1.7 L'affaire Champmathieu 26/10/10-5/11/10

Abaissé re-reads the novel in its entirety! All welcome, no matter whether you're reading in French or some other translation. Discussion topics for each step along the way.

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Re: 1.7 L'affaire Champmathieu 26/10/10-5/11/10

Postby MmeBahorel » Fri Nov 05, 2010 12:50 am

"Why is their bread so bitter?" - it's the whole "everything turns to dust in a guilty man's mouth", you know? Their bread isn't bitter. Valjean cannot eat because he's too worked up with the guilt of having nearly celebrated his escape, and the guilt of the journey in general to possibly rescue a man who shouldn't need rescuing in the first place. The dream earlier was described as the product of an ill mind, and the inability here to eat is a symptom of the same disease. I think the reason Hugo has put a non-French-speaking traveler here as witness is to have a witness but not have one who can look at Valjean and go "What is *wrong* with you, buddy?"
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Re: 1.7 L'affaire Champmathieu 26/10/10-5/11/10

Postby Ulkis » Fri Nov 05, 2010 1:00 am

I think the reason Hugo has put a non-French-speaking traveler here as witness is to have a witness but not have one who can look at Valjean and go "What is *wrong* with you, buddy?"


Hee. Thanks, that does clear up that part for me.

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Re: 1.7 L'affaire Champmathieu 26/10/10-5/11/10

Postby MmeBahorel » Fri Nov 05, 2010 3:01 am

And a few things now that I've finally caught up on the reading:

Chapter III

I think here, at the end, is the real heart of everything: "But this much he felt, that whichever decision he might make, necessarily and with no possibility of escape, something of himself would surely die". And the beautiful counterpoint, the reminder that indecision and agony are divine as well as human, "Eighteen hundred years before this unfortunate man, the mysterious Being, in whom all the sanctities and all the sufferings of humanity come together, He too, while the olive trees trembled in the fierce breath of the Infinite, had brushed away the fearful cup that appeared before him, streaming with shadow and runing over with darkness, in the star-filled depths." Yes, Hugo consistently links Valjean as something of a Christ figure (this is hardly the first or last comparison we'll see), but he means it in the sense of Christ's humanity rather than Valjean's divinity, which is a nice change-up from how messianic comparisons are generally used.

Chapter IV

Analysing the dream: the barren, grassless, sad field with neither day nor night has very much the feeling of the prison. The hairless man again, to me, reflects the prisoner with the shaved head, his naked body another way in which he is rendered outside society (clothes would be markers of status, but he has no clothes, therefore he has no status). The brother himself, of the past, and talking about the neighbour they once had, again, of the past - antediluvian memories, perhaps connected with the thoughts Valjean had before his first imprisonment. I do believe here that the brother existed, though it is entirely plausible that he was either of an age with the sister and left early, before everything turned to hell, or was of an age with Jean and died, since otherwise, with the circumstances, there would be some emotion connected with the brother. The aside about "I barely remember him" strikes me as true rather than an explanation of dream logic (that logic where you're with someone you don't recognise in the least but that you know, within the dream, is your best friend Emily).

No one except this brother speaks to him - on entering the deserted town, Valjean is now alone. The idea that there is a man behind every door, and that man is silent but watching, can be read as both the unseen, unspoken convict and the always watching, often hidden jailer. Within the dream, this is attributed to death, and thus connects directly back to Valjean's fear of the death of something inside him no matter what his choice. But he's not surrounded by dead men or shades of the dead, as he seems to suppose from the eventual statement of the one, but to me, it seems he's surrounded by the images of the prison he is returning to.

Chapter V

It's interesting that it is the mail coach coming from Arras, a symbol of the well-ordered state, that ends up almost giving Valjean an out. Hugo could have used anything for an act of God, but he chose the state - the state has an interest in stopping Valjean (as we see in the next book when we get a little more detail in the consequences of his declaration).

"All aspects of life are in perpetual flight beefore us. Darkness and light alternate: after a flash, an eclipse; we look, we hurry, we stretch out our hands to seize what is passing; every event is a turn in the road; and suddenly we are old." The fact that I pick this out now to mark, rather than when I was 16, probably means something. Particularly since I'm not even 30!

Apparent sunset in Arras in late February would be around 4:30 pm, for the record.

