Tag Archives: Bamatabois

Recurring Background Characters

There are a few background characters in Les Misérables who never quite leave. Not just the ones who are associated with another character, like Valejan’s maid Toussaint, or the shopkeeper whom Gavroche bothers on several occasions, but characters who seem like one-offs, but come back anyway.

M. Bamatabois, the “gentleman” who attacked Fantine and precipitated her arrest, turns up on the jury of not-Valjean.

Boulatruelle, a local ne’r-do-well in Montfermeil, spends years trying to find Valjean’s secret cache of buried bank notes, taking breaks in between to help Thénardier out in his Parisian life of crime.

Village women on their way through the wood at first mistook him for Beelzebub and then saw that he was Boulatruelle, which was scarcely more reassuring.

Then there’s La Magnon, whom we never actually meet, but hear about on several occasions. She was once a servant of M. Gillenormand, Marius’ grandfather. A year or so after she left, she claimed M. Gillenormand was the father of her child. He took the boy in (arguing that he wasn’t the father, but that he’s perfectly capable of having been even at his age) until she blamed him for another baby, at which point he sent them both back, but continued to pay a stipend.

She turns out to be a friend of Mme. Thénardier, and one of the contacts on the outside after everyone is arrested following the botched extortion attempt against Jean Valjean.

Even stranger: Her own two children died at a young age, but in order to keep getting her allowance from M. Gillenormand, she got the Thénardiers to give her their two youngest children, Gavroche’s younger brothers. A second round of arrests after the extortion leaves the two boys alone on the streets, where they run into the ultimate Paris urchin: Gavroche.

She disappears at that point, but it’s a long thread for someone who initially seemed to serve only as part of the background for another character.

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Part 6: Get Me To The Courthouse On Time

Les Miserables featuring a bookmarkAfter his night of inner debate, Valjean rushes out of town to reach the court trying his double. He still hasn’t decided what to do, but he needs to be there just in case.

At this point, Victor Hugo stops to describe the country postal system.

Just kidding. He only takes a couple of paragraphs before a postal cart racing down the road crashes into Valjean’s cart. At his next stop, someone notices the wheel’s busted and won’t last the rest of the journey, and he spends several pages talking with the local wheelwright about how soon it can be fixed, can he hire another conveyance, can he just ride, etc.

What a relief! I tried to go to the trial, but the wheel broke and I can’t get on the road till tomorrow! I can’t turn myself in, but it’s not my fault!

At this point someone overhears the conversation who can rent him a gig. Noooooo!

And now the road’s closed for repairs. Valjean making it to the trial is like Hurley getting to the airport to catch Flight 815.

Interlude: Fantine

It’s weird to read about Fantine dying of consumption while you and your small child are both coughing loudly due to a bad cold. Actually I don’t think the book specifically says which extended respiratory disease she has, but it’s at least a good bet. (On checking, I found that Wikipedia has an article on Tuberculosis in popular culture.)

Fantine actually does sing a lullaby she used to sing to Cosette in her final hours.

M. Madeleine visits Fantine every afternoon at 3:00. On learning that he’s left town, the nuns fear the shock will kill her. Instead, she’s deliriously happy — why else would he have left town except to fetch Cosette!

Another of those things that don’t quite come across in the musical: At this point it’s been five years since Fantine last saw Cosette. She was two at the time, and now she’s seven. Cosette barely remembers her mother at all, and Fantine only remembers her daughter as an infant.

Trial Edition

M. Madeleine, Mayor of Montreuil-sur-mer, has to pull rank to get into the packed courtroom, which is already in session.

Would you believe these facts about not-Valjean’s trial?

  • The hotshot prosecutor is a tough guy who always “gets his man” (in the translator’s words). Also, he writes poetry.
  • The “gentleman” who had Fantine arrested is on the jury.
  • There’s a bit of theater criticism (Racine’s Phaedra) in the closing arguments.
  • Valjean’s hair turns white in the courtroom while he’s watching the proceedings.

The original form of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” ended with “…or Death.” According to Wikipedia, the last bit was dropped due to association with the Terror.

No one believes M. Madeleine when he finally outs himself as Jean Valjean. The presiding judge asks if there’s a doctor present. He convinces them by rattling off details about the three fellow convicts who had identified the other man and are still in court as witnesses. Even so, everyone’s too shocked to make a move to arrest him (Javert has already left), so he walks out, saying essentially “You know where to find me.”

Hospital

The next chapter is seriously titled “In which mirror Monsieur Madeleine examines his hair.” Sometimes I think S. Morgenstern was a real author, and his name was Victor Hugo.

