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 if he were an animal, he would be 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 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.