Amph Follow me down the Brick road (Les Misérables -Eponine)

Discussion in 'Community' started by Obi Anne, Jul 12, 2013.

  1. Obi Anne FF admin Celebrations, Europe

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    I've decided to make a second try of reading Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables. The nickname of the novel is "the brick" because the size of it is quite close to an actual brick, my edition has 983 pages. I've already reached page 137, so I will have to make a recap of the first parts but then I will try to post here as I read.

    First though some background on why I'm doing it.

    I love the story of Les Misérables. I first got to know it through Bille August's film Les Misérables from 1998, then I saw the French-American mini-series from 2000. This is where I bought the book and tried to read it for the first time. My edition is in two volumes and I finished the first volume, but never started on the second. Since then I've also discovered the musical and come to love it. The novel is (in)famous for Hugo's deviations from the plot itself, and that was my problem the first time I tried to read it. Now being prepared for that, and I've also gotten more interested in the characters outside the two protagonists Valjean and Javert, I feel it's time for a new try.

    Also I'm actually not a big fiction reader. I prefer simple, plot driven stories when I'm reading fiction, so don't expect any literary analyses from me, I would love to get some input though when it comes to literary criticism of the novel. I might give references to the different adaptions and the Les Mis fandom though.

    Well after the introduction. let's start with the novel itself. It's divided in several parts, and each part is divided in several books.

    Part 1 - Fantine
    Book 1 - An Upright Man
    The first forty pages is a presentation of the Bishop of Digne, who's basically a perfect Christian and Saint. He does everything in order to help the poor, and has basically no faults at all. Despite this Hugo makes him an interesting character. Normally a flawless person could be boring, but in describing his character and his work, Hugo also managed to create a vivid picture of the world we are entering. Of course the world we see through the bishop's actions is quite rosy, there is suffering but the less fortunate ones can always get a helping hand. The one exception, and the part that I felt made the biggest emotional impact was his meeting with a dying man, who had also been part of the parliament during the French Revolution. He was shunned by everyone, who saw him as a regicide, and yet he didn't complain but simply lived his life in solitude. This also gives a bit of background to the political climate during the time.

    Book 2 - The Fall
    Finally on page 41 we are introduced to the main character, Jean Valjean. It will take some more pages before he is named though. This book describes at first how Valjean is refused work and lodgings in Digne, due to him being an ex-convict. It then goes on to tell his story, how used to be a poor laborer, who in desperation stole some bread to feed his sister's family. Then the legal system ground shaped him into a monster by chaining him up for 19 years. The whole background part of the story twisted my heart, I got emotional enough that I actually cried when reading about it. The bishop of Digne is the only one who sees Valjean as a fellow humand and treats him as a guest. Still Valjean steals the bishop's silver and flees in the night, but is caught. The bishop saves Valjean by telling the police that the silver was a gift, and in a final act of kindness he gives Valjean two silver chandeliers, only asking that he should use the silver to become an honest man.

    Here comes a part that's omitted from the musical, and I haven't seen thait in many other adaptations either. Valjean doesn't change his mindset all at once, he is utterly confused by the kindness shown to him, but he actually steals some money from a young boy on the road. It's that theft that shatters his world, when he realizes how he has repaid the bishop's kindness and faith in him.

    I actually think that Valjean's change of heart is one of the best conversions from the novel to the musical. The same confusion that Hugo describes in three pages, is turned into a three minutes of great music. In fact some of the lyrics of the song can definitely be found in Hugo's own words, at least in my translation of it.


    It's quite understandable that most adaptions cut a lot in these two books. The bishop is an important character, if you want to save screen time for other things you don't need a full portrait of him and the people he cares about though, and the theft of the silver is a more dramatic thing than stealing a coin from a boy.

