Thursday, 24 September 2015

Les Misérables Read-Through #5: I.v.2 - I.vii.6

It's officially offical: I really like Les Misérables. As a consequence I am slightly (read: extremely) annoyed at the musical and film for having nice songs but not doing Victor Hugo's novel justice by a looong mile. I mean, I'm empathizing with Jean Valjean for crying out loud, something I never did when watching the film. There are so many moment which I feel would have been so much better had the film actually taken direction from the novel. Part of the reason that I'm now completely on the side of the novel is because I have switched to reading 20 chapters instead of 10. It gives you much more of the story to enjoy and discuss. Also yes, here's a picture of Anne Hathaway as Fantine because Anne Hathaway is amazing.

Plot Summary:
In these chapters we really see Fantine being torn down to the ground. It's a lot less sudden in the novel, rather than film where it all happens within a single song. By seeing how Fantine's decline happens slowly but surely it is inevitable to see how society forces some people into destitution. Because Victor Hugo set her up as such a cheerful and innocent character it is heart-breaking to see her spirit brought so low as well. The downward spiral is stunningly described and it really drags you right in.

We also returned to M. Madeleine or, as we all know he's really called, Jean Valjean and got introduced to Javert! There were a couple of amazing scenes which worked really well, such as the lifting of the cart, Valjean releasing Fantine from Javert's custody and, especially, Valjean's conflicting feelings about confronting himself with his past. Although the chapters dedicated to his internal struggle are quite long they are absolutely fascinating insights into the human psyche. I've managed to stop myself at an enormous cliffhanger as well. Fantine is in the hospice, close to dying but desperate to see her daughter and Jean Valjean is on a mad drive to Atras while still undecided on whether to give himself up or no.

Feel of the Chapters:
These chapters are a bit of a whirlwind, considering the slow start of the novel. A couple of the things that have been set up throughout the preceding chapters suddenly are resolved or become relevant and it was great to see Hugo bringing all of these strands together. There is also a lot of desperation to these developments though, which can be a little bit depressing if you stay in it for too long. But that's where it's good that Hugo has picked up the pace because this way the novel keeps going and doesn't linger too long on the misery of others.

General Thoughts:

  • Javert's introduction was interesting. He's an interesting character and like all the others his presence in the novel is very different from the film. Because we get to see his motivation as well as that of the other characters it's a lot easier to feel for him. 
  • I already said this above but I loved seeing how Fantine's mind became darker and darker, how she lost herself in her misery. It was really well-written.
  • Victor Hugo keeps popping into his own story, dropping hints, pointing the reader in different directions and adding his own voice to the story. It's always fun, rather than intrusive, so that's definitely something I hope keeps happening
  • There is no political talk, for once. Most of the chapters so far have had a lot of time for philosophical digressions about life and religion, but real life definitely takes over now.
Something Interesting:
What is this history of Fantine? It is society purchasing a slave. From whom? From misery.From hunger, cold, isolation, destitution. A dolorous bargain. A soul for a morsel of bread. Misery offers; society accepts.The sacred law of Jesus Christ governs our civilization, but it does not, as yet, permeate it; it is said that slavery has disappeared from European civilization. This is a mistake. It still exists; but it weighs only upon the woman, and it is called prostitution.' p.323
The last five times I have picked up references in the novel to discuss here, but this week the above extract was what really stuck with me. Throughout my reading of Les Misérables so far I've been surprised with how liberal and forward-thinking Victor Hugo was, but I wasn't expecting him to so strongly condemn society for prostitution, rather than raging against the women. 

Favourite Quotes:
'Diamonds are found only in the dark places of the earth; truths are found only in the depths of thought.'
I absolutely loved this quote. It's so beautiful I had to get up in the middle of the night to find a pen and paper to write it down.
'Conscience is the chaos of chimeras, of lusts, and of temptations; the furnace of dreams; the lair of ideas of which we are ashamed; it is the pandemonium of sophisms; it is the battlefield of the passions.'
This is just amazingly phrased. Not only is the alliteration in the first part nuts (in a good way) but it is also a great description of something as hard to describe as the conscience. 

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