"The night grew darker and darker." Oh, Victor, how very nineteenth century novel of you :)

Chapter VII

I'm sorry Hugo gives the lawyers no sympathy - no matter how sympathetic they may be to their clients they must defend, they have to prepare the case as it is and be ready for the cold arguments against them. That's no reason to condemn the entire breed as heartless because they discuss the law before going in to argue their legal cases. The lawyers aren't necessarily the problem.

Chapter VIII

Victor, your chapter title pun is obnoxious. I shouldn't be facepalming and sort of giggling at this point. I giggle because you are you.

"the story of Théramène" I had to look up myself - the reference is to the character in Phèdre, who has a long speech at the end of the play that details the death of Hippolytus and his last words that take place offstage because heaven forbid we break the unities. (I hated this part of Phèdre, so it gives me great joy to see Hugo going "wow that sucked as drama but I suppose the lawyers learned a lot from it".) Coming on the heels of "Romanticism is so awesome we caused an illiterate to not exactly commit a crime!", it is so very biased I have to laugh. It just seems such an odd place to be so self-congratulatory.

Of course, I'm still trying to picture this scene with Petit Gervais. The kid runs off and what, finds a gendarme and says "A big guy with a stick stole my forty sous piece!"? And this was taken seriously - a Savoyard chimneysweep arguing over two francs - and recorded with full description so that it could be put together with descriptions of convicts released from Toulon in the past week so that it could be attributed to Valjean? The fact that it keeps coming up in the trial just keeps driving me nuts on this. If Javert was the one to turn them onto this, why does the Bishop only come up in his testimony? That doesn't get covered during the part of the trial we see, only in the record of Javert's testimony read back in his absence. Does that not get followed up because it is mere speculation? It is mere speculation that Valjean had anything to do with Petit Gervais. Were there no other crimes across France to attribute to a large man coming from the south?
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Re: 1.7 L'affaire Champmathieu 26/10/10-5/11/10

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Fri Nov 05, 2010 3:03 am

Interesting thought. Wonder if the police officers or Javert were able to make this conjecture: Kid talking about a big man who stole his forty-sous piece in the area of Digne. What's near Digne? The galleys. Who got released from the galleys recently?...etc.
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Re: 1.7 L'affaire Champmathieu 26/10/10-5/11/10

Postby Ulkis » Fri Nov 05, 2010 3:28 am

Does that not get followed up because it is mere speculation?


That's going to be my best guess. It does seem rather pointless for that trial that Petit and the Bishop have to be brought up at all, but I guess Hugo included just so Jean Valjean would be reminded once again of his former crimes. It does crack me up though, the thought of Javert being petty and sticking the Bishop into his testimony.

Victor, your chapter title pun is obnoxious. I shouldn't be facepalming and sort of giggling at this point. I giggle because you are you.


Is there another meaning to "faveur"? Google translator isn't helping me. :shakes fist:

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Re: 1.7 L'affaire Champmathieu 26/10/10-5/11/10

Postby MmeBahorel » Fri Nov 05, 2010 3:40 am

Actually, I lie - it's Chapter IX with the bad pun in the title (in both French and English but it seems worse in Fahnestock/MacAfee's English).
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Re: 1.7 L'affaire Champmathieu 26/10/10-5/11/10

Postby Roses for Ophelia » Sat Nov 06, 2010 6:50 am

i'm so behind in the readthrough--i'd like to blame it on Working Hard For College, but it's more like Can't Be Bothered. However, i would like it to be known that the first time i read The Brick when i was twelve, THIS is where i stopped. Most people Hit Waterloo and get bored, but NO i stopped in the middle of what is now one of my favorite parts. I have no idea why i put it down here, but i did.
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Re: 1.7 L'affaire Champmathieu 26/10/10-5/11/10

Postby Ulkis » Sat Nov 06, 2010 7:01 pm

I read Waterloo through but when I finally finished the book I thought, "wait. So what was the point of that Waterloo chapter?" I did not think the same thing about convents and argot because I never realized they were a part of the text until later (my translation has those two parts in the back as 'extras'.)

