Sunday, 6 March 2016

Les Misérables Read-Through #21: V.iv.2 - V.ix.6

I finished Les Misérables... I knew I was working towards it, but it feels strange to have actually finished. This'll be a shorter than normal post as I wizz through the last few chapters and then tomorrow there will be an actual review of the whole. I'll be reading through these regular posts as well, so it'll be fun to look back and see how my feelings regarding some characters and the book over all have changed. So, let's get on to what happened in these last pages.

Summary of Chapters:
We ended last week with the death of Javert, which felt like a high point of Hugo's ability to dig into a character's psyche and darkness. But he finds these depths again with Jean Valjean. In these last 20-odd chapters all the remaining storylines get finished. Marius heals and gets permission to marry Cosette, who Valjean bequeaths with all the rest of his money. During the wedding they're spotted by the remainders of a certain family who plan to do their best to profit from the whole situation. But the Thenardiers can't get to Marius before Valjean reveals to him the whole of his history, after which the former slowly but surely phases Valjean out of his and Cosette's life. It's tragic and feels unfair, more about that below. But once we get to the point where Valjean has completely disappeared and become ill, Thenardier accidentally reveals to Marius that it was Valjean who saved him from the barricade. At that point his eyes are opened and he and Cosette rush to Valjean's side just in time to ease his passing with the joy of seeing them again.

Feel of the Chapters:
On the one hand there is the absolute joy of the love between Marius and Cosette. They light up the narrative, even if they're a little bit too sweet, and cheer up all the other characters as well. But then there's also the darkness into which Valjean sinks. At this point I simply accepted that Hugo will never give you anything nice without making you suffer for it. The novel comes to something of a bittersweet ending with Valjean's death but the marriage of Cosette and Marius suggests that everything will go on, and happily so.

General Points:

  • Cosette as a character feels like she's under-served. She coulld be doing a lot more within the narrative without being Out Of Character and yet she's kept at the sidelines. I've got my theories about why which I'll discuss in my review, but it still feels like a shame.
  • I can't quite believe it but the novel has actually changed my mind about Jean Valjean. I not only tolerate him, I actually think I understand and appreciate him now. It is interesting how adaptations can change aspects of a character so much that he makes a completely different impression.
  • The whole alienation process that Marius starts against Valjean, of which the latter is strangely enough an active part, is a very strange part of the book. It feels as if everyone knows it's wrong and yet it's happening. And Cosette's part in it is very odd since she doesn't seem to notice or subconsciously accepts she now "belongs" with her husband rather than her father. 

Something Interesting:
Marius and Cosette get married on a Shrove Tuesday and I found myself wondering what a Shrove Tuesday is. Shrove Tuesday is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday which signals the beginning of Lent. It's linked to Mardi Grass, meaning 'Fat Tuesday' in French, and it is used by a lot of people to indulge in everything that needs to be sacrificed during the Lent time. Hence Mardi Grass which most people know for a time of excess. Ironically though, Shrove Tuesday should really be a time of contemplation and self-examination since 'shrive', from which 'shrove' comes, means 'to absolve'.

Isn't it great how society just changes some of religion's stricter rules into festivities? And even better, Shrove Tuesday is linked to Pancake Day since apparently salvation comes from pancakes.

'Get t well fixed in your noddles, my children, that you are in the true road. Love each other. Be foolish about it. Love is the folly of men and the wit of God. Adore each other.' p.2260
M. Gillenormand became every so slightly adorable once he accepted Marius and Cosette into his heart. He was such a fan of their love and of them being happy that it was a joy to see him. Also, this seems to me like great advice for any couple out there.
'It's nothing to die; it is dreadful to live.' p.2440
This is only one of the beautiful things that Jean Valjean says in his last few minutes. It's amazing advice and it's also typical 'literary tattoo dream' fodder.
'Do not weep, my children, I am not going very far, I shall see you from there, you will only have to look at night, and you will see me smile.' p.2444
Ok, so when I read this I was pretty much ready to cry. Imagine your dying father saying this to you and tell me you're not crying.

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