Les Misérables #5 – Fantine Section, Books 5-8

Les Miserables Fahnestock and McAfee

Fahnestock and McAfee Translation

**Again, just a reminder that I am reading the Fahnestock and McAfee translation. So all quotes and page numbers are from this particular translation.**

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This week’s reading brought us to the end of the Fantine section. We don’t get introduced to Fantine until well into this section; and this week’s reading shows us Fantine’s decline and then death.

Fantine Section

Fantine goes back to her home town after having been gone for many years. It had changed since she had lived there. It was known for making certain types of beads and jewelry. An unknown man had come to town and suggested a new way of making the material and also a new way to make a clasp on the bracelets. It revolutionized things and made him rich. This same man, when first entering the town, helped when the town hall was on fire. He risked his life going into the building and saving two children who happened to be the children of the gendarme captain. In that moment, no one thought to ask him for his papers/passport. From that time he became known as Father Madeleine or M. Madeleine. And Book 7, Ch. 3 reveals to us that M. Madeleine  is Jean Valjean.

We read about various things he did for the city on p. 160. We see how people would want to bestow honors upon him but he would always turn those honors down. (p. 161) M. Madeleine/Valjean is surely on his way to becoming a great humanitarian like Bishop Myriel. He tries to help the poor, improve the city, do good when he can.

We also learn that Bishop Myriel dies and Valjean goes into mourning.

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M. Madeleine left all the workings of the women’s department of his factory under the head of Madame Victurnien. He had confidence in her and thought her to be upright and very respectable. Unfortunately, Madame Victurnien stuck her nose in where it didn’t belong and took it upon herself to expose the fact that Fantine had a child. As a result, Fantine loses her job at the factory. Fantine thought that this was done with the approval of M. Madeleine. However, that was not the case; M. Madeleine knew nothing about it.

Fantine tried hard to survive and provide the money the Thénardiers demanded for Cosette. She tried to be a servant but no one would have her. Her creditors were endlessly after her. She made shirts for soldiers. But it was not enough and she fell behind with money due to the Thénardiers. Her neighbor, Marguerite, taught her how to live in poverty…to stretch and make things last.

There are many of these virtues in lowly places; someday they will be on high. This life has a day after.
(p. 180)

Fantine was ashamed to go out. She had to accustom herself to being stared at and disrespected. “She came and went, her head high and with a bitter smile, and felt that she was becoming shameless.” (p. 181)

She was weary and her cough worsened. Her hands were hot. But in the morning, she would comb her beautiful hair, and for a brief moment felt a happiness with that.

The Thénardiers continued to demand more money, and so she sold her hair. They demanded more again, telling Fantine that Cosette was sick and needed medicine. Of course she wasn’t sick; but Fantine did not know that. In the end, Fantine ended up selling her two front teeth in order to have enough money to pay them. Her hair was gone – the one thing that could still bring her even just a little hint of happiness. And now her two front teeth were gone, bringing her to utter desolation. Her creditors still hounded her relentlessly. And then once again, the Thénardiers demanded more money or they would toss Cosette out on the street. With no other recourse, no other work to be found that could pay her enough, she turned to the street.

The poor cannot go to the far end of their rooms or to the far end of their lives, except by continually bending more and more.” (p. 185)

Fantine in essence became a commodity to society in order to survive.

What is this story of Fantine about? It is about society buying a slave. From whom? From misery. From hunger, from cold, from loneliness, from desertion, from privation. Melancholy barter. A soul for a piece of bread. Misery makes the offer; society accepts.” (p. 186)

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Let’s go back for a moment and talk about what the people in the town came to think of M. Madeliene. At first, people in the town slandered him. Then some would make mean comments about him. Then it was simply witty comments that would be made. Finally, those types of comments disappeared altogether. “…respect became complete, unanimous, cordial…” (p. 167) People consulted him. He settled disputes, differences, reconciled enemies, prevented lawsuits. The people even chose him as judge. Veneration of this man spread. But one man didn’t follow suit. And this man was Javert.

Les Miserables Javert

Inspector Javert is introduced in Book 6. We find out all about him, how he came to be in the police force, and what his character was like. Here’s just a couple of passages that describe him:

The peasants of the Asturias believe that in every litter of wolves there is one pup that is killed by the mother for fear that on growing up it would devour the other little ones. Give a human face to this wolf’s son and you will have Javert.”  (p. 169)

This man was a compound of two sentiments, simple and good in themselves, but he made them almost evil by  his exaggeration of them:  respect for authority and hatred  of rebellion…He had nothing but disdain, aversion, and disgust for all who had once overstepped the bounds of the law. He was absolute, admitting no exceptions.” (p. 170)

Javert was cautious when it came to M. Madeleine/Valjean. He felt as if maybe his face was a bit familiar to him. One day, a cart fell on an older man. No one would help M. Madeleine/Valjean get the cart off of the man. So he got up under the cart and lifted it enough and finally other people started helping. He did this despite the fact that Javert had commented that he had only seen one man in his life that had enough strength to do such a thing and that was a convict. M. Madeleine/Valjean knew that him using his strength to help the man might give him away to Javert; but he did it anyway. Javert just watched him, kept his eye on him.

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Javert and Fantine

There is a scene that takes place when Fantine is in front of a local business minding her own business. A guy starts giving her trouble and Fantine continues to just ignore him and mind her own business. He then puts snow down her back and she goes at him. Inspector Javert intervenes and takes Fantine to jail. In the jail scene, M. Madeleine intervenes on behalf of Fantine. Javert insists she must be imprisoned. He points out that Fantine insulted the Mayor and that insult should be in the hands of justice, no matter what M. Madeleine wants. And M. Madeleine responds, “‘Inspector Javert…the highest justice is conscience. I have heard this woman’s story. I know what I’m doing.’” (p. 195)

M. Madeleine tells Fantine that he’ll take her in, help her, pay her debts, get her child, and so forth. I appreciate this statement he makes: “‘I declare to you from this moment, if everything is as you say, and I do not doubt it, that you have never ceased to be virtuous and holy before God. Poor woman!’” (p. 197) He takes her to the infirmary that is in his own home and has the Sisters there take care of her. He visits her daily.

