A few questions about the book

Any discussion related to Victor's Hugo's Les Misérables, in any language.
humanracer
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A few questions about the book

Postby humanracer » Fri May 10, 2013 10:41 pm

At the risk of sounding like an English tutor, I would like to hear your thoughts on the following questions.

1) What do you think of the character of Bishop Myriel? Is he believable as an example of true Christian piety? What does it tells us about Hugo's views of Christianity and what it means to be a Christian?

2) What does the chapter "The Year 1817" add to the novel, especially for someone who would not be familiar with many of the events Hugo is describing?

3) How does Hugo contrast Fantine with Favourite, Dahlia, and Zephine? Does it say anything about Hugo's attitudes regarding femininity?

4) "elegance was Scandinavian and Caledonian". What is Hugo saying about outside influences in French culture?

I won't be grading you so feel free to ramble on a bit.

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Marianne
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Re: A few questions about the book

Postby Marianne » Sat May 11, 2013 12:25 am

1. Of course Myriel is a heightened and mythic figure. Most of the characters in Les Mis are in some way. But Hugo isn't just going on about how saintly he was for 50 pages just for the fun of it, he's unsubtly taking potshots at the Catholic church because Myriel, in drawing his piety straight from the spirit of the Gospels, is going against all social and institutional expectations for a bishop.

2. "The Year 1817" introduces the entire theory of history Hugo uses to drive the book--what it's made of, how it's constructed, how it's the sum of a million million insignificant little events that are nevertheless significant to those living through them and thus perhaps the most significant of all. How through the confluence of random chance with the "arc of history" some of those events will become the hinge of an entire nation's destiny, how some things that are super-important and talked about at the time will be forgotten just a few years later, how other things that seem nothing but insignificant curiosities will go on to shape a whole century, how something like the revolt of 1832 can catch fire and then fizzle prematurely and be consigned to a historical footnote yet still be congruent with the greater shape of history. How that is history, that's how it's formed, that's how it's created, and the great events written in the history books could never have existed without this background noise of mundane little details that could also have been history but weren't in the right time and place.

In other words, the point of "The Year 1817" is that the reader isn't familiar with the events Hugo is describing. They aren't historic, but they are still history.

....I have a lot of feelings about Hugo's feelings about history okay.
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Re: A few questions about the book

Postby Rachel » Sat May 11, 2013 3:22 am

1) What do you think of the character of Bishop Myriel? Is he believable as an example of true Christian piety? What does it tells us about Hugo's views of Christianity and what it means to be a Christian?

See, I think that Hugo was making a point here. Like, "this is what a bishop SHOULD be and you guys aren't that". Like, we know his views of the church weren't very positive, with Frollo from NDdP representing the corruption within it, and this is sort of an in your face reminder of THIS IS WHAT YOU'RE PREACHING AND YOU'RE NOT FOLLOWING IT YOU HYPOCRITES.


2) What does the chapter "The Year 1817" add to the novel, especially for someone who would not be familiar with many of the events Hugo is describing?

Well, throughout the novel Hugo spends ages talking about huge, historic events. The French Revolution, the Battle of Waterloo, etc. But you can't let all of the little people who did things that maybe didn't mean the defeat of Napoleon, but meant something to them and to the other people in their lives actions go forgotten. If we get so focused on these big battles and wars that were lost and won, we lose sight of real history. History that was not just in the godly and the devilish heroes and villains from history, but in everyone. Most countries considered to be the most developed currently are the ones with democracy. Why is democracy important? Because the most important person in Canada gets exactly the same amount of votes as me. So, we're equally important to these great and terrible people is Hugo's point here, I think.

3) How does Hugo contrast Fantine with Favourite, Dahlia, and Zephine? Does it say anything about Hugo's attitudes regarding femininity?

They start off pretty much the same. Naïve, shallow, silly... But Fantine, by her death, is none of these things. Fantine is, like Éponine, what happens when one falls from grace. Why are their songs so similar? Because they represent many of the same things. Hugo, I believe, is saying here that that is how women should be, and they should get to be. They should be that way without the worry of prostitution or thievery to feed their families. Favourite, Dahlia, and Zephine are what women should get to be like, and Fantine is what they should never be forced into.
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Re: A few questions about the book

Postby Gervais » Sat May 11, 2013 3:59 am

Marianne and Rachel basically covered my opinions on the Bishop and 1817, so I'll move on to the next one.

3) How does Hugo contrast Fantine with Favourite, Dahlia, and Zephine? Does it say anything about Hugo's attitudes regarding femininity?

A Double Quartette wrote:Favourite, Dahlia, Zephine, and Fantine were four ravishing young women, perfumed and radiant, still a little like working-women, and not yet entirely divorced from their needles; somewhat disturbed by intrigues, but still retaining on their faces something of the serenity of toil, and in their souls that flower of honesty which survives the first fall in woman. One of the four was called the young, because she was the youngest of them, and one was called the old; the old one was twenty-three. Not to conceal anything, the three first were more experienced, more heedless, and more emancipated into the tumult of life than Fantine the Blonde, who was still in her first illusions.

