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 1 and 2


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


Fantine: Book 1:
In Which the Bishop of Digne is Awesome!!!

In which M. Myriel goes to Italy in his youth comes back a priest, and basically proceeds to be the best guy to ever walk the planet. We learn about all of his good works — All of the them. He lives with his sister, Mademoiselle Baptistine, and her maid, Madame Magloire. Also, he only has 11 movable chairs…and the only luxury item he owns is some silverware. I have a feeling this might be of some importance later on.

 

Fantine: Book 2: Jean Valjean is Redeemed

 

In which Jean Valjean can’t catch a break. As soon as he steps into town everybody knows he’s a dangerous convict. Seriously. I guess gossip has had a way of travelling like wildfire since the dawn of time. As soon as he attempts to grab a bite to eat with legit money, he’s turned out on the street and everybody and their brother knows he’s a con. (Valjean can’t even get a job without being cheated out of half his due pay. He should have applied at the Wendy’s I used to work at.)

Finally, after wandering in, out, and around town for a while and getting pelted by rocks, some lady who has somehow managed to not hear the news happens upon him. She directs him to the Bishop’s house, and ValJean accepts some ₣₣₣₣₣₣s from her before he goes.

Meanwhile, the Bishop’s sister and maid are making a case for putting locks back on the doors, because even they have heard the news that there’s some dangerous dude lurking around town. The Bishop, of course, is unconcerned, because God will take care of everything. I mean, I can’t really blame the guy…he travels through bandit infested mountains and the bandits actually return some of their ill gotten gains to him. He’s that good. Seriously, though, where do I sign up to go to this guy’s church?

In any case, this important conversation about security is interrupted by Jean ValJean himself, looking scary and famished. He blurts out his entire post-parol tribulations in one big long stream, having given up on trying to get by without mentioning it since everybody already seems to know. It’s almost funny in a “Here’s a laundry list of shit I’ve been through, go ahead and do your worst!” kind of way. Y’know, if it wasn’t such a downer.

The Bishop surprises him by welcoming him and treating him as any other guest anyway and instructs the ladies to set the table for company, full silver and all.

Later, as it turns out, they have set ValJean up to sleep in a room that can only be accessed through the Bishop’s room.  The ladies are duly worried that this arrangement can only lead to tears somehow, but the Bishop is again unconcerned.  ValJean manages to peep where all that silverware is kept in a cupboard next to the Bishop’s bed. We can see where this is going, right?

We learn a little bit about how ValJean came to be in this situation in the first place. He once made a legitimate living by pruning hedges, a job his father before him held. He had to take care of his sister who had lost a husband and had seven children to take care of, so he basically had no time for anything except working. One hard winter, when there was no work, he stole that infamous loaf of bread.

He was caught, literally red handed after cutting up his hand on the window pane that he broke with his fist. It was the desperate act of a desperate man at a desperate time, and he pretty much acknowledges that all of this could have been avoided if he’d A. asked for the bread, or B. just waited things out. He knows he just made things worse, and all the time he spent in jail only heard about the fate of his sister once. So, he only got five years for breaking and entering an occupied house, and had subsequent years tacked on for trying to escape (four times in all). Which he also knew was only making things worse, but at that point it was reflexive. When it was his turn to make a break for freedom, he was going to take it.

And this is how Jean ValJean spent nineteen years in prison for stealing some bread. (We also learn that he spent his time there being super strong, scaling walls, and getting a bit of an education.) In summary, he was not quite an innocent basket of puppies, but definitely felt unjustly persecuted for his crimes. Prison hardened him and instilled a hatred for man in him that was honed to a sharp point by the time he came to the Bishop’s house. So, in the middle of the night he absconds with the silver, which was worth twice as much as all the money he had earned in prison over all those years. I’m not quite sure if we’re meant to believe he actually contemplated doing the Bishop in at that point, because there’s a long passage about how benevolent and glowing with the light of God the Bishop looks when the clouds part and the moonlight crosses over his face as he sleeps while ValJean stands over him with some kind of heavy tool that sounds like it could easily be a weapon. (Which he then uses to pry open the Silver cupboard.)

In any case, the ladies are in a flutter over the stolen silverware the next morning. The Bishop remains unconcerned and makes inquiries about what other forms of cutlery they have. He is possibly the chillest dude ever, and does a little contemplation of his own.  Does the silver really belong to them and not the poor in the first place? Either way, ValJean is caught in short order and returned to the Bishop’s doorstep in the clutches of some gendarmes so they can get the real story.

I think what we can take away from this chapter is that ValJean is the worst at escaping. He should really rethink that strategy.

The Bishop welcomes his return by claiming that ValJean had forgotten the last, and most expensive, of the silver — the candlesticks. He hands them over and manages to confuse and astound everybody with this gesture.

With his story that the Bishop had given him the silver confirmed, the gendarmes have no reason to hold ValJean. He is released, and the Bishop sends him on his way having purchased his soul for God.

So, Jean ValJean wanders on his way down the road extremely conflicted about this massive influx of kindness toward him after nineteen+ years of terribleness from all corners of life. As he’s sitting there thinking about all this shit, in a sort of ‘too much good all at once’ shock, a boy comes down the road tossing some coins up in the air. He drops one near ValJean and once again the reflexes of a hardened man kick in and he steps on the coin, so the kid can’t get it. He doesn’t respond even when the kid begs for it back, and the boy eventually runs away crying.

Later, ValJean lifts his foot, spies the coin, and realizes what he’s done. He goes down the road shouting the boy’s name, Petit Gervais, but doesn’t find him anywhere. When he comes to a fork in the path (Nope, no symbolism here. None.) he has a total emotional breakdown right there in the middle of the road. It’s the first time he’s shed a tear in nineteen years.