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Up to this point, Valjean has managed to conceal his real identity and live in peace.  “He lived peaceably, reassured and hopeful, with two remaining thoughts:  to conceal his name, and to sanctify his life; to escape from men and to return to God.” (p. 218) But long story short, another man is mistaken to be Jean Valjean and Hugo spends a good amount of time showing the reader Valjean’s struggle of whether to remain where he is and keep his real identity concealed or go to the court and reveal that he is the real Valjean. In the end, he does reveal himself at the court and then leaves.

Valjean and the Candlesticks

He goes back to his home and sees Fantine. And while he is there, Fantine dies. During this time, Javert shows up to arrest him. Arrest him he does; but Valjean breaks out and comes back home. Sister Simplice sees him enter. Valjean goes to his room and Sister Simplice follows him. Then they hear Javert arrive. Valjean hides and Sister Simplice, who was known for her complete honesty in all things, lies to Javert and says no one is in the room with her and that she hasn’t seen M. Madeleine (Valjean). Valjean manages to escape.

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The chapter leaves us with an account of what happens to Fantine when she dies.

And so Fantine was buried in the common grave of the cemetery, which belongs to everybody and to nobody, and in which the poor are lost. Fortunately, God knows where to find the soul. Fantine was laid away in the darkness among the homeless bodies; she suffered the promiscuity of dust. She was thrown into the public pit. Her grave was like her bed.” (p. 298)

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Quotes

He always ate his meals alone, reading out of a book open in front of him. His library was small but well chosen. He loved books; books are cold but sure friends.” (p. 162)

“After a short silence, he added, ‘My friends, remember this:  There are no bad herbs, and no bad men; there are only bad cultivators.’” (p. 163-164)

The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves – say rather, loved in spite of ourselves…” (p. 166)

Though we chisel away as best we can at the mysterious block from which our life is made, the black vein of destiny continually reappears.” (p. 201)

Nowhere can the mind’s eye find anything more dazzling or more obscure than in man; it can focus on nothing more awe-inspiring, more complex, more mysterious, or more infinite. There is one spectacle greater than the sea:  That is the sky; there is one spectacle greater than the sky:  That is the interior of the soul.” (p. 217)

As he had during the morning, he watched the trees go by, the thatched roofs, the cultivated fields, and the dissolving views of the countryside that change at every turn of the road. Scenes like that are sometimes enough for the soul, and almost eliminate the need for thought.” (p. 246)

The shocks of fate have this peculiarity, that however subdued or disciplined our feelings may be, they draw out the human nature from the depths of our souls and compel us to show it outwardly.” (p. 295)

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Les Misérables #4 – Fantine Section, Books 3 & 4

Les Miserables Fahnestock and McAfee

Fahnestock and McAfee Translation

**Again, just a reminder that I am reading the Fahnestock and McAfee translation. So all quotes and page numbers are from this particular tranlsation.**

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As we begin Books III and IV, Cosette and Fantine enter the story. Fantine is young and beautiful and has fallen in love with Tholomyés. She has an impoverished background and knows how to work. But when she meets Tholomyés and hangs out with him, he obviously encourages her to look down on the work she knows how to do. And because of this, she disregards opportunities in work. And that makes it harder for her later on. She had to work in order to live. But her heart also longed to love and be loved and she fell in love with Tholomyés. Because of that yearning to love and be loved, she swayed toward Tholomyés instead of her work. Of Fantine the book says, “She worked to live; then, also to live, for the heart too has its hunger, she loved.” (p. 121)

She and three other girls, each with their own “boyfriend”, hung out together. These boys were all friends and Tholomyés was the oldest. It was clear that Fantine knew how to handle herself with style. On page 125 it says, “This daughter of obscurity had breeding. She possessed both types of beauty – style and rhythm. Style is the force of the ideal, rhythm its movement.

Unfortunately, all four men “surprise” the group of girls by leaving them all and going back to their own lives. Therefore, Fantine is left not just alone, but alone with Tholomyés child. She tried multiple times to write to Tholomyés; but he never contacted her again. So Fantine was left alone in the world to fend for herself and her child. It says, “She had made a mistake, but, deep down, we know she was modest and virtuous. She had a vague feeling of being on the brink of danger, of slipping into the streets. She had to have courage; she had it, and continued bravely.” (p. 148) She got rid of all her fine things, sold all she possessed, and left Paris with her child.

Now, before moving on, did it seem to you that Fantine had Tholomyés child while they were still seeing each other or that she was pregnant when he left? I’ve been looking up guides for the novel about this issue and I’ve gotten both answers. When I read this section, I got the impression that Tholomyés didn’t know about the child. But it seems that it’s possible that Fantine had already had the child before the men left. The text seems to indicate that after the men left Tholomyés did not know because Fantine kept trying to contact him and he did not respond. OR Did he in fact know, and she was trying to contact him to help her and he refused by not contacting her? Anyone have any thoughts on this?

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Fantine had been young and beautiful, handling herself with style. Now she is drastically different and one can see how injustice has affected her. She looked poor and pitiful. She was pale and looked somewhat sick. Her clothing hid any beauty she retained. She did not laugh. (See p. 146-147)

Cosette Sweeping from Les Miserables

Fantine resorts to asking the Thénardiers to take in her daughter, Cosette. She was convinced they would take good care of her. The mother appeared to be a very loving mother with her children. And they ran an inn. Unfortunately, the Thénardiers were not good people.