Since Fantine's the youngest and the most inexperienced, she's overly naïve and way too trusting in Tholomyes. Basically, the older girls are more or less in their relationships to gain something, know their boundaries, and know not to trust in their men too much. At least, that's the impression I get. So young Fantine isn't necessarily how Hugo views women, just a "study" in how being too kind can hurt people, which to me contrasts more with the ones helped by their kindness (Bishop and Valjean, to name a few) than the other girls Fantine is introduced with. Again, though, that's just my take on it, and there are probably several people who can find holes in what I've said.
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Re: A few questions about the book

Postby humanracer » Sun May 12, 2013 6:20 am

Thank you for your answers. All very well written and they gave me some things to think about.

I have just finished book three. I must admit I found the reveal regarding "the suprise" quite amusing. I certainly didn't see it coming although Fantine's subsequent revelation was quite predictable. Without that revelation the whole thing would have been quite funny in a bitter sweet kind of way. Was Hugo remembering his youth and the crushes and unrequited love that went along with it? Fantine seemed to have a more mature outlook on love than the other girls. Could this be because she grew up too fast and could not have that carefree (but at times shallow) young adulthood that the others experience here? Did Tholomyes know Fantine was having his child? if he did then he may have changed his outlook. Could the real issue be that the child was conceived out of wedlock thus making Fantine a social outcast? The issues here is particuarly relevant as, at least in the UK, we have a number of young girls who find themsleves single mothers due to the father not wishing to take responsibility. The interesting thing about this book is that it is really funny and happy up until the final paragraph. I could feel Fantine's anguish and I really think Hugo's succeeds here in getting the reader to emphasise with her plight.

Any more thoughts?

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Re: A few questions about the book

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Sun May 12, 2013 6:50 am

Perhaps. It is also a castigation of men's attitudes in those days (and sometimes even till today) that lead to women being in that situation.
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Re: A few questions about the book

Postby Juliet24601 » Mon Jun 03, 2013 6:42 pm

I agree, I had so much sympathy for Fantine at that last paragraph because especially when she's surrounded by the other girls she seems so vulnerable yet at the same time far more sincere. For me, it also makes the lyrics of IDAD - when she sings about dreaming he'll come to her and they will live the years together - so much more poignant, because we know that despite the depth of her feelings he never regarded their relationship as more than fun and games on the way to his own 'grown-up' life.
x J x

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Re: A few questions about the book

Postby Mademoiselle Mabeuf » Wed Jun 05, 2013 10:43 pm

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Cosette nearly a year old when Tholomyès left? I think it says later that he had 'never taken her seriously' or something. Which makes what he did even more terrible.
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Re: A few questions about the book

Postby Rachel » Wed Jun 05, 2013 11:31 pm

Mademoiselle Mabeuf wrote:Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Cosette nearly a year old when Tholomyès left? I think it says later that he had 'never taken her seriously' or something. Which makes what he did even more terrible.


Nope, Fantine was still pregnant.
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Re: A few questions about the book

Postby WhoIam » Thu Jun 06, 2013 12:21 am

But ten months after Tholomyes left, she gave 3 year old Cosette to the Thenardiers. So surely she had already had her!
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Re: A few questions about the book

Postby Rachel » Thu Jun 06, 2013 12:49 am

WhoIam wrote:But ten months after Tholomyes left, she gave 3 year old Cosette to the Thenardiers. So surely she had already had her!


Actually, I'm not sure. In my copy it only says she had a child, but I'm not sure why, I was positive that she had had Cosette after he had left. I googled it, and it seems like the Internet thinks so too...
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Re: A few questions about the book

Postby Gervais » Thu Jun 06, 2013 12:56 am

WhoIam wrote:But ten months after Tholomyes left, she gave 3 year old Cosette to the Thenardiers. So surely she had already had her!

Yeah, she did.

Brick quote time!
When Fantine first arrives at Thernardiers, it describes Cosette as "two or three years old," and says the "ten months had passed since the 'pretty farce' [when Tholomyes left]." I'll give page numbers if you want.

Although she was born when he left, I honestly don't think she'd remember him even if she didn't have that memory block for her early childhood. Which doesn't make it any better in his part, but still, I just don't think she remembers him, nor would she.
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Re: A few questions about the book

Postby WhoIam » Thu Jun 06, 2013 12:59 am

Mine says in the first chapter of "To Entrust is Sometimes to Abandon" that "ten months had slipped by since 'the good joke,'" and that Cosette was almost three. So you figure Cosette was around two ten months earlier. Based on that, Cosette would have had to be born in something like 1815.

Exactly, Gervais.
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Re: A few questions about the book

Postby Rachel » Thu Jun 06, 2013 1:27 am

Yeah, but it is Hugo, who is known for some slipups such as this.

I'm not crazy, I swear it was a thing!
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Re: A few questions about the book

Postby Gervais » Thu Jun 06, 2013 1:45 am

But Rachel, being crazy is fun! :wink:

It's been pointed out that using the years in this chapter, Cosette would be born around the date of Waterloo, and it's also been pointed out that Hugo likes relating things to French history and Napoleon. So, even though it does happen in the book, he is more likely than not actually saying the right thing here. Maybe you saw it for the musical, then?
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