Dak Reads Les Misérables / MARIUS: 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

Marius: Book 8; Courfeyrac Needs Boats and the Jondrette Caper

Now that introductions to the baddies are complete, let’s see how our friend Marius is doing.

Terribly is how he’s doing. He’s fallen into this deep depression over losing this girl that he’s observed but never spoken to for three or five or — I lost count of how many years it’s been. His favorite things just don’t interest him anymore. Work doesn’t interest him. Walking around looking at plants doesn’t interest him. Thinking about stuff doesn’t interest him. He spends all his remaining energies trying to find Mlle. Lanoir to no avail.

He keeps a cork in all his sad emotions though. He doesn’t even confide in his bestie, Courfeyrac, which is probably the least surprising news of all time. Marius doesn’t seem like the type to really open up to anybody in the first place, and in the second place–Courfeyrac? He’s a good friend, but from what we’ve seen so far, he probably isn’t the one I’d go around sharing all my deep emotional manpain with.

In any case, Courfeyrac is still an observant BFF. He knows something is drastically wrong with his pal. In an attempt to cheer up the kid, he enlists Bossuet and Grantaire and they all go to a ball. Specifically Le Bal de Sceaux. Sceaux is a suburb of Paris. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to be doing since they live in Paris, but it can’t not be an allusion to the story of the same name that is part of Balzac’s la Comédie Humaine series about the goings on of the people during the Restoration. Right?

This particular story, published around the time all this stuff in Les Misérables is taking place–1830, is about a girl name Émile who goes to a ball at Sceaux in search of a Pair de France husband. She finds instead a mystery guy named Maximilian who is mostly concerned about caring for his sick sister. He and Émile do eventually fall in love only for her to find out that he’s actually a lowly merchant. Scandal! She dumps him immediately and marries an old guy instead. Later, it turns out Maximilian is a Pair de France after all. He was only keeping shop to take care of his family. Oops.

I’m not sure what, if anything, that has to do with anything, but I didn’t want to pass up a good allusion that I actually managed to notice. Maybe it would help if I read the whole story of Émile and Max instead of just the summary, but…It’s taking me long enough to read this chapter; there is no time for a Balzac intermission!

As for Marius, he only agrees to go with them to this bash because he thinks he might find his “Ursula” there. It doesn’t cheer him up when she is nowhere to be found. Grantaire makes a comment about all lost girls being found there. I’m not sure if it’s a commentary on the women that attend this type of function, or if he’s just being really sarcastic about Marius’s optimism. Maybe both.

Oh, well, if a night out on the town with this particular trio of Amis isn’t going to cheer you up, I don’t know what to tell you, son. At least they tried.

Now, a couple of incidents:

First, Marius thinks he sees M. Leblanc on the street one day. This man he spotted has the hat and the white hair of the old man, and Marius thinks that maybe he should follow the guy. He know’s where that got him last time though. He thinks he could have been happy just sitting on his bench in varying proximity to the girl of his dreams for the rest of time. If only he had never followed then maybe he could still be happy there. I don’t know…what about option #3: speaking words to these people like a human person and not coming off like a shady creepster that is up to no good?

Oh, well, Marius is a man of few words, unless they are about Napoleon, so it is how it is. At least he learned something from the incident, and decides that he’s imagining things, and it’s probably not a good idea to go around stalking people in the shadows anymore. The way things are in this book, it probably was Valjean, but spotting him on the street one day is not nearly coincidental enough of a chance meeting. Try again, Marius.

Incident #2: A couple of girls on the run knock into him as he’s walking in the street one day. It can be gleaned that they are running away from the authorities by what they are shouting at each other. Once they are gone, Marius finds a packet of letters that he figures they must have dropped. He goes shouting after them, but can’t find them, and concludes that they’re out of earshot. You know, because shouting after a couple of kids on the run from authorities is sure to bring them right out of hiding.

Later, we are told again how much Marius doesn’t pay a lick of attention to his neighbors. This is relevant, because he’s totally about to meet them.

One day he’s sitting in his barren room after getting ready for bedtime and opens up the packet of mystery letters to see if he can figure out who they belong to, or where they need to be delivered. What he discovers as he reads them is that they are all written on the same tobacco scented paper and they are all written to different people, begging them for money. They are all signed with different names, but they are all clearly written by the same person.