They reduced Cosette to a servant, treating her abominably.

It was harrowing to see the poor child, in winter, not yet six years old, shivering under the tatters of what was once a calico dress, sweeping the street before daylight with an enormous broom in her little red hands and tears in her large eyes.” (p. 156)

The happy, sweet little Cosette was described as a lark who no longer sang. Once again, one can see how injustice has affected Fantine’s daughter. “Injustice had made her sullen, and misery had made her ugly. Only her eyes remained beautiful, and they were painful to look at, because, large as they were, they seemed to increase the sadness.” (p. 156)

As we continue to read, we will see Fantine continue to decline and also see just how dastardly the Thénardiers are.

Les Misérables #3 – Fantine Section, Book 2

Les Miserables Fahnestock and McAfee

Fahnestock and McAfee Translation

**Again, just a reminder that I am reading the Fahnestock and McAfee translation. So all quotes and page numbers are from this particular tranlsation.**

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In the conversation between the Bishop and Jean Valjean at the Bishop’s home, we see Valjean’s first impressions of bishops when he talks about the Bishop who comes to the prison. Valjean says:

And then one day I saw a bishop; Monseigneur, they called him. It was the Bishop of la Majore, from Marseilles. He’s the curé that’s over the other curés. You know – sorry – I say it so badly, but for me, it’s so far off! You know what we are. He said mass in the middle of the place on an altar; he had a pointed gold thing on his head. It shone in the sun. It was noon. We were lined up, on three sides. With guns and lighted matches in front of us. We couldn’t see him too well. He spoke to us, but he wasn’t near enough, we didn’t understand him. That’s what a bishop is.” (p. 75)

So this is Valjean’s view of what a bishop is:  distant, unreachable, not understandable. Bishop Myriel will show him different; show him what a Bishop really is. He will show him kindness, forgiveness, no judgment, hospitality, and be welcoming.

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I love how the Bishop really shows compassion here in this passage. It is very non-judging and is probably encouraging to Jean Valjean:

‘Yes,’ answered the Bishop, ‘you have left a place of suffering. But listen, there will be more joy in heaven over the tears of a repentant sinner than over the white robes of a hundred just men. If you are leaving that sad place with hatred and anger against men, you deserve compassion; if you leave it with goodwill, gentleness, and peace, you are better than any of us.’” (p. 76-77)

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In Ch. IV, we get to read from a letter Bishop Myriel’s sister Baptistine sent to a friend. In this letter, Baptistine describes how he is with Valjean and describes how he isn’t preachy. He doesn’t try to sermonize or make any allusions of faith to Valjean. I appreciate this about the Bishop. He could have seen this as a ripe moment to show Valjean “the error of his ways” and how he needed to change his ways and do better. But he didn’t. And he continued to treat him like any other guest and with the utmost respect. This makes the Bishop even more endearing to me.

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Ch. VII describes how Jean Valjean got to the place he was when he was released from the prison…the last two paragraphs on p. 92 especially. We can see Hugo’s viewpoints in this whole portrayal of how the conditions of the prison and prison life changed Valjean. Valjean was not a terrible person. In fact, quite the opposite…he was a hard worker and a responsible man. He worked to take care of his widowed sister and her children. In a moment of desperation, he stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving children and he gets caught. He is sentenced to five years in prison but ends up serving nineteen years because of several escape attempts. Prison hardened Valjean. Hatred of what had been done to him overtook him and he became a different man. At the end of Ch. VII it says:

The beginning and end of all his thoughts was hatred of human law; that hatred which, if not checked in its growth by some providential event, becomes in time a hatred of society, then hatred of the human race, then hatred of creation, revealing itself by a vague, incessant desire to injure some living being, no matter who. So, the passport was right in describing Jean Valjean as ‘a very dangerous man.’” (p. 92)

This puts me in mind so much of Edmond Dantés in The Count of Monte Cristo. He too was imprisoned; and during his stay in prison he dwelt on how he was done wrong; he stewed and plotted revenge. He doesn’t have a turn-around from that plot of revenge though until almost the very end of the story. This is not the case for Valjean. There will be a providential event that will change the course of Valjean’s life early on after his release from prison. And that’s what we come to next.

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Ch. XII and XIII are about the pivotal points in Jean Valjean’s life where transformation begins to take place for good. We see the Bishop bestow hospitality, kindness, respect, and non-judgement upon Valjean when he stays there. Let’s look at what happens next.

The Man Awakened from Les Miserables (In Book II)

In the middle of the night, Valjean wakes up and wrestles with himself over the silver. He ends up taking the silver from the Bishop’s home and flees. He gets caught and brought back. What happens next shocks Valjean. When the gendarmes present him to the Bishop thinking he’d stole the silver, the Bishop assures them that it’s all a mistake. But the Bishop goes even further by telling Valjean to take the silver candlesticks too. The candlesticks are gotten and given to Valjean. And the whole matter is cleared up and the gendarmes leave. The Bishop then tells Valjean, “Do not forget, ever, that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man.” (p. 104) Jean Valjean couldn’t remember making such a promise. And the Bishop goes on to say, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!” (p. 104) Notice that the Bishop calls him “brother”? The Bishop continues to show great respect to Valjean even when Valjean had just taken the silver that night and fled.

