Tag Archives: Coincidence

No Such Thing as Coincidence

There are a lot of coincidences in Les Misérables that seem far-fetched, like Valjean landing in the one place where someone would recognize him as M. Madeleine and help him. Hugo treats them as divine design, referring at one point to “chance, that is to say, providence…”

My favorite is when Montparnasse tries to mug Jean Valjean outside Mabeuf’s garden while Gavroche is hiding in the bushes. None of the characters know each other at this point.

Another good one: Javert doesn’t normally read the news, but he picks up a newspaper for coverage of a special occasion on the very day that a tiny article appears about Valjean’s apparent death.

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Not exactly Javert’s bridge, but close enough

Funny coincidence time! I’m a long-time Flickr user who never left, and I’ve been having fun with their TwitterTuesday events: Every Tuesday, they post a theme on Twitter, and you post a link to some photo from your archive that fits the theme. This week the theme was Bridge. I ended up submitting a recent photo from a seaside park in California, but when they posted the highlights of the week’s entries on their blog, one of them looked familiar.

Jean-François Pfeiffer’s photo Pont du Carrousel vu du Pont des Arts, Paris was clearly taken at the same spot as a shot I took on a trip to Paris almost 15 years ago…the one I ended up using (with some faux-vintage effects) to illustrate my commentary on Javert’s suicide!

Here’s my photo, scanned from a 3×5 print and cropped (but not yet filtered).

Kelson Vibber: Seine Bridge and Clouds

At first I wasn’t sure — I mean, there are lots of bridges across the Seine, not to mention lots of bridges across rivers all over the world. But the caption placed it in Paris, and the bridges looked the same, and then I started looking at the buildings.  The scaffolding on the rightmost tower from 1999 is gone, but otherwise it’s clearly the same spot!

And as an added bonus: I can finally identify where I was when I took the picture!

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Epic Fail at Mugging

The poor book didn't have a chance.

I’m re-reading Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables after 20 years. Start with part 1, go back to read about the Valjean and Cosette at the Rue Plumet, or read on!

This is a really short scene, but I wanted to give it its own post just for its awesomeness.

Now recovered from his injury, Valjean goes back to wandering the streets at night. “It would be a mistake to suppose that one can wander in this fashion through the deserted districts of Paris without ever meeting with an adventure.”

Now, just count the coincidences in this setup:

Gavroche is trying to sneak into Pere Mabeuf’s garden to steal apples. Mabeuf and Plutarque are outside discussing their dire financial situation, so he has to hide in the hedge to avoid being caught. While there, he witnesses Montparnasse try to mug Jean Valjean — I mean an elderly gentleman — on the street outside.

So, Montparnasse vs. Jean Valjean. What do you think happens? He gets his ‘Parnasse handed to him, of course, looking like “a wolf savaged by a sheep.”

Valjean starts grilling him: “What is your business in life?” “Loafer.” Then he tries to scare him straight with a multi-page monologue: What will happen to him when he’s caught, the effort he’ll have to put in to avoiding work, how awful prison is, and always looking over your shoulder. At one point he repeats the description of the hidden saw in a coin from earlier, as if Hugo forgot he’d already described it, but wanted to make sure he included this fascinating bit of research.

“Have you ever seen a treadmill? It is a thing to beware of, a cunning and diabolical device…” I’m sure many would agree.

When Valjean thinks he’s made enough of an impression, he hands over his coin purse. It’s an echo of the Bishop giving him a second chance, but Montparnasse isn’t open to the message (though he is “moved to thought, perhaps for the first time in his life”). The different approach probably didn’t help much either.

And then, the best part of the scene: While Montparnasse is watching Valjean walk away, Gavroche lifts the purse from his coat pocket, then tosses it into Mabeuf’s garden.

Next up: Creeping around the garden. Well, another garden.

Pages covered: 790-796.

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Ambush in the Slums

I’m re-reading Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables after 20 years. Start with part 1, go back to read about Paris’ chief scumbags, or read on.

All the surviving major players in the events outside the barricade meet in this scene: Marius meets Éponine, Thénardier encounters Valjean and Cosette (and tries to rob them), and even Javert returns…ironically to rescue the man he’s hunted! This is a long one, mainly because there isn’t a good spot to break it up. I suppose I could split it between the initial meetings and the extortion attempt, but really, this whole sequence flows together more smoothly than anything else of comparable length so far. I found myself reluctant to put the book down while reading it.

Now, there’s a cheerful title: “The noxious poor.” As the section goes on, it becomes clear that the title distinguishes the Thénardiers from the honest poor, like Marius or Fantine.

The “first tenant” at the Gorbeau tenement complains about how everything costs more these days.

Meeting Éponine

Éponine and MariusMarius, still in despair months after he’s last seen the girl of his dreams, finally meets Éponine on Groundhog Day, when she knocks on his door begging for money.

Éponine is pathetic in the truest sense of the word. She’s dressed about as well as Cosette when she was in the Thénardiers’ “care” (which is to say in too few rags to even begin to keep her warm), has a husky voice like “a bronchitic old man,” is missing teeth, and is down to skin and bones. “A blend of fifty and fifteen.” She hasn’t eaten in three days. Hugo compares her, and girls like her, to “flowers dropped in the street which lie fading in the mud until a cartwheel comes to crush them.”

Éponine is thrilled to find books in Marius’ room. She clearly has a crush on him already, and rambles to him about how she likes to go off on her own. There aren’t any exact matches to the imagery, but I’m certain this passage inspired the song.

Catching up with the Thénardiers

Marius realizes he didn’t really know true poverty at all, and finds a hole in the wall through which he begins spying on the “Jondrettes.” Just, y’know, to see how badly they’re really doing. (This is the same guy who was stalking Cosette so determinedly that her father moved them to a new house.) The narration refers to them as “les misérables.”

Thénardier now looks like “a combination of vulture and prosecuting attorney.” He’s running a series of scams begging for money through letters. He diversifies his identities, tactics and targets in the pitches. Today he’d claim to be a Nigerian prince in one letter and a lottery commissioner in another. But the letter begging his neighbor for money is about as honest as it could be…except for his name, which he’s given as Jondrette.

The Thénardiers’ situation is heartbreaking, as vile as they are, if only because the children deserve better. And yet when one of their letters bears fruit, he breaks what they have left, careless of injuring Azelma in the process, in order to gain more sympathy from the “philanthropist”… Continue reading

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