He’s just way too depressed and sleepy to give any craps about these letters right now, though, so he puts them away and throws the packet into a corner.

The next morning, after Marius has had his toast, he’s ready to get on his way to work when he hears a knock on his door.

This is weird to him, because he leaves his key in the lock all the time basically just inviting all comers into his apartment. The landlady had told him that this was a sure recipe to being robbed blind, but Marius don’t care. He doesn’t think he has anything to steal. Naturally, he is wrong about this. Marius has plenty of stuff to steal. He has two whole suits and toast! The landlady is vindicated when this open door policy got his boots stolen one day.

Still, he leaves the key in the door after that happened. Marius. Learn from your mistakes, bro. He hears the knock again and, without looking up from what he’s doing, asks the landlady what she wants.

It isn’t the landlady.

So, in comes a young girl in this outfit that is basically crumbling right off her because it’s so worn out and threadbare. She’s dirty and barefoot, all bones, and is missing a few teeth. She might have been pretty once upon a time, but life has kicked her down into the state she is now. She is there to deliver a letter to Monsieur Marius, whom she knows by name. He’s sitting there pondering this new and exciting development, because she must have actual business with him if she knows his name. Meanwhile the girl just makes herself right at home there in his room. She basically just barges in without an invitation and pokes and prods at all his stuff from his toiletries down to his ink pens.

He says nothing about her rummaging through his belongings like it ain’t no thing, because he’s too busy feeling pity for her and reading the letter. It is a missive from Jondrette himself, the girl is his daughter, and wouldn’t you know it? It’s written in the exact same way and on the same paper in the exact same handwriting as all the mystery letters! Marius has a moment of clarity where he realizes that Jondrette is actually a big old crook/con-man, so he just checks out of real life for a moment into Marius-land, ruminating on the state of society that would force people into such dire straits.

As for the letter contents, it seems Daddy Jondrette has found out that Marius paid their rent. Now he’s asking for more.

Speaking of Marius, I’m kind of surprised that he hasn’t crumbled to dust and blown away at this point with this girl in his room, touching his things, spilling out of her dress, talking and talking and talking at him. He is pretty distracted with the letter and thinking about stuff though, until she sees his books and is really excited to show him that she can read. She reads a bit from one that happens to be about Waterloo, because of course it is. I imagine that all the books Marius owns that aren’t about lawyering, are probably about Napoleon, and maybe Mabeuf’s flower book. She tells him about her dad, who was at Waterloo.

She also wants to prove to him that she can write too, so she just grabs a pen and a piece of paper and writes down on it:

The Cops Are Here.

So, yeah…if there was any doubt about Jondrette’s occupation, this probably dispels it.

Now that she’s shown him her writing skillz, she’s now going to confess that she’s watched him come and go. She’s even spotted him visiting Mabeuf on occasion. This is why she knows his name. She probably is familiar with his toast habits too, and also, she’ll just go ahead and let Marius know that she thinks he’s “a very pretty boy”.

Marius is retreating into brusque hermit mode now, which feels more like him. He changes the subject quickly and hands over the packet of letters. The girl doesn’t seem to notice he’s gotten frosty, she’s distracted now.

She’s is really excited about finding the missing letters, because she and her sister had been looking all over for them. They had searched and searched and searched, and in the end had lied to their father and told him that all their prospective benefactors had refused to give them money instead of admitting that they’d lost the letters. She takes the packet from Marius with the intent to head straight off and deliver the one for the church-going philanthropist. It’s just about the time he’s getting out of church, so perfect timing!!

Marius hasn’t forgotten his very own letter from Jondrette though. He’s going to give them money anyway, even though he knows Jondrette is a scam artist. People got to do what they got to do to eat, and there’s no question that his neighbors don’t have much. He fishes around in his pockets for the cash, reserving only enough for his own meals and giving her the rest; a grand total of five francs. She’s grateful for this and grabs a moldy dried out crust of bread that she spots to eat on her way out.

And that is that! Or is it?