Some would say the Bishop lied to the gendarmes regarding the situation; that Valjean did steal the silver and the Bishop made it look like he had given it to him. I tend to disagree with that. If you remember earlier in the book, the Bishop talks about how anything in his home is not his. I quoted this part in yesterday’s post, but I will quote part of it again here:

This is not my house; it is Christ’s. It does not ask any guest his name but whether he has an affliction. You are suffering; you are hungry and thirsty; you are welcome. And don’t thank me; don’t tell me that I am taking you into my house. This is the home of no man, except the one who needs a refuge. I tell you, a traveler, you are more at home here than I; whatever is here is yours….” (p. 76)

And then during the conversation between the Bishop and Madame Magloire after Madame Magloire finds out the silver is missing, notice what the Bishop has to say in this passage:

‘See, that is where he got out; he jumped into Cochefilet Lane. The wretch! He stole our silver!’ The bishop was silent for a moment; then raising his serious eyes, he said mildly to Madame Magloire, ‘Now first, did this silver belong to us?’ Madame Magloire was speechless. After a moment the bishop continued, ‘Madame Magloire, for a long time I have wrongfully been withholding this silver. It belonged to the poor. Who was this man? A poor man, quite clearly.’” (p. 102)

So I would think that in the Bishop’s mind, Valjean truly didn’t steal anything. It was freely his to take. What do you think?

Now, this thought doesn’t take away from the power of this moment. In Valjean’s mind and probably anyone else’s (as can be seen in Madame Magloire’s response), he was stealing. And to have the Bishop respond in such a way – in fact in a complete opposite way of most people – makes a deep impact on Valjean. And I think the Bishop knows this. I believe in his own way, the Bishop is pronouncing not just an instruction on Valjean to become an honest man, but also a blessing over him that he belongs to good now. No judgment. Just blessing and empowerment to do good. This moment with the Bishop is the catalyst for Valjean’s transformation to a new life.

At that point, Jean Valjean leaves and we next come upon the scene where a boy loses a coin and it rolls over to where Valjean is seated behind a thicket. Valjean steps on the coin and the boy asks him repeatedly for his coin back. I’m leaving out a lot here but basically Valjean finally tells the boy to go. In this whole interchange between the boy and Valjean, it would seem that Valjean didn’t realize he had stepped on the boy’s money and therefore wasn’t trying to steal it. When he realized what he had done, that he had stepped on the coin, he called for the boy. When the boy didn’t answer, he went in search of the boy, trying to find him. He had no luck. One of the people he asked if they’d seen a child was a priest. He gave that priest some money to give to the poor. He even asked the priest to have him arrested; he told him he was a robber. The priest fled. He continued to search and cry out the boy’s name. But there was no response. He fell down with his face on his knees and cried out that he was a miserable man then began sobbing. It was the first time he had cried in nineteen years.

He starts thinking and remembers what Bishop Myriel had said to him when he gave him the silver candlesticks. It was almost like a good versus evil moment from within himself. It threw him into somewhat of a state of confusion. And then, as he tried to make sense of his thoughts and of what the Bishop had said to him and how that had affected him, a moment of self-realization happens.

He saw himself then, so to speak, face-to-face, and at the same time through that hallucination he saw, at a mysterious distance, a sort of light, which he took at first to be a torch. Looking more closely at this light dawning on his conscience, he recognized it had a human form, that it was the bishop…By one of those singular effects peculiar to this kind of ecstasy, as his reverie continued, the bishop grew larger and more resplendent to his eyes; Jean Valjean shrank and faded away. For one instant he was no more than a shadow. Suddenly he disappeared. The bishop alone remained. He filled the whole soul of this miserable man with a magnificent radiance.” (p. 111)

And then he cries long and hard again. The fact that he is crying is hugely important I think. He did not cry at all the whole nineteen years in prison, representing how hardened he became. Him crying now at this point shows that wall of hardness breaking and the heart of him coming back. And the Bishop was the catalyst for Valjean’s transformation to a new life.

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Quotes

Every time he said this word “monsieur,” with his gently solemn and heartily hospitable voice, the man’s face lit up. Monsieur to a convict is a glass of water to a man dying of thirst at sea. Ignominy thirsts for respect.” (p. 76)

Les Misérables #2 – Fantine Section, Book 1

Les Miserables Fahnestock and McAfee

Fahnestock and McAfee Translation

My first “scheduled” post is to be on the Fantine section, Books I-IV. However, I have to say that there is so much that could be talked about in these first four books that there’s no way one post would be enough. As it stands, I’m already going to have to break this up into two or three posts so that we don’t end up with one REALLY long post. Suffice it to say, so much more could be said. So, my plan for now is to post three posts for this week’s reading: this post today, one tomorrow, and one on Sunday. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this section in the comments. 🙂

**Also, just a reminder that I am reading from the Fahnestock and McAfee translation pictured above. So all quotes and page numbers are from this particular translation.**

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Book I of the Fantine section really highlights Monseigneur Myriel, the Bishop of Digne. First, let me say:  I’ve seen several movie adaptations of this novel. While the movies definitely portray the kind and noble character of the Bishop, the novel really helps the reader see this even more in-depth through the descriptions of this man in the beginning of the novel.

One of the things that stood out to me was how the Bishop was given the name/title of “Beinvenu” by the people. The word “beinvenu” means “welcome” and this truly describes this man. From giving up his larger home to the hospital so that the hospital would have plenty of space, to his interactions with Jean Valjean, Monseigneur Bienvenu was the ultimate humanitarian…always seeking to give and be of help no matter what….always welcoming, kind, loving, forgiving, non-judgmental.