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Re: 1.7 L'affaire Champmathieu 26/10/10-5/11/10

Postby MmeBahorel » Sat Nov 06, 2010 9:08 pm

The point was "My research, let me show you it." Also, "This is what a *real* Bonaparte and *real* Englishmen can do". Finishing Waterloo was the last thing he did on the novel, so that book is all about exile, I think. Need to actually re-read it for the details of how he was framing everything, but in my memory, it comes down to "Bonaparte lost because it rained inopportunely - and he and his men were still awesome". Which to me is all "You will never live up to this, Louis-Napoleon". And possibly being not happy that the English were making friends with Louis-Napoleon and Victor therefore got kicked out of Jersey. "Wellington was a real Englishman to stand against a Bonaparte", possibly.
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Re: 1.7 L'affaire Champmathieu 26/10/10-5/11/10

Postby humanracer » Wed Jun 19, 2013 7:58 am

I think "Tempest Within A Brain" is the best chapter of the book so far and probably one of the best things I have ever read in any work of fiction. Hugo's exploration of the human conscience is as profound as it is detailed. I am sure most of us have been in a position before where we had to make a decision that would have a huge impact on your life no matter what option was taken. In the case of the dillema presented here, people would suffer no matter what Valjean did. The song "Who Am I?" is a pretty good summary of this chapter but the text is far more powerful.

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Re: 1.7 L'affaire Champmathieu 26/10/10-5/11/10

Postby LauraLeZunzu » Fri Jun 21, 2013 11:22 pm

humanracer wrote:I think "Tempest Within A Brain" is the best chapter of the book so far and probably one of the best things I have ever read in any work of fiction. Hugo's exploration of the human conscience is as profound as it is detailed.

That's absolutely true.
And I love it too when Valjean reveals himself in the Trial and how, when he walks away, people admires him in some way and let him pass. It reminds me to when soldiers are pounting towards Enjolras. That shows how Hugo has an endless believe in HUmanity, in that human are good. Even when they're doing something bad, they can recognize something that is to behold, that is such a great human action that it is necessary to admire; the greatness.
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Re: 1.7 L'affaire Champmathieu 26/10/10-5/11/10

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Mon Jul 29, 2013 10:33 am

July 29, 2013

Sister Simplice

http://www.online-literature.com/victor_hugo/les_miserables/55/

A particular figure of purity, in a sense. Juxtaposed with Myriel's saintliness?
"...all aptitudes having equal opportunity; politically, all votes having equal weight; religiously, all consciences having equal rights."

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Re: 1.7 L'affaire Champmathieu 26/10/10-5/11/10

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Tue Jul 30, 2013 1:16 am

July 30, 2013
The Perspicacity of Master Scaufflaire

http://www.online-literature.com/victor_hugo/les_miserables/56/

The Mayor makes arrangements to travel, and acts most strangely.

What do you guys think of that last bit? What's he doing?
"...all aptitudes having equal opportunity; politically, all votes having equal weight; religiously, all consciences having equal rights."

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Re: 1.7 L'affaire Champmathieu 26/10/10-5/11/10

Postby humanracer » Tue Jul 30, 2013 7:28 am

isn't this just a lead in to the next chapter, where Hugo explains what happened in Valjean's room? The next chapter is one of my favourites.

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Re: 1.7 L'affaire Champmathieu 26/10/10-5/11/10

Postby humanracer » Tue Jul 30, 2013 7:39 am

Aurelia Combeferre wrote:
Ulkis wrote:One thing that hit me with a ton of bricks during this section is going in, I absolutely thought that saving Champmathieu was the right thing to do. But when Valjean said that if he went to jail Fantine would die and Cosette would get thrown out onto the street, that never even occured to me, never mind the whole town going to seed. So I do still think that ultimately saving Champmathieu was the best thing to do, but I don't think not confessing would have been totally monstrous either.


Reminds me about our English class arguments about this matter. Some of us were insisting that Valjean shouldn't have confessed, but ultimately the end of the argument was that at that point, Valjean was aware that he could not condemn a man to the galleys, not after what he had experienced. I really think that Valjean was right to save Champmathieu, although what kills me there is that Champmathieu didn't seem to be aware of the enormity of Valjean's sacrifice.


Skipping ahead here but I think Champmathieu's reaction added to the absurdity of the whole thing. His observation that "all men are mad" rings true when you consider what went on in the court. I actually laughed at the comment. I really like how the novel switches between moments of high tension and situations that are totally absurd.


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