No, it’s not, because Marius is thinking some more about the state of things and his poor neighbors. He feels really badly about it, because he’s spent all his time there not noticing their hardships. He really wishes he could have done more to help them out and is totally awash with guilt about it. He then decides he really needs to learn more about these people. There is a word for people like the Jondrettes. Everybody say it with me now: Les Misérables. There’s supposed to be some kind of fanfare and confetti falling from the sky when a work references its own title, right?

It just so happens that despite the Gorbeau house being empty of all tenants aside from Marius and the Jondrettes, they are living in adjacent rooms. Also, there is a hole in the wall just big enough for Marius to peep through, because of course there is and of course he would. I think Marius’s entire book should be subtitled again. Les Misérables: Vol. III: Marius: What are you doing?

Marius maybe hasn’t actually learned anything from the last time he was a giant creeper, so he goes on ahead and climbs up on his dresser to peephole height, so he can peep the Jondrette’s living quarters.

What he sees certainly shocks him, because these people are living in filth pretty much. Like, he thought he was poor? By comparison, Marius is living the high life. These people have nothing. On the other hand Marius has a job, he’s got skills, and an education, he has good friends who help help out no questions asked, he can buy new boots after his get stolen and still leave his door unlocked, and he can afford to let his crusts of bread sit around long enough for them to turn into moldy rocks for goodness sake!

Jondrette is a thin weasly looking guy, skinny in his woman’s blouse, with a long scraggly grey beard. The wife is there, she’s a hulking woman with red hair cooking by the fire, and there is a younger girl who’s practically naked. He’s standing there observing the dire conditions of his neighbor’s lodgings when the older girl bursts into the place and she’s got news. One of the letter addressees, an old philanthropist, is coming to visit them. He’s right on her tail.

And so begins the preparations for their benefactor’s arrival. Marius is about to witness the execution of a con. Not that they aren’t super poor to begin with, but Jondrette is making it his mission to make them appear even more destitute.

Jondrette gives his family instructions. He tells the younger girl to break the window. She doesn’t want to, but eventually gives in and just punches out a pane of glass with her bare hand. She cuts herself as she does it. I’ll let you ponder how intimidating and abusive Daddy Jondrette is to be able to compel a child to do that. He’s even pleased at his daughter’s misfortune, because now she can cry real tears in her mother’s arms and look even more pitiful with that injury. Mom is none too pleased about this, but she goes along with her husband anyway. On top of this, it is winter and freezing outside.

He tries to get the older girl to break out the bottom of the only chair, but she doesn’t do it. He breaks the chair by sticking his foot through it. They are now ready to receive company.

Marius sticks to his peephole like glue and what he sees next shocks him to the core, because who walks in the door but M. Leblanc and Mlle. Lanoir! (I did not intend for that sentence to be so Seusstastic!) There they are, in the flesh, right in the very same building that he lives in! And that is how you do a proper chance meeting!

They come bearing gifts of clothing and blankets. Jondrette is not pleased with material goods though. He’s after the cash, so now he has to put on a show. Jondrette gives Leblanc the entire spiel he had prepared for his playwright character. This is his cover for this particular letter. I assume he’s crafted each identity to appeal most to each letter recipient. In any case, Jondrette bemoans the lack of funding in the arts these days. What’s a poor author to do with a family to feed? Leblanc is sympathetic of course, because if there’s one thing this guy loves to do it’s help the less fortunate whether they need a job at a bead factory or need rescuing from a ship’s rigging, or rescuing from Javert, or just giving his money away in general.

Jondrette pleads for an amount of rent money which is much more than is due. Marius knows because it couldn’t have accumulated that much since the time he paid it. Leblanc hands over five francs. Jondrette isn’t exactly pleased over only five francs though.

Leblanc promises to return later in the evening with some more though, and he also leaves his coat for Jondrette.

Marius quickly comes to the decision that he must follow them. Always a good idea. He overestimates the amount of time it’s going to take them to get back down to the fiacre though (He’s afraid Valjean will spot him, recognize him, and move again) By the time he’s made it outside, they’re already turning the corner. Marius decides that he can’t run after it to follow, because that would just be crazy. Luckily an empty cab is right there for him to jump into. This is kind of surprising, because isn’t Gorbeau house supposed to be in some shady hidden side-street off the beaten path somewhere? I’m pretty sure that’s a specific reason why Marius, Jondrette and Valjean picked it for their lodgings. I wouldn’t imagine a lot of cab traffic would be going through there. I guess Marius is just that fortunate. Alright! Mad fiacre chase through the streets of Paris to find the love of his life that he’s never spoken to? Let’s go!