Les Mis The Comfortor

What I also appreciate is that while showing us – the readers – how holy and humble the Bishop was, Hugo also shows us that he still had his moments and definitely had his own opinions. He wasn’t perfect; and this shows his humanness (for instance, the discussion he had with what the book calls the “conventionalist”). I thought this particular passage describes this pretty well:

To conclude:  He was always and in all things just, true, fair, intelligent, humble, worthy, beneficent, and benevolent, which is another beneficence. He was a priest, a sage, and a man. We must even say that in those political opinions that we have been criticizing and that we are disposed to judge almost severely, he was tolerant and yielding, perhaps more than we who now speak.” (p. 48)

So, even with his own opinions, the Bishop was still tolerant and forgiving and humble. Also, even though he had his moments, that didn’t change how the people thought of him:

In the diocese, M. Myriel was the true pastor, the friend of all. In nine years, by dint of holy works and gentle manners, Monseigneur Bienvenu had filled the city of Digne with a kind of tender and filial veneration. Even his conduct toward Napoleon had been accepted and pardoned in silence by the people, a good, meek flock who adored their emperor but loved their bishop.” (p. 49)

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There are several places in Book I that I want to highlight because they will show up later in the novel (still in the section read this week).

*When describing how the people saw the Bishop, at one point it says, “He blessed and was blessed in return. Anyone in need of anything was shown the way to his house.” (p. 18) A little later on page 69, we will see this very thing happen with Jean Valjean. When Valjean was lying on the bench because the inns had turned him away, a lady comes up and starts talking to him. She asks if he has knocked on every door and then at one particular door. She tells him to knock on that particular door and it was the Bishop’s house. So just like the quote on page 18 indicates, someone in need (i.e. Jean Valjean) was shown the way to the Bishop’s house.

*“And as we are drawing the portrait of the Bishop of Digne just as he was, we must add that more than once he had said, ‘It would be difficult for me to give up eating with silver.’” (p. 23) This is important to note because when Jean Valjean takes the silver and is brought back by the gendarmes (police), the Bishop gives him the silver candlesticks too. We see that when the Bishop is talking to Madame Magloire regarding what they will eat with now that the silver is gone, he is not unhappy about this at all and is in fact content to eat with whatever utensils they have. Madame Magloire, on the other hand, is not happy about it at all.
(See p. 102-104) I think this just exhibits once again the kind, benevolent, giving character of Bishop Myriel.

 *“Again he wrote:  “Do not ask the name of him who asks you for a bed. It is precisely he whose name is a burden to him who most needs sanctuary.” (p. 24) This is important to note as we will see him acting in just this manner with Jean Valjean. Even though Valjean voluntarily just tells the Bishop who he is and so forth, the Bishop comments that he didn’t have to tell him who he was. Here’s what the Bishop said:  “‘You didn’t have to tell me who you are. This is not my house; it is Christ’s. It does not ask any guest his name but whether he has an affliction. You are suffering; you are hungry and thirsty; you are welcome. And don’t thank me; don’t tell me that I am taking you into my house. This is the home of no man, except the one who needs a refuge. I tell you, a traveler, you are more at home here than I; whatever is here is yours. Why would I have to know your name? Besides, before you told me, I knew it.’” (p. 76)

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We also start seeing Hugo’s beliefs/ideals pop up in this book. If you read my introduction post, or have read about Victor Hugo, then you know that he spoke out against the death penalty and the prison conditions in his time. He also advocated for the poor and wanted to improve the lot of women. Chapter IV of Book I really highlights a number of these ideals from his views of how society of that time contributed to the lot of the poor and women, to his views on capital punishment by showing how the guillotine affected the Bishop.

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This book is a heavy read. But Hugo did incorporate a bit of humor in this first section. This particular part talking about the Bishop made me chuckle:

Madame Magloire sometimes called him “Your Highness.” One day, rising from his armchair, he went to his library for a book. It was on one of the upper shelves, and as the bishop was rather short, he could not reach it. “Madame Magloire,” said he, “bring me a chair. My highness cannot reach that shelf.” (p. 11)

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A Few Quotes

To destroy abuses is not enough; habits must also be changed. The windmill has gone, but the wind is still here.
(p. 39)

In talking about the Bishop’s garden – “Was this narrow enclosure with the sky for a background not space enough for him to adore God in his most beautiful, most sublime works? Indeed, is that not everything? What more do you need? A little garden to walk in, and immensity to reflect on. At his feet something to cultivate and gather; above his head something to study and meditate on; a few flowers on earth and all the stars in heaven.” (p. 55)

 

Les Misérables Read-Along Home Page

I’m simply creating a landing page for all the posts for the Les Misérables Read-Along here on my blog. 🙂

Les Miserables Fahnestock and McAfee

Fahnestock and McAfee Translation

Les Misérables Read-Along Posts

Les Misérables #1 – Introduction and My Reading Schedule

Now that I have an unabridged translation of Les Misérables, I’m going to give this another go with an introduction for the book and its author, Victor Hugo. 🙂

Victory Hugo

Portrait Photograph of Victor Hugo by Étienne Carjat

Reading about Victor Hugo was very interesting. Hugo was born in France in February of 1802. Not only is it said that he is the most widely read author of all time, but he is also considered to be one of the most influential leaders in the world of literature.  Hugo was a prolific writer. Among all his writings, Les Misérables is considered to be his masterpiece. It ranks right up there with iconic literature such as War and Peace by Tolstoy and The Brother’s Karamazov by Dostoevsky.

I think it’s important to mention some of the things Victor Hugo believed in because readers will see some of his ideals reflected in the pages of Les Misérables. One of the key themes in this novel is social injustice; and social injustice is one of the many things Hugo spoke out against. Hugo was a huge political advocate and was very involved in the various movements of his day. He was a champion of liberty and justice and wanted to see misery and poverty ended. He advocated for the poor and wanted to see the lot of women improved. Hugo was also known for speaking out against capital punishment as well as the prison conditions of that time. According to what I read, Hugo is still considered a symbol of democracy and freedom not just in France but around the world.

