And now (finally) onto the last section of the first book of Les Miserables (Fantine). This one is, like, all action all the time, dude.
Jean Valjean has stormed out of the courtroom, telling everyone that he will continue being the Mayor of M____ Sur M____ until they find it fit to arrest him.
Javert was not there. But someone is dispatched to tell him that it turns out he was right all along at Mayor Madeleine is, in fact, the convict Jean Valjean.
Jean Valjean's hair has also turned white from the strain. He does not know this until the nun he has put in charge of Fantine (Sister Simplice) tells him. Then follows some business about what to do, because you see Fantine thinks JVJ was off getting her child Cosette for her. Therefore, if he tells her that Cosette is not, in fact, there, she might die. JVJ decides to try to stall her for time, telling her that Cosette is there but that she cannot see her due to Fantine's illness. Then JVJ will run to Montfermil, where Cosette is living with Thernadiers, get her and race back.
It's hard out here for a Mayor.
They are the midst of deceiving Fantine about this when Javert, with the villainous relish peculiar to those who have been proven right, arrives to take JVJ to prison. JVJ requests just a dispensation to take care of his unfinished business. He even requests that Javert go with him to get the child and then arrest him afterwards. Fantine, confronted with Javert's revealing that Cosette is not there and that JVJ was, in fact, somewhere totally different, dies a hysterical death. JVJ then turns to Javert and says "you killed her" which is true, I suppose, on some level.
Let us break here for a moment and discuss exactly how annoying a character Fantine was. Once hospitalized, she basically does nothing but talk like an Ophelia in dire need of Ritalin. Or something. Here's an example:
Did you have a pleasant journey, Monsieur the Mayor? Oh! how good you have been to go for her! Tell me only how she is. Did she bear the journey well? Ah! she will not know me. In all this time, she has forgotten me, poor kitten! Children have no memory. They are like birds. To-day they see one thing, and to-morrow another, and remember nothing. Tell me only, were her clothes clear? Did those Thenardiers keep her neat? How did they feed her? Oh, if you knew how I have suffered in asking myself all these things in the time of my wretchedneess! Now, it is past. I am happy. Oh! how I want to see her! Monsieur the Mayor, did you think her pretty? Is not my daughter beautiful? You must have been very cold in the diligence? Could they not bring her here for one little moment? They might take her away immediately. Say! you are master here, are you willing?
She pretty much only talks in paragraphs like this. It gets old. Fast. It's nothing short of irritating. Something of the prose style lets you know she's talking very quickly as well. If there was a character like this on stage, you'd throw your program (or perhaps your shoe) at her. I assume the idea that Hugo is trying to communicate is that she is, essentailly, delierious in her illness and just barely rational. But it makes her less and less compelling as a tragic figure every time she opens her mouth.
End of rant.
Anyway, she's dead. JVJ gets arrested. JVJ escapes, comes in late at night to his house, finds Sister Simplice, they help him get his effects in order so that he can escape. Suddenly, Javert arrrives (!), JVJ hides, a quite suspenseful scene occurs in which we don't know whether Sister Simplice (whom, you may remember, like George Washington cannot tell a lie) will lie and say she hasn't seen JVJ. But she does! She lies for him! Her first lie ever, and she lies like a pro!
Javert apologizes for having disturbed her and leaves. JVJ escapes.
Here in Counter-Stroke is a great example of Hugo's contempt for the masses. Don't get me wrong, this book was written as a religious advocation on part of the huddling masses yearning to be free. Clearly, he believes in people's capacity to be extraordinary. But he has a fairly jaundiced view of the -ordinary part of that word that they need to transcend. Here, is the twisting knife of public opinion in the belly of the newly-revealed convict-mayor:
The arrest of Monsieur Madeleine produced a sensation, or rather an extraordinary commotion, at M____ Sur M_____. We are sorry not to be able to dsiguise the fact that, on this single sentence, he was a galley slave, almost everybody abandoned him. In less than two hours, all the good he had done was forgotten, and he was "nothing but a galley slave"/ It is just to say that the details of the scene at Arras were not yet known. All day long, conversations like this were heard in every part of the tow: "Don't you know, he was a discharged convict" "He! Who?" "The mayor." "Bah! Monsieur Madeleine." "Yes." "Indeed!" "His name was not Madeleine; he has a horrid name, Bejean, Bojean, Bojean!" "Oh! bless me!.... [snip] Well! I always did suspect him. The man was too good, too perfect, too sweet. He refused fees, and gave sous to every little blackguard he met. I always thought that there must be something bad at the bottom of all this."
It's interesting that Hugo has such conflicting opinions about the very people he's advocating for. He recognizes the social conditions that create horrid-ness in people, but he still doesn't mind showing you that they are horrid.
Anyway. Great section. He really ended this section with a bang. I'm really digging this novel.
Next up: The Most Boring Part Of The Book So Far! (Even Though It's About War!)