Sunday, February 17, 2013

Oh, Fantine, Our Time is Running Out

Howdy, Reader(s). 

Volume 1: Fantine - Book 6 was a nice short one for my Les Mis Project this week - just two chapters. But it brings me to 15% completion of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables

I wish I'd unearthed this
Fauchelevant-under-a-cart cover
for the last book's entry,
because: awesome!
Book Sixth - Javert
So, Fantine's laid up in M. Madeline's endowed hospital. Being take care of isn't helping much, thanks to the lout that shoved snow down her back in the last book. She wakes one day to see the mayor by the bed, staring at a crucifix. "His gaze was full of pity, anguish, and supplication." (p.146) So now she's as impressed by him as everyone else.

Also, everyone's full of gossip because Javert sent a letter to Monsieur le Prefet of Police, so they figure after the dust-up with Madeline, he's resigning.

Before we figure out anything about that, M. Madeline starts sending demand letters to the Thenardiers to produce Cosette. They asked for 120, he sent 300. "This dazzled Thenardier. 'The devil!' said the man to his wife; 'don't let's allow the child to go. This lark is going to turn into a milch cow.' " (p.147) So then he asks for 500 (300 paid on account), so M. Madeline sends another 300.

Ancient Scorn!
The nursing sisters started out disapproving of the whore in their midst, which Hugo relates with delightful relish: "Those who have seen the bas-reliefs of Rheims will recall the inflation of the lower lip of the wise virgins as they survey the foolish virgins. The ancient scorn of the vestals for the ambubajae is one of the most profound instincts of feminine dignity; the sisters felt it with the double force contributed by religion." (p.147)

So, although Fantine is doing badly, she and M. Madeline have a mutual admiration society going on, and he's doing everything to get the kid back. But doom lurks. "Carve as we will the mysterious block of which our life is made, the black vein of destiny constantly reappears in it." (p.149)

The black vein in question shows up when Javert stops by Madeline's office to ask to be fired for showing such disrespect and suspicion towards the mayor for so long. He confesses that he's been convinced that Madeline is this no-good scum convict called Valjean, and he even informed against him to the Prefecture of Police. There was certainly a lot of circumstantial evidence:

  • "I thought it was so. I had had an idea for a long time; a resemblance; inquiries which you had caused to be made at Faverolles; the strength of your loins; the adventure with old Fauchelevant; your skill in marksmanship; your leg, which you drag a little;-I hardly know what all,-absurdities! But, at all events, I took you for a certain Jean Valjean." (p.150)
But then! The Prefecture let him know he was wrong, since they'd just arrested the real Jean Valjean. To which news Madeline dropped the paper he was holding, "raised his head, gazed fixedly at Javert, and said with his indescribable accent:- "Ah!" (p.151) Because although the guy denies it, there's a lot of circumstantial evidence against him, too:

  • He's arrested for theft of some apples, and "The jail being in a bad condition, the examining magistrate finds it convenient to transfer Champmathieu to Arras, where the departmental prison is situated. In this prison at Arras there is an ex-convict named Brevet [who recognized him as Jean Valjean from his Toulon galley days as soon as he saw him.]" (p.151)
  • "This Champmathieu had been, thirty years ago, a pruner of trees in various localities, notably at Farverolles. There all trace of him was lost.... Now, before going to the galleys for theft, what was Jean Valjean? A pruner of trees. Where? At Faverolles. Another fact. This Valjean's Christian name was Jean, and his mother's surname was Mathieu. What more natural to suppose than that, on emerging from the galleys, he should have taken his mother's name for the purpose of concealing himself, and have called himself Jean Mathieu? [Then the local dialect mangles it and he is] transformed into Champmathieu. You follow me, do you not?" (p.152)
  • The only other two convicts who have ever met Valjean are shown Champmathieu, and immediately i.d. him. 
  • "The same age,-he is fifty-four,-the same height, the same air, the same man; in short, it is he." (p.152)
  • Champmathieu keeps denying it, and Javert thinks he knows why. "Indeed, Mr. Mayor, it's a bad business. If he is Jean Valjean, he has his previous conviction against him. To climb a wall, to break a branch, to purloin apples, is a mischievous trick in a child; for a man it is a misdemeanor; for a convict it is a crime.... It is no longer a matter of a few days in prison; it is the galleys for life." (p.152)
  • Plus, and most essentially, Javert goes to see the examining judge and takes a look at this guy. Madeline is on edge, asking him what he saw. "Javert replied, his face incorruptible, and as melancholy as ever:- 'Mr. Mayor, the truth is the truth. I am sorry; but that man is Jean Valjean. I recognized him also.' ... 'And even now that I have seen the real Jean Valjean, I do not see how I could have thought otherwise. I beg your pardon, Mr. Mayor.' " (p.152)
Madeline brushes it all aside as unimportant, and gives him a list of local issues to deal with. A long, long list. Then adds, "But I am giving you a great deal of work. Are you not to be absent? Did you not tell me that you were going to Arras on that matter in a week or ten days?" (p.153) (Subtle, M. Madeline!)

Mr. Mayor is in for another surprise. Javert has to leave that night, as the case will be tried the next day.  But he'll be back soon, because it will only last "One day, at the most. The judgement will be pronounced to-morrow evening at latest. But I shall not wait for sentence, which is certain; I shall return here as soon as my deposition has been taken." (p.153)

Even though the mayor tells him to go away, Javert - showing what it is that drives him - refuses to go without being fired first. He reminds Madeline, "If one of my subordinates had done what I have done, I should have declared him unworthy of the service, and expelled him. Well? Stop, Mr. Mayor; one word more. I have often been severe in the course of my life towards others. That is just. I have done well. Now, if I were not severe towards myself, all the justice that I have done would become injustice. Ought I to spare myself more than others? No! What! I should be good for nothing but to chastise others, and not myself! Why, I should be a blackguard! Those who say, 'That blackguard of a Javert!' would be in the right. Mr. Mayor, I do not desire that you should treat me kindly; your kindness roused sufficient bad blood in me when it was directed to others. I want none of it for myself." (p.154)

He really is his own harshest judge, poor guy. "All this was uttered in a proud, humble, despairing, yet convinced tone, which lent indescribable grandeur to this singular, honest man." (p.154) The mayor still won't fire him, so he has to go off to Arras bearing what he sees as the burden of false accusation.

And the mayor? In the next book, we shall see....

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