    If I had read the novel for the first time, without any prior knowledge of the plot I would definitely have thought that the bishop would continue to be an important character, and that this Valjean person was just another of his acts of kindness. None of them will show up in the two coming books though, so I'm stopping this first post here.
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  2. NYCitygurl NSWFF Manager

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    Yikes, talk about a brick! I don't know that I can tackle it right now, but good luck!
  3. VadersLaMent Chosen One

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    All I know about ley miserables is that a crazy woman sung a song from it whom everyone thought was ugly until she started singing, and that the most recent version of Catwoman starred in an update of it.
  4. Bacon164 Force Ghost

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    300 pages into this nugget as of last December... maybe it's time to have another go at it.
  5. Chancellor_Ewok Force Ghost

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    [face_talk_hand]

    You want a paper brick? Try the Count of Monte Cristo,
  6. Obi Anne FF admin Celebrations, Europe

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    Which is another French classic that I haven't finished, despite liking the general story. And when I say like the story it doesn't mean that I've seen the film, but rather a few films and TV-series. And the French are very good at making TV-adaptations of their classic works.
  7. Force Smuggler Force Ghost

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    600 + pages into my reading of it but still a long way to go.
  8. Obi Anne FF admin Celebrations, Europe

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    Book 3 - In the year of 1817
    So we skip two years in the future and are introduced to Fantine, or rather her lover Felix Tholomyés. In this book Hugo really shows his disdain towards the hypocritical bourgeoisie, who loves to tramp down other people while showing off themselves. Tholomyés thrives in the company of people who think he's a scholar because he can rabble a bunch of names of philosophers and quotes in latin. The fact that Hugo doesn't like this character is no help for poor Fantine though, she's described as a naive girl who's simply has fallen in love. In the end Tholomyés and his friends abandon their girls and go back to the countryside to live comfortable and petty lives. Fantine is devastated, and she also has her and Tholomyés' daughter to take care. The daughter is called Cosette.

    Book 4 - To entrust is sometimes to abandon
    Fantine is totally broke and leaves Paris for her hometown of Montreuil-sur-Mer. On the way she happens upon an inn at Montfermeil where she sees a mother looking after her two daughters. Seeing that scene Fantine asks if the mother would be willing to look after her daughter as well, with the help of a monthly payment from Fantine. Fantine leaves her daughter at the care of the woman, Madame Thenardier, thinking that she's done what's best for her. The last few pages are heartbreaking though when they describe how the Thenardiers sell Cosette's clothes and treat her like their slave.

    These two books are usually omitted from the adaptations. Usually it's only shown that Fantine has an illegitimate daughter that is taken care of by an innkeeper. With this backstory it's made clear that Fantine loved Tholomyés, and it wasn't just a short affair. She waited for a long time until she slept with him, and Cosette is a couple of years old when they are abandoned by her father. I personally think that Tholomyés is one of the worst characters in the book, eventhough he's just in it for basically one book, but of course his actions is what sets much of the story in motion regarding Fantine. Fantine's naivety is further shown when she just trusts the Thenardiers to take care of Cosette, just because it was a cute scene of Mme Thenardier taking care of her daughters. I guess the moral here is that Fantine's trusting nature doesn't stand a chance against the harsher aspects of reality.
  9. Obi Anne FF admin Celebrations, Europe

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    After some thinking I would love to hear your opinion on the difference between the Bishop and Fantine. Both are basically seen as pure, goodhearted characters, but while the Bishop is loved and can even visit outlaws without getting hurt, Fantine gets abused over and over again. Is it because one is a man and the other one a woman? And does that mean that Hugo wants to emphasize even more how women are handled by society? Or is it because the Bishop is a man of God, putting his faith in a higher power, while Fantine just drifts with the wind? Or is it because of their difference in age? The Bishop has seen the bad things in society, but yet chooses to be good, while the young Fantine isn't even aware of what society can do to a young person? I have some opinions here, but I would love to hear from anybody else. Why is the Bishop rewarded while Fantine is punished?
  10. Barriss_Coffee Chosen One

