Dak Reads Les Misérables / FANTINE: Book 7


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 7: Remember That Guy Who Stole That Bread?

So, now we are going to learn about some events in which nobody really actually knows exactly how or what happened. They must, however be described in very great detail anyway. This is not conjecture on my part due to the verbosity of previous chapters…that is the actual text in the first paragraph. So, let’s get detailed all up in these mysterious events! Settle in!

Fantine has two caretakers in the infirmary, Sister Perpetue and Sister Simplice. To Sister Perpetue being a nun was just a job. Apparently for many this is the case these days. It just seems like the thing to do. Sister Simplice on the other hand was devout, pure and good, fragile in appearance, but strong, neither young nor old, and above everything else she cannot tell a lie.

Let me stress this, because apparently it is something that needs stress: No lies detected. Lying is not within this woman’s capabilities. Never shall her pants be alight. I have some foreshadowy feelings right now.

In any case, Fantine is still dying and waiting for Cosette. She’s not getting better. M. Madeline comes to visit her everyday to reassure her. She no longer hates his guts, and his visits are now the highlight of her days. She asks for Cosette, he says soon, my heart breaks a little, because there is no Cosette forthcoming and Fantine is fading fast.

Later, M. Madeline goes to see a man about a horse. He is really careful to avoid the door to the rectory and the curé that lives inside for some reason. I wonder why? Anyway, he needs a horse that can travel an exactly calculated distance in a short time at a fast clip without dropping dead in the street as horses are apparently wont to do in these days. M. Scaufflaire, the horse renting dude, has the perfect candidate, but he has all sorts of provisions that Madeline must follow if he’s going to be working the poor thing that hard. After haggling for a while, Madeline procures the ride which will arrive early the next morning to his place of residence.

M. Scaufflaire and his wife have a little back and forth about where the mayor is going in such a big hurry, because of course they do. Everybody talks about everybody’s business here, don’t they? She thinks he’s off to Paris naturally, but he has the exact distances that Madeline outlined for him. He’s going to Arras, which just so happens to be the place Champmathieu is being tried.

Meanwhile, Madeline avoids the rectory again on the way back and returns to his room where, according to the dude who lives below him, he paces back and forth all night long.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, we’re just going to spell it out for you right now that Champmathieu is not the ValJean they are looking for. M. Madeline is indeed the Jean Valjean of legend, and right now he’s having a massive internal crisis over what he should do with the info that Javert has just laid upon him. It’s the reason he avoided the rectory earlier in the afternoon. He was hoping he had left Jean Valjean behind him for good.

He vacillates between the two options: A. Turn himself in and B. Do nothing.

First he thinks he ought to do nothing because clearly God wanted Champmathieu to go to prison in his place, and who is he to go against God?

After that he thinks he should turn himself in, because to remain hidden and let this other man take the fall for him would be a crime unto itself, and it would undo all the good he’s done in his life after turning over his new leaf. He could either be a good devout man in public but secretly a sketchy bad dude or vice versa.

Then he thinks of Fantine and everybody else in town. what would happen to all of them if he goes back to the slammer? And, I mean, Champmathieu was born with his face after all, and he did steal those apples, didn’t he? So he should be going to jail anyway. Of course there is a world of difference between a while in Jail for a first time apple stealing offence and the remainder of life on the chain gang for breaking parole and stealing from a chimney sweep.

He decides again that it would probably be best for everyone if he just let nature take its course and stay put instead of going to confess his identity. So, he opens up a secret cupboard where he has been keeping all remnants of his former life. His old walking stick is there, his old convict clothes are there. That 40 sou piece he stole from the chimney sweep is there. He throws all that in the fire. All vestiges of Jean Valjean are gone, save one… The Bishop’s candlesticks. The most valuable of all the silver and the only pieces that Valjean did not sell. He has kept them as a sort of souvenir, to remember his goal to turn his life around. He can’t decide whether or not he wants to pitch those into the flame as well. You see, he’s only had two goals since he came to that crossroads those years ago: #1 Live his life as a better man, doing good works and such. He’s basically been following in the Bishop’s footsteps all this time. and #2 Self preservation, and he’s been willing to sacrifice #2 for #1 in the past. See: going into mourning for the Bishop, and keeping his candlesticks on full display in his room instead of hiding them away with the rest of his past, and lifting that cart off Fauchelevent despite Javert standing around practically calling him out right there.

