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 / MARIUS: 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

Marius: Book 5; Forever Alone (but not really)

Hey! You remember way back in the beginning of Marius’s book when we were talking about the gamins and Gavroche and the Jondrettes: his terrible family who live in Gorbeau house next door to this mysterious man of mystery and no money named M. Marius?

I know, it’s been a while. That was one heck of a flashback. Well, we have arrived back at that point. Marius has disembarked from his schmancy hotel room next door to his buddy Courfeyrac and somehow landed himself at Gorbeau house in a closet sized room with only the bare necessities. He has three shirts, and two suits, and eats one egg and a slice of bread for breakfast. This part really goes into great detail about how he parses out the little money he does have.

The point is Marius is poor now, and the only thing he has left is his pride and his bootstraps, which he has taken a couple years (I surmise because he’s twenty now and the last time we were given his age he was only eighteen) to successfully pull himself up by to the point where he is not living in a cardboard box or dying of starvation in the street or aimlessly riding around in a cab with no idea about what to do. Hell, he’s even loaned Courfeyrac some money at this point. He’s learned English and German and has his translating job for his coin, and by the way, Marius is a lawyer now. He has apparently completed his schooling on the subject. I still have to wonder how he managed to pay for school since he’s so adamant about not taking money from his grandpa. Did Grandpa G. just foot the bill anyway? Did you only have to pay once back then and take the classes then you were a lawyer? I guess I could research how law school at this time actually functioned, but… maybe later.

Anyway, Marius in his mule-like stubbornness is dead set still against taking money from Grandpa G….which still occasionally appears at his doorstep. How does this keep happening? I can’t imagine Marius left them a forwarding address at any point, so how does his aunt keep finding him when he doesn’t even know where he’s going half the time? She’s like the alumni association at my former school. I swear, I could have an unlisted, untraceable phone that I only use once to make outgoing calls before tossing it out for a new one and they would still find me. I only wish they were trying to give me money instead of asking for it.

Marius even refuses to run up any debt at all. Unheard of in the land of studentry! Good job, Marius. If it comes down to a choice between skipping a meal or taking out credit to eat, he’s going to go hungry that day. He doesn’t have much, but he’s making it work. I was totally wrong about this kid. He’s functioning just fine on his own. Let’s just hope he doesn’t get distracted into not paying rent again since Gorbeau house is apparently the only run down tenement in all of Paris.

Still he is Marius, and we know he takes things very seriously once he manages to get focused. (He still seems unapproachable because he doesn’t talk much and this serious demeanor of his.) He’s still in mourning for his dad. Is two entire years far past the appropriate mourning period for this time, or is it just me? Because that seems extreme. He won’t even go out in his dark green suit unless it’s nighttime, because it’s not black enough. He only has two suits, so I guess he doesn’t venture out in the daytime much. Maybe somewhere up in heaven Georges is looking down saying: I love you Marius, but that’s enough, son.

Well, if there’s one thing we can learn about Marius, it’s that there is literally nothing he can’t get obsessed over, including being poor. He’s a lawyer, but he doesn’t take any cases. He squeaks by translating things and not eating, and stops just short of doing enough work to make a decent living. He’d rather be free to while away his days thinking about stuff instead of being chained to a desk for the rest of his life being a slave to the wage.

That’s not the only thing he’s being obsessive about these days. He’s also desperate to find the Thénardiers, and he’s traveling all over France in a bid to accomplish this. Yes, he wants to find the man who saved his father from the battlefield that day and do whatever he can to help the guy just as it said in his father’s will. It is really killing me that Marius is so earnest and determined about this, knowing who and what Thénardier is. He even feels bad about the hard times these people have fallen upon since they lost their inn. He wonders how it is possible he can’t find this Thénardier anywhere in France when Thénardier was able to find his dad in the midst of bullets flying and people dying everywhere at Waterloo. It surprises me too considering how often the characters in this book keep stumbling into each other in the unlikeliest of places. If only he knew. If only he knew a couple things actually.

As for Les Amis and Enjolras, they get another mention as still being friendly with Marius, so he hasn’t completely cut ties with them to become a hermit. However, a couple sentences later we are being told that his friends are Courfeyrac and Mabeuf, so I guess these two are higher up on the friend chain than the rest of them, and Mabeuf ranks higher than Courfeyrac as far as who Marius would rather hang out with if he has to hang out with other people.

It is really not surprising that Marius prefers being around people decades older than he is though, is it? (especially ones that knew his father)

We have reached year three of Marius’s estrangement from his grandfather now. Neither one of them is willing to make an overture. Marius seems to be perfectly content in his solitary life as a pauper/lawyer and just assumes that Grandpa G. hates him and never wants to see him again. Grandpa G. has done absolutely nothing to make him think otherwise. If the text wasn’t telling me that all his cane waving angry talk was his crotchety old man way of loving his dear grandson then I’d think the guy hated him too. He misses Marius a lot, but is still unwilling to admit that to anybody.

Well, at least somebody does. The Elder has no thoughts about her nephew at all, but we all know who her fave “nephew” is, and it isn’t poor old (at heart) Marius. We will learn the extent of just how much of a non-entity Marius is to her later on in this chapter, but now…

Let us embark on another interlude and learn all about our favorite Church Warden, Mabeuf!

