Tuesday, March 26, 2013

'M'sieur le Mayor', You'll Wear a Different Chain

At last, the final book in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables - Volume 1: Fantine. 

When last we left them, M. Madeline had just confessed to the Assizes that he is, in fact, the criminal Jean Valjean. Everyone was too stupefied that the famous, beloved mayor of M. sur M. was speaking up in court for the convict Champmathieu that he just gave up on them reacting, and went home. 

And thus, the dawn rises on Book Eighth - A Counter-Blow.

A classy cover with some
nice sober black for
the end of Fantine.
After the trek home, Valjean (we get to call him that now, instead of any of the aliases - it's okay, Hugo said so) heads to the hospital to visit still-barely-living Fantine. The nursing sister is startled by the sudden whiteness of his hair, which Valjean hadn't noticed. Fantine, meanwhile, has gone gray with illness.

She's convinced Cosette is on the way - that it's the explanation of Valjean's absence. So she asks him about it, and they all hedge a little, until the doctor says the kid is there, but has to be kept away because it makes Fantine too excitable. She argues about it for a while (a chapter or so) but finally something stops her:
  • "...her face, which had been radiant but a moment before, was ghastly, and she seemed to have fixed her eyes, rendered large with terror, on something alarming at the other extremity of the room." (p.205)
  • Valjean "turned, and beheld Javert." (p.205) It turns out that shortly after Valjean left the court, everyone shook themselves back to this new reality, and although the D.A. tried to convince them to still convict Champmathieu, he was "visibly at variance with the sentiments of every one, of the public, of the court, and of the jury." (p.205)
  • The case against Champmathieu was dismissed. "Nevertheless, the district-attorney was bent on having a Jean Valjean; and as he had no longer Champmathieu, he took Madeline." (p.205) So they sent an express to Javert, which he got first thing in the morning, instructing him to collar the deceitful mayor.
  • "Any one who did not know Javert, and who had chanced to see him at the moment when he penetrated the antechamber of the infirmary, could have divined nothing of what had taken place, and would have thought his air the most ordinary in the world. He was cool, calm, grave, his gray hair was perfectly smooth upon his temples, and he had just mounted the stairs with his habitual determination. Any one who was thoroughly acquainted with him, and who had examined him attentively at the moment, would have shuddered. The buckle of his leather stock was under his left ear instead of at the nape of his neck. This betrayed unwonted agitation." (p.206) (I adore this. I can just SEE Javert, always impeccable, just the slightest bit disarranged, and that being a massively telling detail to those in the know.)
  • "The instant that Madeline's glance encountered Javert's glance, Javert, without stirring, without moving from his post, without approaching him, became terrible. No human sentiment can be as terrible as joy. / It was the visage of a demon who has just found his damned soul." (p.206)
  • Javert's probity and determination to serve the law makes him rigid, and able to find pure joy from the successful pursuit of his duty. "Without himself suspecting the fact, Javert in his formidable happiness was to be pitied, as is every ignorant man who triumphs. Nothing could be so poignant and so terrible as this face, wherein was displayed all that may be designated as the evil of the good." (p.207)
So Javert stood there, in face-off mode, while Valjean reassures Fantine that she has nothing to worry about.

And finally he advances into the room, and takes Valjean by the collar, which makes Fantine freak the hell out, especially since Valjean doesn't try to do anything about it. He does ask for a private word (calls him "Javert," which manages to piss him off: "Call me Mr. Inspector.") Javert's having none of it - makes him speak up about this super secret need of his:
  • Valjean "said very rapidly and in a very low voice:- 'Grant me three days' grace! three days in which to go and fetch the child of this unhappy woman. I will pay whatever is necessary. You shall accompany me if you choose.' " (p.208)
  • Now Fantine knows she was lied to about her kid being there. She flips, and Javert snarls at her that there's no such dude as Madeline the Mayor, there's only some dirty convict called Valjean. This doesn't soothe Fantine's agitation.
  • "...a rattle proceeded from the depths of her throat, her teeth chattered; she stretched out her arms in her agony, opening her hands convulsively, and fumbling about her like a drowning person; then suddenly fell back on her pillow. / Her head struck the head-board of the bed and fell forwards on her breast, with gaping mouth and staring, sightless eyes. / She was dead." (p.209) (I'm loving Hugo's descriptive language here.)
  • "Jean Valjean laid his hand upon the detaining hand of Javert, and opened it as he would have opened the hand of a baby...." (p.209) - just to remind us how preternaturally strong Valjean is - and then he accused Javert of murdering Fantine. Javert just kind of stares at Valjean while Valjean moves to Fantine's side, speaking inaudibly to him and kissing her hand. Once he achieves that moment of peace with her, he rises and puts himself at Javert's disposal.
Now they've stuck the mayor in jail. Scandal! Gossip! Sensational commotion! "We are sorry that we cannot conceal the fact, that at the single word, 'He was a convict,' nearly every one deserted him." (p.210) They don't actually have any details, those gossipy townspeople of M. sur M., which doesn't of course stop the speculation. (As it ever was, so shall it ever be.) The gentry in particular - who he's never mixed with, preferring to spend his time doing good works over fancy dinner parties, are all, "Well! I suspected as much. That man was too good, too perfect, too affected. He refused the cross; he bestowed sous on all the little scamps he came across. I always thought there was some evil history back of all that." (p.210)

The portress at his building is still loyal to the mayor, so much so that she habitually puts his key out in the evening, even though he's in jail. She's pretty startled when a hand reaches for that key, though! Javert was lax enough to forget Valjean's strength, it seems - so he broke a bar in the window, escaped, and went home for a bit. He asks the portress to fetch Sister Simplice from the infirmary.

While he waits, he heads up to his rooms, where he wraps up the Bishop's silver candlesticks and leaves the money he'd stolen from Little Gervais with a note on the table. When the Sister arrives, he hands over instructions about paying for his trial and for Fantine's funeral, giving the rest to the poor, which she is to deliver to the Curé. (That gentleman does as instructed, but gives Fantine a pauper's burial, in order to have more cash for the poor.)

Before much more can be said, they hear the portress swearing to Javert and his men downstairs that no one is inside. Javert sees the light, and heads up, where he encounters the nun praying by feeble candlelight in Valjean's room. "It will be remembered that the fundamental point in Javert, his element, the very air he breathed, was veneration for all authority." (p.212) He knew the nun wouldn't sin. He started to just automatically remove himself from the room (where Valjean, FYI, was hiding behind the door, just out of sight), but his duty to his job makes him ask her if she's alone in the room.

  • "A terrible moment ensued, during which the poor portress felt as though she should faint." (p.212)
The nun looks at Javert and says she's alone. Javert swallows the lie readily enough, but again his duty leads him to ask if she's seen Valjean. Again, the nun lies. Javert excuses himself respectfully.
  • "O sainted main! you left this world many years ago; you have rejoined your sisters, the virgins, and your brothers, the angels, in the light; may this lie be counted to your credit in paradise!" (p.213)
An hour later, a solitary man was leaving M. sur M., walking towards Paris. That's the end of Madeline, and the end of paupers-grave Fantine, and the end of the Volume bearing her name.

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