Les Miserables Fahnestock and McAfee

Fahnestock and McAfee Translation

For a the description of the book itself, the following is from the back cover of the Signet Classics edition pictured above:

“Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean—the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread—Les Misérables ranks among the greatest novels of all time. In it, Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them to the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose. Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier, and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérables gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait that resulted is larger than life, epic in scope—an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.”

Read-Along Details

As I mentioned before, this read-along will be pretty informal. I plan to simply share quotes as well as my thoughts here and there about what I read each week. And I hope we will discuss the book in the comments! 🙂

The following is a tentative schedule of when I plan to post and what sections will be covered in each post. I say tentative simply because this is what I am aiming for but it needs to be flexible. Feel free to follow this schedule, or simply read and comment on each post I share when you’re ready. 🙂 Of course, my schedule is based on the Fahnestock and McAfee translation that I am reading.

Posting Schedule

October 6th – Introduction Post
October 11th – Fantine Section Books 1-4
October 18th – Fantine Section Books 5-8
October 25th – Cosette Section Books 1-4
November 1st – Cosette Section Books 5-8; Marius Section Books 1-2
November 8th – Marius Books 3-7
November 15th – Marius Book 8; Saint Denis and Idyll of the Rue Plumet Section Books 1-2
November 22nd – Saint Denis and Idyll of the Rue Plumet Section Books 3-8
November 29th – Saint Denis and Idyll of the Rue Plumet Section Books 9-15
December 6th – Jean Valjean Section Books 1-3
December 13th – Jean Valjean Section Books 4-9

I hope you will join me in reading Les Misérables, a work that is considered to be a masterpiece of literature.

Great Reads for October

The last time I did a post about great reads for October was in 2017. Today, I am sharing about some of the same books but also a new title as well.


A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities is one of two historical novels that Charles Dickens wrote. The novel is set in the time of the French Revolution. France was in turmoil and there was danger all around. With this as a backdrop, Dickens crafts a story immersed in themes such as injustice, vengeance, love, sacrifice and redemption. The story centers around Dr. Manette, his daughter Lucie, and Charles Darnay; and in classic Dickens style, there’s a host of other characters that are weaved in and out of the story. This classic gothic novel is full of drama, adventure, plots, and romance….   Read the rest of my review HERE.


Frankenstein

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

When you hear the name “Frankenstein”, visions of a tall, green, ugly monster tend to come to mind. Maybe you picture the classic monster portrayed in the 1930’s movie starring Boris Karloft. However, the book is not just about a monster; and the monster’s name isn’t Frankenstein. The main character of this book is a young man called Victor Frankenstein who decides to pursue science and ends up becoming obsessed with creating life. He finds that he’s able to piece together this being and bring it to life, something that he’s spent hours upon hours trying to figure out. When he brings the creation to life, he is abhorred at it and runs from it…leaving the creation left on its own. What transpires is a story filled with chilling events, tough themes, and questions that aren’t easily answered. Themes such as secrecy, abandonment, and hopelessness pervade this novel….   Read the rest of my review HERE.  (To add to my review, this is one I would like to read again.)


Dracula

Dracula by Bram Stoker

This was one of just a handful of books I read last year that took me by surprise. All I knew going into this book was that my hubby and another friend said they were surprised how much they liked it; and my husband even described it as frighteningly good. It’s probably one of my top favorite classics I read last year. If all you’ve ever known about Dracula is from the movies, you need to read this book!

From the back cover of the Dover Thrift Edition:

“During a business visit to Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, a young English solicitor finds himself at the center of a series of horrifying incidents. Jonathan Harker is attacked by three phantom women, observes the Count’s transformation from human to bat form, and discovers puncture wounds on his own neck that seem to have been made by teeth. Harker returns home upon his escape from Dracula’s grim fortress, but a friend’s strange malady — involving sleepwalking, inexplicable blood loss, and mysterious throat wounds — initiates a frantic vampire hunt. The popularity of Bram Stoker’s 1897 horror romance is as deathless as any vampire.  Its supernatural appeal has spawned a host of film and stage adaptations, and more than a century after its initial publication, it continues to hold readers spellbound.”


 

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights starts with the developing relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine. Love grows and they feel they are soul mates. But when events separate them, revenge takes root and the effects are widespread. This is a complex and volatile story of love, betrayal, and revenge. Brontë’s exquisite writing will keep you turning the pages. Read the rest of my review HERE.


What are some of your favorite books to read for October?


**If you are wanting to join me in reading Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, go ahead and start reading. Right now, I’m trying to read about 20 pages a day and am about 80 pages in. You can read THIS POST where I discuss translations. I will be back in a day or two with an introductory post! 🙂 **

Les Misérables – A Look at Translations and An Invitation for a Read-Along

In my last post, I was beginning to share thoughts from my first week of reading Les Misérables. However, as I was typing, I needed to look up something and ended up discovering that the book I had was an abridgement; despite the fact that it said “Complete and Unabridged” on the front cover. I want to read an unabridged translation. So I started researching the most recommended translations.

First, this is the book I already had:

Abridged Book of Les Miserables

As you can see on the cover, it clearly states it’s complete and unabridged. However, this is not true. I compared the page count to just a couple of different translations and found that this book fell anywhere from around 400-800 pages less. That’s a huge page count difference! That’s just too much of the story left out for me. I realize when we’re talking about books in translation, many could still be considered slightly abridged just by the fact that translating into a different language can mean certain words might get left out that may not be able to be translated, etc. But to me, hundreds of pages left out is a totally different thing. And that’s not what I want. I want to find a translation that is as close to the original as possible but that also knows how to make the story flow as the author intended in the translated language. And so that’s what I set about to find out with the different translations of Les Misérables. I finally settled on the Fahnestock and McAffee translation.