Mabeuf, we come to find, is a great fan of plants and a devoted book lover. He’s not really here for all this political biz. He doesn’t understand why men spend time hating each other over things like charters and monarchies and democracies, etc and so forth. There are too many plants to admire and books to read to be fussed with that stuff. If we are to describe him as any “ist” (because everybody is an ist of some sort), he is a Bookist. Bookist!? Where do I sign up for this party? He doesn’t want to be a useless old man, so he reads as much as he collects books, and admiring plants doesn’t stop him gardening, something he and Georges bonded over. Of course they did! It’s officially reached the point where all this good guy gardening hardly comes as a surprise anymore. He even combined his two passions and wrote a book about plants. He owns the plates himself, so up until the July Revolution in 1830, he had made quite a tidy living selling these books in addition to being a church warden. Turns out people aren’t too fond of spending their hard earned cash on things like flower books when there’s a revolution on.

A few more tidbits about Mabeuf, he’s a little gouty, a little arthritic, doesn’t like swords or guns, has a curé brother, white hair, and rather looks like an old sheep. His dream is to naturalize the indigo plant to France, and he doesn’t have friends aside from an old bookseller and the kid. He lets Marius hang around because young people are like a sunny day to help to warm up an old guy’s soul. (I never imagined being around Marius would ever be compared to a sunny day, but there you have it!)

As for Mabeuf’s personal life, well… He likes his books the way Grandpa G. loves the ladies. He has a housekeeper whom he calls Mother Plutarch. She’s an old cat lady who spends her free time collecting white caps and admiring her linens. Her cat’s name is Sultan. They have matching whiskers.

His brother, the curé, had died in 1830, and Mabeuf had fallen on hard times due to that whole revolution business. He had to move into a smaller place where the only people allowed to visit were Marius and the bookseller friend. How does the cat have a name, but not this book guy? Can I name him Gui de Books from now on? (My spell check thinks I’m trying to spell guidebooks! Wow, pun not intended!)

As for Marius, we learn he likes Courfeyrac well enough, but he goes out of his way to visit Mabeuf. Only once or twice a month though. I guess Marius might turn into a pumpkin if he has too much human contact. (Hey, if that happens, he can wear one of those melon jackets!)  Most of the time he just walks around alone and admires gardens. Once, he spent half an entire hour in a vegetable patch…looking at cabbages and chickens and a manure pile or some such. I was wondering when Marius was going to start his transition into an old man with a garden. This is how it begins!

He has mellowed out with his political opinions during this time, so I guess he isn’t going to be climbing up on his soapbox and extolling the virtues of Napoleon in front of unreceptive audiences anymore? We also learn that Marius did have a reason for choosing the Gorbeau house, a place he stumbled upon during one of his walks. He likes the solitude and the price. Somehow, despite having a limited amount of friends and preferring to hang out with himself forever alone, staring at plants, he does get invited to parties with old military friends of his father’s that he’s met around town. He only goes out when the ground his frozen, though, because he can’t go out to these fancy parties with dirty shoes (scandal!) and he can’t afford the cab to keep his feet out of the mud. That’s really got to limit his social engagements, doesn’t it? He only goes out at night when the ground is frozen?

One more incident regarding Marius before we move on. One day he came home to his room at the Gorbeau house and the landlady/housekeeper person tells him that she’s going to kick the Jondrettes out of the house because they’re two months behind on rent. Marius hardly pays attention to these people to even know who they are, but he he pays for their rent + five extra francs with almost his entire cache of rainy day money anyway with the provision that they never know it was him that did the good deed. You are being far too kind, Marius. Really.

Meanwhile, at the Gillenormand pad, the Elder is hatching her own nefarious plot. What could she be planning? Well, guess who’s regiment is now stationed in Paris? You should be guessing Théodule because he’s the only military man we know that’s still alive. Stationed in Paris? I have a sinking feeling about this turn of events. As for the Elder and her grand scheme, she thinks if she can get Grandpa G. and his nephew together then maybe Théodule could take the place of Marius in the household or something. She wants to exchange the Lawyer for the Lieutenant. Man, is it just me, or does Mlle. here have quite a thing for her distant relative? Of course, he is the only dude that’s ever kissed her apparently, and he has the shiniest of mustaches, so I guess I can see the attraction. You don’t just replace Marius, though! C’mon, lady! Clearly he is a special boy that cannot be replicated.

As for Grandpa G. he doesn’t even know who Théodule is. Does he just not care to know, or is he having a senior moment? He’s got to be a hundred years old by now, so who knows. The Elder reminds him and then coaches Théodule for the imminent meeting by telling him to just agree with everything that comes out of the old man’s mouth.

Grandpa G. spends the entire meeting ranting and raving about those damn kids on his lawn. His Royalist leaning newspaper has told him that the students are preparing to have a debate about the National Guard artillery, but he doesn’t think it’s something to be debated. The King’s military can do no wrong, so there’s no need to discuss it. How dare they! He presumes Marius is going to be there, since he’s a student; and in addition to being generally irritated with kids these days, he’s particularly perturbed by that ungrateful grandson of his going off to be a republican.

Théodule dutifully agrees with Grandpa G.’s every crazy old man opinion, and gets called a fool for his efforts. Can anybody win with Grandpa G.?  The magic 8 ball says: Very Doubtful.

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Dak Reads Les Misérables / MARIUS: Book 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is is called Monsieur Marius.

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

Dak Reads Les Misérables / COSETTE: Book 4


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

BOOK 4:  Valjean and Cosette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It IS Javert!

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

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

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