Wait, not so fast, Marius. The driver wants him to pay up front. He’s a pretty savvy cabbie, I have to say. Because of Marius’s old beat up clothings, the man doesn’t think he can pay for this ride. I don’t really blame him. If he’s driving around places like Gorbeau house looking for fares, he’s probably been burned before. Marius says he’ll pay when they get back, but the driver is not having it, and just like that Marius’s 19th century version of a Rom-Com cliche has been foiled.

He heads back into the house but not before noticing and also not noticing that Jondrette is outside talking to famous night-stalker Panchaud aka Printanier, aka Bigrenaille, and in a great feat of word-padding, the likes of which are usually only seen in November, almost every time this guy is referred to in this chapter it’s by at least two of these names. Even Marius knows who he is, because Courfeyrac told him. (Courfeyrac knows because he is everywhere, of course).

I guess this Panchaud character is important because we start going into detail about what a legend … He will become. He’s not quite so notorious as to inspire awe among his future convict fellows yet, so I’m not even sure why we’re talking about him in such great detail.

Back inside the eldest Jondrette girl is following after him, and now Marius is bursting with resentment for her, because she has the five francs that were jangling around in his pockets that very morning and could have paid for his cab fare just now. He knows he can’t even ask her where Lanoir lives, because the letter was addressed to the church.

The girl isn’t going to leave him alone and just watch him this time. She actually holds the door to his room open when he tries to shut it. He’s really impatient and huffy and downright snippy with her this time when she asks what’s wrong with him. She doesn’t understand why he was so nice and generous to her this morning and now he’s being such a dick all of a sudden. She’s much more timid than she was this morning and stays in the doorway as she offers to help him resolve whatever issues he’s having, because she doesn’t want him to feel bad anymore. This sparks an idea in him. He’s suddenly more happy and optimistic, and she’s a little more brighter because he is. He asks if she can find out where their benefactors live. And just like that she’s back to gloomy. She rightly guesses that it isn’t LeBlanc that he cares about, but the girl.

She can find them but is giving off serious vibes that this is a task she really doesn’t actually want to do. For reasons. She agrees to do it though, because Marius asked. Her bitter tone of voice whenever she mentions the girl makes him uneasy, but he just fails to make the connection that she might be upset because he’s so into this Lanoir character especially after she flat out just told him to his face that very morning that she watches him and thinks he’s totally hot.

Back in his own abode, Marius was about to sit down and do whatever it is that Marius does during the day while he’s… I guess he’s just going to be skipping work today. He can hear Jondrette ranting and raving in the other room again. How can he resist? He climbs back up to his peephole to peep some more. There he finds Jondrette having a fit about the M. Leblanc being the man who took Mlle. Lanoir away from them so many years ago, depriving them of sorely needed income. Okay, I’m dropping Courfeyrac’s nicknames for good now. They’re going to be Valjean and Cosette again.

Anyway, the Jondrette woman is totally skeptical about her husband’s assertion at first, because no way the lark could have grown up into the lovely young lady Cosette is today.

Jondrette is convinced though, and he has a plan! Marius sits there and listens to all the sinister plotting going on next door. Jondrette is going to enlist his shady underworld buddies to get all the millions of Francs he thinks he is owed, from M. Leblanc. He seems to be under the impression that this guy has all the money in the world, and if he doesn’t fork it over then Jondrette is going to kill him. He plans to use Valjean’s five francs to go buy some sort of murder tool at the hardware store.

Well, well, well–Murder! That is shocking to Marius. He waffles about what to do about what he’s overheard and eventually decides to go to the police.

On his way there he hears whisperings from behind a wall and decides that he wants to hear more. It’s a couple of rough looking dudes talking about “The Affair” and how it can’t go wrong with Patron Minette! They’re all due five or six hundred francs if everything goes according to plan, and if it goes wrong the max they could get is ten years. Marius decides “The Affair” must be Jondrette’s plot, because apparently there can only be one big crime committed at a time here.