So first, let me show you the immense difference between this translation and the abridged version I already had:

Two Translations of Les Miserables

Huge difference!

Now back to the different translations. As I researched, three translations tended to stay at the top:  the Wilbour translation, the Denny translation, and the Fahnestock and McAffee translation.

 

The Wilbour translation is said to be very close to the original. However, I read that because the translator tended to keep the original French order of wording, it makes the English version harder to understand at times. It’s more formal sound may also pose a problem for some. The formal wording is not so much a problem for me; but a clunky read because of keeping the French order of wording would probably make it more difficult for me to enjoy.

The Denny translation is said to be probably the most readable translation for modern English. It is my understanding that this translator tried to keep to the original but at the same time, keep the spirit of the author’s intent with the storyline. Therefore it is probably more readable in the English language. I read that Denny did leave out some portions but included those omitted sections in the back of the book.

The Fahnestock and McAfee translation is based off of Wilbour’s translation and tried to stay true to the original. I read that it still retains some of that more formal sound as the Wilbour translation. However, one of the big differences is that it is said that this version has more of the French terminology translated than the Wilbour translation; therefore, it is better for those who have little experience with or understanding of the French language.

For me, the two that rose to the top was the Denny and the Fahnestock and McAffee translations. I decided that I would be fine with getting either one. I was leaning towards the Fahnestock and McAffee mainly because of the fact that Denny omitted parts, even though those parts were still included in the back of the book. So I could still read the omitted parts. But in the end, I felt the Fahnestock and McAfee would just be a smoother read because I wouldn’t have to flip to the back for the omitted parts. Purely just a preference on my part.

What it really came down to was availability for me to purchase either of these translations at our local bookstores. I decided that whichever my local bookstore(s) carried, I would go with that. If they didn’t have either, then I would order it online and go with the Fahnestock and McAfee. In the end, one bookstore only had the Wilbour. So that was out. But then yesterday, my family and I stopped at the other local bookstore and they had the Wilbour, yes, but also ONE copy of the Fahnestock and McAfee. I snatched it up right then and there and bought it.

Les Miserables Fahnestock and McAfee

The Fahnestock and McAfee Translation

I started reading it last night and so far, I find this translation very readable. Hopefully that will stay true for the whole book! Also, I have already read parts that weren’t in the original abridged book I already had. And as I read those parts I kept thinking, why would they leave that out??!!

Would you like to join me in reading Les Misérables? I would love to have others on this reading journey with me. We can do this as a read-along. I don’t plan to do anything formal. I’m just planning to read the book and share passages and quotes and some thoughts here and there along the way. I would love to have others to discuss the book with in the comments! My plan is to post once a week if possible. I can also plan out an approximate number of pages to read per week if there is any interest. 🙂

A Few Introductory Thoughts on Les Misérables

Before diving into Les Misérables, I took some time to read some introductory material on both the book and the author, Victor Hugo. Reading about Hugo was very interesting. Hugo was born in France in February of 1802. Not only is it said that he is the most widely read author of all time, but he is also considered to be one of the most influential leaders in the world of literature.  He was a huge political advocate and was very involved in the various movements of his day. In fact, he eventually became a Senator and worked to accomplish his literary ideals. It is said that he became a national hero in France. According to what I read, Hugo is still considered a symbol of democracy and freedom not just in France but around the world.

After writing the above, I went to look up some information and have discovered that the version of the novel I have is actually an abridged version….even though the cover of the book says complete and unabridged. So….I’m left with trying to decide if I want to just continue on with the book I have that I’ve already started reading, or stop where I’m at and try to buy a different translation and start over. Ugh. I did a bit of research and find two particular translations recommended the most:  Rose and Denny.

Any thoughts?

Autumn Is Around the Corner and Other Musings

 

It’s incredibly hard for me to believe how much time has passed since I last posted here on the blog. So much has been going on. And honestly, a few times I’ve wanted to write….but the words just eluded me. I couldn’t seem to write anything. In my family, my husband is the gifted writer. He can get an idea for a story and sit down and write several chapters in one sitting. Just like that. I think I’m a bit jealous. LOL It takes me awhile to write. What might take my husband 20 minutes to write, would likely take me at least a week (or longer!). Anyhoo…..

Right now, though, I’m just writing. Putting pen to paper – or in this case fingers to the keyboard – and sharing. Not worrying if it flows or if it’s grammatically correct or if it’s not good writing. Just writing. 🙂

Fall Leaf Border

Where we live, it seems like it takes FOREVER for Autumn to arrive. It’s mid-September and we are still having 90 degree temperatures. Ugh. But I know that Autumn is just around the corner. And I CANNOT WAIT! Fall is my favorite season of the year. I love all things fallish – apple pie, baked apples, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pancakes, hot apple cider, sweatshirts, falling leaves, and all the beautiful colors the trees display.

Autumn Leaves

I don’t know if it’s the thought of Autumn coming soon or not, but I’m in the mood to tackle another long classic. Which classic you may ask? Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. It’s been on my classics-to-read list for a good while. However, Masterpiece Theatre (PBS) recently made a new mini-series production of it and I really wanted to try to get the book read before watching it. But there just wasn’t enough time. My husband and I did watch the series and it ranks up there with my favorite productions of this novel. I just finished up reading The Two Towers by Tolkien on Sunday night so I started reading Les Miserables last night:  first reading an introduction that talked about the book and the author Victor Hugo, and then reading a couple of chapters.

