The Deal Me In Short Stories Reading Challenge for 2020

Deal Me In Challenge 2020

I just heard of The Deal Me In Short Stories Reading Challenge for the first time at Cleo’s blog Classical Carousel. She posted about it this week and it sounded quite fun! So I hopped on over to the blog Bibliophilopolis to read more about this challenge. The idea is that you choose 52 short stories and assign each one a card from a standard deck of cards. Each week throughout the year, you draw a card from the deck and that is the short story you read for that week.

This past week, I bought a really nice hardback edition of American short stories that was on sale. I thought I would try to read through it over the course of the year. So this book is perfect for this reading challenge! I know, I know….so much for my idea of not participating in any challenges this year. Ha! It seems I am now joining in on a couple of reading challenges. BUT…each of these really aren’t the average type reading challenges where you are given specific categories. They are much more flexible; and this particular challenge…well…I was already planning to read the book anyway so why not join in on the reading challenge. Right?

Great American Short Stories

Pictured above is the hardback anthology of American short stories that I bought. Now, it only contains 50 short stories so that means I have to add two more short stories to my list. I decided to add “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant and “The Overcoat” (also known as “The Cloak”) by Nikolai Gogol. I have simply made a list of all the short stories and their authors that are in the book and added the two additional short stories to it as well. And then I assigned a card to each one. Here is my list:

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Hearts

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

A – “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving

2 – “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving

3 – “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

4 – “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

5 – “The May-Pole of Merry Mount” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

6 – “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allen Poe

7 – “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allen Poe

8 – “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe

9 – “The Purloined Letter” by Edgar Allen Poe

10 – “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville

J – “The Man Without a Country” by Edward Everett Hale

Q – “My Contraband” by Louisa May Alcott

K – “The Lady, or the Tiger?” by Frank R. Stockton

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

Spades

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

A♠ – “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain

2♠ – “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg” by Mark Twain

3♠ – “The Luck of Roaring Camp” by Bret Harte

4♠ – “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” by Bret Harte

5♠ – “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce

6♠ – “The Middle Toe of the Right Foot” by Ambrose Bierce

7♠ – “The Aspern Papers” by Henry James

8♠ – “The Beast in the Jungle” by Henry James

9♠ – “’Sieur George” by George Washington Cable

10♠ – “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett

J♠ – “The Failure of David Berry” by Sarah Orne Jewett

Q♠ – “Désirée’s Baby” by Kate Chopin

K♠ – “Athénaïse” by Kate Chopin

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Diamonds

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

A – “The Revolt of ‘Mother’” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

2 – “A New England Nun” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

3 – “The Wife of His Youth” by Charles W. Chesnutt

4 – “The Yellow Wall-Paper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

5 – “Up the Coolly” by Hamlin Garland

6 – “The Other Two” by Edith Wharton

7 – “Autre Temps” by Edith Wharton

8 – “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry

9 – “A Retrieved Reformation” by O. Henry

10 – “The Ransom of Red Chief” by O. Henry

J – “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane

Q – “The Blue Hotel” by Stephen Crane

K – “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” by Stephen Crane

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

Clubs

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

A♣ – “To Build a Fire” by Jack London

2♣ – “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather

3♣ – “The Sculptor’s Funeral” by Willa Cather

4♣ – “Alibi Ike” by Ring Lardner

5♣ – “Sophistication” by Sherwood Anderson

6♣ – “The Egg” by Sherwood Anderson

7♣ – “The Outsider” by H. P. Lovecraft

8♣ – “The Colour out of Space” by H. P. Lovecraft

9♣ – “Bernice Bobs her Hair” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

10♣ – “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

J♣ – “Winter Dreams” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Q♣ – “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant

K♣ – “The Overcoat” (Also known as “The Cloak”) by Nikolai Gogol

And there ya have it! My short stories list for 2020. I’m pretty excited to get started!

If you’d like to join in with us for this reading challenge, head on over to Ray’s blog Bibliophilopolis to read all the particulars and to sign up.

First Reading Projects of 2020

I am anxiously awaiting for January 1st to arrive. Why? Because I have some really fun reading projects I can’t wait to start.

Japanese Literature Challenge

First up is a different type of challenge. One where you don’t have a certain number of books or certain titles you have to read. It’s the Japanese Literature Challenge hosted by Bellezza. I first came across this challenge at my friend Silvia’s blog and thought this would be a reading project I would like to join. You can read more about this challenge HERE.