When Marius finally gets to the Police Station, he is directed to a certain wolf-esque inspector who we all know and love. This entire meeting between Marius and the inspector goes without his name being spoken until the very end, but it’s Javert. I’m not even going to try and keep you in suspense, because it’s already totally obvious from the start.

Javert listens to Marius’s story. He’s particularly interested about whether or not the four corners of Patron Minette are going to be there, but Marius hasn’t seen them. Just Panchaud and the mention of the gang by the whispering bandits that Javert calls Brujon and Demi-Liard. Javert decides Marius is an upstanding and honest young man on the basis of their conversation here and absolutely nothing else even though Marius is peeved that Javert hasn’t called him Monsieur during the exchange and indignant that Javert thinks he might not be brave enough to handle the forthcoming shenanigans. So, Javert hands him two pistols and instructions to conceal them in his fob pockets and go back to his peephole at the appropriate time to fire off a warning shot at the exactly perfect moment for the cops catch Jondrette in the act of an actual crime and bust up his little extortion/murder party. Marius should know when, because he is a lawyer and lawyers should know such things. Sure they should, but Marius. . .

Okay, so we’re just giving out guns to randoms just in off the street? I mean, I know owning a gun was probably par for the course back in the days, but it doesn’t seem like the wisest decision of all time. What credibility does Marius Pontmercy: Lawyer, translator, and garden ponderer extraordinaire actually have aside from Javert’s intuition? For all Javert knows, Marius could be putting on a masterful show and is the secret heretofore unseen, unknown, singular mastermind behind the Patron Minette gang Javert’s so keen on capturing. It could be a trap! Of course this is all speculatory nothings to us, because we know Bambi over here isn’t the secret mastermind behind anything aside from stalking Cosette. Javert, on the other hand, should probably know better. He’s also severely underestimating Marius’s infinite capacity for being distracted and conflicted. This is a mistake that is surely going to come back and bite him in the ass.

On his way back home, Marius spots Jondrette, and decides to follow him. Of course he does. All of life’s problems can be solved by stalking people and listening in on their conversations, right?

You’ll never guess who spots Marius trailing along after Jondrette.

Here is a pause for you to guess… …

If you guessed Courfeyrac (because Courfeyrac is everywhere) and Bossuet, then you would be right. Seriously, what is with the peanut gallery over here? Courfeyrac is always cropping up at random to LOL at Marius. Not that Marius doesn’t do LOL worthy things, but still. It’s like Marius is trying to hunt ducks and Courfeyrac is the loyal hunting dog popping up out of the reeds to snicker at his efforts.

Bousset is in the midst of poetically comparing the snow to beautiful butterflies when they spot their friend. Courfeyrac decides they shouldn’t go say hi, because Marius is tailing someone and is in love, and Bossuet is confused because there are no beautiful ladies anywhere to be seen. Courfeyrac points out that he is following a guy and they have a laugh.

Bossuet wants to see what he’s really up to still. They don’t have to say hi, but they can follow him! Because as we have learned so far, creeping on people can only lead to good things! You know, like heartache, depression, and overhearing criminal murder plans. Courfeyrac thinks this is foolish and calls Bossuet “Eagle of Meaux” whilst telling him so. This still cracks me up. I think because it’s such a regal and serious sounding nickname, and Bossuet is Bossuet.

Anyway, this is probably a good thing, since I have the feeling the whole “affair” is going to descend into chaos as it is. Do we really need to add Courfeyrac and Bossuet to the equation? (The answer is actually yes! Always! Courfeyrac and Bossuet for all the lawyer adventures. Are you listening, Rob Thomas?)

Marius is too focused on following Jondrette to notice his pals. He watches the guy go into a hardware store, and then it’s time for Marius to go home and resume his post on top of his dresser before the landlady locks the door for the night since he’d given his master key to Javert. On his way up to his lodgings, he thinks he sees some people in one of the empty rooms.