I think there’s something about the cooler weather that’s coming soon that invites me to begin reading this long classic. Have you ever felt like tackling longer books in the fall and winter?

Fall Leaf Border

I know I also need to do an update of what I’ve been reading this year. Maybe it would just be easiest to list my titles here and just share a brief note here and there on the books I read for myself. That sounds good. So let’s give that a go. My last update was back in the first of February where I shared what I read in January. Wow! So here’s what I’ve read since then. If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I read a lot of children’s books because I have a kiddo who is an avid reader. So my list of children’s books is lengthy. Some are books I pre-read (and not all books I pre-read get passed on to my daughter. That’s why I pre-read. 🙂 ) Other books in this list we did as read-alouds.

Ok. So first is the list of books for me that I read, then follows the list of children’s books I read. In my first list of books I read for me, classics are listed first then non-fiction then contemporary fiction.

My Reads

Classics

  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes – For the most part, I enjoyed Book I. It is very humorous! However, I felt like Book II fell a little flat. Mainly I think because it felt like it was just one episode after another repeating itself and therefore felt a bit monotonous. Still, it is well-written and I am glad I read it.
  • The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim (re-read) – Love this book! 4 stars
  • Excellent People by Anton Chekhov (short story)
  • Expensive Lessons by Anton Chekhov (short story)
  • The Princess by Anton Chekhov (short story)
  • The Aeneid by Virgil – I chose this as an ancient classic to read for my own personal reading challenge.
  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – This was my first Agatha Christie novel and I did enjoy it for the most part. I’m not a huge detective story reader but I felt this one was well-written and would consider reading another Christie novel.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (re-read) – This is my favorite Austen book I’ve read so far. I listed it as one of my favorite reads of 2016.
  • The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien – I really like this series by Tolkien so far. This particular one is probably not my favorite but still very good. So far, I give the whole series 4 stars.
  • The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis
  • The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis
  • The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis – This was my least favorite of the whole Narnia series. But I still give the whole series 4 stars!

Non-Fiction

  • How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler
  • Becoming by Michelle O’bama
  • Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham – I love the show Gilmore Girls, so this was a fun read for me.
  • Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl – I didn’t care for this one as much as I thought I might.
  • The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida – This book is all about what Naoki’s autistic world is like, told by himself.

Contemporary Fiction

  • Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson – I only gave this one 3 stars. But I think I might want to read it again sometime after having listened to the author speak about the book.
  • A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline (re-read) – This is a 4 star read for me.
  • I’ll See You In Paris by Michelle Gable – I really enjoyed this one.
  • 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff – This was just okay. I was a bit disappointed with it, being that I really like the epistolary form of writing.
  • The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins – I gave the whole Hunger Games series 5 stars. I have seen the movies and my sister had told me awhile back that I really should read the books. She said the books really give so much more context to the movies. So I finally bought the books and decided to read them. I’m pretty picky with what books I give 5 stars too. But The Hunger Games series has earned it’s spot with my 5 star books. This series is not easy to read. It is heavy, intense, and emotionally charging. But the writing is compelling and I didn’t want to put the books down. If you like the dystopian genre, I highly recommend these books.
  • A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn – I did enjoy this one but may not read any more in the series.
  • Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry –  I really enjoyed this book. It is a good example of a well-written character-driven novel.  4 stars
  • Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly – Another historical fiction I gave 4 stars
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng – I read so many good reviews of this book but I just wasn’t that impressed with it.
  • The Gown by Jennifer Robson – Loved this book! If you are a fan of the Netflix series The Crown, you will probably like this book. 4 stars

Children’s Books

  • Greenglass House by Kate Milford
  • A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
  • Who Was Alexander Graham Bell? by Bonnie Bader
  • Who Was George Washington Carver by Jim Gigliotti
  • Where is the Amazon? by Sarah Fabiny
  • Red Sand, Blue Sky by Cathy Applegate
  • Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff
  • The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events #4)
  • The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
  • One Voice:  The Story of William Wilberforce by Amy Lykosh
  • By the Great Horn Spoon! by Sid Fleischman
  • Freedom Train by Dorothy Sterling
  • Shades of Gray by Carolyn Reeder
  • Sing Down the Moon by Scott O’Dell
  • Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
  • Helen Keller by Margaret Davidson
  • The Wright Brothers by Quentin Reynolds
  • Hero Over Here by Kathleen V. Kudlinski
  • George Washington Carver by Janet and Geoff Benge
  • The Seventeenth Swap by Eloise McGraw
  • Plain Girl by Virginia Sorensen
  • Henry Reed, Inc. by Keith Robertson
  • Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
  • Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
  • Of Courage Undaunted by James Daugherty
  • Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

Fall Leaf Border

This year has been a year of no reading challenges except for the one I created for myself. And I have to say, I’m a bit behind in trying to complete my own reading challenge! Ha! But it’s been a pretty good reading year so far overall. I still have a couple of books I’d like to tackle before the year is out, but that may not happen. I am definitely seeing that I tend to be a mood reader. Which isn’t to say that I only read what I’m in the mood for. I definitely read books that I have scheduled out. And of course I still read a lot of children’s fiction. I also have book club titles to read as well. But reading Les Miserables is a prime example of me picking up a book because I am feeling drawn to read it. I have a number of books I’ve wanted to tackle this year but have decided they can wait while I pick up Les Miserables. 🙂

Les Miserables

So to get myself back in the swing of writing here on the blog again hopefully more consistently, I think I will blog my way through Les Miserables by simply sharing quotes from the book each week as I read it. Maybe I will add some thoughts here and there. But mainly just share quotes from the week’s reading.

What are some of your favorite longer classics (or any books 🙂 )
to snuggle up with in cooler weather?