 

Right now, I have several titles in mind for this:

  • The Makioka Sisters by Jun’Ichirō Tanizaki
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (a re-read)
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

My plan is to focus on just one title first. If I get around to the others then great! I decided on The Makioka Sisters as my first read. I have bought the book and it is waiting on the shelf for me. 🙂 However, it looks like there might be the possibility of a read-along for this in March. So, if that’s the case, I will start with a re-reading of The Remains of the Day by Ishiguro. I’ve been wanting to re-read this book so this is the perfect time to do that!

The Iliad Read-Along

Starting January 1st, Cleo at Classical Carousel is hosting a read-along for The Iliad by Homer. I have already read The Iliad and didn’t really care for it. Epic poetry is not a favorite genre of mine…..However, I am going to try to read it again with Cleo’s read-along but I’ll be reading a different translation this time. I hope that with a different translation and Cleo’s read-along that I will be able to get more out of The Iliad this time around. 🙂 You can check out the Introductory post HERE and the schedule for the read-along HERE.

And that’s the reading projects I’ll be starting off my 2020 reading year with. I am participating in another read-along in March hosted by my friend Silvia. But I’ll talk about that when we get closer to March. 🙂

Do you have any reading project plans for the first part of 2020?

Considering My Classics To-Be-Read List – What Would You Add?

It’s that time of year where many are looking back at their reading year and evaluating what books worked for them and what books didn’t. Also, it’s a time of year where many are looking to the next year and considering what they might want to read, what reading challenges and/or read-alongs they might want to participate in, etc.

Right now, I’m thinking over my Classics TBR list and trying to decide if there are some titles I’d like to prioritize for 2020. As I consider my TBR list, I will be going through it, seeing if it needs updating, etc. I would love to hear what books on my TBR classics list you’ve read that you highly recommend and why (of course no spoilers please 🙂 ). Also, if there is a title not on my TBR list that you highly recommend, please tell me! I’m always looking for good books to read so I’d love to hear about your must-read books. I consider any book 50 years or older in the classic category.

The Novel Reader by Vincent Van Gogh 1888

“The Novel Reader” by Vincent Van Gogh (1888)

Here is my classics list as of right now. I’m pretty sure I need to update this list to add a couple more titles that I wanted to add. I’ve added some comments here and there in this list. 🙂

  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens – I already plan to be reading this in 2020.
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell – I read this in high school, but I want to read it again.
  • The Innocence of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton – I also have a small collection of short stories from the Father Brown series by Chesteron.
  • Emma by Jane Austen – When I tried to tackle this one a number of years ago, I didn’t finish it. It felt so wordy at the time. I want to try to read this again at some point. Currently, Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Austen novel. But I’ve only read two to date. 🙂
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – Right now, this is on my priority list for 2020.
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
  • The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
  • Our Town by Thornton Wilder
  • My Antonia by Willa Cather
  • The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  • Mama’s Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes
  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
  • Paradise Lost by John Milton
  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
    • The Return of the King (This is the only one left in the series that I need to read)
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – I’m currently reading this right now.
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  • The Pearl by John Steinbeck
  • The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
  • The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
  • The Odyssey by Homer
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  • The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen – Another Austen title I need to read.
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky – I started this a LONG time ago and only have about 1/4 of this book left to read. It’s a priority book for me to finish in 2020.
  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
  • The Warden by Anthony Trollope
  • A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
  • Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
  • Our Friend Manso by Benito Pérez Galdos
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  • Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
  • The Wonderful O by James Thurber
  • The Makioka Sisters by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki – I will be reading this in 2020. More about that soon.
  • A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich

So, what are your must-read classics? Are there any books on my list that you’ve read that you highly recommend? What about classics not listed that you highly recommend?

 

My Own Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

For 2019, I started out planning to do the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge as I normally have the past several years. But then I ended up deciding not to and set my own reading goals – i.e. my own reading challenge – and just go with that. It is now December and this past week I have been looking back over my own reading challenge to see how I did. But I also thought it would be fun to see just how many categories I may have completed in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge without purposefully trying to. What I found was that I actually completed more categories with the Modern Mrs. Darcy challenge than I did with my own. Huh. Interesting.

So anyway, again this year I don’t plan to officially participate in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge. And I am not going to create my own reading challenge either. However, the reading goal I had the last year or two of reading widely, I still plan to practice. I notice that I tend to read a variety of books anyway. But I’d like to still try to make sure I fit in some poetry which I didn’t really accomplish this year like I wanted.

