her kid isn’t turned out on the street. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t climb her way out of this debt she’s accumulated. She can see no other option than turning to prostitution. All this she blames squarely on M. Madeline, because if she repeats it enough then it must be true. Boy, does she hate that guy who she once adored along with everybody else.

And this is where we find Fantine, with little hope and no prospects, when she stumbles upon a M. Bamatabois. This guy is a dandy, an idler, he layers his waistcoats and wears more chains than necessary on his watch. In his circle they wear boots and spurs and have “fierce mustaches”. The fiercer the better. This is quite a picture that’s being painted in my mind.

One day, he’s just hanging around with his dandy buddies doing idle dandy things, spurs and mustaches and all, and Fantine just happens to be there, pacing back and forth and muttering to herself. Naturally, these guys proceed to harass her, because Fantine really can’t catch a break at all. It comes to the point where Bamatabois puts snow down her back and this finally is the last straw. She comes after him and manages to lay a smackdown on him before she’s apprehended by the police. And by police, I mean Javert, because Javert just happens to be in all the right places at all the right times these days.

He takes her back to police HQ and is quite determined to send her to jail for six months. He’s unmoved by her pleas for mercy, and there are plenty. Meanwhile, unseen, the mayor has entered, and he’s hearing Fantine’s sad story as well. (He must be following the same bat signal that Javert is.)

Madeline asks for a moment of Javert’s time, and upon realizing that this is the mayor…sole cause of her whole situation…Fantine spits right in his face. Madeline orders her free.

This is when things start to get a little crazy.

Fantine is beside herself and she goes on a long rant about how great and awesome and forgiving Javert is, because she seems to be under the impression that he’s the one who set her free. The mayor couldn’t do such a thing, since she’s built him up as such a bad guy in her mind.

While this is happening, Javert’s brain has apparently broken. He’s standing there at a loss for words, because A. The Mayor is ordering this wrongdoer free for no reason. She’s clearly committed a crime and must be punished for it accordingly! B. She just spit in the mayor’s face! An inconceivable affront to authority! Still he orders her free!, and C. This guy might be that one convict from Toulon. I guess to be fair, ‘C’ is always lurking in the back of Javert’s mind.

Finally, Fantine’s mistaken impression is corrected. She cannot believe this shit. Javert can really not believe this shit. He attempts to argue with the Mayor, but he shuts the inspector down and pulls rank on him. What can Javert do?

He’s getting articles of law quoted at him, and if there’s one thing Javert is, it’s a stickler for the rules.

So, that leaves Fantine and Madeline there, Javert having left them to their own devices apparently. Here, Madeline offers Fantine all she’s wanted for the past few years…he will pay her debts, he will reunite mother and daughter, either there or in Paris. Whatever Fantine wants. He basically offers to fund the rest of Fantine’s existence so she’ll never have to work again. She falls to her knees and kisses his hand in thanks and then promptly faints.

Cliffhanger!

Dak Reads Les Misérables / FANTINE: Book 6


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 6
: Wolf Puppy!

In which Javert even refers to himself in the third person in the book.

M. Madeline takes Fantine to the hospital after she passed out in the last chapter. The hospital is also his house, or his house contains hospital beds. Either way, Fantine is there. She’s not really recovering, but she hopes to see her daughter soon.

Madeline has written to the Thénardiers and attempts to settle Fantine’s debt to them. He sends for the child. The Thénardiers are no dummies, so they realize quickly that Cosette has just turned into some kind of major cash cow. They don’t send her. Instead they ask for more money. Madeline supplies it.

No Cosette. They want more money. So it goes for a while while Fantine is over here dying. Madeline’s about to travel down to Montfermiel himself to get Cosette when he is visited by a certain Javert.

We’ll switch gears for a moment and see what our dear inspector has been up to since last we saw him. Gossip around town is that he’s been corresponding with Paris and now he’s come to tell the Mayor that there has been a crime committed. A crime that has been perpetrated against the Mayor himself!

This all comes as news to Madeline. I mean if someone committed a crime against him, surely he would know about it. Right? He asks Javert what the fresh hell he’s talking about. Javert, as it turns out, is the perpetrator.

Plot Twist!

Madeline is still confused. Javert insists that he be fired. Quitting would be too honorable, and he feels he should be disgraced for his indiscretion. We’re all going to need a little clarification before anybody gets dismissed, and Javert is going to give us a tour through the mind acrobatics he’s gone through in order to arrive at the conclusion that he ought to be sent packing.

So, after the whole Fantine debacle, Javert was pretty enraged. He actually put pen to paper and wrote down his suspicions and sent them on their suspicious way to Paris. Their reply? Javert, you crazy! They already had the suspect, Jean Valjean, in custody.

