Thursday, 21 January 2016

Les Misérables Read-Through #16: - IV.x.4

It has officially happened, we've gotten to the part of the book from which my favourite song of the musical comes. This song is the sole reason I make it through the film. So I was definitely looking forward to this section. I am now also nearing the final quarter of the book and yes, I'll be commemorating every single milestone because I can't believe it's actually going to be over soon. I've got 800-odd pages to go, in my Kindle copy, which I'm going to give 4/5 weeks for. I'v got two or three different options for what I'll read after, but do you have a suggestion on a big fat book I could spend the next half year reading?

Chapter Summary:
These chapters see a lot happening! On the one hand Thenardier escapes from prison, where he was stuck by Javert for, unbeknownst to the latter, assaulting Jean Valjean. Then there is Book vii, which is a digression on slang, which feels strangely out of place whereas usually Hugo's digressions feel at least a little bit relevant. It's interesting, of course, and I agree with much that he's saying, but the three chapters don't mix as well with the rest of the story.

From there we move back on to the bliss that is the love between Cosette and Marius which is so terribly sweet and pure that it's only redeemed by the fact it's surrounded by terrible things and people. And then, of course, it goes completely wrong. Despite Eponine's hardest efforts, she can't prevent Valjean from feeling unsafe and he packs up Cosette and departs, leaving Marius desperate. From there Hugo begins to describe the 5th of June, 1832, and the beginning of the rioting.

Feel of the Chapters:
By now I think I've established that Hugo likes to set up a balance between good and bad, having something beautiful happen, directly followed by a description of something technical or horrible. There's a similar up and down here, with his almost academic discussion of slang giving way to the romance between Cosette and Marius and then returning to the fragmented and authorial discussion of the 5th of June. This back and forth between different emotions is quite fun because nothing can become "too much". Although I'm all for happiness, the all too perfect love between Cosette and Marius is maybe a little bit too much for me. God, only 22 and already bitter.

General Thoughts:

  • I'm very much in love with Eponine. I like how Hugo manages to make her tragic without making her weak or submissive. She's not in tears, or pleading, or, even, singing in the rain. Rather he is very precise in making little changes in her behaviour to show how she's affected by what's happening around her. I'm already anticipating tears for later. The illustration above is her facing down her father and companions to protect Marius and Cosette.
  • I can now tell why Marius' survival and relative happy end in the film felt so disingenuous to me and that's because his involvement with the Friends of ABC is relatively minor in the book. It's only really a chance for Hugo to introduce the Friends, rather than an actual part of Marius' life. 
  • Javert has been largely absent, both as a character but also as a threat. Although I didn't like it, perhaps the musical does a better job at setting him us as a direct opponent to Valjean. But then the novel manages to hit all kinds of shades of grey in its character development which the musical passes over.

Something Extra:
It should come as no big surprise that today's SE focuses on Lamarque's funeral. Jean Maximilien Lamarque was a commander under Napoleon and outspoken about his political views. His support of human rights and political liberty made him popular with the crowd. He died of cholera, which was sweeping through France at the time, and his funeral became a catalyst for rioting to break out throughout Paris, as Les Misérables shows. 

Similarly to the book, the funeral cortege proceeded through Paris when suddenly there were cries of 'down with Louis-Philippe, long live the Republic'! Students jumped the carriage that was bearing the coffin and disorder spread. This June Rebellion lasted for 2 days and 800 were killed as the army tried to suppress the growing discontent. It's agreed by historians that although Lamarque was liked by the people, his funeral was very much just the chance that the Bonapartists had been waiting for.

'I'm not the daughter of a dog, since I'm the daughter of a wolf' p.1714
Oh Eponine, this poor girl really wasn't given the best of lives. And you can see that Hugo himself even feels sorry for her.
'Show me in what direction you are going. Rise, if you will, but let it be that you may grow great.' p.1770
This is part of Hugo's discussion on the June Rebellion. In his eyes a revolt is bad, but an insurrection is good. It's all about the abused masses standing up to the privileged minority, rather than a small minority trying to overthrow the masses. 

And, as a treat, here's the one Les Mis song that really gets me excited:

Who wants to come start a revolution with me? Let's hope for a better outcome than the end of this video!

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