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    At present I'm finishing up a GoT brick at the moment, but this seems a good a time as any to start Les Mis. I will try to catch up when (or if) I can, in which case I'll make an attempt to weigh in on some of those questions. I get the impression there are a lot of 2-bit characters from the musical (i.e. the Bishop in this case) who probably carry a more significant role in the book.
  11. Obi Anne FF admin Celebrations, Europe

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    You will have time to catch up when I'm away at Celebration Europe for a week.
  12. Obi Anne FF admin Celebrations, Europe

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    So here's my take on the difference between the Bishop and Fantine. Fantine's main fault is that she's naive, she doesn't choose to be good, she just isn't aware that there are other options. The Bishop on the other hand has lived a long life, and it's clear that he chose to become a priest after having lived a "normal" life. He is aware that good acts are needed in a harsh society, but he doesn't shy away from the bad. He's very trusting and putting a lot of faith in people, but my feeling is that he wouldn't be surprised if someone would take advantage of him.
  13. Obi Anne FF admin Celebrations, Europe

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    So this is my last recap, after this I'm up to what I'm currently reading in the novel. If you want to catch up I can say that I'm going to be gone the whole of next week, so there you have a chance to read up.

    Book 5 - The Descent
    So in this book we simply see Fantine fall from factory worker down to whore on the street, but not immediately. First there is an description on how the little town of Montreul-sur-Mer has an industry of making jet beads, and how a mysterious Monsieur Madeleine had arrived in the town, revolutionized the industry and brought wealth to the town. M. Madeleine is man who only does good, and very humble. When we meet him he is mayor of the town, but the townspeople had to nag him to accept that honour. It's also mentioned that the mayor mourned when the Bishop of Digne died. Of course M. Madeleine is Jean Valjean.

    Fantines fall takes time, definitely longer than in the adaptions. She tries to support Cosette by saving and living just on the most basic things you need. She doesn't even have any light but the sun, which makes it even harder for her to try to earn her living by sewing. She tries a whole winter, but then the local jail simply lower their prices on sewing work, and she can't earn a living even when working 17 hours a day. Then she starts selling off her things, her beautiful hair and in the end her two front teeth. I don't think any actress is willing to get rid of her teeth so this is usually changed to her back teeth on stage and screen. In the end the only way she can earn anything at all is as a prostitute. In the winter a man throws snow down her neckline and she hits him back in anger. Here Hugo is very clear on that this man is exactly the same kind as man as Tholomyés, just another one of the same kind of hypocritical bourgeois man. Fantine is arrested by the local police inspector, but M. Madeleine intervenes. He hears her story and decides to help the by now dieing Fantine to be reunited with her daughter.

    Book 6 - Javert

    This is a short book, only two chapters, but it's there simply to introduce and present Inspector Javert. We learn his background, his parents were gypsies and he's born inside a jail. Javert despises his background and is set on showing that it's possible to rise. He's a stickler for the law and always looks up upon authority as being in the right. He was also a guard as the same prison where Javert was a convict. It's clear that Javert has had his suspicions against the mayor for quite some time, but after the the incident with Fantine he makes some investigations. He soon finds out that a man has been arrested as Jean Valjean, and goes to tell this to the mayor. According to Javert's moral he has slandered the authority of the mayor through his investigations, and should be punished. M. Madeleine reacts differently and refuses to punish the inspector.

    Now these two books have a lot of details in them that I found very interesting. When it comes to Fantine its devastating to see her fall take such a long time. She isn't just thrown out on the street as soon as she's out of a job, she really tries to survive and help her daughter. The transformation from a beautiful, young woman to an ugly whore without hair and teeth makes me feel a lot more sad for her than what's usually the case.

    Javert gets a more interesting background with the revelation that he's actually a gypsy, and that he's look upon himself as someone who will never be fully part of society. Here I actually think that they could work so much more with this in the adaptations. Just think about all the possibilities to bring in race issues, and not just financial injustice, when it comes to what's wrong in society. The closest I can think of in any of the adaptions that I've seen is the Les Mis 25th anniversary concert where Javert was sung by African-American Norm Lewis, I don't think that was a conscious thing though but they simply chose him for his great voice.
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  14. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

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    Really liking reading this. My familiarity with the topic matter is amateurish, and getting the book broken down to this level is great!

