**Again, just a reminder that I am reading the Fahnestock and McAfee translation. So all quotes and page numbers are from this particular translation.**
Can you believe we just finished the final chapters of the book? It’s hard to believe I’ve finished reading it! This is the final post in the series. I’ve sat with this book now for weeks but it’s impact will last much, much longer. It is easily one of the best new books I’ve read this year! (New as in I’ve never read it before)
I am giving summaries and thoughts for the last section of the book as usual. In the comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts not only on this last section, but also on the book as a whole. I will posting another post soon where I plan to share some about the impact Les Misérables had on me as I read it.
In my last post, I talked about how I thought Javert was already in inner turmoil because of Valjean’s actions. Book 4 confirms that and shows Javert’s thoughts as he struggles with his beliefs being confronted by Valjean.
“Jean Valjean confused him. All the axioms that had served as the supports of his life crumbled away before this man. Jean Valjean’s generosity toward him, Javert, overwhelmed him…Javert felt that something horrible was penetrating his soul, admiration for a convict. Respect for a man on the work gang, could that be possible? He shuddered at the thought yet could not shake it off. It was useless to struggle, he was reduced to confessing before his own inner tribunal the sublimity of the wretch. That was odious.” (p. 1318)
“Javert’s ideal was not to be humane, not to be great, not to be sublime; it was to be irreproachable. Now he had just failed….All sorts of questions flashed before his eyes. He asked himself questions and gave answers, and his answers frightened him.” (p. 1320)
“All the he had believed in was dissipating. Truths he had no wish for besieged him inexorably. He must henceforth be another man. He suffered the strange pangs of a conscience suddenly operated on for a cataract. He could see what it revolted him to see. He felt that he was emptied, useless, broken off from his past life, destitute, dissolved. Authority was dead in him. He had no further reason for being.” (p. 1321)
In the end, Javert could not reconcile himself to these conflicting thoughts that confronted all he had believed and the principles he had based his life and work on. He could not bring himself to entertain the thought that he could change how he saw things or that he could continue to be a man of the law but also a man with a heart. Maybe things would have been different for Javert had he had a Bishop Myriel to steer his soul in a better direction. So all he felt was left for him was to cease to exist. He felt he “had no further reason for being.” (p. 1321) And because of thinking that, he makes the choice to physically cease to exist by jumping off the parapet into the tumultuous section of the Seine that was a “formidable whirlpool that knots and unknots itself like an endless screw.” (p, 1326)
Books 5 and 6
It took a good while for Marius to recover from his wounds. His grandfather was at his side and very attentive. As far as Marius’ involvement in the insurrection, he was let go and did not suffer any consequences for his involvement.
Finally, he recovered and thought he would have to go to great lengths to get his grandfather’s blessing to marry Cosette. He was much surprised to find that his grandfather was happy to consent. His grandfather sent for Cosette and she and Valjean came. They are warmly received and much attention is given to Cosette from the grandfather. Valjean also lets them know that she has a good deal of money which shocks them. The wedding is set for February.
In the meantime, Marius stills feels a responsibility towards Thénardier because of his father; but Thénardier seems to have completely disappeared. However, as the reader, we see him pop up on the wedding day. As they are making their way to the wedding, there’s a man and girl in the crowd that had gathered for Mardi Gras. The man says a face in the carriage seems familiar and sends his daughter off to find out what wedding party the man belongs to and where they live. We discover that this man and daughter are none other than Thénardier and his daughter Azelma. (We learn that the Thénardiess died.)
After the wedding, there’s a small gathering at M. Gillenormand’s house. Valjean manages to excuse himself early on and goes back home. When he gets home, he pulls out the box that he has carried with him wherever they have gone. He opens it up and puts the contents of it on the bed. It is the clothes and shoes that Cosette had worn ten years ago when they left Montfermeil; the mourning clothes that he had bought for her. He arranged all the things on the bed and thought about all those years ago and how she had no one else in the world but him. Then he laid his head on the bed and cried.
Valjean finds himself still with inner turmoil. But despite his feelings, despite the selfishness and how he felt about Marius, he did not give in to those feelings. He still saved Marius and he let Cosette marry Marius.
Books 7 and 8
The next morning, Valjean goes back to M. Gillenormand’s house and asks for Marius. He talks with Marius and reveals who he really is – an ex-convict, Jean Valjean, wanted at large again. Marius doesn’t really know what to think. But in the end, he agrees to not tell Cosette and that Valjean would come every evening to see her. And it does seem like he wants to help Valjean. He said he had a friend who could get him pardoned. Valjean wouldn’t accept.
Next we are given Marius’ inner dialogue on this new information regarding Valjean. I will admit, I got irritated with Marius here. And as I continued reading in to Book 8, I did not like Marius one bit because of his treatment of Valjean. Of course, we have traveled this entire novel with Jean Valjean. We have gotten to take a peek into his inner struggles. We have seen him be kind, generous, gentlemanly; a man who took in Fantine and helped her and was a loving father to Cosette. But what frustrates me so much, is that Marius himself was pardoned from his involvement in the insurrection….he could have had dire consequences for that. Yet, he can’t now see past Valjean’s admission of his past. He wanted to ask him several questions; but not one of those questions was to ask Valjean why he was put in prison to begin with. Valjean eluded to it by saying that he once stole bread to live. But I don’t know that Marius picked up on that as being the reason Valjean was sent to prison.
