Part 5: Who IS This Guy, Anyway?

Les Miserables featuring a bookmarkWe left off with Fantine’s arrest and Valjean overriding Javert. Over the next few weeks, as Fantine’s health deteriorates, Valjean writes to the Thénardiers asking them to send Cosette to Montreil-sur-mer. Of course, since he sends money, they refuse to let her go – she’s turned into a gold mine as far as they’re concerned, so they keep asking for more.

Javert is so angry at being overruled regarding Fantine that he reports M.Madeleine as Jean Valjean even though he still has no proof. So when he’s told that the “real” Valjean has been found, he not only feels that he’s been insubordinate, but that he’s done so for the wrong reason, and must be made an example of. He insists on being dismissed — simply resigning isn’t enough, because that would be honorable — because of the one-slip-and-you’re-out philosophy summed up in “Stars.”

Some background that turns up:

  • Valjean did make discreet inquiries about his sister and her family after taking on his new life, but nothing turned up.
  • Javert was a warden at Toulon while Valjean was imprisoned and did see him there, but made no particular impression on him. He was just another guard as far as Valjean was concerned, so he didn’t recognize the Inspector when Javert was given his post.

Wheel of Time fans will find this interesting: One of the Sisters attending Fantine is an ageless woman known for never speaking a word that is not true.

Page 208: “The reader will have realized that Monsieur Madeleine was indeed Jean Valjean.” You think?

Who Am I?

Valjean/Madeleine’s inner debate over whether to reveal himself and save the man mistaken for him takes 15 pages. [Edit: More like 50, including the trip to court and watching for an hour before making up his mind.] The two concerns that have driven him for the past eight years, redeeming his soul and burying his past, have finally come into full conflict.

At one point he’s determined to turn himself in, then suddenly remembers Fantine and Cosette, and starts thinking about the consequences to the town. Then he’s determined to take the opportunity fate has granted him, but just to be sure he needs to wipe out his last links to Jean Valjean, including the candlesticks. He’s just setting them on the fire when the sight of them jogs his conscience.

His almost accidental theft of a coin from a boy chimney-sweep after the incident with the bishop, missing in the play, is a critical point in his legal status here. It makes him a recidivist, far worse than simply having broken parole, and subject to life imprisonment at hard labor. Sort of a 19th-century version of “Three Strikes” with the third strike being shoplifting.

I keep getting reminded of fantasy novels. When Valjean finally sleeps, he has a dream about a not-exactly-deserted town that reminds me of the cities of the dead in the Earthsea books. Let’s add another series to my re-read list. At least they’re short.

Pages covered this week: 191-224. Continue to part 6 and the trial.

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2 thoughts on “Part 5: Who IS This Guy, Anyway?

  1. Rachel

    So, I wonder if you managed to figure out how the court even knew about the “accidental theft” from Petit Gervais? It happened in a deserted area and the boy would not have known Valjean’s name… how in the world did “the law” find this out? Also, I find it interesting that several plot points in the musical revolve around “the brand upon his skin (24601)” but in the book that is never mentioned…

    Reply
    1. Kelson Vibber Post author

      Hmm, good question. I imagine Petit Gervais reported the theft at the next town, and they put two and two together from his description and the fact that Valjean was known to have been in the area that day. They do get a number of details wrong, claiming he was armed and had accomplices. At the time I was reading, I figured they were amping up the charges because hey, he’s a criminal anyway, but it occurs to me that the boy may have embellished the tale himself.

      And yeah, I also found it interesting that the number — and branding — never figure into the book at all. The number works well as a musical hook, and a way to show Javert dehumanizing his quarry (sort of substituting for formal/familiar address). As for the branding, it seems to have made its way in through other adaptations. It shows up in the 1978 movie, though on the shoulder instead of the chest. It does make me wonder how and where it got introduced into the story.

      Reply

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