Dak Reads Les Misérables / FANTINE: 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.

BOOK 8: Javert Gets His Man…for a second

Somehow I forgot to mention that this whole ordeal in the last chapter has turned Valjean’s hair completely white. Yep, that is a thing that has happened. He hitches a ride on the mail cart after he evades authorities by…continuing on about his business as planned, because they’re too busy trying to figure out what the hell just happened to arrest him. (The Mayor has gone mad is still a popular opinion) They’re still attempting to finish the trial anyway, and we’re going to recap that even though we learned what happened to Champmathieu in the last chapter already.

The prosecution still tries to go get Champmathieu convicted, but the defense has been handed a massive gift horse that the judge and jury just can’t ignore. Champmathieu is acquitted, and a warrant is sent out for Jean Valjean aka M. Madeline.

They have to send it by special courier so it will make it to Montrieul Sur Mer and Javert before Valjean can get away. So, I guess he could have avoided all of what happens next if he’d just not gone back there, but he still has some things to take care of. Also, I don’t think he’s actually trying to avoid anything anyway. He did really try his best to get arrested back in Arras.

In any case, Valjean makes it there slightly ahead of the order for his arrest. He goes home where he learns of Fantine’s poor state the night before, and that Sister Simplice let her believe that Cosette was on the way and how it made her feel better. He thinks it’s for the best. She’s surprised to find that his hair has turned completely white.

He asks to see Fantine, and Sister Simplice doesn’t think this is the best idea, since Cosette isn’t with him after all. She thinks maybe if he takes a few days to go and get her that it would be for the best. Fantine won’t know the difference, and it will make her happy. That way she won’t have to lie again.

Lie or not, Sister is getting adept at this deception thing.

And it would be a fine enough plan, if Valjean wasn’t about to get arrested at any moment. This is what he’s worried about, and he wants to see Fantine before he goes. Sister Simplice acquiesces to his request, and he finds Fantine. She’s happy to see him and is already in quite a state, thinking that Cosette is there. She’s happy that she’s going to get to see her daughter, and the sound of a different child playing outside has her convinced that the happy reunion is moments away. Valjean is talking to her, trying to stall the best he can when she sits straight up in bed, terrified, staring at a spot beyond him like she’s seen a ghost. Or a monster. Or a monster ghost.

What is so frightful that could make Fantine react like this?

It’s Javert standing in the doorway. Hand in coat, he seems outwardly chill about this whole thing, but if you’re a close personal friend of Javert (I would like to know who these close personal friends of Javert’s are) you can tell that he’s super keyed up right now and not quite as cool as he’s acting. How can you tell?

The buckle on his collar is on the side by his ear and not in the back where it should be. Just taking this moment to profess my love for Javert and how he expresses emotion through buckle location here. (Also, I’ve attempted to look up what exactly a collar buckle is, and I think it’s referring to a stock buckle, because that actually makes sense in this context.) He is just really pleased with himself for being vindicated after all those years of suspicions and trying to catch the Mayor at being Valjean. Not even the fact that he testified about the wrong man’s identity in front of God and everybody can put a damper on the fact that he’s finally got his guy. He’s gone so far to the left of being pleased with his rightness that he’s dancing on the wrong side of it and is getting a bit scary in the process.

He’s left some soldiers out in the courtyard and hasn’t come in guns blazing or anything. He just grabs Valjean by the collar, tells him to hurry up, without showing a warrant or anything. Javert don’t need no warrants when he’s this right, I guess.

Valjean, much to Fantine’s extreme distress, hangs his head and doesn’t attempt to break Javert’s hold on him. She doesn’t know how this could be; as far as she’s concerned the Mayor is her savior, and Javert can’t hurt her as long as he’s there. Javert, on the other hand is the monster that tried to put her away for defending herself. She’s really confused, because up until that point, she’d thought the Inspector had come for her.

Valjean would be ready to go, resigned to his fate, but there’s one thing he wants to take care of first. He asks Javert for a moment to speak to him alone.

