Thursday, 17 September 2015

Les Misérables Read-Through #4: Ch. I.iii.3-I.v.1

I'm getting on relatively well with Les Misérables, which is utterly astounding. Victor Hugo's style is totally up my street, pretentious, full of references and details, but bitingly honest and sharp. I am now also, officially, more than 10% into the book (I'm 11% in) which means it will take me about 40 weeks, so a whole year to read this book... I'm still debating on whether to read quicker and I think I've officially decided that for next week I'll try to read 20 chapters. Pray for me!

Plot Summary:
It has been refreshing to leave Jean Valjean aside for a bit. His story of woe and misery is touching but can become a little bit too much at times to deal with. Not that Fantine's story is any less horrible, at least in the end. We return to Fantine and her merry group of "friends" who are having the time of their life during spring. Hugo goes a bit mad in his descriptions of love and nature at times, but on the other hand it is like a breath of fresh air. If only it wasn't so clear it was never going to end well. When she is left by her lover it doesn't come as a surprise, but that doesn't make it any less sad which is all up to Hugo's writing.

We're also introduced to the Thenardiers and their daughters, Eponine and Azelma. It is safe to say that the Thenardiers aren't half as funny as Helena Bonham-Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are in the film. They come across as horrible people and, for once, their circumstances aren't an excuse. It's the first time Hugo seems to actively judge his characters and present them as despicable. Poor Cosette gets left with them and their treatment of her is definitely wrong. I also really liked the way Hugo describes how she changes by their treatment, it's very honest. Towards the end of the chapters a strangely familiar man shows up, a certain Father Madeleine.

Feel of the Chapters:
The initial chapters in which we get to see Fantine have a good time and her lover Tholomyes gets quite argumentative at times. It's all very bittersweet, beautiful but doomed. These chapters can b a little bit hard to read because Tholomyes' speeches are always long, always full of references that are not always easy to understand or even know. Hugo also really manages to make one feel for Fantine in a way that is not full of pity. There is respect there, both in Hugo's text and in how the reader sees her. Life was cruel but she's dealing with it in the only way she know show. For me that is a major departure from the film, where she is really only a victim.

General Thoughts:

  • No Jean Valjean was a breath of fresh air but since I know he is Father Madeleine I am actually quite glad to know he's coming back into the story. Since his characterization has differed so from the film I am actually looking forward to seeing him interact with the other characters.
  • I absolutely loved the way that Hugo dealt with Fantine's female friends, all women who hand around rich men in order to survive. It would have been so easy to judge them and make them terrible people in order to make Fantine even better, but Hugo actually shows awareness for their situation. Their decisions might not be the best but there is a reason for them. 
  • Why was Azelma not in the film? I understand you already have a lot of characters but they could have quite easily done with less of some and more of Azelma. Although, in all fairness, I don't know how important Azelma will really be since she is, currently, 18 months I believe.
  • Hugo got into a little bit of political arguing in these chapters as well and I absolutely loved it. There is a quote from this below and it means I got really excited because I thought we'd get more revolutionary talk, but unfortunately no. It does beckon well for the future Barricade chapters!
  • WheRE iS JaVErt?!
Something Interesting:
Tholomyes goes on a little digression about Aspasia and since I'm a major sucker for Greek history and mythology I thought I'd share what I found out about her. Aspasia was an immigrant to Classical-era Athens and, according to Plutarch, her house became an intellectual centre. This would be backe dup by the fact she is mentioned in the works of many Greek philosophers, but then there are also those who think she was nothing more than a brothel keeper. Aspasia is a great example of how history views women sometimes and it was interesting that Tholomyes brought her up in the moment where he is both judging and praising the surrounding women. Lucian wrote of her:
'We could choose no better model of wisdom than Milesian Aspasia, the admired of the admirable 'Olympian'; her political knowledge and insight, her shrewdness and penetration, shall all be transferred to our canvas in their perfect measure.'
Favourite Quotes:
'When the hour strikes, this man of the fauborgs (suburbs) will grow in stature; this little man will arise, and his gaze will be terrible, and his breath will becomes a tempest, and there will issue forth from that slender chest enough wind to disarrange the folds of the Alps.' p.229
Way to stir up my own revolutionary spirit! I loved this little insight into how passionately Hugo can write and it also really makes me look forward to when we get to the actual revolutionaries.
'All the most august, the most sublime, the most charming of humanity, and perhaps outside of humanity, have made puns.' p.234
So, that is me for this week. Have you been reading Les Mis? And are you as disgusted by Tholomyes behaviour?

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