In 2020, I do have plans to participate in some read-alongs as well as a Japanese Literature Challenge (which I will post about soon). Other than that, along with my reading goals, I am leaving my reading year wide open to read books I am drawn to, maybe tackle some more books I feel would be good for me to read, work on my ever growing TBR list, participate in read-alongs that might come along throughout the year, etc. In essence two words:  reading freedom. 🙂

I will say though, I do plan to print out the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge and put it in my reading journal to have for reading inspiration if needed. And I’ll probably check back with it at the end of the year to see if I ended up completing any of the categories unintentionally like I did for this year’s. 🙂 (You can see the 2020 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge HERE.)

Anyway…here’s how I fared with my own reading challenge for 2019. Then below, just for fun, I’ll show the books I read this year that ended up fitting in categories for the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2019 Reading Challenge.

2019 simply reading challenge graphic

A Non-Fiction History BookThe New World by Winston Churchill

A Non-Fiction Science Book: Didn’t complete

Book of Poetry:  I did read a children’s book of poetry but I didn’t get a general book of poetry read like I’d hoped (like a specific poet or a poetry collection)

Book about Poetry:  I never made it to starting the book I bought for this category. Maybe in 2020….

Essay Collection: How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen, The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri

A PlayShe Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith

Memoir or Biography: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl (I read others, including one I’m currently reading on St. Nicholas.)

Two Books from My Own Shelf:  Well, The New World by Winston Churchill counts for this since this series has been on my shelf for a number of years. Also, The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Two Classic Literature Books:  This was easy! I read more than two! Among them are Don Quixote by Cervantes, Les Misérables by Hugo, Murder on the Orient Express by Christie

Re-read a Book I’ve Already Read:  I re-read more than one including The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

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And now for what I read that fit the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge categories.

2019 modern mrs Darcy Reading Challenge

A Book You’ve Been Meaning to ReadThe Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey,
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

A Book about a Topic that Fascinates YouHow Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen

A Book in the Backlist of a Favorite Author:  Well, I’ve read other books from favorite authors but unfortunately I read earlier works first so that the follow ups I read were published later (For example, the Narnia series – read them in order)

A Book Recommended by Someone with Great TasteFellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Gown by Jennifer Robson (These are just a few. There were other books I read that were recommend by other readers that have great taste.)

Three Books by the Same Author: The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games, Catching FireMockingjay
Also, the complete Narnia series by C. S. Lewis except for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe which I read at the end of 2018

A Book You Chose for the Cover: Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly – I’m counting this because the cover drew me to the book and then I read the description and it sounded really good!

A Book by an Author Who Is New to YouI’ll See You In Paris by Michelle Gable, The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (there are a number of books I could list here….)

A Book in TranslationDon Quixote by Cervantes, Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

A Book Outside Your (Genre) Comfort ZoneMurder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

A Book Published Before You Were Born: The Enchanted April  by Elizabeth von Arnim (this is another category I could list quite a few for….)

I’ll be back soon with a look at my favorite reads from this year.

Books and Timing

I believe timing can definitely be a thing with books.

Sometimes we can read a book that just isn’t clicking and we set it aside. But then later on, that same book might end up being exactly what we need to read. Timing.

I believe we can pick up a book randomly and it turns out to be the perfect read at that moment. Timing.

Les Misérables turned out to be the right book at the right time for me. I wanted to share a bit about the impact reading Les Misérables has had for me.

Vincent Van Gogh book and flowers

“Blossoming Almond Branch in a Glass with a Book” by Vincent Van Gogh

My mom was given a terminal diagnosis in 2018. Towards the beginning of this year her health began to decline even more. Then around the beginning of August, her health began a more steep decline which resulted in the need for Hospice care. We were by her hospital bedside when she passed away in late September.

I couldn’t read much of the week after my mom died. In fact, I didn’t read at all that I remember. And if you know me, you know how much books are a part of my life; so for me not to read at all is pretty huge. As the grief poured upon me, I found myself wanting to get swept away in an epic book saga. Enter the novel Les Misérables.

Les Misérables provided me with a world I could get lost in as the grief began to sweep over and through me. There were moments when I didn’t want to put the book down. And there were moments when I had to put the book down and I cried. There’s one particular section of the book that really hit me hard.