Back in his room Marius can hear the conversation when Jondrette comes in without having to get up to his peephole, because now he’s listening. By what they’re saying, Marius can tell that Madame Jondrette is all dressed up and the girls are about to go out to keep watch, but not before the eldest is ordered to go check Marius’s room to make sure nobody’s in there. She’s sure there isn’t, but they make her go check anyway. There’s only one place to hide and that is under the bed.

The girl doesn’t seem really interested in conducting a thorough search of the place to see if he’s hiding somewhere. She’s more interested in making use of his mirror while she has the chance. She lies and tells her dad that she did look under the bed when she didn’t, so he’s safe for now.

Now it’s time for Marius to get up on his dresser, the girls are gone, and the stage is set. The chisel Jondrette bought is on the fire and Marius gets a gander at Madame Jondrette’s getup. She’s got a feather hat and everything. Apparently it’s a spectacle that Courfeyrac would have found hilarious, because we should definitely know what Courfeyrac’s opinion would have been had he been Marius. (It’s a good thing he’s not. Bossuet tried to be Marius once, and it didn’t work out for him at all.) Jondrette decides he needs a couple chairs for the guests. I guess that’s reasonable, since he destroyed their only one earlier in the day. If you’re going to be murdering a guy, might as well give him a place to sit. Before Marius can even move from his perch, the Jondrette woman is over at his place “borrowing” his chair. She just waltzes right in and doesn’t even notice Marius standing on top of his dresser. I know this action is getting really serious right now, but — I think you’ll have to agree that is a pretty comical image.

Soon, M. Leblanc aka. Ultimus Fauchelevent, aka Jean Valjean is back with the money for Jondrette. Before he can get out of there though, Jondrette sits him down and tries to get him to buy a painting that Marius had noticed during his earlier peeping.

Valjean is having none of this, even as Jondrette tries to talk the thing up and haggle with him. Haggling only works if the other party is interested in purchasing the item though, and Valjean can see that it is merely an old broken down wooden sign for an inn. This goes on for a while, and as it does, three people in blackface or masks have stealthily entered the room. Jondrette tries to pass them off as his neighbors. Because it’s normal for your neighbors to just pop right in without knocking and stand around with their faces masked looking sinister and intimidating.

Just as Valjean and Marius are noticing these newcomers, the door burst open and it’s none other than the top bad guys of Patron Minette themselves, Babet, Claquesous, and Guelemer; they say everything is prepared. Everything except for Montparnasse who had taken a detour to chat with Eponine. What is that all about? He’s missing a good murder party here.

Jondrette is losing patience quickly now. He starts goading Valjean about how they know each other for a while whilst Valjean feigns ignorance. Denying it, isn’t going to work though, because Jondrette is determined. And he really doesn’t like it when Valjean calls them bandits, because how dare he when he can sit in his nice house with nice shoes and never know what it’s really like to be poor and suffer.

He finally gives up the song and dance and drops the big reveal on us. Jondrette is really Thénardier!

Shocking. I know.

Well, it is to Marius at least. He was preparing to fire his gun when this happens and it’s like a ton of bricks falling on him. He doesn’t know what to do. What seemed so black and white: Catch the Murderous Bad Guys, now isn’t quite so clear. On one hand this is the man who saved his father. It must be, and Marius had dedicated himself to fulfilling his father’s wish to do service for this man. As if he was reading Marius’s mind, Thénardier confirms it by going on and on and on about that guy he saved at Waterloo, and he’s such a hero, and he’s really laying it on thick. It’s almost as if even he has forgotten that he was actually robbing the guy, wasn’t actually in the fight to begin with, and only saved Georges by pure happenstance.

Marius starts thinking that turning this dude in to Javert is going to dishonour his father’s memory and his wishes.  On the other, Cosette’s probably going to pretty upset with him if she ever finds out he let her father perish when he had the chance to save him. You know, if they ever meet and speak words to each other that is. What to do?

Whilst Marius is pondering over this, Thénardier is busy wildly threatening Valjean who is attempting to jump out the window but gets tied up to the bed instead. In the scuffle Boulatruelle gets knocked unconscious.