Valjean returns to Fantine’s bedside to find that her condition is markedly improved by her belief that she’ll see Cosette soon. He and the doctor spend several pages trying to explain why she can’t see Cosette right now without telling Fantine that he hasn’t brought her.

Then Javert walks in.

Victor Hugo couldn’t have Fantine say “Oh, merde!” back in 1862, but you know she was thinking it. [Edit: well, actually…]

You can tell Javert is seething with inner turmoil because the button on his collar is a little off.

The shock of Javert’s cruelty when he arrests Valjean is what finally kills Fantine. But hey, he was right about Valjean, so he’s perfectly happy in his I-think-I’m-an-avenging-angel-with-a-flaming-sword-of-righteousness way.

Javert actually puts Valjean in the town jail. He breaks out. The nun who never lies covers his escape, sacrificing her honesty for his freedom.

And that wraps up the first part of the book! Next up is Part Two: Cosette, which starts with the battle of Waterloo.

Pages covered this week: 225-275. You might also be interested in my review of the movie. Continue to Part 7: Waterloo.

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Part 4: Righteousness vs “Righteousness”

Les Misérables

Last time we followed the mysterious Monsieur Madeleine’s rise to prominence in Fantine’s hometown. By the time she returns, it seems that everybody loves Monsieur Madeleine.

Well, almost everyone.

Javert is not impressed.

Inspector Javert is described using the wolf/sheepdog metaphor, as a dog born to wolves. Outcast, he decides he can never join society, but can either prey on it or protect it. His instinct for order leads him to the latter.

Continuing the animal metaphor, Javert laughing is “a rare and terrible occurrence…Javert unsmiling was a bulldog; when he laughed he was a tiger.”

He’s been investigating “M. Madeleine” for quite some time, though it causes severe cognitive dissonance between his two key beliefs: government officials can do no wrong and criminals can do no right. (M. Madeleine has pretended not to notice.)

Javert hints at his suspicions to Valjean before he lifts the cart off of Fauchelevent, (“I’ve only known one man with the strength to do this…”) but Valjean does it anyway, because he’s just that kind of guy.

Fantine Gets Screwed Over

Fantine’s dismissal is far less personal than in the play: a local busybody/moral guardian finds out about her child and exposes her secret. She even gets severance pay, it’s just not enough to cover her debts. No one will hire her because of her reputation, and she can’t leave town and start fresh because she owes too much here. She probably would have been all right just being fired from the factory, if it weren’t for the whole town ostracizing her. Even then, she manages to cut back enough and find just enough work to hang on all summer, but winter and mounting debts do her in.

And then the Thénardiers start demanding more and more money. They write to her saying that Cosette is freezing and needs 10 francs for a woolen dress. She sells her hair and buys a dress. They’re furious because, of course, they wanted the money, and give the dress to Éponine. The next time they write, they claim she’s deathly ill and needs 40 francs for medicine or she’ll die within a week. Fantine sells her incisors for that — not exactly practical for a show where she has to sing. Finally, at the end of her rope, she receives a demand for 100 francs or they’ll turn Cosette out on the street. She figures she’s already sold the rest…

I wonder what the “moral guardian” would say if she knew that her action had increased the number of prostitutes in town.

Somewhere in this section I had to look up 1800s French currency and figure out how centimes, sous, napoleons and francs were related. The first hit was someone on Yahoo Answers who was re-reading Les Mis and wanted to know the same thing.

Fantine’s Arrest

Bamatabois isn’t a repulsive customer – he’s just harassing Fantine for the hell of it until he dumps a snowball down her back and she snaps.

Javert really can’t handle anything that challenges his assumptions, such as the Mayor commanding him to let some prostitute go free after she hit a citizen.

By this time, Fantine’s so bitter that she has the same problem. She’s come to blame M. Madeleine for the year or more of hell, so when he tells Javert to free her, she thinks she’s misheard, and Javert must have had a change of heart.

As they argue over Fantine’s jail sentence, Javert claims jurisdiction…then M. Madeleine cites regulations. Repeatedly, until he completely shuts Javert down.

The way M. Madeleine addresses Fantine after he pardons her, and the way she reacts to the sudden change of fortune, strongly mirrors the way the bishop pardoned Valjean. (Except the part where Fantine faints immediately afterward, but Hugo has been hinting at her having consumption since she left Paris.)

Pages covered this week: 164-190. Continue on to part 5 as Javert confronts M. Madeleine with his suspicions. Sort of.

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