It is at this point while he’s pondering the melting point of silver that he hears voices. They might be the voices of his conscious at work, which I imagine sound like a certain Bishop, telling him that it’s wrong to let an innocent man take the fall for something he didn’t do. And his mind continues to go around and around in these circles all night long.

Madeline remains undecided until 5am when the cart arrives. He does manage to write a letter to his banker and get a wink of sleep in which he has an insane dream during this long night of reflection. He writes down the dream so we can relive it in vivid detail, because these are the most detailed events that nobody knows about ever:

He’s walking around chatting with his brother that he hasn’t thought about in ages in a place that he thinks might be Romainville by way of a desert road. They’re talking about a neighbor that used to leave her window open, because that is the sort of thing that happens in dreams. It is probably symbolic in some way that I can’t parse right now. There’s also a hairless grey skull man riding a brown horse that doesn’t talk to them. The brother disappears and leaves Valjean in this mysterious town with mysterious men around every corner who just stare at him and don’t answer his questions about where he is.

He decides to leave this city, and as he’s out walking in the fields he realizes that all these men are following him. They overtake and surround him and tell him that he’s been dead for a while. When he tries to speak they have all disappeared.

He wakes up in a kind of daze to the coach waiting for him. His one and only servant comes to get him. He’s really confused at first until he gets his bearings back and he decides to go ahead to Arras.

He takes off out of town at quite the pace, according to the guy delivering mail…a process which is described in great detail down to the color of the mail cart and when the mail is delivered. M. Madeline is a man with a purpose! He brushes by the mail cart on his way, and he stops at the agreed upon intervals to rest his horse, and doesn’t realize that he’s been running on a broken wheel the whole time until a wheelwright there happens to notice and inform him that he was lucky to make it as far as he had.

M. Madeline attempts to get the wheelwright to fix the wheel, but he’s told it will take the rest of the day, but it’s alright, he can make it to Arras in the morning. Of course, this won’t do, because the trial is supposed to be that day. Madeline then tries to buy a whole new wheel, but he can’t drive on mismatched wheels. He tries to buy two new wheels, but they won’t fit on the axle on his particular cart. He tries to buy a whole cart, but all the available carts are too heavy for his poor horse that is really tired already. The wheelwright isn’t going to rent him a new one either, because he’s worried about what condition they might come back in judging by Madeline’s current horse and cart situation.

I’m really worried about this horse at this point, and also wondering why Madeline just doesn’t buy a riding horse from someone since he’s flinging money around for carts and wheels all over anyway. (In retrospect, a day after reading this I realize that he can’t ride his current horse because Scaufflaire specifically mentioned that this speedy creature doesn’t like riders. It likes pulling the cart though.) In any case, he’s actually really rather grateful to be running up against all these obstacles, because the longer he’s delayed the less he has to confess his Valjeanness to the world. He’s just about ready to feel relieved about the situation when he’s accosted by another citizen who just so happen to have a rickety old cart he could use.

Oh, well.

On the road again. Eventually his new cart is too rickety and his horse too tired to go the final miles which have increased because of road construction and he now would have to navigate a new route through unknown country in the dark. Once again the townsfolk try to convince him to stay the night, and again he tries his best to continue on his way, because if he tried his best then at least he can get a gold star for trying. He considers that maybe God is trying to tell him that he shouldn’t be going to Arras after all, but he manages to procure a new cart, a supplementary horse to help pull it, and even a guide to help him on his way. He makes it to the trial by 8 o’clock. He thinks maybe they have finished and he missed it, because he’s really late and his trip took ten more hours than he was expecting it to take. He asks after the verdict and someone happily tells him that it was an easy guilty call.