Thénardier is now going to dictate a letter for Valjean to write to Cosette, and Valjean reveals yet another alias: Urbain Fabre. So…is this a fake-out, or is this a new name he goes by? One that he presumably chose, so he didn’t have to buy all new monogrammed hankies? In any case, Valjean is steadfastly denying he even knows this girl Thenardier is talking about. (Marius realizes in this space that Ursula is definitely not the girl’s name and he’s been carrying the old man’s hankie over his heart this entire time.)

With the information had, Thénardier sends the wife off in a waiting carriage and proceeds to let Valjean in on his dastardly plan to make sure he pays up. If he has a mustache to go with his beard, he should probably be twirling it right about now.

The plan is to send his wife to fetch Cosette and keep her hidden away until Valjean pays up.  The note is so she will come willingly, and he can’t call the police because that will be the end of Cosette.

Eventually Thénardiess comes back only to reveal the address was fake and they’d never heard of this Urbain Fabre. Thénardier wants to know what Valjean hoped to gain by that and threatens him with the now sufficiently heated chisel he got from the hardware store earlier.

Time! Valjean says, because he is a super cool action hero with spiffy comebacks. He is now unbound! How did he manage to do that? Well, he keeps a coin with a hidden built in little saw for just such occasions, because of course he does. He is mostly free, but he can’t make a break for it just yet, because he’s still surrounded by bandits and one foot is still tied to the bed..

Meanwhile, despite death threats, bondage, and the possible kidnapping in progress of his lady love, Marius remains rooted to his spot at the peephole completely frozen and watching as Valjean’s situation gets more and more dire. To be fair, his reasoning for not firing the warning shot had shifted from the feeling of honor-bound duty to his father to concern for Cosette’s safety. Now that he knows she’s safe, he has a choice to make before someone gets killed.

He doesn’t want the old man to die, but he doesn’t want to betray his father, etc… This is when he spots the note that Eponine wrote that morning, cinematically lit up by a shaft of moonlight coming in through the window: The Cops Are Here. He wraps it up in a rock and when he thinks everybody is distracted, he pushes it through the peephole.

That is… Well, it’s a bit convenient that phrase is the one Eponine is most familiar writing, but that’s also actually a pretty clever way out of this moral dilemma. Of course it could all go terribly wrong anyway, but as it is, the bandits have come to the conclusion that they must all abscond through the window ASAP. All of them. Through the Window. They are busy wasting time deciding in which order the seven of them are going descend down the rope ladder that Thénardier had quickly attached to the sill. Thénardier thinks they’re being idiots as they try to decide whether or not to draw straws or put their names in a hat to decide who goes first. Inspector Javert, who had had enough of Marius’s dilly-dallying, makes his wolfy presence known by throwing the door open and offering his own hat.

Because he too is a super cool action hero with spiffy comebacks!

Javert only has to make his appearance and all the baddies in the room don’t even want to fuck with him. They just give right up. These guys are really failing at being murderous criminals right now. I know they’re outgunned and outnumbered by Javert’s crew, but aren’t they supposed to go out in a blaze of glory or at least attempt a halfhearted scuffle to save face or something? None of them even attempt a quick jump out the window or anything.

Javert on the other hand has apparently done a bang up job of instilling fear in the populous. He’s captured most of the leadership of Patron Minette, because all of them save Montparnasse had decided to all gather so conveniently in the same tiny room from which there is virtually no escaping for no reason.  Thénardier himself was wondering why so many of them showed up. Yes. Definitely some really spectacular villain failure happening here. Which is good for Javert, because he was getting zero help from his man on the inside. I bet this is probably the last time he entrusts crucial tactical decisions to a twenty something old dreamer with daddy issues, who is probably still frozen on top of his own dresser.

As for Valjean, he’s taken the window option himself in the confusion, because of course he did. This particular section is labeled: “The Victim’s Should Always be Arrested First”    Which definitely would have been a prudent move on Javert’s part. Can you imagine? Valjean would just be the icing on the Patron Minette cake.

Later, Gavroche–you remember Gavroche, right? He’s on his way to drop in on his family for the odd visit only to find out from the landlady that they’ve all been arrested.

And that is it for Vol. III: Marius (What Are You Doing????). Next time: It looks like we’ll learn more about historical context and Brujons!

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 / 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.