Dak Reads Les Misérables / COSETTE: Book 1


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

BOOK 1: A Little History

We are now on Part 2 of the story, called “Cosette”. I thought we were starting out with Jean Valjean coming across Hougoumont, because I just assume any unknown person wandering around is Jean Valjean at this point, but no, it’s the author of this story, who is now going to tell us all about a certain battle.

Hougoumont, If you are unfamiliar, is a farm in Waterloo. You’ve probably heard of it. If you don’t know how that all went down, aside from the fact that Napoleon lost a battle there once in such spectacular fashion that it is still, nearly 200 years later, synonymous with crushing defeat… I am now going to suggest you go either: A. Read up on the battle in your History books or B. Read Hugo’s prose yourself or C. Do Both, because this battle is exactly what the first part of this chapter is about, and I think me filtering that information is probably as useless as me making a laundry list of all the Bishop’s good works that were mentioned in the opening of the book. Just for a little perspective though, Waterloo took place around the time Fantine first hooked up with Felix if he was dumping her in 1817.

A couple of random notes:

Every time Blücher’s name makes an appearance my brain’s Pavlovian response is to hear horses whinnying.

I did not think I was going to have to use the dead horse tag this many times.

Anyway, the author finally gets back to details of the actual story he’s telling in the very last part of this chapter.

There are men who follow along behind these armies for the purpose of looting the corpses after the battles have taken their tolls. This particular night Wellington (the English General) has ordered these thieves executed.

One if them is skulking around near the sunken road when something in the moonlight catches his eye. It is a gold ring. He lifts the ring from the corpse and turns away, but finds he is held in place by a hand grabbing onto his cape.

He ends up clearing everything away from the hand and there is an unconscious man underneath.  He has a gash from a sabre across his face and the way he had fallen happened to keep him from getting trampled as many others had.

The thief proceeds to rob him of all his money and his Legion of Honour medal while he is passed out. All this rifling around on his person does eventually wake him up though.

He thanks this man who has stolen all his stuff, and asks who won the battle. He gets the news that it was the English, and then proceeds to attempt to offer the thief all the money that was just stolen.  The wounded man assumes he has already been robbed by somebody else and is not in the process of being robbed at this very moment.

Meanwhile, there are men on watch, looking out for these crooks and one is approaching, so the thief lies to the wounded man and tells him, although he is a fellow soldier, he must go lest he be shot.

The fallen soldier asks after his rank and his name. He gives the rank sergeant, and as for his name?

It’s Thénardier!

Now you know why the Thénardier’s inn is named what it is named. That was an awful lot of words to get to that payoff.

And the wounded Soldier? Well, he’s going to remember Thénardier as the man who saved his life. This soldier’s name is Pontmercy.

You should probably hang onto that piece of information too. Just sayin’.

Dak Reads Les Misérables / 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 3


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


Book 3:
In Which We Are Introduced to Fantine and her Posse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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