Thursday, 10 September 2015

Les Misérables Read-Through #3: Ch. I.ii.7-I.iii.3

It has been a little bit harder to do the reading this week since I've been back at University and have tried to actually stick to my review schedule. However, I have noticed that now that the story is picking up it's a lot easier to get through the reading. I've only made it about 8% into the book which isn't that impressive considering that I have been reading for three weeks. If I keep this up and even make space for some off weeks in which I can't get the reading done, it would take me roughly a year to read it. I'm not quite sure I'm willing to spend that long on it so I'm considering upping the reading from ten chapters to fifteen, or even twenty, a week. 

Plot Summary:
So, we left Jean Valjean just before he decided to commit another crime. Whereas his character had something incredibly annoying about it in the film, since he wouldn't stop complaining without actually doing anything, Valjean is actually very interesting so far. Hugo takes a lot of time to actually go into his mindset and it makes his character all the more likeable. The bishop almost disappears completely from the narrative and his impact on Valjean is more implied than explicitly stated.

The shift between Books 2 and 3 also means a shift between main characters. I was quite excited to see Fantine, even if the description of her is completely different from what I had imagined. Hugo almost seems as if he himself is in love with her but slightly unbelieving that she could even exist. She definitely comes across as the kind of character who is set up for doom. With his intrusive narration Hugo constantly seems to warn the reader to not let her seeming happiness fool anyone into thinking there will be a happy end.

Feel of the Chapters:
The chapters which deal with Valjean's theft are quite dark, darker than the ones before that even. Victor Hugo goes on a long metaphor about a drowning man to show us how lost Jean Valjean really is. It feels as if the whole story has been playing at dusk, with the sun setting and everything cast in shadows. In comparison, the three chapters concerning Fantine are days of sunshine! The descriptions of nature, innocence and youth provide an incredibly strong contrast against Valjean and since we have seen him lament the cruelty and injustice of society for pages and pages the sunshine surrounding Fantine is almost too bright. It's quite sad to know that it's all going to end for her.

General Thoughts:
  • When Hugo suddenly went off on a whole chapter long tangent about the sea and about a storm I wasn't quite sure what was happening but it was a great way to show his character's mindset.
  • I'm wondering whether we'll see the Bishop again since, after 200 pages, I'm relatively attached to him. 
  • I'm also wondering where the people who wrote the musical got their ideas for the lyrics from since I haven't really recognized anything so far. I do hope that by the time we get to the barricade-crew that at least one of them asks whether we can hear the people sing!
  • Fantine is the kind of character, so far, that I want to shake a little bit. I mean, innocent characters are always the kind of characters you want to protect and hide from the world but there is only so much innocence that one can take. Fantine's downfall is pretty much set in stone, and not only because Hugo decided so, but because that is what happens to people who don't understand the cruelty of the world.
  • I really enjoyed the way that Hugo bemoaned how much Paris had changed from the time he was writing about to the time he was writing in. If only he could see Paris now! I doubt, somehow, he'd be a big fan of it.

Something Interesting:
Not quite sure what's happening here, but it feels fitting!
I absolutely loved the first chapter of Book 3. It was like the Victor Hugo version of Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start the Fire'. Hugo thought that it was important to note down the little things that happened since:
'It is of the physiognomy of the years that the physiognomy of the centuries is composed.' p.209
I love the idea that, in order to really understand what happened in a year, a decade or even a century, that you have to look at all the little, maybe insignificant things that happened. It is the one way in which all of us really have an impact on our world, through tiny little things each day. Admittedly Hugo picked some of the more absurd and therefore hilarious events.
'M. Francois de Neufchateau, the praiseworthy cultivator of the memory of Parmentier, made a thousand efforts to have pomme de terre [potato] pronounced parmentiere, and succeeded therein not at all.' p.208
If you've just spent a good hundred pages on human misery, then this chapter is a real highlight. I also feel like I now really know how the upper classes in Paris spent their time.

Favourite Quotes:
'From year to year this soul had dried away slowly, but with fatal sureness. When the heart is dry, the eye is dry. On his departure from the galleys it had been nineteen years since he had shed a tear.'
It's quotes like this which have really made me start to love Victor Hugo! It's a quote which really manages to describe what poverty and hardship can do to people. If you have to struggle for your very existence day by day, then you can't afford to be soft. I can feel myself warming to Jean Valjean... what have you done Hugo?
'It seems as though all the water were hate.'
I doubt I have to say this is also a quote about Jean Valjean. I just thought it was just such a beautiful quote and I don't have a lot more to say about it. 

So, we've met Jean Valjean and Fantine, but there's still no Javert in sight! Where is my favourite righteous police officer? I'm actually slightly afraid that since the novel has made me like Valjean, will I dislike Javert? I'm not quite ready for that.

1 comment:

  1. I love this! Les Miserables is one of my favorite books of all time and reading your comments makes me want to read it again... soon. :)