Oh, really?

Let’s explain…

It seems a guy who just happens to match Jean Valjeans description was caught stealing apples from somebody’s tree. (Bread is a gateway food!) This guy also just happens to have had the same job as a pruner that Valjean had. Though nobody from Valjean’s old life can be found to identify him, there are a couple of his old convict friends that say this apple-stealer is the guy. Even Javert recognizes him, and is already to set forth and identify the man himself.

And then there is the matter of his name. His name is Champmathieu. I will spare you the prodigious hoops it takes to derive that from Jean Valjean. All you need to know is that it is somehow a perfectly logical assumption based on Valjean’s mother’s maiden name and French dialects. Javert seems excited about it.

And this is why he must be dismissed, for slandering the mayor’s good name.

Of course, Madeline has absolutely zero intention of dismissing anybody. Javert insists, Madeline declines — a few times. Javert makes his case further.

He doesn’t think he should be dismissed for being suspicious. He would be a crap inspector if he wasn’t. He thinks he deserves the dishonor because he denounced Madeline as a convict in a fit of pique with no proof, and it just isn’t right to be vengeful like that. He doesn’t want any special consideration, because he would totally sack his subordinates if they ever did such a thing, and what kind of an example would that be if he didn’t abide by the same rules?

Javert spends a bit more time explaining why he must be fired immediately, and in the end Madeline shakes his hand and offers up a maybe. Javert is certainly vexed at this point. He considers himself no better than a spy right now, and the Mayor should not even deign to shake hands with him. What does a guy gotta do to get fired around here?

Javert finally leaves, informing Madeline that he will do his job until his replacement arrives, and that is that.

Dak Reads Les Misérables / FANTINE: Book 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.

BOOK 7: Remember That Guy Who Stole That Bread?

So, now we are going to learn about some events in which nobody really actually knows exactly how or what happened. They must, however be described in very great detail anyway. This is not conjecture on my part due to the verbosity of previous chapters…that is the actual text in the first paragraph. So, let’s get detailed all up in these mysterious events! Settle in!

Fantine has two caretakers in the infirmary, Sister Perpetue and Sister Simplice. To Sister Perpetue being a nun was just a job. Apparently for many this is the case these days. It just seems like the thing to do. Sister Simplice on the other hand was devout, pure and good, fragile in appearance, but strong, neither young nor old, and above everything else she cannot tell a lie.

Let me stress this, because apparently it is something that needs stress: No lies detected. Lying is not within this woman’s capabilities. Never shall her pants be alight. I have some foreshadowy feelings right now.

In any case, Fantine is still dying and waiting for Cosette. She’s not getting better. M. Madeline comes to visit her everyday to reassure her. She no longer hates his guts, and his visits are now the highlight of her days. She asks for Cosette, he says soon, my heart breaks a little, because there is no Cosette forthcoming and Fantine is fading fast.

Later, M. Madeline goes to see a man about a horse. He is really careful to avoid the door to the rectory and the curé that lives inside for some reason. I wonder why? Anyway, he needs a horse that can travel an exactly calculated distance in a short time at a fast clip without dropping dead in the street as horses are apparently wont to do in these days. M. Scaufflaire, the horse renting dude, has the perfect candidate, but he has all sorts of provisions that Madeline must follow if he’s going to be working the poor thing that hard. After haggling for a while, Madeline procures the ride which will arrive early the next morning to his place of residence.

M. Scaufflaire and his wife have a little back and forth about where the mayor is going in such a big hurry, because of course they do. Everybody talks about everybody’s business here, don’t they? She thinks he’s off to Paris naturally, but he has the exact distances that Madeline outlined for him. He’s going to Arras, which just so happens to be the place Champmathieu is being tried.

Meanwhile, Madeline avoids the rectory again on the way back and returns to his room where, according to the dude who lives below him, he paces back and forth all night long.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, we’re just going to spell it out for you right now that Champmathieu is not the ValJean they are looking for. M. Madeline is indeed the Jean Valjean of legend, and right now he’s having a massive internal crisis over what he should do with the info that Javert has just laid upon him. It’s the reason he avoided the rectory earlier in the afternoon. He was hoping he had left Jean Valjean behind him for good.

He vacillates between the two options: A. Turn himself in and B. Do nothing.

First he thinks he ought to do nothing because clearly God wanted Champmathieu to go to prison in his place, and who is he to go against God?