Day after day, Valjean continued to come in the evenings to visit Cosette. His visits began to be longer as time passed. But then, he began to notice that a message clearly seemed to be sent to him. First, the fire was not lit in the fireplace. Then the armchairs were on the other side of the room. Then the armchairs were gone altogether. He felt he was clearly being told to quit coming to visit. This broke my heart.
Valjean did not even have to reveal to Marius his real name and what his past consisted of. He could have kept on, moved in with them, and continued being M. Fauchelevent. But his conscious wouldn’t let him.
“He drew a breath with difficulty, and forced out these final words: ‘To live, I once stole a loaf of bread; today, to live, I will not steal a name.’” (p. 1396)
He felt he had to be open and up front with Marius. And now, it would seem that Marius is trying to subtly tell Valjean to quit coming around. I am quite aggravated with Marius…….
Valjean does stop visiting and the end of Book 8 finds Valjean walking to M. Gillenormand’s house regularly but turning around and going back; then he slowly stops going as far as Gillenormand’s house. He is old. Reading this part really broke my heart.
To read all of this turn of events for Valjean in feeling like he was no longer being welcomed to visit Cosette, his only family in the entire world, it broke my heart and brought tears to my eyes. His health was declining, and all he wanted was to be near Cosette.
Hugo must have known how his readers would react to Marius’ actions in Book 8 because he starts off Book 9 by saying:
“It is a terrible thing to be happy! How pleased we are with it! How all-sufficient we think it! Being in possession of the false aim of life, happiness, how we forget the true aim, duty! We must say, however, that it would be unjust to blame Marius.” (p. 1426)
What we, as the reader, have to remember is that we know much more about Valjean than Marius did. In Marius’ eyes, the case did not look well for Valjean. He questioned where all the money had come from. As we read on, we find out that he thought Valjean had stolen all that money from a M. Madeliene. He also thinks Valjean killed Javert, a police officer. So the steps he took to separate Valjean from Cosette was done out of what he felt was his duty as a husband. In his mind, he could not even begin to comprehend how such a pure angel like Cosette could have been raised by such a hideous man as Valjean. These thoughts were part of his inner struggle.
One day, though, a man writes Marius a letter and asks it to be delivered to him while he waits in another room. Marius gets the letter and sees the man. The man ends up being Thénardier. In the course of this visit, Marius finds out the real truth about the money and what happened with Javert. Marius response?
“‘Well, then, this unhappy person is a wonderful man! That whole fortune was really his own! He is Madeleine, the providence of a whole region! He is Jean Valjean, the savior of Javert! He is a hero! He is a saint!’” (p. 1445)
Thénardier tries to recover and says the crimes he accuses Valjean of are from when he came upon him in the sewer. He said that Valjean had robbed and killed a man and had been carrying the corpse on his back. He showed Marius the piece of torn fabric he kept from the “corpse”. Marius realized that it was the torn piece from his own jacket and knew right then and there that Valjean was the man that saved him. He told Thénardier that the “corpse” was him and the torn fabric was from his own jacket. At that point, Thénardier knew it was over for him. Marius tells him:
“‘You are a wretch! You are a liar, a slanderer, a crook. You came to accuse this man, you have justified him; you wanted to destroy him, you have succeeded only in glorifying him…’” (p. 1448)
And Marius then exposes Thénardier and tells him he knows enough about him to put him in prison. He gives him some money, sees that Thénardier (under a false name) and his daughter go to America, and makes it clear they are not to return.
As soon as Thénardier was gone, Marius runs to get Cosette, tells her they have to hurry and they go to Valjean’s home. When they get there, they find Valjean not doing well. For he had taken to barely getting out of bed now.
“Marius was beside himself. He began to see in this Jean Valjean a strangely lofty and saddened form. An unparalleled virtue appeared before him, supreme and mild, humble in its immensity. The convict was transfigured into Christ. Marius was bewildered by this marvel. He did not know exactly what he was seeing, but it was great.” (p. 1449)
Cosette embraces Valjean and Marius calls him father. Valjean is overcome with joy. There is so much joy and love and gratitude in the room. Marius declares that they want to take Valjean back to their home to live with them. But Valjean finally tells them that he is dying. They don’t want to accept this. The doctor shows up and confirms to Marius alone that it is too late for Valjean. Valjean murmurs, “‘It is nothing to die; it is horrible not to live.’” (p. 1455) He continued to grow weaker. He had Cosette and Marius come closer to him and spoke to them. Then he took his last breath.
“The night was starless and very dark. Without any doubt, in the gloom, some mighty angel was standing, with outstretched wings, waiting for the soul.” (p. 1459)
They buried him according to his wishes, with a stone with no name on it. It says that years later there were pencil marks on the stone that probably got washed away. What had been written in pencil was the following:
“He is asleep. Though his mettle was sorely tried,
He lived, and when he lost his angel, died.
It happened calmly, on its own,
The way night comes when day is done.” (p. 1460)
“…it is this way, in a succession of recognitions by ourselves about ourselves, the life improves us little by little…” (p. 1404)
“At certain critical moments, have we not all, after asking a question, stopped our ears so as not to hear the response? We experience this cowardice particularly when we love.” (p. 1409-1410)