Just finished! (And loved it!) Is this the place to put minor questions? Some minor questions (all pretty recentish):
1. [Spoilers abound] ... Jacques Ferrand* died of what? Satyriasis? Is that a euphemism? The Wikipedia article does not mention any nervous fever (not that 'nervous fever' couldn't mean absolutely anything in nineteenth century fiction) featuring alternating heightening (to the point of unbearable intensity) of the five senses. Is that a symptom of any real disease or is it just divine retribution in action? His last scenes make it out to look a lot like rabies, but then Sue specifically mentions that This Terrible Disease finishes by Looking A Lot Like Rabies. Coming from an author who likes to flash his research and his practical advice, cite his references, provide recommendation for further reading, etc., this was disappointingly fantastical. (Actually there's probably a corresponding Hoffmann death somewhere ... hm.) (Loved the Cardillac nudge in the La Force sequence! [And Javotte's supposed to be a tante, no?])
2. Who is the 'famous doctor' who signed his article as 'Z.'? (And that's what makes the book such fun: after the aforementioned scene Sue swiftly moves on to a chapter featuring two-page-long footnotes about hospital statistics.)
3. ... what on earth is the point of the entire Cabrion plot? I can't help but assume I really missed the subtext anvil here. Is it just for laughs? Is it an inside joke because he is supposed to remind you of someone? Or is it supposed to be 'Hey, you bearded artist types! Playing pranks on serious people (or people who take themselves for serious people) is not all fun! It can seriously trouble them!'?
4. How adorable is Rigolette?! (Okay, that's not a real question.) Germain can be a bit much at times (I suppose it's only fair that Sue gives you a sort of male counterpart to Fleur-de-Marie as the Innocent Forever Holding Themselves At Mental Arm's Length From Decent People, but his trauma isn't quite on the same level as hers, is it?) (but then, he does settle happily in his restored good life after having been saved), but awwwww aren't they the sweetest (VIRTUOUS) couple? Yay Rigolette for taking the initiative! Yay Rigolette in general!
Right. Such pressing concerns aside, WHAT A GREAT READ. Go pick it up, everyone! The style is ... um, almost like Very Average Fanfiction, in that most of the time (i.e. whenever Sue doesn't have a concrete soapbox to get onto) it is one hundred percent action, 'action' not necessarily meaning thrills and battles but predominantly external descriptions of what is taking place (and then you get these hilarious theatricals, endless '...'s and 'Yes, it was true! X had indeed done Y! Terrible Y born out of overwhelming Z! Yes, dear reader, these things happen ... we are sad to say it, but we saw them with our own eyes!') - perhaps it would be most appropriate to say that it's very visual; likewise, most of the central characters seem (to me) fairly two-dimensional (and not strictly because they are stand-ins for entire groups of people or anything), and development more often takes place a)in the past b)otherwise offscreen or c)within the turn of a page than in deep reflections actually written out in the text. And then on the other hand you do get such fine nuances in the million different treatments of guilt/corruption/redemption (my favourite really minor example - minor mostly to the Grand Message in that for once it has nothing to do with social injustice in terms of injustice between the classes but about inconvenient regulations in the upper spheres [in this case, the unavailability of divorce as a respectable option] being Harville torn between feeling guilty for the grief he caused Clémence by marrying her and still thinking that as a husband he dashed well has a right to her - he's nicely neither-good-nor-bad) (although the pervading sense that epileptics should as a rule refrain from marrying and spoiling the human gene pool, while understandable given the treatment situation or lack thereof, ranks only just slightly below the Martials' Heroic Arab-Killing [especially disappointing after the thoroughly positive portrayal of the African-American doctor] in terms of Solutions That Are Less Than Ideal). And the soapboxes are just great especially because Sue doesn't wax lyrical and stylise all suffering into saintliness (and oh, he's always so blunt about stating that he introduced character X only to illustrate a theoretical point, and his theoretical lectures tie so neatly into the illustrating scenes [and the majority of the second half of the book is constructed as alternating separate units of Theory and Practice on various topics], it's practically schoolbook-like) and because he makes a great big point out of the fact that the promise of reward/recompensation in the afterlife is a fat lot of use to the misérables while alive and that this isn't just very sad but needs to be changed RIGHT ABOUT NOW AND HERE'S HOW AND LOOK IT IS ALREADY WORKING IN [PLACE]. Oh, it's just such a spectacular mixture of ceaselessly entertaining (and effortless to read) and Not Pointless!
*By an interesting but likely irrelevant coincidence, one Jacques Ferrand was apparently the author of a 1610 publication entitled Traité de l'essence et guérison de l'amour ou De la mélancolie érotique.