After that he thinks he should turn himself in, because to remain hidden and let this other man take the fall for him would be a crime unto itself, and it would undo all the good he’s done in his life after turning over his new leaf. He could either be a good devout man in public but secretly a sketchy bad dude or vice versa.

Then he thinks of Fantine and everybody else in town. what would happen to all of them if he goes back to the slammer? And, I mean, Champmathieu was born with his face after all, and he did steal those apples, didn’t he? So he should be going to jail anyway. Of course there is a world of difference between a while in Jail for a first time apple stealing offence and the remainder of life on the chain gang for breaking parole and stealing from a chimney sweep.

He decides again that it would probably be best for everyone if he just let nature take its course and stay put instead of going to confess his identity. So, he opens up a secret cupboard where he has been keeping all remnants of his former life. His old walking stick is there, his old convict clothes are there. That 40 sou piece he stole from the chimney sweep is there. He throws all that in the fire. All vestiges of Jean Valjean are gone, save one… The Bishop’s candlesticks. The most valuable of all the silver and the only pieces that Valjean did not sell. He has kept them as a sort of souvenir, to remember his goal to turn his life around. He can’t decide whether or not he wants to pitch those into the flame as well. You see, he’s only had two goals since he came to that crossroads those years ago: #1 Live his life as a better man, doing good works and such. He’s basically been following in the Bishop’s footsteps all this time. and #2 Self preservation, and he’s been willing to sacrifice #2 for #1 in the past. See: going into mourning for the Bishop, and keeping his candlesticks on full display in his room instead of hiding them away with the rest of his past, and lifting that cart off Fauchelevent despite Javert standing around practically calling him out right there.

It is at this point while he’s pondering the melting point of silver that he hears voices. They might be the voices of his conscious at work, which I imagine sound like a certain Bishop, telling him that it’s wrong to let an innocent man take the fall for something he didn’t do. And his mind continues to go around and around in these circles all night long.

Madeline remains undecided until 5am when the cart arrives. He does manage to write a letter to his banker and get a wink of sleep in which he has an insane dream during this long night of reflection. He writes down the dream so we can relive it in vivid detail, because these are the most detailed events that nobody knows about ever:

He’s walking around chatting with his brother that he hasn’t thought about in ages in a place that he thinks might be Romainville by way of a desert road. They’re talking about a neighbor that used to leave her window open, because that is the sort of thing that happens in dreams. It is probably symbolic in some way that I can’t parse right now. There’s also a hairless grey skull man riding a brown horse that doesn’t talk to them. The brother disappears and leaves Valjean in this mysterious town with mysterious men around every corner who just stare at him and don’t answer his questions about where he is.

He decides to leave this city, and as he’s out walking in the fields he realizes that all these men are following him. They overtake and surround him and tell him that he’s been dead for a while. When he tries to speak they have all disappeared.

He wakes up in a kind of daze to the coach waiting for him. His one and only servant comes to get him. He’s really confused at first until he gets his bearings back and he decides to go ahead to Arras.

He takes off out of town at quite the pace, according to the guy delivering mail…a process which is described in great detail down to the color of the mail cart and when the mail is delivered. M. Madeline is a man with a purpose! He brushes by the mail cart on his way, and he stops at the agreed upon intervals to rest his horse, and doesn’t realize that he’s been running on a broken wheel the whole time until a wheelwright there happens to notice and inform him that he was lucky to make it as far as he had.

M. Madeline attempts to get the wheelwright to fix the wheel, but he’s told it will take the rest of the day, but it’s alright, he can make it to Arras in the morning. Of course, this won’t do, because the trial is supposed to be that day. Madeline then tries to buy a whole new wheel, but he can’t drive on mismatched wheels. He tries to buy two new wheels, but they won’t fit on the axle on his particular cart. He tries to buy a whole cart, but all the available carts are too heavy for his poor horse that is really tired already. The wheelwright isn’t going to rent him a new one either, because he’s worried about what condition they might come back in judging by Madeline’s current horse and cart situation.

I’m really worried about this horse at this point, and also wondering why Madeline just doesn’t buy a riding horse from someone since he’s flinging money around for carts and wheels all over anyway. (In retrospect, a day after reading this I realize that he can’t ride his current horse because Scaufflaire specifically mentioned that this speedy creature doesn’t like riders. It likes pulling the cart though.) In any case, he’s actually really rather grateful to be running up against all these obstacles, because the longer he’s delayed the less he has to confess his Valjeanness to the world. He’s just about ready to feel relieved about the situation when he’s accosted by another citizen who just so happen to have a rickety old cart he could use.

Oh, well.