In the Fantine section there was a particular part that was especially hard to read – the part where Fantine’s health declined and then she died. I knew the story from having watched the various movie productions. Therefore, I knew Fantine was going to die. What I wasn’t prepared for was how even more emotionally wrenching it would be to read about her physical decline after having just lost my mom. There were a few chapters where as I read the chapter I would start crying and have to set the book down and do something else.

Another part that broke my heart was towards the end of the novel when Marius sends clear signals to Valjean that Valjean is no longer welcome at he and Cosette’s home. Marius didn’t want Valjean around Cosette. Then Valjean’s health started going downhill. Months ago, as my mom’s health was declining and she was given only months to live, the one thing she wanted the most was to have her family around her and family to be with her when she died. To read all of this turn of events in the novel 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.

The Reader by Fragonard

“A Young Girl Reading” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Some people might say that maybe I shouldn’t have been reading that book right at that time; but I disagree. This book has been an important read for me at this time. Sometimes, when we’re in need of healing, or when the healing process is overwhelming, books can help — not just to escape, but to look beyond ourselves. To somehow place ourselves in a panorama of others. To know we are not alone.

And sometimes the stories we find in books, in their own unique way, help us through; and then we look back at that reading experience and realize that the book somehow had its place in helping us in our healing (or grieving) process. Maybe the story brought forth tears when we needed to cry; maybe the book gave name to emotions we had no name for; maybe reading the book gave us another avenue to process what needed to be processed in our healing journey; maybe the book helped us laugh when we desperately needed to. Maybe the book helped us know we weren’t alone in our journey…that others knew how we felt.

I believe that Les Misérables has had its place in my journey right now. It helped me by giving me a world I could immerse myself in while my grief has been hard. It also became the impetus for me to begin writing on my blog again. Coming back to my blog after not posting on it in so long, trying to get back into the swing of writing in this space, and focusing some of my time on immersing myself in the world of Les Misérables and writing about it, these things have helped me so much. A needed reprieve as I grieve.  And while I am still grieving the loss of my mom, Les Misérables will always hold a special place in my heart as the first book I was able to immerse myself in after my mom passed away. The right book at the right time.

Have books helped you at hard times in your life?  

Les Misérables #14 – Jean Valjean Books 4-9

 

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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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.

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Book 4

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)

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Les Miserables M. Gillenormand Dances a Gavotte

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.

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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…….

St. Denis by Edouard Cortes 1905

“St. Denis” by Edouard Cortes 1905

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.

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Book 9

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)

Les Miserables Valjean Dies

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)

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Quotes

…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)

Les Misérables #13 – Jean Valjean Books 1-3

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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Book 1

We read about two barricades that have been remembered; but they are yet to come. Hugo tells us the barricade at Rue de la Chanvrerie was just a precursor so to speak to the colossal ones that would be built later on. Still, to the people of that time, the barricade at Rue de la Chanvrerie was intimidating. The insurgents have fortified the barricade now; but their food supply is gone and they are hungry. Still, their conversation is lively and they are still dedicated to their cause. Enjolras brings out four National Guard uniforms and encourages any man with family to take it and leave so as to save themselves. Their situation is looking rather bleak with the news that a large group has formed and will attack them soon. They seem to have no more support from the populace. No one is eager to leave; but soon a handful of men are talked into saving themselves by putting on the uniforms so they can make it out of there in disguise. They have five men willing to go but only four uniforms. Next thing they know, another uniform is tossed down and it is from Jean Valjean. Marius happen to see Jean Valjean but they did not speak.

Enjolras goes to the lower room and asks Javert if he needs anything. He asks for a drink of water which Enjolras gives him. He also asks if he could be made more comfortable by being laid on the table. This they do; but they keep him bound up.

It was basically a waiting game for the insurgents; waiting for the attack. And then they could see the light of the match of the gunman that was close up at the barricade. So Enjolras ordered them to fire. A little bit later, Gavroche arrives. Marius was shocked and asked if he delivered his letter to Cosette. Gavroche lied and said he had taken it the doorkeeper and that Cosette was asleep. She would get the letter in the morning. Then Gavroche told the group that the barricade was surrounded. More firing of guns took place. Enjolras determined that they needed another mattress to protect them from the gunfire. There was only one that seemed impossible to attain. Valjean takes a gun and shoots at the cords binding it to the window it was in and it falls to the ground. However, where it fell was outside of the barricade and very risky for anyone who would try to get it. Valjean goes after it, picks it up, and carries it back to the barricade. He shoves the mattress in the opening in the barricade himself.

