Dak Reads Les Misérables / MARIUS: Book 1


About: Dak reads Les Misérables and recaps it here, so that she may better retain the information. Things not to expect: deep literary analysis. Things to expect: Spoilers. All the spoilers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paris does more than lay down the law; it lays down the fashion; Paris does more than lay down the fashion; it lays down the routine. Paris can be stupid if it likes; sometimes it indulges in this luxury , and the whole universe is stupid along with it. Then Paris wakes up, rubs its eyes and says, “Am I ever stupid!” and burst out laughing in the face of mankind.
Go Home, Paris. You’re drunk.

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

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

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

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

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

He is is called Monsieur Marius.

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