    Looking forward to more.
  15. Obi Anne FF admin Celebrations, Europe

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    Feel free to add something if you only know some of the story, or have just seen a film/the musical some kind of adaption. This is not just about the novel.
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  16. Obi Anne FF admin Celebrations, Europe

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    I had hoped to get through the next book before leaving for Celebration tomorrow, but I've hit a bit of a snag in the last chapters. I'm now into page 20 of Valjean trying to decide if he should give himself up or not, including a dream sequence.

    On the other hand I watched the 2012 musical/film yesterday for the first time since I started reading the book, and it was fascinating to see how many details from the novel that Tom Hooper has put in. Such a simple thing as the layout of the Bishop's sleeing quarters, and where Valjean was given a guestbed, came straight from the novel. This is of course something you can do in a film, but it's harder to recreate on stage.
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  17. Rogue1-and-a-half Manager Emeritus who is writing his masterpiece

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    This . . . is awesome. I'm going to read this whole thread and then comment. But, yeah, great project. I love this book so much. I've read it five or six times.

    Let me dig out some quotes from the sections you've posted about already.
    Last edited by Rogue1-and-a-half, Jul 20, 2013
  18. Obi Anne FF admin Celebrations, Europe

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    Train rides and a flight made me go through the last two chapters of Part 1.

    Book 7 - the Champmathieu Affair
    Valjean hears from Javert that a man identified as Jean Valjean has been arrested and will be sentenced to life at the galleys. Valjean is torn on whether he should allow this to happen, or if he should give himself up in order to save the man. He ponders the consequences both for his person and his soul. He journeys to Arras, where the court is held, and in the end declares that he his Valjean.

    Book 8 - Counterstroke
    Valjean hurries home to settle his affairs. When he goes to meet Fantine she thinks that he has brought Cosette to her. Javert shows up, and Fantines gets so startled that she dies, Valjean is arrested. Part 1 ends with Valjean escaping prison and Fantine is thrown into a pauper's grave.

    So these two books were very different. Book 7 was the slowest book so far. It took Valjean 20+ pages to come to his discussion, and then his journey to Arras is also riddled with problems that are described very thoroughly. On the other hand Book 8 was the fastest read so far, it is a pretty short book, and it definitely had a lot of things happening.

    The two most interesting things with these two books were the reason for the harsh punishment of Valjean and Javert's actions. Being mostly familiar with the different adaptions I've assumed that Valjean was a wanted man because he had broken his parole, it turns out that the crime that condemns him to life at the galleys is the robbery of the young boy in book 2. Even if it's a hard punishment for a quite, petty crime, it is presented as a highway robbery to the court and the prosecutor convinces them that it's proof that Valjean is a very dangerous man and should be looked away for good. Javert is also pretty sure that Valjean robbed the bishop, but nothing can be proven there. I was also impressed by the French justice system that they even knew about the robbery in book 2.

    Javert in book 8 is really the pure embodiment of lawfully evil, and it's quite tragic to think that he believes that he is actually acting good. Hugo puts it best when he writes

    So to sum up Part 1: Fantine
    Main characters: the Bishop, Jean Valjean, Fantine, Felix Tholomyés, Inspector Javert
    Deaths: Fantine, the bishop is mentioned as having passed away
  19. Obi Anne FF admin Celebrations, Europe

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    Part 2 - Cosette
    Book 1: Waterloo

    Basically 30 pages of this (Wikipedia article of the Battle of Waterloo). After the battle Thénardier robs corpses on the battle field, and manages to wake up an officer called Pontmercy. Pontmercy thinks Thénardier saved him, when he in fact was robbing him, and they both vows to remember each others' names.