Les Miserables Cosette and the Nest

The story then switches to Cosette and the reader gets a little break from all the intensity of the revolution and the barricade. Cosette has woken from a dream, a dream of Marius. She is convinced that he will still come to her. She gets herself ready just in case it happens to be that day. She opens her window hoping to have a view of the street in order to watch for Marius; but the back yard was surrounded by high walls. She could only see a few of the gardens. She starts crying. Then she happens to notice a nest of martins below her window and that diverts her attention for the time being.

Meanwhile, back at the barricade…..

The attack on the barricade continued. They notice there’s an observer on the roof. Jean Valjean shoots at the helmet and the observer flees. Another takes his place. Valjean shoots at his helmet and he flees. Bossuet asks Valjean why he didn’t kill them and Valjean doesn’t answer.

More fighting continues and Enjolras comments that they are using up too much of their ammunition. Gavroche takes the matter into his own hands by grabbing up a basket, going outside the barricade, and beginning to collect cartridges from the dead soldiers. Initially there’s a heavy smoke that helps keep him hidden. He gets bold and flirts with even more danger by getting too close to the enemy. He ends up being shot and dies.

After such a heavy emotional situation, the reader gets a reprieve by the scene switching to Luxembourg. There, the two boys Gavroche took under his wing (his two brothers, the Thénardier boys) have managed to be in the garden after it has been locked. A father and son are seen walking. The boy has some brioche bread that he doesn’t want to finish eating. The father says he should  not waste it and give it to the swans. The bread does get left for the swans. After the father and son walk off, the two boys get the bread and share it even though it is all soggy from being in the water where the swans are.

Les Miserables The Storming of the Barricade

Back at the barricade, Marius brings back the body of Gavroche. They lay him on the table next to the body of M. Mabeauf. Combeferre comments to Enjolras how Valjean finds a way not to fight in this battle. To which Enjolras replies that it has not kept Valjean from defending it none-the-less. And they notice how Valjean is quite different from Mabeauf. What followed was a description of what it was like in the barricade at this time. I felt Hugo did a masterful job of describing the atmosphere to where you, as the reader, could really get a feel for what it was like.

Those who have never undergone the whirlwind of this kind of war can have no idea of the strange moments of tranquility mingled with the convulsions. Men come and go, they chat, they joke, they lounge…Every turn and phase of fortune had been or would soon be exhausted. From critical the position had become threatening, and from threatening it was probably becoming desperate. As the condition of affairs grew gloomy, the heroic glow colored the barricade more and more.” (p. 1223)

The barricade was stormed by the assailants.

At one point, Enjolras orders Javert to be taken out and executed. Valjean asks if he can do it and Enjolras agrees. Valjean takes Javert out, cuts the cords that bound him and told him he was free. He let him go. Javert was stunned. Valjean went even further than that; he also told Javert where he was living at that time. As Javert was leaving, he repeated Valjean’s address. He was obviously also beginning to be at war within himself because of Valjean setting him free instead of killing him. He tells Valjean, “‘You irritate me. Kill me instead.’” (p. 1229) And in saying this, Javert noticed that he had a more respectful tone in his voice. He leaves. After he’s gone, Valjean fires his gun in the air, re-enters the barricade, and tells them it is done.

Eventually, the insurgents were pushed back and had to take refuge in the boarded up three-story house. They held their own for a bit but eventually the assailants got in. The insurgents put up a fight to the end and eventually, Enjolras was all that was left. He boldly stood up, crossed his arms on his chest, and told them to kill him. The assailants were surprised by Enjolras’ response and even had respect for this bold action on his part. Next thing they know, Grantaire (who had been drunk and was asleep this whole time) stood up and took his place next to Enjolras. And they were both shot dead.

While all this was going on, Valjean was saving Marius. Marius had been wounded and did not make it into the house with the other insurgents. Valjean rescues him and makes it to the other side of the house. The assailants were preoccupied with the assault on the front side of the house and so they didn’t see Valjean make his escape with Marius. Valjean found himself in a similar position as he was in years ago when escaping with Cosette and they were cornered at the wall of the convent. Valjean finally notices a grating and gets a plan set in his mind of what to do. He opens the grating, makes it down underground with Marius, and closes the grating again. He found that they were in a long underground passage.

