1.5 La Descente/The Descent, 10/10/10-22/10/10

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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1.5 La Descente/The Descent, 10/10/10-22/10/10

Postby Frédérique » Mon Oct 11, 2010 10:02 pm

(Aaaaagh, sorry for the delay!)

Volume 1: Fantine, book 5: The Descent

Chapters:
1. Histoire d'un progrès dans les verroteries noires/History of a progress in black glass trinkets
2. M. Madeleine/Monsieur Madeleine
3. Sommes déposées chez Laffitte/Sums deposited with Laffitte
4. M. Madeleine en deuil/Monsieur Madeleine in mourning
5. Vagues éclairs à l'horizon/Vague lights on the horizon
6. Le père Fauchelevent/Father Fauchelevent
7. Fauchelevent devient jardinier à Paris/Fauchelevent becomes a gardener in Paris
8. Madame Victurnien dépense trente-cinq francs pour la morale/Madame Victurnien spends thirty-five francs on good morals
9. Succès de Madame Victurnien/Success of Madame Victurnien
10. Suite du succès/Consequence of the success
11. Christus nos liberavit/Christus nos liberavit
12. Le désœuvrement de M. Bamatabois/M. Bamatabois' inactivity
13. Solution de quelques questions de police municipale/Solution of several questions of the municipal police

You can find the French text of this book (and indeed the whole of Volume 1) here and the Hapgood English translation here.

(I'm the go-to thread opener for titles that involve downward motions :P)

This book sketches the career and origins (or ostensible lack thereof) of Monsieur Madeleine, factory owner at and mayor of Montreuil-sur-mer, whom the observant reader will speedily identify as none other than Jean Valjean, as well as Fantine's sad fate in the town in question. Also introduced are Père Fauchelevent and one of the most outrightly obnoxious dandies in literary history whose name bears a distinct semblance to something a monkey would say in a Disney song.

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Re: 1.5 La Descente/The Descent, 10/10/10-23/10/10

Postby MmeBahorel » Tue Oct 12, 2010 1:56 am

Livre V

Chapitre I
1 (Montreuil-sur-Mer): Pourquoi cette petite ville du Pas-de-Calais ? Peut-être parce que le jour que Hugo y passa, en 1837, était le 4 septembre, devenu, lorsqu'il écrit Les Misérables, l'anniversaire de la mort de Léopoldine. La veille au soir, il écrit à sa fille : << Je viens de me promener au bord de la mer en pensant à toi, mon pauvre petit ange. J'ai cueilli pour toi cette fleur dans la dune. […] Et puis, mon ange, j'ai tracé ton nom sur le sable : Didi. La vague de la haute mer l'effacera cette nuit, mais ce que rien n'effacera, c'est l'amour que ton père a pour toi. >> C'est aussi à Montreuil qu'il songea, une lettre le dit, à cette loi de l'unité de la création qui deviendra un des grands thèmes de son oeuvre et, fondant une universelle métaphore, un des principes de sa poétique : << Toute chose se reflète, en haut dans une plus parfaite, en bas dans une plus grossière qui lui ressemble. >>
Why this small town in Pas-de-Calais? Perhaps because the day Hugo passed through there, in 1837, was 4 September, becoming, by the time he wrote Les Misérables, the anniversary of Leopoldine's death. The previous evening, he wrote to his daughter: “I just walked along the beach thinking of you, my poor little angel. I picked this flower for you from a dune. . . . And then, my angel, I traced your name in the sand: Didi. The high tide will erase it tonight, but what nothing can erase is the love your father has for you.” It's also in Montreuil that he considered, a letter tells it, that law of the unity of creation that will become one of the great themes of his work and, founding a universal metaphor, one of the principles of his poetry: “All things are reflected, above in one more perfect, below in one more coarse that resembles them.”

2 (English jet and black glass): Hugo s'était documenté sur cette industrie dès 1829-1830. Voir l'Historique de l'édition de l'Imprimerie nationale (t. II, p. 601).
Hugo gathered informtion on this industry as early as 1829-30. See “Historique” in the Imprimerie nationale edition (volume II, p. 601).

Chapitre II
3 (industrial exposition): On compta 1 662 exposants à cette première des trois expositions nationales des produits de l'industrie organisée à Paris pendant la Restauration.
There were 1,662 exhibitors at this first of three national expositions of industrial products organized in Paris during the Restoration.

