Sunday, January 27, 2013

He Spent a Summer By My Side, But He Was Gone When Autumn Came

A nice classic cover,
perfect for the section
about cads and prostitutes.
Wooo! - this gets me to 10% completion on this novel. I'm almost as happy as when I'm on the elliptical and it lets me know I'm at 80% completion of my workout. 

Here we are, 3 books into Volume 1: Fantine of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, and finally we meet Fantine. For those of you following along with your cast albums, we've had the Prologue (without Javert's bit), What Have I Done?, and after this Book, more detail about the "when I was young and unafraid" parts of I Dreamed a Dream

Book Third - In the Year 1817
We meet four young bucks about town - Parisian students, living the high life, which, naturally, includes even younger women to keep them company. Well, first you have to get through a chapter of historical context, but let's bypass that and go straight to the people behaving badly part of things, shall we? (Hugo disapproves of this, put a whole thing about it being important at the end of chapter I, but ha, ha, he's dead, I can do what I want.)

Two Grisettes by Constantin Guys
(Grisette = Prostitute, FYI)
  • "These young men were insignificant; every one has seen such faces; four specimens of humanity taken at random; neither good nor bad, neither wise nor ignorant, neither geniuses nor fools; handsome, with that charming April which is called twenty years." (p.95) But one of them, Felix Tholomyes, is not only Fantine's bloke, but also a bit of an instigator when it comes to self-serving actions.
  • They hook up with "four ravishing young women, perfumed and radiant, still a little like working-women, and not yet entirely divorced from their needles; somewhat disturbed by intrigues, but still retaining on their faces something of the serenity of toil, and in their souls that flower of honesty which survives the first fall n woman." (p.96) 
  • Fantine was the most naive of this group, and a bit of an outsider because of it. "We will confine ourselves to saying that the love of Fantine was a first love, a sole love, a faithful love.    She alone, of all the four, was not called 'thou' by a single one of them." (p.97)
  • So, after a summer by her side, while the gals were pressuring the dudes for a 'surprise,' and with the families of these dudes pressuring them to settle down respectably, "Tholomyes lowered his voice and articulated something so mirthful, that a vast and enthusiastic grin broke out upon the four mouths simultaneously...." (p.98) If you think dudes behaved impeccably 200 years ago, this'll prove you wrong.
  • The guys take the gals out for a long summer day's idyll in the countryside, sightseeing, playing games, dining out, being charming and looking attractive to all passers-by. "Beautiful women waste themselves sweetly. They think that this will never come to an end. Philosophers, poets, painters, observe their ecstasies and know not what to make of it, so greatly are they dazzled by it." (p.101)
  • Over a long meal, Tholomyes waxing philosophical about life and beauty, adds, "I say nothing of Fantine; she is a dreamer, a musing, thoughtful, pensive person; she is a phantom possessed of the form of a nymph and the modesty of a nun, who has strayed into the life of a grisette, but who takes refuge in illusions, and who sings and prays and gazes into the azure without very well knowing what she sees or what she is doing...." (p.106) I mean, if I was an impressionable girl who'd been on my own my whole life, no known parents, not even knowing where my name came from, and Mr. Life of the Party said stuff like that about me, I'd probably fall head over heels, too. Poor kid.
  • So the girls ask for their surprises, and Tholomyes and the rest kiss their gals on the forehead and tell them to wait there a bit, the surprise is coming. In case I haven't made it clear, these guys? Not nearly as awesome as they think they are. They leave the gals sitting around for an hour, then a waiter brings the "Surprise" note, which explains about ma and pa not being keen on light-skirted daughter-in-laws, so the poor guys have to desert them in the inn. And this awesome bit: "For the space of nearly two years we have made you happy. We bear you no grudge for that.... Postscriptum. The dinner is paid for." (p.111)
  • Fantine pretends to take this as lightly as the others. But. "An hour later, when she had returned to her room, she wept. It was her first love affair, as we have said; she had given herself to this Tholomyes as to a husband, and the poor girl had a child." (p.111)
On that cheerful note, this book ends.

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