There, deep peace, absolute silence, night. The impression he had formerly felt in falling from the street into the convent came back to him. Only what he was now carrying away was not Cosette; it was Marius.” (p. 1251)

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Les Miserables Bruneseau Exploring the Sewers

Book 2

We now come to the section that discusses the sewers of Paris. There could be a number of reasons Hugo felt it necessary to include this section. But the main takeaway I have from it is that it really gives you a sense not only of what it was like down there sanitation wise, but also to give the reader a sense of just how massive the sewer system was. Can you imagine what it must have been like for Valjean to try to navigate this underground system of tunnels? It is amazing he could find a way out! Let alone, navigating it with trying to carry Marius!

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Les Miserables The Descent into the Sewer

Book 3

It was in the sewer of Paris that Jean Valjean found himself. Further resemblance between Paris and the sea:  As in the ocean, the diver can disappear.” (p. 1272)

Valjean had descended into the sewer. Hugo just spent page upon page describing the sewer systems of Paris. As a result, the reader has a better understanding of what this sewer was like that Valjean had just descended into with the wounded Marius. Sure, we know underground sewer systems would be very undesirable places to be to say the least. But what Hugo’s discussion of the sewer systems of Paris can also help us see, beyond the muck and mire that it contained, is just how massive it was. As I already mentioned, can you imagine Valjean having to try and navigate his way through it trying to find a way out? And carrying an injured person as well?

Initially, Valjean felt a sense of peace when he descended into the sewer. But this was not going to last.

The truth is that they were not so safe as Jean Valjean supposed. Perils of another kind, and no less great, were perhaps ahead of them…Jean Valjean had fallen from one circle of Hell to another.” (p. 1273)

It was a harrowing experience as Valjean tries to make his way through this labyrinth of tunnels, dodging a police search party and almost sinking completely in a mire of water and mud. He finally makes it to an exit only to find the grating closed and locked. He is confronted with a man who claims to have a key to the gate. This man assumes Valjean is a murderer and he tells Valjean he will let him out of the gate if Valjean would give him a share of the money he robbed from that man. Valjean recognizes who this man is:  Thénardier. Fortunately,  it appears that Thénardier does not recognize Valjean. All Valjean has on him is a little bit of money. Thénardier searches Marius (whom Thénardier thinks is dead), tears a piece of fabric off Marius’ jacket, and then completely forgets the deal he made and takes all the money Valjean had. He then lets Valjean out of the gate.

It’s interesting that Valjean has begun sliding into selfishness and even a hatred of Marius as he descends into the sewers – a place of sheer darkness. It’s almost as if his time in navigating the sewers, carrying the person he loathes on his back to try to save him, is like his struggle to overcome this darker side that’s rearing its head in him. He has to battle his own self to overcome these feelings of loathing and even hatred of Marius.

Les Miserables Javert Recognizes Jean Valjean.jpg

As Valjean exits the sewers, he finds himself face to face with Javert once again. He asks Javert if he could help him carry Marius home. Javert does agree to this. So they ride in the fiacre to Marius’ grandfather’s place. Once Marius is dropped off there, Valjean asks one more request of Javert:  that he could go back home once more. Javert consents to this. When they reach Valjean’s home, Valjean found it odd that Javert waited outside instead of accompanying him inside. He went on inside the house, reached the second floor, and decided to stick his head out of the window for a minute. When he did he was shocked to see that the street was empty; Javert was gone.

Back at M. Gillenormand’s house, Marius is examined by a doctor. The doctor determined that he didn’t have any internal injuries; but he had lost a lot of blood from his wounds and was exhausted. They try to stop the bleeding from the wounds but fear Marius is still not quite out of danger yet. M. Gillenormand comes in, thinks Marius is dead, and is overcome with grief. He basically becomes hysterical and begins babbling on and on. While he is babbling on, Marius opens his eyes and then M. Gillenormand faints.

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My Additional Thoughts

We see Javert acting very uncharacteristically in the encounter he has with Valjean at the gate of the sewer. Javert has always followed the law to the letter; to the point that he is almost robotic. At the barricades, he is faced with a kindness and mercy that shocks him:  Valjean letting him go. And now, when Javert is face to face with Valjean again, I think Javert is still wrestling with himself in regards to how to handle Valjean. It’s likely that we, as readers, are surprised to see Javert simply leave Valjean’s home instead of arresting him. I think Valjean’s action of allowing Javert to go free at the barricades sets off an huge internal struggle in Javert.

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I want to leave you with this video which is an instrumental version of the song “Bring Him Home” that is in several productions of Les Misérables including the broadway production and the 2012 movie production. Enjoy!