Chapitre III
4 (He had “recipes”): Ces << recettes >> ont quelque parenté avec les secrets, impopulaires eux, de Gilliatt dans Les Travailleurs de la mer. Les << petits ouvrages de paille >> rappellent l'habileté avec laquelle Hugo lui-même fabriquait cette sorte de jouets pour ses enfants. Plus loin l'anecdote de l'ortie est une reprise, et une transformation, des deux paraboles évangéliques du grain semé (Matthieu, XII, 1-30). Enfin un poème des Contemplations, << J'aime l'araignée et l'ortie... >> (III, 27), dit le même amour pour la misérable des plantes et la misérable des bêtes.
These “recipes” have some relation with the secrets, unpopular ones, of Gilliatt in Toilers of the Sea. The “little works of straw” recall the skill with which Hugo himself made this sort of toys for his children. Further on the anecdote of the nettle is a recalling, and a transformation, of two evangelical parables of scattered grain (Matthew 12:1-30). Finally a poem from Contemplation, “I love the spider and the nettle . . .” (III, 27), recounts the same love for the wretched of plants and the wretched of beasts.

Chapitre IV
5 (At the beginning of 1821): Myriel meurt la même année que Napoléon (mai 1821) et que Sophie (juin 1821).
Myriel dies the same year as Napoleon (May 1821) and as Sophie (June 1821).

6 (to be blind): [i]Le cécité est un fantasme personnel à Hugo. Milton dans Cromwell, le poème XX du premier livre des Contemplations, << A un poète aveugle >>, écrit en 1842, plus tard le personnage de Dea dans L'Homme qui rit, montre quelle importance il faut lui donner.

Blindness is a personal fantasy of Hugo's. Milton in Cromwell, poem XX in the first book of Contemplations, “To a blind poet”, written in 1842, later the character of Dea in The Laughing Man, show what importance he gave to it.

Chapitre V
7 (the other little ones/pups): L'information a été notée par Hugo le 29 octobre 1846 dans Le Journal de ce que j'apprends chaque jour (Choses vues, ouv. cit., 1830-1846, p. 449) : << Dans certaines provinces, les paysans sont convaincus que, dans toute portée de louve il y a un chien-loup, lequel est tué par la mère, afin qu'en grandissant il ne dévore pas les autres petits. >>
The information is noted by Hugo 29 October 1845 in The Journal of What I Learn Each Day (Things Seen, 1830-1846, p. 449): “In certain provinces, the peasants are convinced that, in each wolf litter there is a dog-wolf, which is killed by the mother so that as it grows up it will not devour the other little ones.”

8 (The mystical school of Joseph de Maistre): Cette école voit dans la Révolution le châtiment providentiel de la décadence de la société au XVIIIe siècle, rachetée dans le sang. Elle propose une conception théocratique de l'État où la figure du bourreau, héroïsée, incarne le droit de tuer exercé par le Roi au nom de Dieu.
This school saw in the Revolution the providential chastisement for the decadence of 18th century society, expiated in blood. It proposes a theocratic conception of the State where the figure of the executioner, made into a hero, is the incarnation of the right to kill exercised by the King in the name of God.

Chapitre VI
9 (fell to his knees): Ce geste est également symbolique. Jean Valjean s'agenouille ici comme à Digne, dans la nuit suivant le vol de Petit-Gervais, devant la maison de l'évêque (I, 2, 13). Dans cette scène il est probable que Hugo investit un souvenir d'enfance : celui des grenadiers hollandais, sur la route d'Espagne, redressant la berline de Mme Hugo arrêtée au bord d'un précipice et prête à verser. (Voir le Victor Hugo raconté..., ouv. Cité, p. 197.)
This gesture is equally symbolic. Jean Valjean kneels here as in Digne, during the night following the theft from Petit-Gervais, before the bishop's house (I, 2, 13). In this scene, it is probable that Hugo has inserted a childhood memory: that of Dutch grenadiers, on the way to Spain, righting Mme Hugo's berlin stopped at the edge of a precipice and about to fall over.

Chapitre VIII
10 (lead to catastrophies): Encore une allusion à l'épisode du << flagrant délit >> de 1845 ?
Another allusion to the “flagrante delicto” episode of 1845?

Chapitre X
11 (heart of man): Variation sur les deux expressions : << rester de glace >> et << coeur de pierre >>.
Variation on two expressions: “to be made of ice” and “heart of stone”.


12 (Cut it off): Le portrait de Fantine en I, 3, 2 - << Elle avait de l'or et des perles pour dot, mais son or était sur sa tête et ses perles étaient dans sa bouche >> - donne le prix exact de ce sacrifice : les misérables, ne possédant que leur corps, n'ont rien d'autre à vendre, ni à donner.
The portrait of Fantine in I, 3, 2 - “She had gold and pearls for dowry, but her gold was on her head and her pearls were in her mouth” - gives the exact price of this sacrifice: the lowest classes, possessing only their bodies, have nothing else to sell or to give.