    This was one of the parts that I dreaded when I started to read the book. I've heard so much about the big description of the battle, that doesn't really have any meaning on the plot of the book. Still in the introduction to my edition it talks quite a lot about this, and how important the battle was for Hugo. This is one of the key moments for Hugo when it comes to the development of France in the 19th century, and he wants to show it and make everyone else understand it as well. After the battle came the counterrevolution, but the counterrevolution gave rise to the revolutionary spirit of 1830 and 1832, which also meant progress. This is a chapter where Hugo is very close by all the time. He fills the descriptions with his own eyewitness accounts of having visited the battle field some decades later, and he injects his views on both Napoleon and the counterrevolution on almost every page. In the end I got through by trying to look at the text from a perspective of general 19th century history, rather than from the perspective of a person just that likes reading a good story.

    Still I found the book boring and repetitive. There are some great battle scenery, but that doesn't keep me interested.

    So I would love to hear your opinion of this book. Did you approve of Waterloo? What were your thoughts about reading about the battle, or did you just skip it and jumped onto the next book?
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  20. Miana Kenobi Costuming & Props Mod - Retired Admin

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    I skipped it until the plot actually became relevant again.
  21. emilsson Force Ghost

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    Fantine is definitely the best example of the consequences of social oppression and Hugo's argument that women suffer more from it than men. Due to prejudice Fantine's choices are limited and it makes her a perfect target for greedy people like the Thenardiers. The bishop on the other hand serves as the ideal example of a good authority. When the bishop saves Valjean he does so out of compassion and not just because it is the right thing to do according to moral and religious teachings. Both Fantine and the bishop are good people and illustrate that humans have no intrinsic evil, but that the root of evil is an oppressive social structure.

    As for Waterloo, that section shows that the narrative encompasses more than just the personal dimension. This is a story that combines sociology, religion and history. Practically, the Waterloo chapter is very tedious although parts of it becomes important later on.
  22. Obi Anne FF admin Celebrations, Europe

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    I guess than you can also say that one of the reasons why Hugo starts with a long chapter on the bishop could be that he wants to show that despite everything there is goodness in mankind, and if we only allowed that goodness to be the driving force, then the world would be a better place. Considering that the novel is quite depressing, it still gives an optimistic note on what could be in the future.
  23. Obi Anne FF admin Celebrations, Europe

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    Book 2 - The Ship Orion

    This book starts out with the big revelation that Jean Valjean has been caught and is back as a prisoner for life in Toulon! Nothing about how it happened, just that it happened in Paris and that he was suspected of having hidden a large sum of money before his arrest. There is also a chapter about a legend that the devil has hidden a treasure near Montfermeuil, and someone saw a shadowy figure digging in the ground there...Then there comes quite a long exposition on the beauty of war ships, before the Orion is seen undergoing repairs in Toulon. While there a sailor almost falls down from the mast, but is saved by a convict, who then himself falls into the water and disappears. The name of the presumed dead convict was Jean Valjean.

    This is a book that's usually omitted from adaptions. After all we are basically back with where we were at the end of part 1. Valjean having fled from Toulon, I don't think it's a spoiler to say that he didn't die when he fell from the mast. For those of you have only seen adaptions without this part of the book, would you have liked to see Valjean arrested and brought back, and then flee again? It could make some nice action scenes, on the other hand there is no mentioning of Javert as the one who arrested him. It does give some explanation as well on how he could have time to get all the money he needs for the rest of his life, compared to when you just see him run off from Montreuil-sur-Mer.
  24. I Are The Internets Chosen One

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    Does Russel Crowe sing poorly in the book too?

    In all seriousness, I have always wanted to read this, but so many people have told me that it's impossible to get through.
  25. Obi Anne FF admin Celebrations, Europe

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    When it comes to how hard it is to read, well I'm starting to see a pattern here. The first chapter in each book is usually just a description of the environment and it's quite boring. Once you get through the first chapter it's easier, because things are actually happening. I feel that the book is a bit of a rollercoaster, at times I can't stop reading and then after some chapters you end up in these very slow expositions where Hugo is basically just putting his own views and memories into writing. Well Waterloo was just boring, but you can skip that part if you are only in it for the plot.