Javert is having none of this. Whatever Valjean has to say, he can say it in front of everybody. So, he has no choice but to ask, out loud, in front of Fantine, for those three days to go fetch Cosette and bring her back. Then he’ll turn himself in. He even offers to let Javert accompany him.

Now, I know we all want to see Fantine and Cosette reunited, and we’re rooting for Valjean, because he’s turned his life around after prison messed him all up, but… Javert isn’t doing anything wrong here, and this is a totally insane request from his point of view or any policeman’s point of view, really. At least if they’re not terrible at their job. There’s absolutely no reason to think that Valjean isn’t just going to take off, never to be seen again. He’s escaped before, several times. The fact that he’s repeatedly been caught at it doesn’t seem to be a deterrent. Javert is absolutely not going to grant this request. I can’t really blame him.

Well if you weren’t able to tell Javert’s current state of agitation by the location of his buckle before, then you will be able to now because he’s not being very subtle about it anymore. He’s pretty much howling in disbelief that a convict would ask such a thing of him. He denounces this town were convicts can be mayor, and calls Fantine a whore for good measure. Way harsh, Javert.

Javert is just getting increasingly excited this whole time. When Fantine cries out for the mayor, Javert silences her, grabs Valjean by the collars again and goes off on this rant about Valjean and convicts and there is no mayor. I have this mental picture of Javert bouncing around the room, arms flailing in triumph shouting something like: I got him! Valjean, that dastardly criminal is mine at last! Woohoo! Javert, for the win!

As for poor Fantine, she has now been alerted to the truth. The mayor is a former convict, Cosette is not there, and nobody’s going to get her. Thanks a bunch, Inspector. She sits up in bed again; a spectre of herself. With all this terrible news hitting her all at once, she finally gives in, and with one last breath, she is gone.

This tragic turn of events causes Valjean to lose patience. He easily pries Javert’s hand from his collar, because the only reason Javert held onto him at all was because he was allowing it. Valjean walks over to the the fire place to grab some kind of big ole metal rod thing and warns Javert that he’d better not try anything. Javert does not, which is probably a wise choice.

He returns to Fantine’s bedside and arranges her on the pillow. she looks at peace for the first time in a very long time. He whispers something in her ear that later Sister Simplice swears caused a smile to cross the dead woman’s lips.

When Valjean is finished at Fantine’s bedside he gives himself over to Javert’s custody.

As we well know by now, gossip travels here and in the wink of an eye the entire town has turned against the former mayor despite all the awesome things he’s done for everybody. Its like a game of telephone when they talk of his real identity: “Béjean”, “Bojean”, “Bonjean”…(Bonjovi?) There are only three people who are still on Valjean’s side. Any guesses?

If you guessed the sisters and his concierge/servant (who, as it turns out, is a woman. I don’t know how that escaped me before.) you would be right.

Later as the concierge is getting ready for the night, she finds a key removed from its peg. Where has it gone? Well, Jean Valjean has escaped from prison again and has sneaked back into his former residence for unfinished biz. Can I just say that I quite enjoy that Valjean did not, in fact, escape from Javert right there at Fantine’s bedside. He actually broke out of jail AGAIN. (Fifth time’s a charm??? Countdown to recapture starts now.) Of course, if they put the many awesome things that happen in this book into the film/stage adaptations we’d be sitting there for a month. The first chapter alone would take a week, although I would look forward to the song about the bandits returning their stolen goods to the Bishop, and the one about his thirteen chairs. Somebody make it happen.

Here Valjean actually prefers not to visit Fantine, because he doesn’t want to disturb her just in case he gets arrested in her presence again. Instead he asks for the concierge to fetch Sister Simplice, who is holding vigil over Fantine with Sister Perpétua and to meet him in his room.

Since they’re all still friends there, she only questions how he’s not in jail right now. He tells her the story which involves removing a metal bar and dropping off a roof. Ain’t no big thing. Once Sister Simplice arrives, he hands over a note. It’s instructions for his money to be given to the Curé to be divided up to pay for his trial, Fantine’s funeral, and the poor. No sooner does he do this than there are some noises out in the hallway. Valjean goes to hide in a corner.