13 (miliary fever): Maladie éruptive, aussi appelé << suette miliaire >>, souvent mortelle, comme lors de la grave épidémie de 1821, date correspondant en effet à la maladie prétendue de Cosette.
[This gets translated as “military fever” by MacAfee and Fahnestock and it isn't.] Eruptive sickness, also called “miliary sweating disease” [miliaria], often fatal, as during the serious epidemic of 1821, date corresponding in effect to Cosette's claimed illness. [Miliary fever (scroll down) is sometimes a catch all for any disease with a high fever and a rash of small red pustules. It's the cause of death on Mozart's death certificate. There was an outbreak of “suette de Picardie” in 1821 in Seine-et-Oise.

14 (let's sell the rest): Cette formule souligne l'analogie de l'histoire de Fantine avec la << descente >> décrite dans le récit de Jules Janin, Elle se vend au détail, publié en 1832.
This formula underlines the analogy of Fantine's sort with the “descent” described in Jules Janin's narrative, She Sells Herself In Detail, published in 1832. [Part of Contes fantastiques et contes littéraires.]

Chapitre XI
15 (chapter title): << Le Christ nous a libérés. >> L'antiphrase terrible de ce titre tiré de saint Paul (Gal., V, I) ne dit rien du Christ, mais beaucoup sur son Église.
“Christ has liberated us.” The terrible antiphrasis of this title pulled from Saint Paul (Galatians 5:1) says nothing about Christ but much about his Church.

Chapitre XII
16 (an enormous cane): Cette description évoque un souvenir et une leçon retranscrits ainsi par Adèle : << Un nommé Gilé, un imprimeur, représentait l'élégant. C'était le temps des habits en queue de morue. Les boutons, toujours de métal, montaient jusqu'aux épaules, et la queue jusqu'à la nuque ; la couleur de mode était l'olive. Les pantalons, de nankin l'été, était très serrés aux genoux et se terminaient en pied d'éléphant ; avec cela le chapeau relevé sur l'oreille et une touffe de cheveux qui sortait du côté relevé.
<< Le degré de fashion se calculait comme les quartiers de noblesse, par le nombre des passepoils du pantalon. Un seul sentait la roture. Gilé en portait quinze.
<< Victor trouvait Gilé bien habillé. Il eut une pointe de coquetterie, la seule de sa jeunesse. […] Il s'aventura un jour et dit timidement à sa mère qu'il pourrait être mieux habillé. Sa mère lui dit : << Est-ce que tu vas t'occuper de cela maintenant ? Quelle importance ont les habits ? N'oublie pas cela : l'homme ne compte que par sa valeur morale, par l'intérieur, il n'est rien par l'extérieur. >> (Victor Hugo raconté..., ouv. cit., p. 311.)
Il fallait que le sentiment de culpabilité du jeune Victor fût bien grand pour que la coquetterie soit le trait commun de trois personnages infâmes des Misérables : Tholomyès, Bamatabois et Montparnasse, entre lesquels de répartissent tous les éléments de la description de Gilé.

This description evokes a memory and a lesson retranscribed by Adèle: “One named Gilé, a printer, cut an elegant figure. It was the time of swallowtail coats [literally cod's tail coats]. The buttons, always of metal, rose to the shoulders and the tail to the nape of the neck; the fashionable colour was olive. The trousers, of nankeen in the summer, were very tight at the knees and ended in elephant feet [I'm picturing something similar to modern boot-cut trousers while also laughing hysterically.]; with this, the hat raised above the ear and a tuft of hair that peaked out of the raised side.
“The degree of fashion was calculated as noble quarters by the number of ribbed seams on the trousers. Only one smacked of the lower gentry. Gilé wore fifteen.
“Victor thought Gilé well dressed. He had one point of coquetry, the only one of his youth. . . . He ventured one day to timidly say to his mother than he could be better dressed. His mother told him: “Do you want to busy yourself with that now? What importance are clothes? Don't forget this: man is counted only by his moral worth, by the inside, he's nothing by the outside.” (Victor Hugo Recounted . . ., p. 311.)
Young Victor's guilty sentiment had to be very great because coquetry is the common trait of three infamous characters in Les Misérables: Tholomyès, Bamatabois, and Montparnasse, between them is divided all the elements in the description of Gilé.
[I'd also like to add that Sophie probably lashed out like that because she thought the General looked pretty hot in his uniform, then he turned out to be a crap husband.]

17(one evening when it had snowed): Hugo situe à cette date de janvier 1823 une aventure dont il fut témoin et acteur le 9 janvier 1841 à Paris, aventure recueillie par sa femme qui en rédiga le récit, à tort intégré dans Choses vues (ouv. Cit., 1830-1846, p. 204-208).
Hugo situates on this date of January 1823 an adventure in which he was witness and actor 9 January 1841 in Paris, adventure recorded by his wife who wrote up the episode, wrongly included in Things Seen (1830-1846, p. 204-208).
[This is the episode where Hugo intervenes on behalf of the prostitute.]