He’s sort of relieved until he finds out that it was the trial before Champmathieu that’s being referred to. A woman, an infanticide. Open and shut. The guy he’s talking to seems to think the apple stealing, chimney sweep robbing, former convict case will be just as easy, but that trial is still ongoing.

At first they won’t let Madeline into the trial, but he calls on his mayoral renown to get a seat in the packed room. He’s still roiling in his internal conflict and very nearly runs away, but he’s drawn back and takes his seat in the poorly lit room where he can see what is going on, but they can’t really see him.

I would like to take this moment to point out that jerk, Bamatabois, is a juror in this trial. If you don’t remember, he’s the fierce mustache that Fantine almost got arrested for attacking. I wonder if he just randomly keeps popping up everywhere for no reason.

Anyway, there Madeline finds himself, facing himself in the form of Champmathieu who is quite bewildered at the whole situation and denying everything, even his ‘name’, because it’s not his name. We know that, of course, but everybody else is quite convinced otherwise, what with so many witnesses including one Inspector of unimpeachable moral character. Madeline spies his former convict buddies, but he can’t see Javert anywhere even though he knows the Inspector is supposed to be there testifying. Right now Champmathieu is only being charged for the apples, which they’re only certain he stole because he’s this former convict. Otherwise there is no proof. If they prove he’s Jean Valjean then that is enough. He’ll be tried for the other things (the parole breaking and chimney sweep robbing) at a later time, and the punishment will be much harsher for being a second time offender.

Well, what’s a mayor to do now? He’s had every obstacle thrown in front of him, and here he is facing his fate anyhow. Maybe God is trying to tell him something after all, but it’s not the thing he wanted to hear.

Meanwhile, Fantine is in a terrible state. She’s withering away and her illness has made her old. She’s weak and watching the click for any sign of M. Madeline, but we know he is off carting himself to Arras at this point.

In fact the sisters have only just found out from the servant guy that Madeline is gone out and they have no idea where to. So what to tell Fantine when the time of Madeline’s regular visit has come and gone and still there is no sign of him?

This is where Sister Simplice’s lie comes in.

It’s pretty much a lie of omission for not telling Fantine everything about M. Madeline’s trip…not that she knows much to tell. She lets Fantine believe that he has gone to Montfermeil to fetch Cosette and she’ll be there in the morning. This thought makes Fantine’s spirits soar. Where she was tired and haggard before, she is now bright and alert.

Oh, Fantine.

As we know, Madeline has actually gone in the opposite direction from Paris. He’s still watching Champmathieu denying any wrongdoing over in Arras. The poor old guy denies even stealing the apples! He claims to have found the branch lying on the ground, and he’s never heard of this Jean Valjean character.

In the face of these denials, the witnesses are called again. Except for Javert. The reason Madeline hasn’t spotted him isn’t because he’s lurking somewhere in a dark corner, but he had to return to work.

His previous testimony is read aloud, where he recounts his time working at Toulon and seeing Valjean there, and his suspicion that Valjean did steal the silver despite what the Bishop told the gendarmes, and of course the matter of the forty sous.

Then the convicts are paraded in one by one. They can’t be sworn in officially, but they testify to Champmathieu’s identity as well.

So the trial is about to end and poor Champmathieu is pretty much a goner at this point despite his only crime being nothing actually, when there is a cry from Madeline as he enters the courtroom floor. Gasps of surprise from Bamatabois and all around.

Madeline reveals himself as the real Jean Valjean right there at the last possible second. The judge wants him to be taken into medical care because clearly he has come down with a case of the crazies. Nobody believes his confession. He even confesses to the silver theft and wishes Javert was there, because Javert would believe him for sure.

I’m not gonna lie, I wish Javert was there too. I’m sure the look on his face would be priceless.

Madeline finally has to prove himself by revealing details about his convict buddies that only the real Valjean would know.

In the end Champmathieu is found not guilty and Valjean walks right out because everybody’s too stunned to do anything about it. Where’s a wolf puppy when you need one!

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.