On the road again. Eventually his new cart is too rickety and his horse too tired to go the final miles which have increased because of road construction and he now would have to navigate a new route through unknown country in the dark. Once again the townsfolk try to convince him to stay the night, and again he tries his best to continue on his way, because if he tried his best then at least he can get a gold star for trying. He considers that maybe God is trying to tell him that he shouldn’t be going to Arras after all, but he manages to procure a new cart, a supplementary horse to help pull it, and even a guide to help him on his way. He makes it to the trial by 8 o’clock. He thinks maybe they have finished and he missed it, because he’s really late and his trip took ten more hours than he was expecting it to take. He asks after the verdict and someone happily tells him that it was an easy guilty call.

He’s sort of relieved until he finds out that it was the trial before Champmathieu that’s being referred to. A woman, an infanticide. Open and shut. The guy he’s talking to seems to think the apple stealing, chimney sweep robbing, former convict case will be just as easy, but that trial is still ongoing.

At first they won’t let Madeline into the trial, but he calls on his mayoral renown to get a seat in the packed room. He’s still roiling in his internal conflict and very nearly runs away, but he’s drawn back and takes his seat in the poorly lit room where he can see what is going on, but they can’t really see him.

I would like to take this moment to point out that jerk, Bamatabois, is a juror in this trial. If you don’t remember, he’s the fierce mustache that Fantine almost got arrested for attacking. I wonder if he just randomly keeps popping up everywhere for no reason.

Anyway, there Madeline finds himself, facing himself in the form of Champmathieu who is quite bewildered at the whole situation and denying everything, even his ‘name’, because it’s not his name. We know that, of course, but everybody else is quite convinced otherwise, what with so many witnesses including one Inspector of unimpeachable moral character. Madeline spies his former convict buddies, but he can’t see Javert anywhere even though he knows the Inspector is supposed to be there testifying. Right now Champmathieu is only being charged for the apples, which they’re only certain he stole because he’s this former convict. Otherwise there is no proof. If they prove he’s Jean Valjean then that is enough. He’ll be tried for the other things (the parole breaking and chimney sweep robbing) at a later time, and the punishment will be much harsher for being a second time offender.

Well, what’s a mayor to do now? He’s had every obstacle thrown in front of him, and here he is facing his fate anyhow. Maybe God is trying to tell him something after all, but it’s not the thing he wanted to hear.

Meanwhile, Fantine is in a terrible state. She’s withering away and her illness has made her old. She’s weak and watching the click for any sign of M. Madeline, but we know he is off carting himself to Arras at this point.

In fact the sisters have only just found out from the servant guy that Madeline is gone out and they have no idea where to. So what to tell Fantine when the time of Madeline’s regular visit has come and gone and still there is no sign of him?

This is where Sister Simplice’s lie comes in.

It’s pretty much a lie of omission for not telling Fantine everything about M. Madeline’s trip…not that she knows much to tell. She lets Fantine believe that he has gone to Montfermeil to fetch Cosette and she’ll be there in the morning. This thought makes Fantine’s spirits soar. Where she was tired and haggard before, she is now bright and alert.

Oh, Fantine.

As we know, Madeline has actually gone in the opposite direction from Paris. He’s still watching Champmathieu denying any wrongdoing over in Arras. The poor old guy denies even stealing the apples! He claims to have found the branch lying on the ground, and he’s never heard of this Jean Valjean character.

In the face of these denials, the witnesses are called again. Except for Javert. The reason Madeline hasn’t spotted him isn’t because he’s lurking somewhere in a dark corner, but he had to return to work.

His previous testimony is read aloud, where he recounts his time working at Toulon and seeing Valjean there, and his suspicion that Valjean did steal the silver despite what the Bishop told the gendarmes, and of course the matter of the forty sous.

Then the convicts are paraded in one by one. They can’t be sworn in officially, but they testify to Champmathieu’s identity as well.

So the trial is about to end and poor Champmathieu is pretty much a goner at this point despite his only crime being nothing actually, when there is a cry from Madeline as he enters the courtroom floor. Gasps of surprise from Bamatabois and all around.

Madeline reveals himself as the real Jean Valjean right there at the last possible second. The judge wants him to be taken into medical care because clearly he has come down with a case of the crazies. Nobody believes his confession. He even confesses to the silver theft and wishes Javert was there, because Javert would believe him for sure.

I’m not gonna lie, I wish Javert was there too. I’m sure the look on his face would be priceless.

Madeline finally has to prove himself by revealing details about his convict buddies that only the real Valjean would know.

In the end Champmathieu is found not guilty and Valjean walks right out because everybody’s too stunned to do anything about it. Where’s a wolf puppy when you need one!

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.

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 / 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 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!