Chapitre XIII
18 (chapter title): L'épisode est d'une telle importance dans le roman qu'on est tenté d'y voir une des origines de l'invention de l'intrigue et du mouvement qui détermine, en novembre 1845, le début de la rédaction du livre. Dans cette hypothèse, on prendra garde, dans le texte de Choses vues, au fait que l'incident a lieu le lendemain de la réception de Hugo à l'Académie, à la sortie d'un dîner où elle était fêtée, chez Mme de Girardin. A deux reprises sont notés les motifs que Hugo a de demeurer à l'écart : << Il se dit qu'il était bien connu, que justement les journaux étaient pleins de son nom depuis deux jours et que se mêler à une semblable affaire, c'était prêter le flanc à toutes sortes de plaisanteries. >> La plus acide aurait peut-être brodé sur cette récidive après Juliette, en se demandant jusqu'où irait l'Académicien dans son goût des << femmes tombées >>. Quant à la calomnie, le commissaire la suggère lui-même : << Monsieur, votre déposition, plus ou moins intéressée, ne sera d'aucune valeur... >> Demandons-nous donc quels durent être les sentiments de Hugo lorsqu'il vit, quatre ans plus tard, Mme Léonie Biard mise à Saint-Lazare, comme les prostituées, après le flagrant délit de son adultère avec lui, l'ancien sauveuur des femmes perdues. Il venait de retourner en mal tout ce qu'il avait fait de meilleur. La même chose – et l'inverse aussi – arrivera à Jean Valjean.
The episode is of such importance in the novel that one is tempted to see it as one of the origins of the invention of the intrigue and movement that determine, in November 1845, the beginning of the draft of the book. In this hypothesis, one will take note, in the text of Things Seen, of the fact that the incident took place the day after the reception of Hugo into the Academy, at the departure from a dinner where it was celebrated at the home of Mme de Girardin. Twice is noted the motives that Hugo had to stay aloof from the rest: “He said to himself that he was well known, that just now the papers were full of his name for the past two days and that to bring himself into a similar affair was to give up the flank to all sorts of jokes.” The most acidic would have perhaps embroidered on this second offense after Juliette, in asking himself just how far would the Academician go in his taste for “fallen women”. As for the calumny, the commissaire suggested it himself: “Monsieur, your deposition, more or less interested, will be of no value . . .” Let us ask ourselves therefore what were Hugo's feelings when he saw, four years later, Mme Léonie Biard put in Saint-Lazare prison, like the prostitutes, after being caught in the act of her adultery with him, the former saviour of lost women. He had just turned to ill all he had done for good. The same thing – and the inverse as well- will happen to Jean Valjean. [I have butchered some of that translation: paraphrased, Hugo tried to save a prostitute but he couldn't stop his own girlfriend from going to jail for adultery; he felt bad about his failure.]

19 (proprietor and elector): Sous la Restauration, être propriétaire est un dignité sociale qui confère, selon la loi du suffrage censitaire, le droit de vote. Il fallait alors avoir trente ans et payer 300 F de contribution directes pour être électeur. L'éligibilité exigeait quarante ans et mille francs de cens. Cette qualité, qui donne au moins trente ans à Bamatabois, confirme sa ressemblance avec Tholomyès.
Under the Restoration, to be a proprietor is a social dignity that conferred, according to the law of census suffrage, the right to vote. It was also necessary to be 30 years old and to pay 300 francs in direct contributions (tax receipts) to be an elector. Eligibility demanded forty years and 1000 francs in direct taxes. This level, which gives at least 30 years to Bamatabois, confirms his resemblance to Tholomyès.

20 (the hem of the spy's coat): Il y a là une sorte d'imitation de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ, à qui pécheurs et pécheresses demandent, dans l'Évangile, leur pardon avec le même geste.
[mouchard is spy or informer; this gets sometimes translated as “policeman” but I think it's supposed to be rather derogatory here] There is here a sort of imitation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom sinners (of both sexes) ask, in the Gospels, pardon with the same gesture.
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Re: 1.5 La Descente/The Descent, 10/10/10-23/10/10

Postby collectingbees » Tue Oct 12, 2010 2:40 am

I don't know why I like reading the Bamatabois chapter. I guess it's because I loathe him so much? I love to hate him, I suppose. :lol: I have more to say about that chapter when we get closer to reading it.