It’s Javert and some henchmen coming around like a herd of elephants. He demands entrance despite the concierge’s protestations, because he saw a light in the window.

Javert is chastened when he barges in and finds Sister Simplice praying instead of the Valjean he is expecting. Now, Javert is a man who believes in authority, and the clergy and the nuns, etc…etc… are right on up there.  As far as he is concerned these men and women of God are above reproach.  Particularly Sister Simplice, because it is well known that she just never ever ever ever lies.

So, when he asks if Jean Valjean is there (he is) and she says without hesitation that he’s not, Javert believes her.

And when he asks if Valjean had been there at all that night and she says “no”, he believes her.

Dang, Sister Simplice! Look at you, aiding and abetting!

Javert leaves empty handed, and Valjean heads off into the night in the direction of Paris.

Later, the Curé decides that he’s going to allocate most of Valjean’s money to the poor, and gives Fantine the cheapest burial available…in a common grave. If you don’t know what that is: Here. And join me in feeling extremely horrible and sad about this final turn of events in Fantine’s story.

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 his spirit animal is 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 4


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

BOOK 4: The Sergeant of Waterloo

In which we meet the Thénardiers. They own an inn outside of Paris in Montfermeil. It is called the Sergeant of Waterloo for reasons. We will get to the reasons later on, I’m told, so hold that thought! There’s some sort of broken down vehicle in front of the place. It is described in great detail, but I think the main point is that it is huge and rusty. So, what better to do with a huge hunk of rusty machinery than to play on it?

At least that’s what the Thénardier girls are doing at the moment. They are on a makeshift swing that their mother is pulling them on as she sits nearby.

That is the scene when Fantine stumbles by. She has decided that she can’t stay in Paris any longer, and she’s on her way to her old hometown Montreuil Sur Mer to look for work. She lost all her friends in the aftermath of Tholomyès little joke, and then, having gotten used to the life she’d been living with him, she let her opportunities pass her by. I guess that means she could not / would not get work as a seamstress anymore. So, Fantine is jobless and friendless and the only thing she has in the world is her baby girl, having sold all her fine clothes to pay her debt.

(PS: In case you are wondering what happens to Felix before he is never spoken of again, he becomes a fat country lawyer.)

On her way to Montreuil sur Mer, Fantine sees Thénardier there with her kids, who are looking happy and well taken care of. Introductions are made and all three kids begin playing together. They look like they could be sisters, and this sparks an idea in Fantine.

She doesn’t think the child is going to make the journey, and offers to pay the Thénardiers to watch dear little Cosette for her. Cosette’s real name is Euphrasie. Fantine just calls her Cosette, and so shall we all for the rest of time. Nicknames, such weird things, incomprehensible even to Etymologists. Anyway, she pretty much thinks this will be a great arrangement, because in the two seconds she’s known Thénardier, the lady seems like a great mom, and Cosette is so happy playing around with the other kids.

Fantine is a terrible judge of character. The Thénardiers are actually the worst.

After  Thénardier and her husband haggle a bunch of money out of Fantine, they come to an agreement. A few Francs a week and all of Cosette’s fabulous clothes, of course. Fantine leaves her daughter in their care, but all is not candy and roses.

The Thénardier’s price keeps increasing steadily over the years, and their treatment of Cosette is downright abusive. (Actual bad guys alert) The poor kid is made to work, wear hand-me-down rags because they pawn off her clothes, and she eat scraps in the corner with the dog and the cat. I’ll point out now that Cosette is only between 2 and 5 years old during this time, and all of Thénardier’s negative attentions rain down on her in the forms of yelling or beating or whatever. The Mother pretty much hates the girl since any attention, even the negative attention she gets is something taken away from her own daughters, who she adores. And the Daughters, Azelma and Èponine? Well, they treat Cosette like crap too, because they’re just following the leader.

Eventually, Fantine falls behind in her payments to them as they extort more and more money out of her.

The people of the town think the Thénardiers are great people for taking the child in, and that Fantine had abandoned her. The people in town are also bad judges of character.