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Re: 1.5 La Descente/The Descent, 10/10/10-23/10/10

Postby MmeBahorel » Tue Oct 12, 2010 3:29 am

A couple early bits:

Chapter 3: When Hugo describes Valjean breaking and entering in order to give rather than take, the obvious meaning is that Valjean is deliberately subverting the crime for which he went to prison and thus redeeming his earlier crime. But in that subversion, is there also a sense in which breaking and entering is not a crime at all? He went to prison in large part not because of the theft but because he broke the window of a private house to commit that theft - it was the breaking in for which he was most heavily punished. Here, he breaks in in order to commit charity - is this a way of saying that breaking is, at the very least, not the crime we make of it? (I'm also coming at this from what may be a very English/American point of view: a man's home is his castle and his right to privacy therein is one of the most important of rights. If breaking and entering is not a crime worthy of strong punishment, then there is no privacy. Of course, the whole breaking in somewhat hearkens back to the stories of Saint Nicolas dropping money down the chimney - housebreakers sometimes sent urchins down the chimney. So I think that's the obvious parallel. But the idea of anyone breaking in, for any purpose, is a violation of privacy that creeps me out.)

Chapter 4: Can I please smack Hugo over the whole blindness thing? Please? The whole "conviction you are loved" bit is nice, and arguably true, but I call ick on the whole happiness in "being served is to be caressed". It mixes the "saintly woman" and "saintly cripple" far too much for modern tastes, and it's creepy even in nineteenth century terms, I would think. There's "saintly cripple" as a trope, but it seems very different to fall into that state rather than be created in that state. (in other words, it's one thing to be Tiny Tim who can't remember being well; it's another thing to be a perfectly independent person who suffers a debilitating injury/disease/product of old age and become the "saintly cripple", which is what Hugo seems to be arguing as a generality. My issue is not with the Bishop, who is the sort of person to take happiness from the fact of his continued life and the love of his sister and whatever else God had still permitted him to do; my issue is with Hugo creeping me out.)
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Re: 1.5 La Descente/The Descent, 10/10/10-23/10/10

Postby Ulkis » Tue Oct 12, 2010 3:40 am

Blindness is a personal fantasy of Hugo's. Milton in Cromwell, poem XX in the first book of Contemplations, “To a blind poet”, written in 1842, later the character of Dea in The Laughing Man, show what importance he gave to it


That makes sense. The whole "blindness isn't a big deal as long as we have a nice little woman to attend to our every need" digression is odd to say the least. As nice as it is to have someone care for us hand and foot, I think Hugo was underestimating the advantages of that versus the disadvantage of being blind.

“Christ has liberated us.” The terrible antiphrasis of this title pulled from Saint Paul (Galatians 5:1) says nothing about Christ but much about his Church.


Oh, so now I wonder if that's why Hugo wrote "The sacred law of Jesus Christ governs our civilization, but it does not, as yet, permeate it". (I really like that chapter; I like this paragraph:

She has become marble in becoming mire. Whoever touches her feels cold. She passes; she endures you; she ignores you; she is the severe and dishonored figure. Life and the social order have said their last word for her. All has happened to her that will happen to her. She has felt everything, borne everything, experienced everything, suffered everything, lost everything, mourned everything. She is resigned, with that resignation which resembles indifference, as death resembles sleep. She no longer avoids anything. Let all the clouds fall upon her, and all the ocean sweep over her! What matters it to her? She is a sponge that is soaked.)

I like all the Valjean bits here; one of my favorite parts is where he shows the women his bedroom. Cute.

I don't know why I like reading the Bamatabois chapter. I guess it's because I loathe him so much?


I think I hate Mme Victurnien the most, I think mostly cause I see myself in that kind of person and it's scary. The part of oneself that gets caught up in pettiness and jealousy. And the scary part is Victurnien really does think she's doing an awesome thing by putting Fantine in her place (one of the things I liked about the Depardieu series is how they kinda redeemed Victurnien. Because after Valjean reamed her out she did realize that she had acted crappily.) Victurnien reminds me a little bit of Umbridge from Harry Potter.

Also I owe an apology to some movie makers because when I've watched some films I'm like, damn, Fantine's already a prostitute? But it doesn't take that long here too; the difference is it's explained why Fantine had no where else to turn. Most adaptations portray it the way the musical does (to paraphrase broadwayabridged): "oh well . . . no other jobs in the world . . . better take up prostitution!"

ETA:
My issue is not with the Bishop, who is the sort of person to take happiness from the fact of his continued life and the love of his sister and whatever else God had still permitted him to do; my issue is with Hugo creeping me out.)


Yes, ITA this is what I was trying to say. The Bishop I can buy accepting blindness, but in general Hugo was creepy. Plus, what, if your brother or son cares for you it's not quite good enough? Or too emasculating for a man to be a caretaker? Either way it's weird.

But the idea of anyone breaking in, for any purpose, is a violation of privacy that creeps me out.)


Oh yeah! When I was rereading that part I thought "what??" Maybe coming in through the back door if it's open, fine, but it says that Valjean forced the door open at times. Dude, just come back tomorrow. Or I hope he left a little extra to pay for the broken doors.

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Re: 1.5 La Descente/The Descent, 10/10/10-23/10/10

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Tue Oct 12, 2010 6:49 am

Oh my. Mme Victurnien and Bamatabois: two more characters on my "love to hate list".

Mme. Victurnien is the more malicious of these two. I think that she's just doing a Freudian defense mechanism (projection) whenever she tries to point out the ills of other people. I sense a lot of guilt there about her own misdemeanors.

Bamatabois is another variety of the over-privileged men of the day, those who thought that it was others' privilege to serve or amuse them. This is the only explanation I can think of for his behavior towards Fantine.

What I find interesting is how Fantine swings from one extreme to another: from being extremely naive and trusting, to downright scornful and bitter particularly with regard to M. Madeleine. It's almost as if she hardly operates on any rationality at some points; whatever she feels towards a person determines how she will treat them. It just so happens that unfortunately for her, she tends to take things too much at face value, and mistakes Javert for a benefactor and M. Madeleine for a devil.
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Re: 1.5 La Descente/The Descent, 10/10/10-23/10/10

Postby MmeBahorel » Tue Oct 12, 2010 4:17 pm

I think that "mood swing without subtlety" thing is, sadly, just a large part of the nineteenth century conception of women. They have no rationality, therefore they cannot act in a rational manner.

I do, however, find it interesting that Fantine doesn't immediately latch onto hate for M. Madeleine - it's a year on, a year of crap and cut wages (compared to the workshop) and after she ends up selling her hair that she convinces herself that it's all because of M. Madeleine. At first, she doesn't go to him because she thinks he gave her the severance pay, which didn't have to be done - it was a kindness. Later, she doesn't go to him because of her shame. Only after a year does she start convincing herself that he's an ass, and it seems possibly around the same time that she takes up with the street musician who beats her - it's all of a piece that men are scum out to destroy women and women (or at least Fantine herself) deserve it.

Hugo does condense her fall so that it appears that swing of extremes, particularly as he seems to phrase it as "she continued to venerate M. Madeleine until she couldn't comb her hair, therefore her injured vanity turned her into a petty bitch overnight". But that year between when she was sacked and when the hate takes hold almost gives him an out. (It really doesn't say a lot, though, that his perfect image of the outraged woman has vanity as her guiding virtue. I hope it is so that it will be more outrageous when she is selling off pieces of her body before she falls completely into prostitution, but it makes it kind of hard when Hugo keeps insisting that despite her liaison with Tholomyès - and the street musician - she really is chaste and pure, he also makes her vanity a stronger proof of her character. There's realism there, but the social purpose that he keeps trying to hammer at us is undermined by the realism.)
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Re: 1.5 La Descente/The Descent, 10/10/10-23/10/10

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Tue Oct 12, 2010 4:25 pm

Not so much as injured vanity perhaps but rather, the loss of dignity accompanying it. That's how I always looked at Fantine's state of mind after cutting her hair. Looking quite "ugly" is bad enough, but the worse part was that what she did with her hair and her teeth were visible signs of her growing destitution.
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Re: 1.5 La Descente/The Descent, 10/10/10-23/10/10

Postby Wolf_Of_Mankind » Tue Oct 12, 2010 10:54 pm

This is probably one of my favorite sections. Like, in the entire book. I love Fantine's arrest. I know I'm not adding anything truely amazing and insightful here :oops: but hey, just a quick shout-out. :)

Just asking, but has anybody else read more of Hugo than Les Miz, because there is wolf symbolisim EVERYWHERE. Most Blatant Award goes to wolf-face-Javert (who grabs upwards of six wolf-references), but references are made throughout his body of works to wolves. Examples include Esmerelda pacing her cell in Notre Dame De Paris "like a wolf in a cage"; there's Homo in The Man Who Laughs (A literal wolf who somehow represents mankind... and is awesome :mrgreen: ); Gilliatt in The Toilers of the Sea is said to be a "lone wolf"; and even Thenerdier is discribed as a wolf at times, Éponine even claiming to be "the daughter of a wolf", ect ect. It's everywhere. Anybody want to venture a guess as to why?
"Have courage for the great sorrows in life and patience for the small ones, and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake."
~Victor Hugo



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Re: 1.5 La Descente/The Descent, 10/10/10-23/10/10

Postby MmeBahorel » Wed Oct 13, 2010 8:13 pm

Some interesting bits on Javert:

When Hugo describes him as the sort of person who would turn in his parents, I see it as a combination of legalistic virtue and revenge. And also vanity: should such an event come to pass, it's the sort of gesture everyone would be talking about if Javert didn't try to hide it, and thus is a very public way of bragging about his virtue without actually saying a word - a public display that is hard to deny. But it is also not exactly virtuous if, as is very easy to read into a lot of human interactions, there's that voice in the back of his head that says "They deserve it from you in particular because they fucked up your life." To do it yourself rather than have a colleague do it can either be because you're sorry it has to happen and therefore you'll attempt to mitigate it somewhat, or because you want to rub in their faces that it's happening. And I wonder if this potential duality is part of what Hugo means in describing him animalistically, or at least if Hugo's animalistic, and therefore self-interested, descriptions, combined with reading too many advice columns, lead me down this path.

I'm also struck by the various ways in which Hugo discusses literacy among the lower classes (petit bourgeois and working classes): we have Valjean and Feuilly who desperately want to educate themselves for personal salvation and also for the betterment of others, Mme Thénardier who reads obnoxious romance novels as an escape from her crappy life, and then we have Javert, who hates books but forces himself to read. We aren't told what he reads, but that he reads even though he hates books. It almost seems as if he uses his leisure time as a time of punishment, that he does something he hates when he has no work, and also that he doesn't consider his reading to be work but rather is leisure (or at least, that's how Hugo as narrator defines it and I'm not sure that gets contradicted, since if Javert labeled his reading as "work", Hugo would certainly tell us this). It's of a piece with how he hates his upbringing, that he forces himself into what is a somewhat bourgeois leisure occupation that he can't stand because he will not do anything else. The educational value is therefore superfluous.

It's probably also reasonable to mention the way in which Hugo (and writers of his time) use the concept of "race". What gets translated as "gypsy race" ("race de bohème") is not "Gypsy race" - "race" in this older sense is more limited, referring to family descent rather than national descent, and thus this "race de bohème" describes the Thénardiers just as well as it describes Javert's family. He's rebelling against a thoroughly French but completely shambolic upbringing, not an entirely separate culture. It's also helpful to remember that the most famous fortune tellers of the period were perfectly French, not Rom. Javert comes from criminal bloodlines, but they are French criminal bloodlines, so social integration is blocked by class issues and the sense that the dangerous classes should not be permitted to intermix with the working classes and lower bourgeoisie, rather than a modern conception of race. (or even a nationalistic conception of race, wherein, for instance, the Irish working class did not qualify as "white" - here, there's no argument that the dangerous classes are not French at all, but that they irredeemable and should be kept separate from the virtuous population that sought to be the public, reproduceable face of what it meant to be French.) This is interesting because Hugo comes back in the description of Javert to saying that he has "the curiosity belonging to his race" - comes back to this statement when describing Javert as the exemplar of the policeman. While certainly curiosity must belong to the race of policemen, it also belongs to the race of criminals. The same observational skills and digging for information are necessary both for the policeman and the fortune teller, the confidence man and the detective, the man on the beat and the man looking to break into a house. Which implies that even as Javert wishes to set everything of his family background behind him, he is daily using the same skills and thus can never transcend his "race". Hugo tells us this, particularly in the invocation of Vidocq, but more importantly, Javert feels this himself constantly. Or at least that's how I read so many of his actions - whatever his reading material, it is setting him apart from his family, his insistence on not keeping his place sets him apart from his family. He cannot naturally do anything without a mental reference querying "what is my place?"

Also, I'm getting hella confused on what Javert's job is because a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. According to John Merriman's Police Stories: Building the French State, 1815-1851, in provincial policing, you have commissaires de police hired by the Ministry of the Interior, agents (also known as appariteurs, inspecteurs or gardes-de-ville in some regions) hired by the local mayor either in the absence of a CP or to assist a CP, mouchards (police spies) who also generally report to CPs, and possibly sergeants who are a level below agents/inspectors. Javert is referred to as both "inspecteur" and "mouchard", the mayor can fire him, but he doesn't seem to have been hired by the mayor and his connections in Paris and transfers around the country seem to imply movement at the national level. Moreover, agents or inspectors were expected to have other jobs, they weren't paid enough to live on otherwise and their duties were considered part-time at best. If you needed full-time policing beyond an agent and assistance from the gendarmerie, you petitioned the Ministry to assign a CP to your town. (and even the CPs were paid like crap.) M-sur-M may not have had the 5000 population threshold, but it was a garrison town and with the rapid industrialisation, it seems a candidate for a CP anyway. Hugo covers Javert's transfer to Paris later on, a direct hire by his connections due to his competence in the Valjean case, but i'm still very confused on how he ended up in M-sur-M as inspector in the first place, since it shouldn't have been a placement up to friends in Paris.

It's also interesting from a class POV - a CP was considered lower ranks of the bourgeoisie and was often a step up for a soldier who may have only attained the rank of sergeant; it was also sometimes a way to cling to respectability for people who were on their way down through no real fault of their own, or who had just lately attained the sort of white-collar working class positions of clerk or secretary that would, with luck, lead to that step to secure the change in status. Inspector is below CP, usually a part-time position, and more likely working class or white-collar working class (a few CPs were promoted from agent status). Which means that Valjean has done a better job of class jumping through merit than Javert has - which may be mixed into the hate. It isn't just that a criminal has made a bourgeois of himself; it's also that Javert has failed to in the same amount of time, perhaps because he takes the slow way and doesn't dare push, while Valjean's cleverness has shot him right up there in a very unseemly but effective way.

(I am such a nerd.)
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Re: 1.5 La Descente/The Descent, 10/10/10-23/10/10

Postby Ulkis » Thu Oct 14, 2010 1:56 am

I have no idea about Hugo's thinking on wolves, but that's a good catch with all the wolf stuff.

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It isn't just that a criminal has made a bourgeois of himself; it's also that Javert has failed to in the same amount of time, perhaps because he takes the slow way and doesn't dare push, while Valjean's cleverness has shot him right up there in a very unseemly but effective way.


Oh, good point. Although I imagine that Javert wouldn't even realize that himself. (Which brings me to the question, does Javert hate Valjean? He certainly has contempt for him and I think after the trial certainly he must be angry at what must seem like Valjean tricking him, but I never get a sense of personal hate from Javert.)

Norman Denny calls this book "Degradation". I don't know if that's too much of a stretch but I still like it. (He also calls "la chute" "the outcast" . . . wonder what he had against synonyms for "falling".)

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Re: 1.5 La Descente/The Descent, 10/10/10-23/10/10

Postby MmeBahorel » Thu Oct 14, 2010 2:37 am

I don't mean personal hate - it isn't that Javert hates Valjean (though a shrink might beg to differ on the subconscious level of a lot of what I"m saying), but that he hates the idea of the criminal masquerading as an honest man. The sin, not the sinner, perhaps? He has contempt for the individual because he doesn't care about the individual, merely the one deviant act he swears he is witnessing. And there may be some unidentified latent resentment mixed in because of the class issues, is what I'm sort of trying to tease out.

(Denny's edits are so weird.)
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Re: 1.5 La Descente/The Descent, 10/10/10-23/10/10

Postby Wolf_Of_Mankind » Thu Oct 14, 2010 2:35 pm

Mme Bahorel:

You win at life. I think that's all I gotta say on that. :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:
"Have courage for the great sorrows in life and patience for the small ones, and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake."
~Victor Hugo



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Re: 1.5 La Descente/The Descent, 10/10/10-23/10/10

Postby Mamselle Miss » Thu Oct 14, 2010 5:28 pm

The thing that sticks out in my mind about Javert, is that he seems to be his own worst critic. The thing about him turning in his own parents may be a subtle form of revenge for him; but I also think that he would do it out of some, perhaps subconscious, way of proving to himself that he is better than they are, that he has risen out of the class that he was born into.

Later we see him trying to get himself fired for a mistake, and when Valjean, in his role as mayor and offended party, gives him an out, he doesn't take it. Because he despises kindness that puts someone who is lesser above, or on the same level as, someone who is greater. In this case he sees himself as the lesser person here, and he feels that he doesn't deserve to keep his job. After all, he made the mistake and should be punished for it.

All this ties in pretty neatly, I think, to his hatred of Valjean. Valjean may be a reminder of his failures, and the fact that Valjean keeps popping up out of nowhere probably frustrates Javert a great deal.

Of course this is just my interpretation of the man. I could be way off here.

As for Javert's job description, it could be that Hugo was just fudging the facts for the sake of plot convenience.
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Re: 1.5 La Descente/The Descent, 10/10/10-23/10/10

Postby Ulkis » Thu Oct 14, 2010 5:55 pm

The thing that sticks out in my mind about Javert, is that he seems to be his own worst critic. The thing about him turning in his own parents may be a subtle form of revenge for him; but I also think that he would do it out of some, perhaps subconscious, way of proving to himself that he is better than they are, that he has risen out of the class that he was born into.


Definitely; but also, I think Javert would have done it if not quite instinctively, without hesitation. I think the biggest point that however harsh Javert was, he wasn't a hypocrite. (Although, why not arrest Bamatabois? Did he really think that he should have been let off because of his class or did he really not think Bamatabois did anything?)


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